Alan Jaffa Weighs in on Foreclosure Fast-Tracking

In its March issue of DS News, a Point-Counterpoint article was published, titled Not So Fast.  In it, Safeguard’s CEO Alan Jaffa weighs in on foreclosure fast-tracking timelines and is countered by Ilyce Glink, owner of Think Glink Media.

NOT SO FAST
No one is arguing against healing communities holistically, but varying opinions prevail
in how to approach a solution—begging the question, how fast is too fast when
fast-tracking foreclosures?

The conversation around fast-tracking foreclosures is picking up speed, but not without hitting a few speed bumps. Namely, deciding what properties qualify for fast-tracked foreclosure and how to treat them. Alan Jaffa and Ilyce Glink weigh in on why fasttracking is good in theory, and probably a good practice, but should slow down until the details surrounding them are ironed out.

According to Alan Jaffa
What is an abandoned property? We know it when we see it—or we think we do. It’s the neighborhood eyesore, the house with high grass, overgrown bushes, and debris in the yard. Nobody has been seen living there for months. The utilities are off. Maybe a section of fence around a swimming pool has fallen down, posing a safety risk to children playing in the area.

It’s estimated that about 14 percent of all homes in the U.S.—about 18 million properties—are vacant. Identifying which of those are, in fact, abandoned has become one of the biggest challenges the mortgage industry faces when properties go into default.

Despite what may seem obvious to many, no standard definition of an abandoned property exists, yet mortgage servicers are expected to identify an abandoned property, protect it from damage, and maintain it until it moves through foreclosure.

It’s a Catch-22 for the mortgage industry. Failure to secure a property believed to be abandoned can expose the property to severe damage and vandalism and pose safety and nuisance risks to surrounding neighborhoods. Servicers also are at risk for severe municipal fines and financial penalties for failing to act quickly to secure and protect the property.

On the other hand, the industry faces reputational and litigation risks for securing a property prior to foreclosure if it is challenged by the homeowner, no matter how compelling the evidence that nobody was living there.

Lawmakers and business leaders are searching for ways to rebuild communities. Repairing and restoring vacant and abandoned properties is critical to that process—to stabilize at-risk neighborhoods, stem blight, stop the out-migration of residents, and uphold property values. Restoring abandoned properties offers affordable housing alternatives to
first-time homebuyers and lower-income families. And it brings new vitality to communities, as businesses choose to locate in what become trendy neighborhoods and municipalities shore up their tax bases.

But the process of rebuilding can only start after an abandoned property moves through foreclosure and into new hands—a responsible homeowner, a reputable investor, a land bank, or a community development organization committed to revitalization.

The longer the process takes, the more damage is done—to the property, to the neighborhood, and to the community. Even abandoned properties that receive regular inspections and maintenance services will deteriorate because of damage and
vandalism. They lose value, negatively impact surrounding properties, and drain revenues from municipalities.

Expediting the foreclosure process—just for properties that are designated as abandoned—is the single most effective step that individual states can take to protect property values and revitalize struggling neighborhoods.

Foreclosure fast-track legislation also would define an abandoned property in each state, as the states of Illinois and New Jersey did when they enacted foreclosure fast-track laws in the past two years. This can offer important guidance and help
mitigate risk for the mortgage industry and their field service partners tasked with identifying those properties.

In the meantime, the mortgage servicing industry and investor community can take the leadership by coming together to agree on a common definition of abandonment as a guidepost for states and municipalities to consider.

According to Ilyce Glink
As a real estate columnist and call-in radio talk show host, I’ve been hanging out at the front lines of the mortgage and housing crisis for years. I’ve listened to, and commiserated with, the stories of folks who lost control of their financial lives due to economic circumstances beyond their control, only to then lose their homes by what can only be  described as “misguided” financial policies of the lending industry, not to mention those of the federal and state governments.

It’s not a pretty place to begin a conversation over expediting foreclosures. Beyond lawsuits, national settlements, and fines are families who have suffered real and quite serious losses, many from foreclosures that should have never happened.
Government programs that were supposed to help people refinance, modify their loans, or find other options to avoid foreclosure were slow and, in some cases, non-starters. It was as if the mortgage industry was trying to run through a sea of Jell-O.

Once homeowners caught onto the idea that there was no good way out, many opted for strategic default, leaving their homes in the wake of endless rounds of lost documentation and temporary, but never permanent, loan modifications. On the other side, lenders often started foreclosure proceedings—causing thousands of homeowners to pack up and
depart—but then never actually took possession, leading to today’s so-called zombie foreclosure problem.

It seems like a calculated move on the part of the mortgage holders to avoid the costs of maintaining a foreclosed home until they can sell it. And perhaps at the 30,000-foot level, it is. On the ground, it has created a literal wasteland of neighborhoods, pockmarking the country with abandoned, deteriorating, and crime-infested homes.

Lenders should step in and maintain these properties. By doing so, they would limit blight, squatters, and other illegal activity that vacant homes attract and improve home values across the neighborhood. But local lawmakers and leaders are
struggling to make this happen. By one count, more than 1,000 laws have been passed to try to deal with this problem. Simply the variety of legal definitions that exist to describe vacant property points to the many scenarios in which a foreclosure should be expedited so this problem can be solved.

So here are a few circumstances where I think expediting foreclosures makes sense:

The mortgage, home equity loan, and property taxes haven’t been paid for years. Regardless of who is living in the house (if anyone is), nobody’s paying for it and that’s not helpful to the lender or the community.

The home has long been vacant. If the previous owners moved, removed all their furniture and personal belongings, and forwarded their mail to a new address, that too is sign that the home is abandoned and a foreclosure should be expedited.

The house shows obvious signs of abandonment. Papers and mail have piled up. There are broken windows. Kitchens, baths, mechanical systems, and copper piping have been stripped. Grass is uncut and exterior landscaping is unkempt and perhaps littered with junk. Water, gas, and electric service to the house have been stopped. Notices of unpaid utilities or unaddressed code violations have been taped to the door. And there is a distinct absence of blinds, curtains, and
furnishings inside the home.

There are obvious signs of illegal activity that endangers the entire neighborhood. Signs of squatters, drug use, and gangs are all damaging to property values. The good news is that the neighbors always know what’s going on. The smart
move? Post signs on the front door with a toll-free number so they can call and report what’s going on with the property.

Combining any of these factors (such as nonpayment of the mortgage for years plus signs of illegal activity and abandonment) increases the odds that the house should be taken through the foreclosure process quickly.

But expediting foreclosure doesn’t make sense if the mortgage holder hasn’t already done the basic research required to find out the status of the homeowner and the home itself.

Please click here to view a PDF of the article.

About Safeguard 
Safeguard Properties is the largest mortgage field services company in the U.S. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and based in Valley View, Ohio, the company inspects and maintains defaulted and foreclosed properties for mortgage servicers, lenders, and other financial institutions. Safeguard employs approximately 1,700 people, in addition to a network of thousands of contractors nationally. Website: www.safeguardproperties.com.

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.