Untrained, inexperienced borrowers interact with specialist mortgage brokers in the mortgage origination market. Brokers earn two kinds of compensation, explicit charges the borrower pays in cash and a commission the lender pays based on the spread between the coupon rate the borrower agrees to and the par mortgage interest rate. Both types of broker compensation seem to confuse borrowers. The wholesale lender’s commission is determined by financial dynamics understood by a tiny group of professionals, and the rate sheet that summarizes the possible payments is never shown to borrowers.
…With respect to policy changes that might help achieve a more efficient equilibrium, we believe in evidence-based design. Disclosure law has historically been in the hands of lawyers, who designed dense forms that may help absolve their clients of blame for consumer error, but which did little to help consumers find better deals. A new movement to design disclosures that are proven to be helpful, through field experiments, may result in some progress. Whether these forms can overwhelm the persuasion of skilled expert salesmen remains to be seen. We are inclined to believe that simple admonitions, such as “mortgage brokers are salesmen and the only way to get a good deal is to shop and bargain” and “you are more likely to get a good deal if you shop for no-cost loans” are more likely to yield improvements than, for example, trying to teach borrowers enough financial economics to understand the tradeoff between cash and the interest rate.
(Note that the quote is from the published version, which is subscriber-only. The link goes to an earlier version.)
This can be viewed through the oppressor-oppressed narrative. Mortgage brokers can earn more money by luring borrowers into more expensive mortgages (usually, “more expensive” means a present-value cost to the borrower of $1000 or so, but it can be higher than that). Note, however, that as Woodward and Hall point out, this does not make mortgage brokers rich. The brokers operate in a highly competitive environment, and while they over-charge as many borrowers as they can, profits are competed away in marketing expenses used to try to lure those borrowers.
This also can be viewed through the civilization-barbarism narrative. This sort of business does not exactly attract and reward caring, conscientious sorts of people. I think of mortgage brokers as slick and deceptive salesmen, prone to sports cars, bling, and other signs of conspicuous consumption.
Of course, from the standpoint of the freedom-coercion narrative, nobody forces you to take a loan from a mortgage broker, and it is a highly competitive industry. However, I think you have to be at least in the 99th percentile for sophistication in legal and financial calculations in order to be able, as a consumer, to use the competition to your advantage and to get the best possible deal.
I am pessimistic that consumer education or rules-based regulation can prevent consumers from being exploited in these situations. I think that the best chance is with principles-based regulation. That is, rather than designing the disclosure form, introduce the principle that disclosure should enable the consumer to understand and compare fees from different lenders.