Real Estate

We're actually not married to this big homeowner tax break: Mortgage Bankers CEO

MBA chief open to changes in home tax break
MBA chief open to changes in home tax break

Reducing or even eliminating the mortgage interest deduction could be worth considering as part of a comprehensive reform of the American tax code, Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens told CNBC on Wednesday.

"We're not religiously wed to the mortgage interest deduction," Stevens said on "Squawk Box," in a sign the real estate financing industry may be open to dealing on the popular tax break.

"Entry level homebuyers typically don't deduct, don't itemize. And wealthy borrowers won't really care," Stevens said. "[But] everybody needs to understand the American that benefits from the mortgage interest deduction is the middle-class homebuyer."

For changes to the mortgage interest deduction to be on the table, Stevens said a broad tax reform package would have to provide offsetting protection for working Americans.

Beyond taxes, the next president needs to focus on housing because it's a fifth of the gross domestic product, Stevens said. He called for an easing of complex regulations borne of the 2006 real estate peak and subsequent crash.

"We had an under-regulated world that created the bubble," he said. "But things do over-correct. And today, we have an extraordinary web of federal regulators and state regulators ... causing builders to be less eager to build ... [and ] lenders to pull back."

Asked whether he would naturally support GOP presidential nominee and real estate mogul Donald Trump, Stevens dodged the question. He said he'd support the candidate, Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with the best plan for housing.

Why we're not in a housing bubble
Why we're not in a housing bubble

The state of housing right now is best-described as strong but not a bubble, Stevens said, adding if anything, there's an "affordability crisis."

While housing prices are about 1 percent shy of 2006 high levels, the reasons for the increases are different this time, Stevens said, referring to the mortgage free-for-all and rampant speculation of a decade ago.

"Home prices rising [today] has to do with what's being built and what's being sold. We're doing really well providing housing to wealthier Americans. That's the market that's most active." he said.

"The reason the average home price is rising is we're not building enough entry-level housing stock to support this younger generation of homebuyers coming into the market," he added.

Stevens said the big surprise in housing this year has been the rush to refinance, following the plunge in bond yields amid the international market turmoil created by Britain's vote in June to leave the European Union.

"The story of mortgages this year is what I would describe as sort of the Brexit bump," he said. "Refinances are up about $100 billion over last year. We expected them to decline; not expecting what's happened in the international markets that drove ... rates lower."

On Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that total home loan application volume increased 2.8 percent last week. Refis rose 4 percent.