QM, QRM, Basel III: Mortgages for the Wealthy

Capital and mortgage financing rules being drafted in Washington and elsewhere raise the possibility that the United States will become increasingly split between affluent home owners and less affluent renters, because lenders will be constrained to stay within tight mortgage underwriting rules that many households won’t be able to penetrate.

That’s the grim assessment of a meeting of several dozen housing, consumer, and other organizations in Washington last week to look at the regulations coming down the pike as a result of the housing bust several years ago.

David Stevens

The meeting of the Coalition for Sensible Housing Policy, hosted by NAR at its Washington offices, heard from a panel of some of the country’s most highly regarded banking and mortgage financing experts, including Lew Ranieri, one of the creators of the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market, Gene Ludwig, the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency under President Bill Clinton, and Jim Millstein, a Treasury official during President George W. Bush’s administration who oversaw the injection of bailout funds into troubled banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

“We’re going to look back at these regulations five years from now and wonder, ‘What the heck did we do?’” said Millstein.

Jim Millstein

The regulations that have so many in the industry worried are two from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act enacted two years ago: QM and QRM. QM stands for “qualified mortgage” and the rule would set standards for lenders to ensure they only make loans to borrowers who have the ability to repay them. The rules would apply to all mortgage loans. QRM refers to “qualified residential mortgage” and the rule would set minimum underwriting standards for loans that are packaged into securities and sold to investors. QRM applies only to securitized loans, with the exception of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, although once those two companies are out of U.S. conservatorship, their loans would be subject to QRM as well.

A third rule that is now on the horizon is known as Basel III, a set of proposed international banking standards being written in Basel, Switzerland, that would include requirements on how much capital banks must hold on their books based on the type of loans they make. In previous Basel iterations (Basel I and Basel II), the rules apply only to the largest banks, but there is concern that aspects of Basel III could apply to regional and community banks as well. The rules don’t have the force of law unless countries choose to adopt and enforce them. Banks in countries that have not adopted the rules might still have to abide by them, though, if they do business in countries that have adopted them.

Susan Wachter

Against these proposed rules are other factors that threaten to dramatically change the home ownership landscape: what to do with the two secondary mortgage market companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are now into their fourth year of conservatorship, and what to do with FHA, which has seen its market share soar since the housing bust but has analysts worried about its exposure.

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