CMIS Focus eMagazine – Addressing copper theft to combat urban blight

Robert Klein, CEO of Safeguard Properties, contributed an article to the CMIS (Coalition for Mortgage Industry Solutions) Focus emagazine about theft prevention in vacant properties.

Addressing copper theft to combat urban blight

By Robert Klein, CEO Safeguard Properties

Across the country, in cities large and small, our company has witnessed what newspapers and police blotters have reported — significant increases in metal theft from vacant properties, with copper as a prime target.

The rise in thefts is fueled by scrap metal prices that have doubled and even tripled in some markets during the past three years because of growing demand.

The opportunity to make money stealing and selling scrap metals has been so compelling that thieves have risked death, serious injury and jail time to strip metals from city streets, cemeteries, new construction sites and, where it impacts our industry the most, vacant homes.

Metal thefts not only are dangerous for criminals, they create serious hazards for entire neighborhoods when thieves break working water and gas lines and cut live electrical wires to reach copper components.

Theft of copper and other metals in vacant houses contributes significantly to urban blight. While metals stripped from one home in less than an hour can bring hundreds of dollars through a scrap dealer, the cost to repair the damages left behind can run into the thousands.

Especially in struggling neighborhoods, when homes are stripped of their metals, they are also stripped of any value after thieves tear up floors and punch man-sized holes into walls to gain access to copper pipes. Stolen plumbing often causes severe water and flood damage, and the theft of electrical wiring increases the risk of fire.

In fact, metal-stripped properties often end up with negative value because demolition costs can range from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the market and the size and condition of the property. Many property owners simply abandon these homes, leaving neighbors and cities to deal with the resulting nuisance and eyesore.

Deterring thieves and protecting properties

Cities, neighborhood groups and the mortgage industry have tried many ways to deter metal thieves because of the devastation they leave behind. Increasingly, cities and states have begun to consider and enact legislation requiring scrap dealers to obtain proof of ownership for certain high-theft metal items, and to increase their record-keeping and reporting.

Community and block organizations have strengthened neighborhood watch groups and stepped up efforts to educate neighbors and encourage them to be more vigilant in watching for and quickly reporting suspicious behavior at vacant homes in their neighborhoods.

Likewise, the mortgage and field services industries have routinely taken steps to deter metal thieves and better protect properties from the devastating damages they wreak.

First and most obvious, the simple fact that lenders and servicers utilize field service companies to inspect, maintain and secure vacant properties is a strong deterrent. Thieves are less likely to target properties that appear to receive regular attention, and that have been secured by field service professionals.

Field servicers are always seeking better ways to secure and protect properties on behalf of their clients. For example, Safeguard Properties recently announced a Good Neighbor Door Hanger program to combat thefts and other problems at vacant properties under management.

Under this program, once a property has been secured, in addition to placing a sticker on the front door of the property with emergency contact information, as is standard in the industry, Safeguard will visit neighbors to let them know that the company is managing the property. A door hanger with 24-hour emergency contact information is provided so neighbors can alert Safeguard if an issue arises. It is hoped that this program will encourage neighbors to be more vigilant in watching vacant properties and providing an early alert to report suspicious activities and deter thefts and vandalism.

One of the best ways to protect a vacant property is to give the appearance that it is occupied. While plywood boarding placed over doors and windows that have been breached is effective in keeping properties secure, it is not aesthetically appealing and makes it more obvious that a property is vacant.

Among the initiatives being tested in the industry is artistic boarding, in which plywood boards are covered or painted to give the appearance of actual window panes and doors so that vacant homes are not as obvious and offer a more attractive appearance among other homes in the neighborhood.

Similarly, the industry is upgrading the service packages on post-foreclosure REO properties, as they languish longer on the market and compete increasingly with traditional market homes. For servicers and investors, these homes are even more important to protect from the destruction caused by metal thieves because additional dollars have been invested in them to prepare them for market.

Upgraded services to REO properties include maintaining the exteriors to a neighborhood standard to make them appear occupied, thus deterring theft and vandalism.

The industry also has increased outreach efforts to open lines of communications nationwide with code enforcement officials. An important component in this initiative has been to provide an easy way for code enforcers to obtain contact information for mortgage lenders and servicers. An updated listing for the majority of lenders and servicers is now available through the Mortgage Bankers Association Web site, under its Property Preservation Resource Center (www.mortgagebankers.org/propertypreservation). As a result, when properties experience problems, code enforcers can more quickly identify the person responsible for maintaining a vacant property on behalf of the mortgage lender or servicer. This assures that issues can be addressed quickly and that properties remain safe and secure.

Vacant property registration ordinances

A recent and growing effort by cities has been to enact vacant property registration ordinances, largely in response to increased vandalism and the blight that results when these properties remain unattended. The ordinances allow city officials to reach responsible parties and hold them accountable when code violations occur.

While the industry supports the concept of the ordinances and understands the need for cities to take action, based on our experiences in the field, we believe many of the provisions in ordinances enacted around the country actually have the potential to create consequences that are more severe than the problems they are attempting to address.

This is why mortgage servicers and field servicers have formed a National Vacant Property Registration Committee under the Mortgage Bankers Association to offer our expertise to assure that cities enact the most effective ordinances possible.

With respect to thefts of copper pipe and other metals, the committee has attempted to discourage cities from enacting provisions that draw more attention to the fact that a property is vacant, or that require the installation of materials that are particularly attractive to thieves.

For example, some ordinances require that a large sign be posted in front of a vacant property, readable from the street, identifying a point of contact in case of emergency. The sign itself is more likely to draw criminal behavior, as it identifies the property as vacant. Better alternatives already are in place to identify contacts in a timely manner.

Other provisions under consideration have called for responsible parties to install exterior lighting to vacant properties, or to install metal panels as a more attractive alternative to plywood on doors and windows. In both cases, the lighting and the panels themselves are desirable items for thieves to steal for their scrap value. Artistic boarding, as an example, may be a better option to address the aesthetics and security concerns at the same time.

It is unfortunate but true that even vacant properties under management by field service professionals will become targets of thieves looking to score large quantities of scrap metal for fast profit.

However, working together as an industry, and by reaching out to cities to address the challenge in a spirit of cooperation, our hope is to help deter criminals and minimize damages so that vacant properties can remain viable and return to family homeownership as quickly as possible. There is no better way to combat vacant blight and preserve and maintain the integrity of neighborhoods across the country.

Robert Klein is CEO of Safeguard Properties, the largest privately held mortgage field services company in the U.S.

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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 oversight of the Control, Quality Assurance, Accounting and 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.