Ex-Fannie Mae CEO: Housing Will Be Fine in the Next Recession

August 26, 2019, 9:27 PM UTC

When the U.S. housing bubble burst in 2007, the resulting credit crunch helped kick off a global, years-long economic downturn. Now, as international trade tensions and slowing global growth spur talk of a possible, impending recession, people are wondering, how might such a slump affect the real estate market?

Tim Mayopoulos, the former chief executive of Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant that finances roughly a third of American homes, is sanguine about the situation. “I’m much less worried about the state of housing and home prices than I was 10 years ago,” he told Fortune’s Robert Hackett and Jen Wieczner on the latest episode of Balancing The Ledger, Fortune’s show covering the intersection of finance and technology.

“I think when the next recession comes, we’ll be able to weather that actually pretty well, from a housing market perspective,” said Mayopoulos, who at the start of the year became president of Blend, a San Francisco-based financial tech startup that makes software for banks. (Mayopoulos left Fannie Mae in October 2018 after a six-year tenure at the helm, plus three additional years as general counsel.)

Since the Great Recession, loans have improved in quality and lending decisions have been based on more and better data, reducing systemic risk, Mayopoulos said. That wasn’t the case a decade ago.

“I was joining Fannie Mae right as the crisis was hitting, and I can confirm that, you know, with 18 million mortgage loans on our balance sheet, it was very hard for us to understand actually what was in those loans, because for every one of those 18 million loans we had hundreds of pages of paper, but we didn’t really have nearly as much data as we wanted to have,” Mayopoulos said.

Mayopoulos’s current employer, Blend, which digitizes mortgage application processes for banks such as Wells Fargo, is repairing a system that was formerly broken, he said. The company is getting financial firms “to really rely on data instead of documents.”

Nima Ghamsari, CEO and cofounder of Blend, which is privately valued just under $1 billion, also joined Mayopoulos on Balancing The Ledger. He said that the housing market—and his business—is booming.

Mortgage “rates are really good right now,” Ghamsari said. “We’re seeing a big uptick in refinances on our platform,” he noted, citing the Federal Reserve’s July decision to cut interest rates as a major contributing factor.

“I, personally, got my first mortgage while I was at Blend in the last two years, and it was something that I think, hopefully, I’ll be able to hold onto for a long time,” Ghamsari said.

Blockchains, a buzzy technology based on distributed databases, will give consumers more control over their financial data in the years to come, Ghamsari predicted. “That’s probably a space that’s going to evolve pretty quickly over the next maybe 18-24 months, and hopefully it’ll become mainstream in the next five years,” he said.

Meanwhile, the demographics of homebuyers will shift too. “Communities of color will actually be the largest proportion of new home buyers in coming decades,” Mayopoulos said.

Contrary to popular belief, millennials will also be looking to plant roots. “The kinds of homes [millennials] are interested in are not necessarily the hip urban apartment,” Mayopoulos said. “They actually want to live in suburban homes like the ones that they grew up in.”

Watch the full episode above.

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