Unemployment is high. Credit is tight. And scientists are warning that a dangerous second wave of the coronavirus is coming. But somehow, U.S. mortgage companies are having one of their best years in history.
Just ask Keith VandenAkker. He’s forgoing weekends to keep up with the work.
In 22 years as a Massachusetts mortgage appraiser, he’s never been this busy. The jump in refinancing was to be expected, with rates near record lows. The surprise, he said, is that the spring property sales season, delayed for a couple months by the health crisis, is demanding most of his time.
“June is kicking my butt,” VandenAkker said, rushing in his silver Subaru, mask in hand, to the next appraisal. “I got 8 or 9 orders yesterday and I’m just a one-man show.”
Lenders are getting bombarded with calls from homeowners looking for cheaper loans. They’re also hearing from potential buyers who are tired of feeling imprisoned in tight quarters or want to flee cities where the virus can easily spread. Mortgage companies’ profit margins are ballooning, even after paying overtime and signing bonuses to lure away the best loan officers from competitors.
Interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve have pushed down the average rate for a 30-year mortgage to a shockingly low 3.2%, but that includes a thick cushion of profit for originators. Lenders sell most of the loans they make, and the spread between what they charge borrowers and what they’re able to sell the loans for, typically benchmarked by 10-year treasury yields, was at its widest in April since 2008.
That month a measure of lenders’ profitability maintained by the Urban Institute hit its highest point on record.
Mortgage lenders have been able to “maintain pricing and not pass along all of those rate savings to consumers,” said Christopher Cartwright, chief executive officer of credit bureau TransUnion.
Lenders have been able to command premium prices from investors, who are paying up for new loans to meet high demand for new mortgage bonds from banks flooded with deposits and unprecedented purchasing by the Federal Reserve, said Robert Perry, who oversees investment strategy at financial advisory firm ALM First Group.