Robert Klein Counters on Foreclosure Timeline

In the March issue of DSNews, a Point-Counterpoint article was published, titled Only Time Will Tell.  In it, Safeguard’s Robert Klein, founder and chairman, counters to Thomas J. Fritzlen, Jr., president of Martin, Leigh, Laws & Fritzlen, P.C., regarding the foreclosure timeline.

Only Time Will Tell
Foreclosure timelines vary from state to state leaving mixed results in the world of completed foreclosures. Are judicial timelines hurting the industry or helping it?

Foreclosure is a fear that every homeowner hopes to avoid; however, during the economic collapse it became an all too apparent reality for many Americans, but not in the same manner as one would expect because the laws in certain states differ from the laws in other states. Judicial states prolong the foreclosure timelines in certain states allowing some homeowners to stay in their homes for longer periods of time and in other states forcing others out immediately, putting more vacant homes on the market and changing the face of entire communities. How are these laws impacting the recovery? Thomas J. Fritzlen and Robert Klein weigh in.

According to Thomas J. Fritzlen
There are differing perspectives on both sides of this issue. For example, FHFA has recently criticized states for increasing the time in which it takes to foreclose. The Center for American Progress, while recognizing some benefits of timely foreclosures has complained that any potential plans to charge higher guarantee fees in states where laws have contributed to extended foreclosure timelines would unfairly punish borrowers. From the practitioner’s point of view, there is little doubt that in some instances, state laws have added to the costs and contributed to unnecessary delays. Higher costs and longer delays hurt the industry and aggravate an already mind-numbing gauntlet of requirements through which lenders and servicers must run daily. However, there may be a “silver lining.” To the extent such laws can help restore lenders’ credibility and to the extent such laws can help restore public confidence in the foreclosure process, the industry will be strengthened.

The economic crisis revealed isolated as well as systemic problems and abuses, including robo-signing, inadequate, defective (or worse) documentation, questionable or non-existent proof of ownership, and difficulties in providing the courts with adequate evidentiary support. No doubt these problems were aggravated by the high volume of defaulted loans.

The states’ (and courts’) reaction to these problems was swift and reflected an unprecedented erosion of credibility and confidence, which our industry has long enjoyed. Gone are the days of routinely accepting the averments of lenders and counsel as true–even the most routine processes and documents are now subject to higher standards of proof and skeptical scrutiny. In the past, lenders could count on courts generally accepting, without questioning, the accuracy and veracity of their representations. However, in a few short years, such deference has vanished. Public confidence in our industry is at an all-time low. As a result, the industry has been required by various states’ laws to go to extremes (some would say) in order to process even routine foreclosure cases.

This is the new order. Where is the “silver lining”? These may present additional hurdles and burdens, but they also present us with an opportunity to reestablish credibility and confidence. As we work through the foreclosure inventory, the new rules will encourage lenders and servicers to re-establish credibility one case at a time.

This will demonstrate to borrowers, the courts, and the public that our industry is willing to meet the challenges we face–that we will provide accurate affidavits and documentation and complete and unassailable assignments, and that we have exhausted all alternatives prior to foreclosure. While the mistrust may be ebbing, it will take time to restore complete confidence. With daily, consistent attention to detail, we will begin to restore confidence in the mortgage industry.

Another benefit of these more stringent requirements may be to enhance the perception that the process is fair. This may deter the endless legal challenges, which only add to delays.

We need to embrace these new laws and welcome the opportunity that they present to restore public confidence and to re-balance the equities in the process. If we do so, we will realize their “silver lining.”

According to Robert Klein
The discussion surrounding foreclosure timelines in judicial states is far-reaching and multi-faceted because each state operates as its own jurisdiction with absolute authority over its individual procedures and governing protocols. What can be effectively argued is that increased foreclosure timelines leave properties vacant for longer periods of time, which has a lasting impact on local communities–and, in particular, on the neighbors of the vacated properties that sit empty and dark, inviting blight, crime, and vandalism.

I think everyone agrees that when a property is vacant, everybody–from the family next door to local businesses across town–suffers from the vulnerabilities that abandoned properties inherently bring. An unoccupied property in general, especially if it is boarded with plywood, will drive down the property values of the surrounding neighbors, which, in turn, has an obvious and damaging impact on the local community as a whole. It’s a natural progression for this type of scenario to play out on any one of our streets, in any corner of our country.

There’s no argument against the realization that vacated properties are not helping anybody, but the effects of elongated timelines are certainly more pronounced in judicial than non-judicial states. Texas, a non-judicial state, does not have an extended foreclosure timeline; after three missed payments foreclosure is initiated on the home. Illinois, a judicial state, recently passed a law that says if a property is vacant it will fast-track it to foreclosure instead of the foreclosure process taking two years on average. In New York, the foreclosure dockets are backlogged for three years, leaving vacant properties vulnerable to vandalism, crime, and deterioration no matter how well they are being maintained by mortgage servicers and their field service partners.

There is hope for an acceptable resolution to this issue and I think the solution is already happening. While foreclosure timelines are, by and large, decided by state law, it’s a complicated matter, with more and more states taking a step back to examine their own processes because too many times homes are left unattended and unoccupied as homeowners cut ties and set out to find alternative housing solutions.

The conversation surrounding these very diverse and distinct laws is a necessary discussion because, in almost every case, there are neighbors–good, respectable, creditworthy neighbors–who are making their payments on time each and every month and living within their means in the homes that they’ve purchased. Yet these neighbors are made vulnerable because of the unfortunate circumstances that may have fallen on the neighbor who lost their home. It is a loss for everyone when a property sits vacant for a long time–the servicer, the investor, the home’s next buyer, the neighbors, the community, and the municipality.

A swift resolution that makes it possible for the next buyer to see the potential within the empty, lifeless rooms of a vacant foreclosed home . . . that is the fuel that can ignite the spark that we once called the American Dream.

Thomas J. Fritzlen, Jr., is the president of Martin, Leigh, Laws & Fritzlen, P.C., a leading Midwest litigation and creditors’ rights firm serving Missouri, Kansas, and southern Illinois. He serves on the inaugural Advisory Board to the Legal League 100, is a managing member of the Default Attorney Group (“DAG”), and frequently speaks at educational training for servicers and lenders, and at national industry events such as the MBA and USFN. Fritzlen has been recognized as a Missouri-Kansas “Super Lawyer” for each of the last five years, and has 25 years of trial and appellate experience in general civil and complex litigation, including numerous bench and jury cases in state and federal courts.

Robert Klein is founder and chairman of Safeguard Properties. Since founding Safeguard in 1990, he has grown it into the largest mortgage field service company in the country, providing services in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. He has been an industry advocate to advance best practices and has led key initiatives to build relationships between government officials and the mortgage industry and to find workable solutions to improve neighborhoods and communities. He currently serves as chair of the National Vacant Properties Registration Committee of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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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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CHIEF 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, 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, 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.