Tampa Tribune “The Rubble Of Foreclosures Is Business For Some “

The Tampa Tribune recently printed an article in which Robert Klein was quoted. The article can be viewed online here.

The Rubble Of Foreclosures Is Business For Some

By JEROME R. STOCKFISCH
The Tampa Tribune
Published: June 30, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG – Chad Berry has plenty to be distressed about as he and his crew clear out the remains of one family’s life in the once-stately Bay Vista home.

There is the matter of how to remove several heavy, armoire-size steel safes the evicted family left behind. There are the nine vintage arcade games, including Ms. Pac-Man and Asteroids, posing a cumbersome and heavy load.

But it isn’t the back-breaking volume of abandoned furniture that is troubling Berry on a recent weekday morning. It isn’t the stench from the food that had been removed from the refrigerator and left to rot in the kitchen sink, accompanied by buzzing flies and a mouse carcass. It isn’t the dog feces dotting the floors.

It is up the grand staircase in a small bedroom where Berry, a father of two young girls, appears out of sorts.

“That’s the only thing that ever bothers me,” says the owner of Gulf Coast Grounds Maintenance. “You see a little girl’s stuff. You know how much care and joy went into that bookshelf, into making that little manger scene. You know how they rearrange it. It gets to you, man. It bugs you.

“See that bookcase?” he says, gesturing to shelves lined with the toys, books and knickknacks that a young girl was forced to abandon. “It’s just, … I don’t like that.”

Painful Process

Berry holds one of several critical roles in the process of taking possession of and reselling homes lost because the owner couldn’t meet the monthly mortgage payment.

Florida is second in the nation in foreclosure filings. It can be a grim job to turn those suddenly vacant houses around and restore the housing market to some sense of equilibrium. But there can be no denying that the misery of foreclosure has also provided opportunity.

From lenders to field service companies to real estate agents to sheriff’s deputies who make it happen, there is acknowledgment that the foreclosure process is unfortunate yet necessary. There is unanimous consent: Nobody wants to foreclose on a home and evict the homeowner.

“It’s the last thing you want to do,” says Ron Tremblay, a senior vice president for Wachovia responsible for the bank’s repossessed real estate portfolio. “It’s the last piece of a very painful process. It’s painful for the property owner, painful for the bank, painful for the neighbors, for the community, for all of that. My role, as I view it, is to put the money back into circulation as quickly and efficiently as I can for the bank, and do it in a conscientious manner.”

Tremblay runs a Wachovia division fairly rare in the banking industry, an in-house program to rehabilitate and re-list homes to sell them to an owner-occupier. Most lenders outsource the chore.

When a bank takes possession of a home, it becomes “real estate owned,” or REO. In the past, those homes were typically marketed to handymen or investors who could pick them up inexpensively and turn sweat equity into rental income or maybe even a lucrative sale. The goal for lenders was to quickly get the real estate off their books.

But the process is changing as the housing crisis and the foreclosure spike spread beyond the low-income arena.

Subprime loans, mortgages with tricky terms, no-money-down packages, and more traditional factors such as rising unemployment have victimized people across the economic spectrum.

Returning homes to mint condition and targeting an audience of family owners and occupiers is a trend that has developed in recent years, says Robert Klein, chief executive of Safeguard Properties, the nation’s largest mortgage field services company.

“You used to put signs out that would say ‘REO Foreclosure,’ hinting, ‘Hey, come on in and get a bargain on me,'” Klein says. “We’re now well aware that the answer is not simply to sell to a flipper. You sell to a flipper right now, and in three years it’s right back where it was.”

The Bad With The Good

This month in Apollo Beach, Wachovia staffers Drew Niswonger and Scott Daal begin a tour of their bank’s REO properties in the Tampa Bay area with a stop at a $600,000 home in the Andalucia subdivision.

Niswonger and Daal are supervising Wachovia’s strategy of improving the foreclosed homes to what Tremblay called above-average condition – “so that when you walk into it, it doesn’t look or feel like an REO.”

It’s a hands-on approach. Daal, vice president and regional team leader for Wachovia’s REO division, traveled to the Bay area from Morristown, N.J. Niswonger, sales manager for the region, crossed the state from Daytona Beach.

“You can’t do this from behind a desk,” Daal says.

A lender looking to bring a house back to ship-shape might spend $5,000; if major appliances are involved, the tab can rise to $10,000.

The pair conclude that the Andalucia home is coming along nicely. It is being painted in colors specified by Wachovia. New stainless steel appliances have been installed, with new carpeting on the way. Utilities are on, and the air conditioning is running.

“This one’ll go quick,” Niswonger says.

Their next stop is a $295,000 home in the Rosedale subdivision in Bradenton. Contractors scurry about the home, where one of the residents has left behind an affirmation scrawled in green crayon on the white living-room wall: “Giggles ‘n’ Squirmy,” it reads, surrounded by an orange heart.

The Wachovia staff take note of a missing exterior light fixture. Daal halts a painter who isn’t using the specified color for an interior wall.

“This one will clean up well,” Daal says. “We want to show it like it was a new house.”

That would not be the case in the Bond neighborhood of St. Petersburg, where the two pay a visit to a home to which Wachovia recently took title.

“What’s the adage?” Daal wonders aloud. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure?”

The house, which may have been a three-unit rental – or may have been converted illegally from single-family home to rental units – is littered with debris and the evicted tenants’ former belongings.

With the utilities long since cut off, the thick odors of cigarette smoke and an unflushed toilet hang in stagnant air. A television and various stereo components have been left behind, along with furniture, dirty dishes and food. Mattresses are scattered throughout the units, and there is evidence of rodents.

“This is a tough one,” Daal acknowledges after touring the property. “I think we have a lot more to learn before we make a decision on where we’re going to go with it, who our buyer is, what its value is. The more I look at it, the tougher it looks.”

Indeed, the Wachovia staffers later determine it would take too much work to bring the St. Petersburg dwelling up to the bank’s standards to resell it to an owner-occupying family. It will be cleaned up and sold as-is to an investor.

But there is better news at the higher-end properties. Within three weeks, the Bradenton house is sold, and an offer on the Apollo Beach house is being entertained.

Where Business Is Booming

The region’s real estate market has been among the hardest-hit in the nation. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area had 4,773 foreclosure filings in May alone, or one in every 271 households. That was up 15 percent from April and 29 percent from the same month last year.

Nationally, the foreclosure rate is one in 483 households.

Along with the construction of homes, the foreclosure spike is contributing to a housing glut that has depressed prices. The median sales price in the area was $176,100 in May, down 16 percent from $209,300 a year earlier.

The Greater Tampa Association of Realtors says there is a 15-month inventory of homes on the market in this area, compared with one to two months in 2004-05.

One key to a housing turnaround would involve removing a big chunk of the 19,800 listings on the local market.

Economists report that new housing starts are down, which can bring alarming headlines but is good news for the bloated Bay area market. A reduction in the number of foreclosed homes on the market would also provide a shot in the arm.

That’s where companies such as Safeguard come in. The company, based near Cleveland, expects to serve 660,000 maintenance contracts nationwide this year, up from 173,000 five years ago.

The local market for Berry’s services is also red-hot. “Business is incredible,” said the head of the St. Petersburg maintenance firm. “I’ve been in it since 1989, and I’ve never seen a market like this.”

Like Safeguard and the other big national mortgage service companies, Berry performs most of the duties a lender requires to get a house in shape to be resold. He will make house visits or perform drive-by surveillance of homes in default, to report to the lender whether they are still occupied. He will enter an abandoned house and change locks. He does the “trash-outs” such as the project at the south St. Petersburg house. He has contracts for maintenance of 120 lawns of homes that have been foreclosed or are in pre-foreclosure. He has been on site with deputies during those ugly moments when families are forced to depart.

“There are some, when I walk in, the kids have done this before. You can just tell,” he says. “They know what’s going on, they know who you are, what you’re there for, they just gather up what’s important to them and take it. They’ll throw down a bedsheet, put the stuff in there, and you’re like, ‘That’s a kid. How does this kid know?’

“The kid has no emotion at all. They’re just kind of like, ‘Oh, that’s how people live.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ That’s so nasty.”

But Berry is also aware of the magnitude of his role.

“If I wasn’t here … and nobody did this, the banks would become illiquid,” he said. “They wouldn’t be able to sell the property. They’d be gone.”

Treasures To Trash

As he is sifting through others’ misfortune, Berry says he often wonders about the circumstances. “There’s just no telling where they are, what happened to them,” he says at the south St. Petersburg home.

Sometimes, there are clues. On this day, he finds family portraits and snapshots that aren’t defaced or torn up, “so they’re not totally pissed at each other,” he concludes. He has seen otherwise.

The material scattered around the house doesn’t seem as if it should be destined for the trash pile.

A box of basketball and baseball trophies. Comic books, SpongeBob SquarePants toys and books. A large white envelope addressed to “Dad.” Ear buds, a Harry Potter collection, a math textbook.

A late-model pickup, destined to be impounded. An exercise bench. A wetsuit. Outside, in a pile of debris, a sonogram photo of an unborn baby.

Days later, the scene is repeated at a Town ‘N Country home recently vacated due to foreclosure. Mark Pace of Tampa Suncoast Realty has been contracted by the lender to turn it around.

As an REO specialist, the bulk of Pace’s work traditionally took place in low-income neighborhoods. But no more, he says. “High-end. Low-end. It’s a little bit of everything,” Pace says. “No neighborhoods are exempt from this.”

Hillsborough County sheriff’s Deputy G. Hammond knocks and gently pushes open the front door. “Sheriff’s office!” he shouts.

It is clear the home has been abandoned. The deputy returns to the front walkway after a brief tour to ensure no one is on the premises.

“Who wants to sign?” he asks.

Pace puts his signature on a sheet headed “Notice: Writ of Possession Executed,” and Hammond tapes it to the door next to an older posting, “Final Notice of Eviction/Execution.”

Pace and an assistant start hauling abandoned property to the curb.

And in an area with 15 months’ worth of homes on the market, another one is up for sale.

Reporter Jerome R. Stockfisch can be reached at (813) 259-8402 or jstockfisch@tampatrib.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, 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.