Rob Chrane of Down Payment Resource: The Time is Right for Homeowner Assistance
Rob Chrane is founder and CEO of Down Payment Resource and a leader in the homeownership affordability space. A 30-year housing industry veteran, Chrane launched a comprehensive database of U.S. homebuyer assistance programs and develops tools that enable lenders, borrowers and real estate professionals to connect homebuyers with affordability programs.
Most consumers are unfamiliar with down payment assistance programs and other forms of financial aid available to help them buy a home, but that is rapidly changing. With housing affordability at its lowest point in recent years, the number of inquiries about DPA now exceeds 475,000 per day. The current groundswell of interest in DPA is a silver lining for lenders amid stormy market conditions, creating an opportunity to answer the GSEs’ calls for greater housing equity while building revenue and lasting customer relationships in a tough mortgage market.
Why aren’t more renters entering your pipeline?
Rising interest rates, home price appreciation and persistently low housing inventory have driven down housing affordability by double digits across the United States compared to a year ago — and that’s for households with a median income. While the number of homes on the market has increased in recent months, helping to cool list prices in some metro markets, today’s prices are still nowhere near within reach for most first-time buyers. A recent report from NerdWallet found that homes were listed at 5.7 times first-time buyer income across the nation, with home prices in select metro areas exceeding first-time buyer income by a factor of 11. (Historically, the benchmark for affordability has been clocked at three times income.)
Record high inflation isn’t helping. Earlier this year the consumer price index saw its largest jump in 40 years, and while the most recent report saw marginal improvement across some categories of spending, the cost of shelter saw its largest monthly gain in 32 years in October. The higher price of goods and rent adds to the financial strain on household budgets, making it harder to save for down payments that are larger than ever. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the average buyer now puts 7% down on their first home. Based on average home listings, a 7% down payment amounts to about $30,000 or more in 25 metro areas, while the median savings account balance in the United States is just $5,300.
As if these stats weren’t compelling enough, we’re hearing the same story straight from the consumer’s mouth. According to Bankrate’s 2022 Financial Security survey, among adults who don’t own a home, 43 percent cite insufficient income, 39% point to out-of-reach home prices and 36% finger down payment and closing costs as the barriers holding them back.
Heard it through the grapevine
In December 2021, Down Payment Resource launched a partnership with Zillow to make DPA information available on the home search giant’s listings nationwide via its app and website. During the next calendar year, more than one million home shoppers searched for DPA on Zillow’s platforms. Similar partnerships with REALTOR.com and Redfin, announced in April and October, respectively, are delivering promising early returns. In all, we are receiving well over 475,000 queries about DPA every day, and that number continues to climb amid declining housing affordability.
Consumers who don’t learn about DPA from an online property listing are increasingly likely to hear about it directly from their real estate agent. Through our partnerships with multiple listing services and state and regional REALTOR® associations, we have made DPA information readily available to more than 500,000 agents across the United States. While I am proud of this accomplishment, I don’t point it out to toot Down Payment Resource’s horn. Instead, I hope it will encourage you to become a better partner for the many real estate agents in desperate need of a loan officer in their market who can help with DPA.
The appetite for DPA is already healthy, and as awareness increases, consumers will begin to ask for it by name. Today, a Google search for ‘down payment assistance’ is most likely to point consumers to one of the more than 1,300 housing finance agencies and 1,000 nonprofits that provide homebuyer assistance. Those agencies, in turn, refer consumers to any local lenders who they know offer DPA — which, practically speaking, can mean just one or two lenders. Each of those referrals represents a mortgage-ready borrower, and lenders who engage with their state HFAs are getting them for free.
There is also a tremendous untapped opportunity for lenders to grow a DPA pipeline by developing a web and social media presence that showcases their DPA expertise. The few lenders who do this are the ones showing up in consumer searches alongside HFAs and nonprofits. And on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, influencer LOs have reported that content about down payment assistance is among their best performing, sometimes garnering millions of views.
The evidence is clear that consumers engage heavily with DPA when they are given the opportunity to learn about it. Lenders need to rise to the occasion — or someone else will.
What DPA can do for you
Perhaps you don’t need convincing that consumers are interested in DPA, but you’re skeptical that supporting homebuyer assistance programs is the right strategy for you. In that case, I invite you to contemplate several ways your business could benefit from offering down payment assistance — some of which you may not have considered before.
Significantly increase your pull-through
If your organization hasn’t made homebuyer assistance programs a priority, the odds are good that your entire division may only do a few loans a year that include DPA. It would be easy to leap to the conclusion that there’s simply not much opportunity to be had — but you’d be mistaken. Our analysis of HMDA data shines a light on just how much closed-loan volume is left on the table because otherwise qualified homebuyers lack sufficient capital to cover upfront costs. Fully one-third (33%) of all declined loan applications are declined for reasons that could be resolved by applying available homebuyer assistance. When that available DPA is applied, it increases cash to close and reduces the LTV by an average of 6%, thereby improving debt-to-income (DTI) ratios as well.
It’s a common misconception that DPA programs are available only to low-income borrowers, first-time homebuyers or for undesirable properties. In reality, around two out of five (39.1%) DPA programs do not have a first-time homebuyer requirement and are available for eligible repeat homebuyers, and there are many specialty DPA programs designed to assist specific groups, including first-generation homebuyers, minorities, indigenous people, non-Whites, veterans, educators, and more.
Be there from your borrower’s first loan to their last
A familiar statistic claims that the average borrower will have between seven and 11 mortgage loans in their lifetime. By getting in on the ground floor, you effectively minimize your cost of customer acquisition and maximize lifetime customer value. As a former lender, I know from experience there is no better way to earn a borrower’s trust, loyalty and future business than by being the hero that solves their problem — like helping them cover upfront costs that they wouldn’t have been able to pay on their own without years of saving.
Become your referral partner’s go-to DPA expert
The number-one question real estate agents ask us about DPA is, “where can I find a loan officer that supports these programs?” We all rely on experts to get the job done. LOs that take the time to build their DPA expertise will have an easier time building new referral relationships and demonstrating their value to existing referral partners in a competitive housing market.
Answer the call of the GSEs
Recognizing that communities of color are being hit the hardest by today’s mounting affordability challenges, government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made closing the racial homeownership gap a top priority, as detailed in their three-year housing equity plans and evidenced by Fannie Mae’s acceptance of lender-funded DPA loans. Since homeownership remains the main engine for wealth building, this disparity will affect generations to come. By helping diverse borrowers achieve affordable, sustainable housing that allows them to build wealth, you can help prevent the racial homeownership gap from further exacerbating the racial wealth gap over time.
With housing prices still near historic highs and interest rates on the rise, it’s time for lenders to assume their rightful place as the go-to source of resources and guidance for borrowers who have strong credentials but still need financial assistance to achieve homeownership. This won’t just help consumers achieve the wealth-building benefits of homeownership, it’s also a critical way for lenders to maintain revenue in a low-demand purchase market. If you need help getting started, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com.
(Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect policy of the Mortgage Bankers Association, nor do they connote an MBA endorsement of a specific company, product or service. MBA NewsLink welcomes your submissions. Inquiries can be sent to Mike Sorohan, editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Michael Tucker, editorial manager, at email@example.com.)