New Freddie Mac Pilot to Purchase Second Mortgages Approved

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has announced its conditional approval for Freddie Mac to engage in a limited pilot to purchase certain single-family closed-end second mortgages. This conditional approval follows FHFA’s first publication of a proposed new product by either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae (the GSEs) for public comment under the new process mandated by the Prior Approval for Enterprise Products regulation, which became effective in April 2023.

“The thoughtful engagement from public stakeholders confirmed the value of a transparent process for evaluating potential new Enterprise products and informed the parameters of the conditional approval,” said FHFA Director Sandra L. Thompson. “The limited pilot will allow FHFA to explore whether this closed-end second mortgage product effectively advances Freddie Mac’s statutory purposes and benefits borrowers, particularly in rural and underserved communities.”

Crafted by Industry Input

The conditional approval was informed by the numerous comment letters received, as well as considerations required by law:

  • The product is authorized under specified sections of Freddie Mac’s Charter Act: The Freddie Mac Charter Act permits the GSE to purchase “residential mortgages that are secured by a subordinate lien against a one- to four-family residence,” subject to certain conditions (See 12 U.S.C. 1454(a)(4)). The proposed new product meets the requirements for authorization under the Charter Act.
  • The product is in the public interest: As of December 2023, more than 95% of GSE-backed single-family mortgages had mortgage rates below current market rates, with the majority at least three percentage points lower. National home prices have doubled in less than a decade, leading to significant amounts of equity for many homeowners. Currently, Zillow reports that the average U.S. home value stands at $360,681, up 4.3% over the past year. Freddie Mac’s purchase of closed-end second mortgages is intended to allow borrowers to maintain their low interest rate first mortgage while accessing a portion of the equity in their homes. Several public interest factors were considered in the review process:
  • Provide lower-cost alternatives to existing cash-out refinance products: Many borrowers–particularly low-income borrowers and those in rural and underserved communities–have struggled to access equity in their homes through the private home equity market. In an environment of elevated mortgage rates, they are either forced to give up their below-market rate and obtain a cash-out refinance with a higher mortgage rate across the entire loan balance or are forced to sell their home when a financial need arises, which can create instability for families and run counter to the Enterprises’ missions.
  • Avoid crowding out private capital or producing unintended macroeconomic or mortgage market effects: FHFA anticipates that a pilot with a volume limitation of $2.5 billion, a duration not to exceed 18 months, a maximum loan amount of $78,277 (as adjusted annually in Regulation Z), a 24-month minimum seasoning requirement for the first mortgage, and eligibility only for principal/primary residences will allow analysis of consumer demand, lender offerings, servicer operations, and investor appetite in a controlled manner. The $2.5 billion volume cap, in particular, is responsive to concerns from several commenters regarding the potential macroeconomic and mortgage market impacts of a broader offering. Some commenters cited estimates of $500 billion or more in second mortgage volume if the Freddie Mac proposal were approved, but the volume cap of the approved pilot instead represents less than one half of one percent of these estimates. This is intended to mitigate any concerns about potential inflationary impacts, extending the mortgage “lock-in” effect, or the “crowding out” of private capital.
  • Benefit underserved borrowers: FHFA anticipates that a pilot with a per-loan limitation of $78,277 (as adjusted annually in Regulation Z) will appropriately target rural and underserved borrowers. The average loan size of closed-end second mortgages is nearly half of the average loan size of home equity lines of credit (HELOCs). Since borrowers in underserved communities (such as lower-income borrowers or those in rural areas) carry smaller balances, on average, HELOC providers may overlook these borrowers in favor of higher-income borrowers and others currently well-served by the home equity market. Thus, a per-loan cap on closed-end second mortgages could potentially expand access to home equity products for underserved borrowers who otherwise would need to obtain a less economical cash-out refinance or utilize other higher-rate consumer credit options.
  • Broaden participation in the home equity market to smaller financial institutions that can effectively serve their local communities: FHFA believes there are segments of lenders that have struggled to access a secondary market for home equity products–HELOCs and closed-end second mortgages–outside of cash-out refinances eligible for sale to the GSEs. Current home equity lending is primarily supported by larger depository institutions that tend to hold whole loans on their balance sheets, while securitizations of home equity loans remain limited. FHFA is interested in learning whether this offering will be utilized by small community financial institutions that have more limited access to securitization markets. If so, this offering could support broader lending in underserved communities, while promoting greater competition among lenders and greater choice for consumers. This will be one of the many factors FHFA will examine upon the conclusion of the Freddie Mac pilot.
  • The product is consistent with the safety and soundness of Freddie Mac or the mortgage finance system: While the volume cap ensures that any second mortgages acquired through the pilot would represent a small fraction of Freddie Mac’s aggregate loan acquisitions, FHFA also approved the limited pilot subject to additional safety and soundness considerations, including:
    • Pricing and capital treatment: FHFA expects that the pricing of eligible second mortgages, as well as the capital requirements associated with them, will appropriately reflect the risks that they pose. This should also mitigate the risk that Freddie Mac will displace activity already occurring in the home equity market, which is primarily concentrated in offerings to higher-income borrowers, as the objective is to reach borrowers who otherwise would be subject to more expensive alternatives, such as a cash-out refinance.
    • Eligibility parameters: Further, as is required of cash-out refinances purchased by the GSEs, the maximum combined loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of the first and second mortgages cannot exceed 80%, ensuring a robust equity position for the borrower to protect against a decline in home prices. And unlike a cash-out refinance, which for most borrowers in the current environment would entail resetting the entire mortgage balance at a higher interest rate, a second mortgage allows borrowers to maintain an existing low interest rate first mortgage. In many cases, this would lead to a lower overall monthly mortgage payment relative to a cash-out refinance, thereby improving mortgage sustainability.

Next Steps For the GSE

In recognition of the significant impact that the activities of the GSEs have on the U.S. housing finance system, market participants, and the broader economy, FHFA is required by law to review new activity and approve new GSE products before these activities and products are offered to the market. FHFA implements this requirement through its regulation on Prior Approval for Enterprise Products.

“MBA appreciates FHFA’s detailed responsiveness to the key questions we outlined in our comment letter regarding the program’s scope, mission, and secondary market implications. FHFA’s receptiveness to feedback through the New Products and Activities Final Rule has produced a pilot rollout that is limited in size and duration, mitigates the impact on the private-label securitization market for second liens, focuses on borrowers with lower loan balances, and will encourage participation by smaller lenders that do not have easy access to liquidity for closed-end seconds,” said Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) President and CEO Bob Broeksmit, CMB. “MBA and its members will remain engaged with FHFA and Freddie Mac to monitor the results of the pilot and ensure that it remains available to lenders of all sizes and business models and avoids disrupting the developing private-label securitization market for second liens.”

Upon the pilot’s conclusion, FHFA will analyze the data on Freddie Mac’s purchases of second mortgages to determine whether the objectives of the pilot were met. FHFA has determined that any increase to the volume or extension of the duration of the pilot, or a conversion of the pilot to a programmatic activity, would be treated as a new product that is subject to public notice and comment and FHFA approval. Any subsequent approval would be informed by the preliminary results of the pilot.

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Eric C. Peck

MortgagePoint Managing Digital Editor Eric C. Peck has 25-plus years’ experience covering the mortgage industry. He graduated from the New York Institute of Technology, where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts/Media. After graduating, he began his professional career in New York City with Videography Magazine before landing in the mortgage finance space. Peck has edited three published books, and has served as Copy Editor for
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