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Preserving the Nation’s Housing Market

Baker Breedlove of MSI moderates the "Lessons Learned: Adapting Business Practices and Finding a Way Forward" panel featuring JK Huey of Brookstone Management, Todd Pawlinski of U.S. Bank, and Joe Iafigliola of Safeguard Properties

As part of the 2021 Five Star Conference at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, several educational Labs were held to update attendees on the latest happenings in the mortgage and housing finance space.

Things kicked off Monday morning with the Property Management Lab, hosted by Insight One Solutions, and co-hosted by Brookstone Management, and Guardian Asset Management.
In this Lab, lender/servicers, field services companies, and government representatives gathered to discuss the challenges currently faced by the industry, and what needs to be done to ensure top-quality service and combat urban blight.

Jodi Gaines, Chief Client Officer, EVP Business Development and Government Relations for Insight One Solutions briefed attendees and welcomed the panelists and moderator for the first session, “Lessons Learned: Adapting Business Practices and Finding a Way Forward.” The pandemic left a long-lasting impact across every industry, and the property preservation sector was no exception. Moderated by Baker Breedlove, CEO, Mortgage Specialists International, panelists JK Huey, Board Advisor for Brookstone Management; Todd Pawlinski, VP of Property Preservation for U.S. Bank; and Joe Iafigliola, CFO of Safeguard Properties detailed how recent innovations have transformed and pushed the property preservation industry forward.

“One of the biggest challenges we had to deal with early on during the pandemic in the property preservation field was dealing with local restrictions … whether or not our subcontractors were classified as ‘essential workers,’ as they tried to do inspections or other property preservation-type work,” said Iafigliola. “We had to resolve that in some places a generic letter was required, while other places required specific documentation.”

The second session, “Networking Notes: Strengthening Vendor Relations,” moderated by Chad Mosley, President of Mortgage Contracting Services (MCS) featured a lively discussion on the tips and best practices for building and maintaining a strong and engaged vendor network. Panelists for this session included Candace Russell, VP of Post Sale for Carrington Mortgage Services; Caela Olslund, Director for Innovative Field Services; Phil Johnsen, VP/General Manager, Mortgage & Real Estate Solutions for Altisource; and Eric Will, Senior Director, REO Operations, Single-Family Operations Division for Freddie Mac.

In order to keep ahead of an ever-shifting marketplace, most companies needed to adopt new technologies to expedite services, maximize staffing efficiencies, and assist vendors in providing top-tier services. Led by moderator Binni Skariah, Chief Information Officer for Insight One Solutions, the “Tech Talk: The Latest Tools in Client Services” discussion featured Lou Salerno, General Counsel for Guardian Asset Management, and a returning JK Huey tackling what systems and methods worked for them over the past 18 months as the nation endured the COVID-19 pandemic.

With limited REO volumes throughout 2020 and 2021, restricted by the impacts of COVID-19, many in the industry wonders exactly when referral levels will return to pre-pandemic levels? Will the end of forbearances and foreclosure moratoria result in a near-term REO increase? The Five Star Conference’s REO Lab, hosted by Altisource, brought together industry leaders to share their forecasts and strategies involving disposition, lead generation, asset management, and listing positions with high ROI.

Eric Will, Senior Director of REO Operations for Freddie Mac, delivers his presentation, “After the Pause: Government Insights Into REO Expectations"

Michael Jansta, SVP of Hubzu, welcomed attendees to the Lab, getting underway with a presentation from Eric Will, Senior Director of REO Operations for Freddie Mac, titled “After the Pause: Government Insights Into REO Expectations.” The room needed to be expanded to accommodate the crowd at the Hyatt Regency’s Reunion A Room, as Will provided insight into what's happening and what's being forecast by the GSE, including Freddie’s processes and initiatives, and provided feedback for asset managers, agents, and brokers who serve these industry partners.

“During COVID, some things looked really good for us, and some things are really bad,” said Will. “The challenge for us was, how do you keep your mind on true performance? Some really good things have come out of our experiences over the past 18 months.”

Following the Q&A, Darrin Hovsepian, VP of Alternative Disposition for ServiceLink Auction, and Ryan Smith, Director of REO for RE/MAX Properties-Smith REO Group delivered “Where We Stand: The State of the REO Market” session, explaining what's new in the REO sector, the impact the overall U.S. economy is having on the market, and what the future holds for the REO space.

Areas of REO business that agents have eliminated from their business models—short sales and managing repairs—may be increasing as 2021 comes to a close and 2022 gets underway. In the “REO Strategy 2021-22: What You Need to Know” session, Aaron Moody, VP of Real Estate Operations for Xome and Eddie San Roman, President of 24 Asset Management shared what you need to incorporate into your refined business model to prepare for these anticipated changes.

The final session of the Lab brought together asset management experts to discuss the positives and how to work through the negatives facing the REO sector in the “Stay Nimble: Adaptive Asset Management” discussion. Moderated by Rob Pajon, SVP Marketing & Product, USRES/RES.NET, panelists tackling the topic included Jorge Newbery, CEO of AHP Servicing; Andrew Oliverson, VP of Radian; and Jacquelyn Pardue, Head of Procurement for LoanCare LLC who provided their insights into areas to master what professionals value most in agents and brokers, and what makes them call an agent back with future listings.

Also held Monday was the Servicing & Compliance Lab, co-hosted by Xome and Incenter, which brought together servicing professionals and government representatives for candid, collaborative discussions of the headwinds facing the industry.

Welcoming attendees to the session was Shawn Miller, VP, Head of Business Development for Xome, who introduced a pre-recorded keynote presentation from Julienne Joseph, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Office of Single-Family Housing for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

“As you know, FHA is working with you on a variety of loss mitigation solutions to help those homeowners who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic," Joseph said. “For example, FHA, over the course of the pandemic, has instituted many programmatic changes designed to assist homeowners that have been financially impacted by the pandemic and may now be in danger of losing their FHA insured loan and possible eviction."

Servicer responsiveness, outreach, and diligence are critical issues facing the market, as large volumes of homeowners exit forbearance and attempt to resume their mortgage payment schedules. Addressing how the industry can best assist these individuals was the “Help Is on the Way: What Mortgage Servicers Are Doing to Help Assist Homeowners” panel, moderated by Daren Blomquist, VP of Market Economics for Auction.com. Panelists Benjamin Gottheim, Senior Director, Mortgage Servicing Policy for Freddie Mac, and Tim Lightfoot, SVP–Loss Mitigation Operations for Rushmore Loan Management Services joined Blomquist as they discussed loss mitigation options to term extensions and other solutions to best assist struggling homeowners.

"Forbearance has been highly effective," Gottheim said. "Borrowers are engaged, borrowers continue to come off forbearance in good numbers every single month ... and after the borrower exits forbearance, they go into one of our different loss mitigation programs and they are preforming really well."

And as the industry kept pace with changes in their borrower’s payment status, the regulatory environment changed as well, and the Lab’s “The Swing of the Pendulum: The Return of Regulation” session took a closer look at the heightened regulatory landscape. Session participants Marcel Bryar, Founder and Managing Director, Mortgage Policy Advisors LLC; Tom Huddleston, EVP & Managing Director, Head of Vylla Title Services, Carrington Real Estate Services; Jesse Schwab, Chief Risk Officer for Bell Bank; and Michael Waldron, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer for Community Loan Servicing LLC, discussed what the industry must do to stay ahead of the curve, and how the industry can maintain top-quality service while preparing to assist an influx of delinquent borrowers as forbearance plans come to an end.

“I think that the primary lesson that we learned is how important it has been for us as an industry to come together in the way that we did during the last crisis,” said Waldron. “Since then, we were able to draw upon shared experiences. We have grown stronger as an industry. We have benefited from technological advancements. We are able to focus on self-serving options, which has been critical to the success of servicers through this pandemic. We were humbled by the last crisis, and that has caused us to better understand the importance of the customer experience, and the value of working together as an industry.”

The final session of the Lab assembled a panel of C-suite industry executives to share their insight and best practices for success in the “View From the C-Suite” panel. Jesse Roth, EVP of Business Development for Auction.com; Gagan Sharma, President/CEO for BSI Financial Services; Jocelyn Martin-Leano, President of the Servicing Division for Rushmore Loan Management Services; and John Vella, Chief Revenue Officer for Selene Finance discussed how executives have handled the past 18 months and how they must pivot moving forward to streamline their operations.

“Over the next year or so, with the need for customer contact being such a heightened awareness where everyone's going to want answers coming out of forbearance plans, continuity and call center activity and offering your customers loss mitigation is very critical,” said Vella. “It's going to be very challenging, from moving back into the office, to managing all the new rules and regulations, to how you contact borrowers and explain their loss mitigation strategies.”

The 2021 Five Star Conference proved that mortgage default servicing professionals are back and ready to serve homeowners nationwide. Despite a year of turbulent activity, the hundreds of attendees that packed the rooms for Five Star’s Labs proved that the nation’s at-risk homeowners are not alone, and will always have a helping hand from an industry working in concert to get all back onto the road to recovery.

About Author: Eric C. Peck

Eric C. Peck has 20-plus years’ experience covering the mortgage industry, he most recently served as Editor-in-Chief for The Mortgage Press and National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Peck graduated from the New York Institute of Technology where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts/Media. After graduating, he began his professional career with Videography Magazine before landing in the mortgage space. Peck has edited three published books and has served as Copy Editor for Entrepreneur.com.
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