FREEPORT – A top federal official pledged his support Friday to Maine mortgage brokers and owners of other financial companies who fear that impending federal regulations will hamper their ability to compete with larger financial firms.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Maine Association of Mortgage Professionals, Winslow Sargeant, chief counsel in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s advocacy office, said his agency will ensure that small-business interests are represented in Washington, where regulators at the recently formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are writing new rules for the financial industry.
“These rules are going to be far and wide in their reach. It’s very important that (small businesses) be at the table,” Sargeant told a crowd of roughly 50 mortgage brokers, bankers and real estate professionals who attended the conference, which was held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Freeport.
Sargeant, who spent the last few days meeting with small businesses in New England, said compliance tends to be more difficult for smaller firms that don’t have staff dedicated to analyzing rules. He said his organization will work to ensure new rules are clear and easy to follow.
“We will make sure that the regulations aren’t one-size-fits-all, but that they take into account small business,” Sargeant said in an interview.
He added that new rules must not create more problems for the struggling real estate industry, a sector that helps drive the U.S. economy. Housing prices in Maine have fallen 14 percent from their peak before the economy entered recession in 2007, said Kirk Willison of Freddie Mac, who spoke at the meeting.
Small financial firms like independent mortgage brokers say they are already overwhelmed by a slew of state and federal financial regulations.
“There are varying interpretations of laws, and the volume (of rules) is so great. Some organizations don’t have the staffing and means to address them,” said Dick Morin, president of the mortgage professionals group.
Morin invited businesspeople in related industries, including banking and real estate, to discuss their concerns in a private meeting with Sargeant.
“The message was, there are too many rules, a lack of clarity and a lack of uniformity,” Morin said. “We thought this was a great opportunity to develop a message to bring to Washington.”
David Meserve of Alpine Mortgage in Augusta, who attended the conference, said he supports consumer protection laws, but added that they often have “unintended consequences.”
For instance, he said new standards for property appraisers have shut qualified people out of the business and created a shortage of appraisers.
As a result, Meserve said, appraisers often travel long distances to evaluate properties. Sometimes, they’re unfamiliar with market conditions in areas where they work.
“A lot of the rules set up to protect consumers have added time and cost to the process,” he said.
If more rules are coming, the least government can do is provide education on the intricacies, say some businesspeople.
“If they do that, we will have less problems with enforcement and consumers will get protection,” said Tony Armstrong, president of Maine Home Mortgage in Portland.
Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: [email protected]