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Licensing Doesn’t Really Work, But A Necessary Revenue Opportunity

I think the future holds more licensing requirements in store for real estate professionals. After entering a credit crisis like we are currently experiencing, all professionals connected to the real estate industry may face new licensing or additional requirements.

In an interesting piece written by two economists [1]—Fed visiting scholar Morris Kleiner, of the University of Minnesota, and Richard Todd, vice president of Community Affairs at the Minneapolis Fed called Licentious Behavior [2]:

On the face of it, this makes perfect sense: If incompetent or dishonest brokers have encouraged borrowers to take out loans beyond their means, then targeting these abuses through stricter governmental requirements on brokers should help prevent future problems.

But a recent empirical examination by two Fed econ- omists casts doubt on that solution. In the first compre- hensive assessment of relationships between mortgage broker licensing and market outcomes, the economists find that most regulatory steps appear to have no clear connection to consumer outcomes, but one financial regulation (surety bond and minimum net worth requirements) is consistently related with conditions that seem worse for both brokers and borrowers.

Deja Vu

The appraisal industry faced new licensing requirements in 1991 as a result of the S&L crisis of the late 1980s. Think Vernon Savings & Loan [3] and property values being appraised higher every few hours by appraisers who must have possessed incredibly precise and masterful valuation skills and adequate supporting data (yeah, right).

Appraisers ended up being licensed, waiting in line with other professionals in the testing centers such as pool cleaners and hair stylists.

Appraisers were part of the problem in the current credit crunch as well. Licensing did not prevent bad appraisers from crossing the line then or now. In fact, I would venture to guess that the quality of the average appraiser (not the median) declined sharply after implementation of licensing 17 years ago.

Was it licensing that created the deterioration in quality of appraisers?

No. It was a bigger systemic problem but it did play an unintended role. Licensing of any profession provides a false premise of quality. In this case it was presented to the mortgage industry, but more importantly, allowed a shift in liability to the appraiser who had a freshly painted bullseye on his or her back.

Licensing alone does not promote better quality work.

Quality only gets noticeably better by an incentivized private sector who is enticed through regulation to require better quality reports. It is not enough to say you “can’t do something.”

Is licensing a good thing?

Absolutely. It provides a minimum barrier to entry and a process to allow for the removal of bad appraisers from the business.

Licensing alone won’t improve quality, however. An example would be a town whose police department cracks down on speeders – this alone doesn’t make everyone a better driver, but it does play a role in improving safety. People still get into accidents when they have a drivers license.

A side benefit to municipalities becomes an important revenue opportunity for the licensing bureau, especially with a weakening economy in most of the country. Revenue funds some enforcement for blatant violations, and provides some oversight and regulation. I am fairly certain that a portion of earmarked licensing revenue ends up channeled to other departments, essentially defeating a primary argument for licensing.

What about mortgage brokers?

So for mortgage brokers who are on the verge of being licensed in New York state [4], with a economic slowdown already being felt, I think it is a long shot that this effort will be defeated.

Will it increase the quality of mortgage brokers in New York state? I doubt it, only on the lower fringe.

I saw first hand the basic financial conflict in their role as commissioned provider of mortgage business, paid only if the loan closed. As in every profession, there are good and bad “professionals.”

All who touch the mortgage should to be licensed, at the very minimum.