This week, Safeguard Properties is once again hosting its annual National Property Preservation Conference. A tradition since 2004, the event—this year fully virtual due to COVID-19—provides an “outlet for industry leaders to collaborate and innovate,” according to organizers.
This year’s virtual conference kicked off Tuesday with a keynote address by Min Alexander, GM and COO for online residential real estate auction marketplace Auction.com.
Alexander said a few things that latter panelists echoed. While acknowledging how many changes are occurring this year as the result of a national health crisis—issues related to workflow, technology, resources, and communication, to name a few—she said the “north star” for her company remains the same: “Does this serve and strengthen our communities?”
Before diving into some housing data from her colleague, economist Daren Blomquist, and discussing the differences between the current recession and 2008, she shared with the audience the important instruction she tells her own team: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” This theme of agility, responding quickly to the many inevitable changes, was also mentioned throughout the day as one essential characteristic for any individual or organization hoping to thrive in the coming months and years.
“Be nimble and anticipatory of things facing you in the future,” said Patrick Coon, Senior Managing Director of Servicing for Home Point Financial, when asked during a “State of the Industry” panel about the biggest challenges facing property preservation. He cited the need to respond quickly to recent increased staffing demand, more and deeper reporting and analysis, and the in-depth preparation that needs to happen as we enter 2021—and approach the onslaught of forbearance exits it will likely bring.
This “known-unknown," as the “State of the Industry” moderator Ed Delgado, Five Star Global’s Chairman Emeritus, phrased it, is one challenge unanimously acknowledged by the panelists. The session’s speakers included Coon; Tim Rood, Head of Industry Relations for SitusAMC; Caroline Reaves, CEO of Mortgage Contracting Services; Marcel Bryar, Managing Director of Mortgage Policy Advisors (MPA); Alan Jaffa, CEO of Safeguard; and Sara Singhas, Director of Loan Administration for the MBA.
The current high rate of forbearance plans could prove problematic when it comes to neighborhood blight, Jaffa said. He noted that properties in forbearance, though delinquent, do not undergo the regular property inspections performed on bank-owned properties.
“Code enforcement hasn’t been telling us just yet about a big spike [in blight], but we’ve been concerned about it from the beginning,” he said. “During forbearance process the servicer is not performing an inspection. Many people aren’t considering this but you’re talking about probably millions of properties that have not been making payments and have not undergone an inspection, and this is a concern, which could also affect surrounding home prices.”
Coping with disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, in past years has helped prepare the mortgage servicing/housing industry for its efficient response to the ongoing COVID-19 disaster, Bryar said. Still, some of Congress’ foreclosure prevention measures created new uncertainties for the industry. “The CARES act was historical but the ways various groups … interpreted and regulated it was striking,” he added, and he suggested that is something to which the industry will need to constantly adjust as new or updated actions are taken.
The policy conversation led to a discussion about the possible impact of the upcoming election. While the panelists each shared different predictions about what degree to which the outcomes will affect the industry, a number agreed that the first few months following the election, whatever the result, could be fraught with unrest due to the probability that one party will challenge it.
“It’s [the election] closer than what the media makes it appear,” Delgado said, in response to a question regarding the upcoming presidential election “We’ll see what happens next week. Irrespective of the outcome, I believe the results will be challenged.”
Jaffa added, “Before we worry about new regulations for servicers, we will need to get through the first few months.”
The conference continues Wednesday. More information is available here.