Cleveland Plain Dealer “Mortgage field service firms doing well in Cleveland amid foreclosures”

Recently, the Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an in-depth look at the efforts of? the loan servicing industry to?mitigate the potential consequences of?the increasing number of vacant and abandoned properties. With the initial condition of these properties deteriorating (as increasing reports of “property stripping” surface), superior maintenance of these properties is vital to?protect them from ?further damages and return the properties to productive use.

Mortgage field service firms doing well in Cleveland amid foreclosures

Foreclosures mean plenty of work for firms that maintain and manage vacant homes

Who wants to buy a house that has been sitting empty for months?

Its copper pipes have been ripped out by vandals, the cast iron pipes have burst in freezing weather, and it’s full of junk left behind by people who don’t care about its condition.

After all, they’ve just lost their home. It doesn’t matter to them whether it sits on the market forever, its value deteriorating.

But to the new owners of properties like these — banks or other mortgage lenders — it’s starting to matter a lot.

In the past few years, lenders have lost many millions of dollars on properties that they’ve taken ownership of after mortgages have gone into foreclosure.

In 2007, there were more than 2 million foreclosure filings nationwide, nearly 14,000 in Cuyahoga County alone.

Five or 10 years ago, some lenders would have unloaded the properties as quickly as possible, accepting the loss and moving on.

But these days, because of the sheer number of properties to deal with, that approach has become extremely costly, said Robert Klein, chief executive of Safeguard Properties Inc. in Brooklyn Heights.

That’s where mortgage field service companies like his come in. Lenders hire them to change the locks, mow the lawn, drain the pipes, clean up the place, maybe even do some remodeling — whatever it takes to get the property sold at a price the lender can swallow.

This little-known industry, like the foreclosure crisis, has grown tremendously over the past few years.

“Anytime a bank takes a property to foreclosure, they’re losing heavy-duty money,” Klein said.

Safeguard’s job is to lessen the bleeding.

“Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous emphasis on protecting the collateral, in making sure property doesn’t get damaged,” he said. That means deterring vandals and preventing vulnerabilities like a weak roof or bad pipes from creating more expensive problems.

He said Safeguard clients also aim to maintain neighborhood property values and attract buyers who will actually live in the houses, rather than try to turn them over for a quick buck.

That means making the house look occupied and keeping it in a condition that’s more desirable to families.

“For a bank, securing and maintaining homes is not their main business,” Klein said. “This is a very small part of their world. Our clients have come to rely on us.”

The mortgage field services industry isn’t new, though.

Tim Doehner, executive director of the National Association Mortgage Field Services, said banks have hired contractors to keep up bank-owned properties for as long as he can remember.

But before foreclosures were so widespread, banks typically hired contractors themselves, or hired real estate brokerages to handle it, he said.

“In the past 10 to 15 years, it’s become an industry in itself,” Doehner said.

NAMFS is a trade group that was founded in the 1980s. It has around 350 members, which range from local construction companies to big players like Safeguard and FIS Field Services in Solon.

Those national companies have emerged in order to service today’s large banks and mortgage companies that own properties all over the country, Doehner said.

Safeguard was founded in 1990 and started out in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Today the company does business in every part of the country and employs nearly 500 people, not including more than 5,000 contractors it hires to do work on the homes.

Jeff Tortorea, president of Lost Pond Construction Inc. in Chardon, said he gets at least 80 percent of his business from Safeguard. He has four construction crews that do work in Northeast Ohio, taking on an average of 20 jobs a day.

The most common job is simple: An exterior inspection to make sure someone is still living in the house after the owner starts missing mortgage payments. If the owner is still there, the contractor does nothing more. Safeguard commissioned 4.8 million of those inspections last year – about 12,000 in Northeast Ohio just during September and October, the latest months for which local numbers are available.

In the fraction of cases where the home goes into the foreclosure process, a contractor like Lost Pond is sent by Safeguard to make sure the house is secure by doing things like changing the locks and boarding up any broken windows.

Once the foreclosure process is complete and the lender takes ownership of the house, Safeguard offers a range of services to the lender – including remodeling, repair and cleaning services. Safeguard did about 2,000 of those jobs in Northeast Ohio in September and October.

John Caputo, of Fowler and Sons Construction Services in Lyndhurst, says a lot of properties are in less than good shape when a bank gets them.

“If somebody doesn’t have the money to pay their mortgage, chances are they also don’t have the money to keep up the property,” he said.

In Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, an out-of-town bank that Safeguard asked not be named is spending more than $20,000 to spruce up the exterior of a property and to repair interior damage apparently caused by vandals.

The job includes replacing a missing water heater and furnace, fixing the porch, replacing storm windows and doors and exterior painting.

Boni Dellarose, director of home sale services at Real Living Realty One, said many of the lenders that list their properties with her agency work with large field service firms like Safeguard. But some of the smaller banks don’t, and they expect the real estate agency to do the basics.

Dellarose said she will hire contractors to winterize houses and to maintain the exteriors. She said keeping the properties maintained is important for the community and the real estate market.

Ten years ago, Safeguard’s Klein said, “banks and even cities weren’t paying as much attention to a vacant home on their block.”

But now, it’s too big a problem to ignore.

He said the interests of his clients and municipalities should be the same: to reduce the number of houses that go into foreclosure and to take care of the ones that do.

He admits, though, that the increase in vacant homes has been a boon to Safeguard.

“As delinquencies continue to grow, we’re going to have more business,” Klein said. “We try to give something back by doing the job right.”

So what happens when the foreclosure crisis comes to an end?

Klein said an improved housing market would be good for everyone, including Safeguard.

“We’re diversified,” he said, coyly. “Right now we have our hands full, but I think there’s plenty of work out there outside of the foreclosure business. We are looking ahead.”

To view the online article, please click here.

About Safeguard
Safeguard Properties is the largest privately held field services company in the country. Located in Cleveland, Ohio and founded in 1990 by Robert Klein, Safeguard has grown from a regional preservation company with a few employees and a handful of contractors performing services in the Midwest, to a national company with over 450 employees. Safeguard is supported by a nationwide network of subcontractors able to perform any requested superintendence, preservation, and maintenance functions, as well as numerous ancillary services in the U.S., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

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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.