Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, was confirmed Tuesday by a 57-41 vote, with only two Republicans voting in favor of his confirmation.
Republicans had blocked Watt’s confirmation, saying he lacked the experience to head up the FHFA, which oversees Fannie and Freddie. That changed last month when the Senate voted along party lines to eliminate Republicans’ ability to filibuster the president’s nominees – the so-called “nuclear option.” Still, most Republicans seemed to prefer current acting FHFA head Edward DeMarco, a controversial figure whose policies have raised the ire of mortgage and housing industry leaders.
Watt, on the other hand, has proved popular with industry pros, winning the endorsement of numerous mortgage, real estate and housing advocacy groups. Many believe that as head of the FHFA, Watt would change the agency’s focus to give more aid to struggling homeowners.
“I’m glad to hear (of Watt’s confirmation), and I’m looking forward to him bringing to the FHFA the many years of experience he’s had,” said West Virginia mortgage broker Marc Savitt, president of the National Association of Independent Housing Professionals. “Watt has got a reputation as being a no-nonsense kind of guy – a common sense, no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s all about the consumer, as he should be.”
"I’ve heard good things about him. I think he’ll be a really good part of the industry," said Mat Ishbia, president of United Wholesale Mortgage. "I think DeMarco did a good job; I think Watt will do a good job too, if not an even better job. I think he’ll be a positive change."
“(Watt’s) nearly two decades of experience working on housing issues as a member of the House Financial Services Committee makes him the right man for the job during this critical period as Congress debates changes to overhaul the U.S. housing finance system,” said Rick Judson, chairman of the National Home Builders Association.
Meanwhile, National Association of Realtors President Steve Brown called Watt “an outspoken advocate for home ownership” in a statement applauding his confirmation.
Savitt, meanwhile, hopes that Watt will take a second look at some of DeMarco’s more unpopular decisions, like raising fees on loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or DeMarco’s announced intention of lowering maximum loan limits for Fannie and Freddie in 2014.
“I think he’ll get into solving some of the problems that were left on the table by Mr. DeMarco,” Savitt said. “…He’s going to bring a fresh perspective to things. I think he’s going to a good job, I really do.”
Mortgage and housing industry pros are applauding the confirmation of Rep. Mel Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.