Frustrated in attempts to sway the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the mortgage industry's chief lobbying force says it will take its case to the people.
The Mortgage Bankers Association is expected to announce today a program to query homeowners and other consumers through polls, surveys, and ultimately the Internet.
The initiative-by a trade group that has steered clear of direct contact with consumers-partly reflects recent struggles over Truth-in-Lending rules and with HUD over the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.
Consumers could be asked, "What kind of disclosures would be most meaningful to you?" said MBA president Marc C. Smith. Consumers would probably side with his group in seeking easy-to-understand disclosures, observers said.
The program, which the MBA is calling the National Homebuyer Forum, would have a broad mandate. By communicating with homebuyers about such issues as fees, interest rates, and housing trends, the association expects to be better able to represent its interests to lawmakers. The data could also be used to help members market loan products.
"When we're at our best as mortgage bankers, we are thinking and acting on behalf of consumers," Mr. Smith said. "We would like to be able to articulate meaningful input to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Reserve, and Capitol Hill when called upon to testify.
"We're interested in housing policies that stand the test of time," said Mr. Smith, who is also president of Crestar Mortgage Corp., Richmond, Va.
Mr. Smith plans to discuss the initiative this morning at the MBA's annual conference in New York. The meeting is expected to draw more than 4,000 industry representatives.
HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to make the keynote address. It is unclear whether he will address the conflicts with the MBA.
Mr. Smith said the National Homebuyer Forum would give ordinary people a say in setting priorities for the trade group. They would be asked about the terms of their loans, about interest rates, about general housing issues, and about their goals as homeowners.
Industry representatives like the idea. "Anytime you understand better what the customer is feeling, you'll be able to make better decisions," said Richard Humphrey, senior vice president with GreenPoint Savings Bank, New York.
The input may lead to changes that "in the short term may cost mortgage bankers money," Mr. Humphrey said, "but the long-term benefits are there."
The MBA plans to launch the forum in the next couple of months. It will hire a firm to conduct phone or mail surveys, Mr. Smith said. The pollsters will target several hundred households that have closed loans within 12 months. Questions will focus on "current issues in real estate finance and in housing finance," Mr. Smith said.
He said he would like to see the forum evolve into a group of households surveyed quarterly, perhaps through an MBA Web site.