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Is The Fabled Rainy Day Here?

Creating, rolling out new products is critical for lenders

Rob Chrisman
Rob Chrisman
Is The Fabled Rainy Day Here?

For years residential lenders, whether they be depository banks, credit unions, independent mortgage banks, or brokers, have been warned about the time when refinances would dry up. Danger: Lower volumes and margin compression ahead. What will happen? Is there anything anyone can do about it? In general, lenders are logical, systematic individuals, and in keeping with that, we felt it important to look at both the revenue items and expense items that a lender has, and see what can be done in the event of a “belt tightening.”

First, remember that, as an industry, lenders should still be reaping the rewards from a stellar year in 2020, and very good first and third quarters of 2021. For lenders to have spent all of their income on compensation and benefits for employees or owners would have been near-sighted. Certainly lenders “took chips off of the table” but many reinvested profits back into their companies, whether it was in signing bonuses, new technology, increased warehouse lines, or expanded business channels.

Lenders sell, and compete on, product, price, or service. For lenders to be able to create, find investors for, and roll out new products is critical. Even “old” products are worth revisiting. For example, originating VA interest rate reduction refinances (IRRRLs) is fashionable again. But basic VA loans are widely used for home purchases. In the first quarter of 2021, large lenders had sizeable percentages of their VA loans used for home purchases: Quicken (10%), loanDepot (24%), Navy Federal Credit Union (43%), Guild (52%), Guaranteed Rate (69%), Fairway Independent (77%), and Prime Lending (82%).

Diversified Income

From a revenue and expense perspective, depository banks borrow money (from depositors) at one rate of interest, generally low, and lend the money out again at another, higher rate of interest. The difference is income for the owners and/or shareholders. Non-depository mortgage banks use their warehouse lines as a source of funding. If there is a positive spread between the cost of the warehouse line and the mortgage rate, the mortgage bank can use this as income. And lenders typically charge an origination fee of 0.5% to 1% of the loan value, which is due with mortgage payments. This fee increases the overall interest rate paid on a mortgage and the total cost of the home.

Residential lenders can make money in a variety of ways, including origination fees, yield spread premiums, discount points, closing costs, mortgage-backed securities, and loan servicing. Closing costs that borrowers pay include application, processing, underwriting, loan lock, and other fees. Mortgage-backed securities allow lenders to profit by packaging and selling loans. Lenders may also get money for servicing the loans they package and sell via MBS.

Borrowers may pay discount point to the lender, often due at closing to help buy down the mortgage’s interest rate. One discount point equals 1% of the mortgage amount and may reduce the loan amount 0.125% to 0.25%. For example, two points on a $200,000 mortgage is 2% of the loan amount, or $4,000. Lenders know that if a borrower is paying points upfront, the fees typically lower monthly loan payments, which saves homeowners money over the life of the loan.

In addition to the loan origination fee and possibly the discount points, an application fee, processing fee, underwriting fee, loan lock fee, and other fees charged by lenders are paid during closing. Because these closing costs may vary by lender, the fees are explained upfront in the Good Faith Estimate.

Another source of income is in the sales execution of the mortgage, or pools of mortgages, aka “Gain on Sale.” After closing on different types of mortgages, lenders will group together loans into mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and sell them for a profit to pension funds, insurance companies, money managers, and even the Federal Reserve. This frees up money to pay down the warehouse line and for the lenders to extend additional mortgages and earn more income. Capital markets staffs should become well-versed in best execution models, specified pool sales (“spec pools”), finding reliable, well-priced jumbo and/or non-QM outlets. Companies should also do their best to limit pricing concessions and free extensions, or at least track them to identify dollar amounts and sources.

Lenders may continue to earn revenue by servicing the loans they sell. If the whole loan or MBS purchasers are unable to process mortgage payments and handle administrative tasks involved with loan servicing, the lenders may perform those tasks for a small percentage of the mortgage value or a predetermined fee.

Cost Containment

Moving to the expense side of the income statement, lenders’ largest expense is typically salaries, commissions, and benefits. Direct loan production costs come next, followed by marketing, travel, and entertainment. Costs to service the servicing portfolio are included, if the company is servicing, as are general and administrative expenses.

So the areas of cutting costs is somewhat limited, especially when producers, whether they are retail loan officers or TPO account executives, are held in high regard. Travel and entertainment budgets are often targeted, although marketing is often increased in an attempt to gain market share. Companies should try to improve efficiency, or the amount of “friction” between application and funding & servicing. How productive are processors, underwriters, doc drawers, and funders? Certain tasks are outsourced to lower cost providers.

Originators are encouraged to improve their sales, retention, and referral techniques. As an analogy, if you buy a Ferrari, you’re not going to forget what kind of car you own. But the same brand identity doesn’t exist with mortgages. Most people who financed their home don’t know the individual or company they used. Recognition is even worse when they obtained the loan through a mortgage broker, who in turn placed it with a mortgage banker, who then sold it to an aggregator, and who may use a subservicer! How does the borrower remember you? Any loan officer building their brand and marketing to their previous clientele for refinances should keep this in mind.

Loan originators, whether brokers or loan officers, will tell you that a person’s habits do not change simply because a credit card was paid off through a cash-out refinance. In fact, the sight of a $0.00 balance on a credit card may tell a borrower that there is room to spend money using credit again. Top LOs are constantly in front of previous clients, reminding them who they are and of their product offerings.

Lenders earn income in a limited number of ways, and they spend money in a limited number of ways. Running an efficient operation is not rocket science, but it does take knowledge, discipline, and a lack of fear of making wise, yet occasionally difficult, decisions in the face of diminishing margins and production volume. The industry has been through business cycles before, and will go through them again. “Hope is not a strategy!”

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Banker Magazine November 2021 issue.
Rob Chrisman
Rob Chrisman

Rob Chrisman began his career in mortgage banking – primarily capital markets – 35 years ago. He is on the board of directors of Inheritance Funding Corporation, of Doorway Home Loans, of AXIS Appraisal Management, and of the California MBA. He is also a member of the Secure Settlements Advisory Board, an associate of the STRATMOR Group, and of the Mortgage Bankers Association of the Carolinas and its membership committee.

Published on
Dec 01, 2021
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