Reporter Eric Miller with Publisher L.A. ‘Tony’ Kovach for MHMSM.com
MHMSM: To help us set the stage for this interview, please tell us about your role at Finmark and how you and your firm serve the Manufactured Housing Industry.
ERNST: Finmark is a shortened version of Financial Marketing Associates. It’s a company I formed in 1983. When I first got into the manufactured housing industry and I started my own company, we represented banks and savings-and-loans and originated manufactured housing loans for them. Eventually, it’s evolved into my doing consulting work predominantly now, and putting together outside-the-box type transactions.
Some of the unique things I have done are a joint venture mortgage operation between three manufacturers and Wells-Fargo, and ran that operation for about three years. I also put together Countryplace Mortgage for Palm Harbor Homes 14 or 15 years ago now. I helped Textron create a commercial construction mortgage loan program and was working on a consumer program for them when the financial meltdown occurred and they decided not to move forward with it, and ultimately decided to get out of the manufactured housing inventory finance business as well.
The work I do is all related to the manufactured housing business. I like to put special deals together and provide consulting to manufacturers, retailing groups or finance entities that makes their projects possible.
MHMSM: What is the “big picture” to take away from the June 2nd Elkhart meeting?
ERNST: Many times the big picture gets missed based on individual comments and interpretations of how the meeting went. There are a couple of big picture take-aways from that meeting. One is, I found Dave Stevens, the FHA Commissioner, and members of his staff to be very open and candid about their willingness to work with the industry and help craft a program that can be sustained. I don’t think there’s any question that the FHA believes clearly that manufactured housing has a very important role to play in providing affordable housing to people in this country.
The issue that they have to deal with – and I think this goes beyond manufactured housing – is they have a very difficult task of reigning in the FHA mission of being the lender of last resort for low-end, low-quality credit customers to being a viable source of financing for qualified customers. They may run a broader spectrum than what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have done, but I really believe they want to play a serious role with Ginnie Mae to provide a good source of FHA insurance and have Ginnie Mae provide that secondary market for our industry.
I think we have some very smart people with extensive mortgage backgrounds willing to sit down, engage with us, understand our business better and work with us to craft a program that’s going to be sustainable.
The other take-away is that FHFA now is the only entity that we’re able to talk to with respect to Fannie and Freddie. It’s clear to me that they are using their conservatorship as another convenient excuse not to tackle something they have been directed to do through the Duty to Serve legislation. They are using their conservatorship and all of the other problems that they have in order to pretty much stay away from our industry. That’s a sad situation.
MHMSM: What is the big picture take-away from the follow-up at the MHI Summer Meeting with Vicki Bott [Deputy Assistant Secretary HUD] and other Industry and public officials?
ERNST: The Washington meeting came about as a result of FHA reaching out and saying we would like to put together a working group of lenders and interested parties who can help us understand your business – the way you originate it, the way you service it, the repossession and disposal characteristics – and understand your business better so we can address those things properly and still have a sustainable program.
Vicki mentioned that at some point in the not-too-distant future. they’re going to be sending out a TI letter to all mortgage lenders that are operating in the FHA space that anything below a 580 FICO score is going to require a ten percent down payment. That’s a huge jump for FHA because the current regulations require it to be anything below a 500 FICO score. From 500 to 580 – that should be a clear message that FHA is taking these defaults and delinquencies very seriously and they really believe they have to pay a lot more attention to the underwriting side of the business instead of being the lender of last resort.
Again, the take-away from that meeting is she came prepared. She brought several members of her staff. I wasn’t really expecting that. I thought there would maybe be one or two people, but she brought in four or five people including her head appraiser, because there can be appraisal issues and concerns about the program. They had specific questions in areas that they wanted to explore and get feedback from the industry.
I was very pleased with the quality of the meeting, the quality of the questions, the openness of our membership, the lenders who were involved and I’ve seen in some previous blogs comments that the people around the table were “the survivors” – and there is a lot of truth in that. The survivors weren’t the guys doing the bad acting in the late 90s that created some of the housing problems we had in the early 2000s.
I appreciated their candor. For the first time ever, when Bob Ryan, their risk officer… I mean that in itself has got to be amazing to people who track FHA. FHA has a risk officer. That’s pretty astounding to know that with billions and billions of dollars in mortgages that they’re insuring, and they’ve never had a risk officer before to assess what type of risk they are taking on and whether or not programs for site-built are sustainable as well. So when they came to us and said not only are you battling some perception issues, you’re also battling some real issues.
When provided some material on FHA Title II that the serious delinquent accounts, the number of defaults, 30, 60 or 90 day delinquents, all pretty much doubled the site-built business – the rates were double what the site-built business was, that’s a real problem. And it’s a problem our industry has to respond to and say we do need to tweak this program and make it actuarially sound and there are things both of us can do to make it work.
MHMSM: Vicki Bott comes to HUD with a Mortgage Background, Right?
ERNST: That’s correct. She came from Wells Fargo. She’s a very bright lady with a very inquisitive mind. The interaction I saw with her is “she gets it.” When someone responds to her, we’ve seen others that pretended they got it, but they didn’t really have much of a clue what we were talking about. I think that she really gets it from the depth of experience she has from her mortgage background.
MHMSM: If I’m just an average voter out there, I might listen to this and say if you have the qualified borrowers, why can’t the private market handle them? Doesn’t all this stuff exist because we want to allow people who maybe aren’t as qualified to have a home?
ERNST: I don’t think that’s it. It’s potentially a conflict and the way the FHA conventionally has been viewed as providing the opportunity for someone to get a home who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a conventional program.
But I think you do that in a couple of different ways. The conventional programs from Fannie and Freddie, and even those from private institutions typically require 5, 10 or 20 percent down; and because of the private mortgage restrictions, those having higher credit scores are usually the only ones able to qualify. Does that mean that everyone else is unable to qualify? I don’t think that it does.
I made the comment during that Washington meeting that I believe the heart of our industry, that is the people who buy manufactured housing, typically will have between a 620 and 660 FICO score business. Those private companies that are in the marketplace today, with the exception of 21st Mortgage and perhaps Vanderbilt because of their funding capabilities with Berkshire Hathaway, the bulk of the companies are buying 680 plus FICO score business; and while they may do some with five percent down, they’re going to have to have a higher FICO score for the most part. The 620 to 680 FICO score customer is still a legitimate customer capable of buying a manufactured home and they deserve an opportunity for financing.
The other way FHA permits financing opportunities for those customers, is with a five percent down payment. Because a lot of those loans can be securitized with Ginnie Mae, the interest rates charged to the borrowers are actually going to be more advantageous than some of the conventional money or portfolio money that’s out there today. As a result of that, it provides a nice window for FHA to provide a way for people to buy homes that maybe aren’t being served today in most of the conventional markets for manufactured housing.
And I think provides a tremendous opportunity for our industry, for people in the land-lease communities as well. I think it gives them a potential source of financing because I really see the Title I program for chattel financing focusing more in the 600 or 620 to 680; and then to the extent that higher credit quality customers would drift toward an FHA loan, they would do so because of the interest rates or the down payment situation.
Be sure to catch the second part of the MHMSM.com exclusive report with Dick Ernst when we discuss the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the recent housing bubble, the SAFE Act and its impact on the Manufactured Housing industry and more.