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Mortgage Staffing Slashed

244,900 people in real estate finance positions during March

May 6, 2011

By staff

Thousands of jobs in real estate finance have been wiped out as a result of rising rates -- with brokers taking the biggest hit. But recently falling rates raise the prospect of elevated refinance demand. And since big employers who have been busy reducing headcount might not be in any rush to staff up again -- mortgage brokers and small mortgage bankers might be in a good position to seize the opportunity.

In March, there were 244,900 people employed in mortgage lending, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Headcount in the sector fell from 247,700 jobs during February. A year earlier, that total stood at 264,000.

The bureau, which is a division of the Department of Labor, said that people employed in "real estate credit" positions fell to 190,700 from February's 191,200.

"Mortgage and nonmortgage loan brokers" took an even bigger hit -- dropping to 54,200 from 56,500.

The decline in mortgage employment came as the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has climbed from 4.17 percent as of the week ended Nov. 11, 2010, to 4.91 percent as of the week ended April 14, according to survey data from secondary lender Freddie Mac.

Among the biggest lenders to make reductions in their production staffs are Wells Fargo & Co., which said that it plans to eliminate more than 4,500 full-time employees in the first half of this year; Bank of America Home Loans, which disclosed that 1,500 employees will be impacted by its decision to close 100 fulfillment centers; and CitiMortgage Inc., which said last month it would layoff around 400 employees.

But rates have begun falling over the past few weeks -- with the 30-year averaging 4.71 percent in Freddie's survey for the week ended May 5. Based on movement this week in the 10-year Treasury yield, the 30-year could be another 10 basis points better in next week's survey from Freddie.

The painful cutbacks in staffing might have the nation's major home-loan originators hesitant to bring on production employees to handle elevated refinances should rates fall further.

Such a turn of events could be an opportunity for the smaller origination shops that can quickly launch branches in fertile areas without the bureaucracy that can slow such activity at large organizations.

Across all industries, U.S. employment was up 244,000 jobs during April, according to the division of the Labor Department. Unemployment worsened, climbing to 9.0 percent from 8.8 percent in March.

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