By Jim DuPlessis
Even as higher interest rates are expected to reduce demand for mortgage refinancings, credit unions expect strong real estate volume from buyers seeking mortgages and owners tapping into their equity.
Credit union officers and industry analysts credit a continuing strong housing recovery.
On Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing homes sold in October at a rate unmatched since the pre-recession month of February 2007. It also reported existing homes sold for a median price of $232,200 in October, 6% higher than a year earlier and marking the 56th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.
Rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages hit 4.125% on Nov. 11 — the highest since July 2015 and half a percentage point higher from the average on Election Day three days earlier. Rates are expected to continue to rise in 2017.
The Mortgage Bankers Association is forecasting overall mortgage originations will fall from $1.89 trillion in 2016 to $1.58 trillion in 2017. Refinance originations are expected to fall from $901 billion this year to $484 billion in 2017 — an estimate adjusted downward by $45 billion after interest rates spiked following the election. But purchase originations are expected to rise 11 percent to $1.1 trillion in 2017.
Mortgage trends at credit unions are mirroring the broader housing market recovery, said Sam Taft, director of industry analysis for Callahan & Associates in Washington, D.C.
Taft said credit union balances on first mortgages in September were 9.2% higher than a year earlier. The rise in home equity lines of credit was a more modest 4%, but he said the rise is significant because it represents a broader gauge of consumer confidence. Another measure is the utilization rate on HELOCs. Home owners had been maintaining balances at about 30% of their line from 2007 to 2011, but the rate has steadily risen and reached 39% in September.
Purchase mortgages are the first to rise in a recovery. The fact that HELOCs are now following is a sign that the recovery is continuing, Taft said.
“Consumers are feeling more comfortable with the economy and taking on more debt. Home prices have recovered so they’re comfortable tapping into that equity,” he said.
Service 1st Federal Credit Union in Scranton, Pa., ($303 million in assets, 27,152 members) is among the credit unions experiencing a rise in home equity loans.
“I believe that our members are simply taking advantage of our low, in-house home equity interest rates now as they fear that the rates could be increasing in the very near future,” said Jeff Balestrini, chief lending officer.
The healthy market has also contributed to home equity originations growing at a record pace of more than 40% this year at Seattle-based BECU ($15.7 billion in assets, 988,691 members), according to Bob Stroup, BECU’s consumer loan product strategy director.
“We are generally seeing good credit quality, higher approval rates and higher average limits,” Stroup said.
Meanwhile, credit unions are expecting higher interest rates to reduce refinancings in 2017, while purchase mortgages will remain strong.
Mortgage volume for BECU surpassed its annual goal in September when it hit $1.2 billion and is expected to reach $1.5 billion by year’s end. Next year it will fall to about $1.3 billion as purchase volume continues to grow but refinances taper off, said Lorraine Stewart, vice president of mortgage lending.
About 65% of mortgage value in 2016 was from refinances, but BECU expects refinances will fall to just under half in 2017.
“The Northwest is doing really well economically,” Stewart said. “We have a relatively low unemployment rate. We have investors coming in purchasing properties, driving up home price appreciation and enabling people to refinance and pull cash out.”
Navy Federal Credit Union based in Vienna, Va., ($78.5 billion in assets, 6,721,669 members) expects to reach $12.3 billion in mortgage loan volume this year, slightly surpassing last year’s all-time record.
Next year it expects to increase mortgage lending to $14 billion. It expects to make up for a drop in refinancings with increases in purchase loans from organic growth and attracting new members through marketing, said Katie Miller, vice president of mortgage lending.
Navy Federal has greater insulation from a drop in refinancing because unlike most credit unions it generates a majority of its real estate loan volume from purchase loans. Navy Federal changed its strategy in 2014, and now generates 65 percent of its volume from purchase loans.
“It’s really nice to control your own destiny,” Miller said. “Re-fi volume is really subject to the fluctuations of the market. If you have a purchase-focused business, there are always people who are going to be forming new households and needing new homes. There are millennials who eventually move out of their parents’ homes. That is a destiny that we get to control, as opposed to re-fi, which is crazy.”
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