ARLINGTON, Va.-As if depressed property values squelching the real estate market wasn't enough of a challenge, there is another big factor working against what are attractive interest rates: regulatory and legislative uncertainty.

"What is ultimately going to happen with the GSEs (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) is a big factor for the future of credit union mortgage lending," NAFCU's Tun Wai suggested. "A vibrant secondary market is absolutely vital, and we are getting that message to lawmakers."

But whether that message is heeded is still a big question mark, and in the meantime, regulators are loathe to see credit unions holding onto mortgages. "Look, the rates keep coming down and staying down, but at some point, interest rates will rise," he said. "Regulators worry because they don't want to see the value of a credit union's assets go down."

In the meantime, the best thing credit unions can do is dig deeper into "knowing their members." "The mortgage is typically the last loan. You might start off with a personal loan, then maybe a credit card loan and then maybe a car loan, and THEN you go for the mortgage," Wai related. "Credit unions need to be aware of these kinds of shifts so that they are ready to be in front of the member when that member is ready for a mortgage. Members like your institution because they remember that first loan. So, the next step is to leverage that so they wil think of you when they need a mortgage."

And though the window of opportunity created when so many other lenders took a giant step back is starting to narrow, Wai said credit unions still have time to be hammering away at the competition. "If other lenders aren't stepping up, then there's an opportunity for credit unions, and that's what is happening," he said. "People are still upset with banks, so now is the time to be trying to get the member to switch, and we need to make it as easy and painless for them to switch as possible."

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