For years, a look at the secondary markets for single-family and commercial real estate loans was a study in contrasts. Backed by such titans as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the secondary market for residential mortgages skyrocketed in the 1980s, and today exceeds $3 trillion.

Commercial mortgage loans, which were larger and more complex than home loans, proved harder to securitize. Lacking uniformity and the safety net of implicit federal guarantees enjoyed by some mortgage-backed securities, commercial mortgages were originated and then sat on a lending institution's books.

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