Managing REO – The Dirt On Cleaning House

Safeguard Properties was mentioned in an article in Managing REO magazine about the many tasks involved in maintaining vacant properties.

The Dirt on Cleaning House

By Jennifer Harmon

From walls to floors and cabinets to countertops, asset managers have to cover a lot of ground in order to make sure an REO property is clean and ready to sell.

It is a wise move for asset managers to give their real estate agents, brokers and service providers a guide to use when getting real estate-owned assets spic-and-span, according to CJ Gehlke, president and founder of REO Nationwide in Newport Beach, Calif.

Let’s get down to specifics. Inside the home, Ms. Gehlke recommends to take a close look at the kitchen. Remove the refrigerator if it is inoperable and not repairable. If it is in working condition, remove the kick plate at the bottom front of the refrigerator and remove and clean the defrost pan. Defrost the fridge, remove and clean all shelves, racks and drawers. After cleaning, reassemble the refrigerator, and turn it on, setting the control at the warmest setting.

For drawers in the kitchen, empty and clean all stains and food particles by washing them with mild soap and warm water. Remove any worn paper lining. Wipe out drawers. It is important to clean the interior of the dishwasher and remove any food particles. Clean the soap holder, racks and trays. Clean the exterior by wiping with mild soap and warm water.

Next, move down the hallway of home to the washer and dryer. REO Nationwide says it’s important to clean the interior thoroughly and include any filters. Remove all mineral and dried soap deposits from the top of the washer.

“For the furnace, remove and thoroughly clean or replace filter in the bottom of furnace. Clean all windows inside and out. Don’t forget the screens. Vacuum Venetian blinds to remove dust and spots,” says Ms. Gehlke. “Wipe the window sills to remove dust, spots or stains. The walls and ceilings take up a great deal of time. Brush out all corners to remove any dust. Clean the ceiling surrounding all vents.”

There’s more work to be done. Inside the bathroom, make sure to sanitize all tile and shower doors to remove lime deposits and mildew. Scrub the tub as well as the shower and sinks. “It is important to clean thoroughly any woodwork, including doors, door frames and baseboards.”

Also, sweep and mop hardwood floors, title and linoleum. Don’t forget to take care of the carpet. Remove stains and shampoo when this is requested. Empty and tidy up shelves, drawers and closets thoroughly. Remove, dust and replace the light fixtures. All fixtures should have an operable 60-watt bulb in each socket, says Ms. Gehlke. “If the house has a fireplace, go over it thoroughly to include the ash compartment. Sweep, clean and remove all trash and debris from the back porch.”

Don’t forget the garages and carports. Get rid of all trash and debris, and sweep clean these areas of the property. Remove the oil and grease from floor of carport/garage and driveways. Vacuum any vents in the property and haul off items from the storage sheds and make sure to sweep this area clean. And of course, remove all items of personal property.

If the amount of personal property exceeds a certain threshold (industry standards are $500), the personal property goes through an eviction process in accordance to state and local requirements. When it comes with dealing with the outside of the home, Cheryl Lang, president of the Houston-based Integrated Mortgage Solutions, says in the summer, contractors mow the lawn every two weeks and trim the bushes during April to October.

She says part of property preservation means ensuring that all hazardous materials have been removed from the property. This may include removing swing sets, tires, paint, boarding up in-ground pools or removing aboveground pools and draining ponds.

“The process of preserving property has been greatly improved by the use of digital imaging,” describes Ms. Lang. “Because contractors may miss something or deem a property vacant when it is occupied, most vendors today require pictures to verify contractor’s work. It is estimated that roughly 20% of contractor mistakes are caught using digital photos.”

Some vendors today even provide phones with camera capabilities to contractors, so they may collect and share real-time photos in order to expedite the property preservation process. As more and more REO homes need to be monitored and preserved, technology ultimately allows more details to be presented on every property., a Buffalo, New York based company, provides property inspection services for the insurance and mortgage industries. The company, which was established in 1999, has focused on developing a robust and functional technology platform from the very beginning. The company has built a national network of inspectors, which was not an easy thing to do for a small company that was surviving on a bootstrap financing, says Ted Onyeji, president.

A network that includes several thousand appraisers located across the country has become the backbone of the company, he describes. Inspectors are monitored on their first 10 jobs to make sure they comply with industry standards. “We’ve noticed a lot of inspection companies are beginning to add inspectors across the country, especially in the areas of Florida and Michigan because of the glut of houses out there.”

The biggest goal is to make sure the vacant property is not an eyesore.

Safeguard Properties, a privately held field services company located in Valley View, Ohio, makes sure the grass is cut, that there are no broken windows and if there is a gas or water leak inside the home, the company addresses those types of problems immediately.

Safeguard also offers maid services. Contractors are to follow the maid services checklist included in the work order and leave it at the property signed by the person who completed the services. This is a requirement when completing the initial services order. “You have no idea what we find in some of these properties. We will wash the counters down, clean the fridge, put in air fresheners so it doesn’t smell like an REO,” says Mr. Klein.

Bleach and household cleaners are used to rid a property of a smell, along with a powder scent put down on the carpet before vacuuming. Contractors bring a hot water supply with them to perform the cleaning. If carpet is in deplorable condition, the contractor will notify Safeguard to have it removed. “The lender wants to sell the REO as soon as possible to a homeowner who will live in the property. You want to make it as attractive as possible. You have to make it look and smell good. We try to do the best we can. We do as much as we can so the neighbors don’t have a rundown home with 50 tires in the front yard,” he adds.

Properties are becoming more seriously damaged as well. Some homeowners in foreclosure are so frustrated they will do serious damage to the property. They take out appliances, put holes in the walls and holes in the floor, he says. “There is no rhyme or reason. They are taking their frustration out on the system or the process. We are seeing that more and more.”

By the time the mortgage company gets a hold of one of these properties, it is sometimes problematic. Safeguard hire various contractors they have built relationships with to do repairs such as re-roof a home. In today’s market the industry is seeing an increase in the amount of repairs being done to vacant REOs.

“The goal of the mortgage company is to sell this property as quickly as possible. Every day they hold on to it is costing them money, in addition to the foreclosure process. It’s a bigger financial loss. We want to make the house inviting and attractive to the possible homeowner.”



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.


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.



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”.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.