Mortgage jobs plateau as home buying season ends

Nonbank and bank mortgage employment has leveled off in line with typical seasonal trends, but some lenders remain more interested in hiring than is usually the case late in the year.

Nondepository mortgage bankers and brokers employed an estimated 329,000 workers in September, matching the upwardly revised number for August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS also made slight upward revisions to its June and July numbers.

Those upward revisions and individual accounts of hiring interest suggest that there might be more strength in industry employment than current estimates suggest.

"We alone added 102 employees over the last month, and there's a lot of online demand for refinancing that ends up going to nonbank mortgage lenders, so I'd be surprised employment numbers didn't go up," said Sean Hundtofte, chief economist at nonbank digital mortgage lender Better.com.

Although long-term rates have risen over the past three weeks — and don't necessarily move in tandem with the Federal Open Market Committee's short-term rate cuts — consumer demand is still strong and currently looks likely to sustain some interest in hiring for at least six months, he said.

"There was a surge in consumer interest after the news the Fed cut short-term rates yesterday, even though that doesn't necessarily translate to a cut at the long end of the curve," said Hundtofte. "Rates could go up a decent amount and we'd still have a fair amount of people to refinance."

However, depository mortgage lenders that tend to be more focused on long-term purchase business than refinancing may be less interested in hiring now that peak home buying season is over, unless they have other considerations.

"It would make sense to me that bank employment would be flat, but we are in a growth mode and expect to add at an appropriately moderate pace where the opportunity is right," said Tony Weick, president of Bell Bank Mortgage. "The majority of our hiring will be in expansion markets."

Overall U.S. employment statistics, which the BLS reports more immediately than broker and banker data, show 128,000 jobs were added to payrolls in October. The figure was relatively weak compared to the previous month, but stronger than expected given recent labor market developments.

"The October jobs report came in relatively strong, especially since it included significant, but temporary job losses from the recently resolved GM/UAW strike, as well as layoffs of temporary Census workers," Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae, said in an email Friday.

At 3.6%, October's unemployment rate was up 0.1 of a percentage point from the previous month but still historically low.

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