Fannie Mae has answered a challenge for market share from its smaller competitor Freddie Mac by locking up the right to buy most of the home loans made by three big lenders.
Fleet Mortgage Group, a unit of Fleet Financial Group, Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group, and North American Mortgage Co., a unit of Dime Bancorp, said this week that they had agreed to sell large chunks of their production to Fannie. In return, the secondary market titan will let lenders use technology other than its own in the lending process.
The deals followed similar pacts between Freddie and the top two home loan originators, Norwest Mortgage and Bank of America Mortgage this year.
Many believe such partnerships with the government-sponsored enterprises will soon be routine for the largest lenders, with Fannie and Freddie making concessions on technology and possibly pricing to secure market share.
Mortgage executives said their deals with Fannie allow them to streamline their back-office operations, reducing costs. Efficiency is crucial, they say, because the refinance boom is waning and their profit margins are shrinking.
"The winners will be the low-cost producers, and that is a key driver in this decision," said A. William Schenck, chairman and chief executive of Fleet Mortgage. "There are dozens and dozens of interfaces between a large mortgage bank and a government-sponsored enterprise, so there are a number of places to streamline."
For example, today, when Fleet originates a loan that has been approved by Desktop Underwriter, it converts data from Fannie's system to Fleet's servicing system. If it ends up selling the same loan to Fannie, it extracts the information from servicing system and converts it back to Desktop Underwriter.
That is like translating a sentence from French to English and back into French, said Thomas C. Palmer, executive vice president for production at Fleet Mortgage. Fleet's deal with Fannie will allow the company to eliminate such duplications, he said.
In both Fleet's deal and Dime's, the lender's brokers and correspondents can use either Fannie's automated underwriting system, Desktop Underwriter, or Freddie's Loan Prospector system. Fannie will buy substantially all the lender's loans regardless.
It is unclear whether the GSEs have been reducing guarantee fees for the lenders in these deals; even lenders are unwilling to disclose terms. But the perception that Fannie and Freddie are making price concessions has hurt their stock prices, said Bruce W. Harting, an analyst at Lehman Brothers.
Fannie's and Freddie's shares are off 9.2% and 9.7% this year, respectively.
Partnering with Fannie also enables Fleet to offer new products. In a separate arrangement that Fleet made with Fannie six months ago, Fannie agreed to accept loans with less documentation than it usually does, provided those customers had made large down payments and had high credit scores, Mr. Palmer said.
A Fannie Mae spokeswoman, citing company policy, declined to comment on any of its deals with lenders.
In Resource Bancshares' deal with Fannie, the Columbia, S.C. company will use its own proprietary origination software, which takes loans that have been approved by Desktop Underwriter through funding and closing.
"We have talked to both agencies and in our case, the arrangement Fannie was willing to make with us was a better deal," said Steven F. Herbert, chief financial officer at Resource. Resource's origination software, he said, "can support Fannie and Freddie, but it's easier from and operational perspective to only deal with one."
Resource's deal with Fannie is not exclusive, Mr. Herbert added. "I would expect to be doing some of our business with Freddie still."