USA Today “Mortgage lenders see more borrowers give up “

A recent article in USA Today? discusses the challenges facing the loan servicing industry, including including increasing borrower contact with the goal if increased home retention.

Mortgage lenders see more borrowers give up?

On the front lines in the mortgage foreclosure crisis, lender and loan servicer Dennis Lauria says his deepest losses are from borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth and simply mail in the keys, rather than try to work out a new payment plan.

“I can’t get you to pay if you’ve got no skin in the game,” says Lauria, senior vice president of Popular Mortgage Servicing in Cherry Hill, N.J., who says 14% of his customers with subprime loans ? high-interest loans given to people with poor credit ratings ? are in default.

Nearly 3 million homeowners were behind on their mortgages at the end of last year, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said last week. An additional 1 million-plus borrowers were at risk of imminent foreclosure. The number of foreclosures is likely to set records throughout the year and poses an increasing risk to the housing market, the financial markets and the economy.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says the mortgage industry needs a “vigorous” response to help beleaguered homeowners. But what about the response ? or lack of one ? from borrowers?

In California, Florida and Nevada, particularly, where prices are falling the steepest, rising numbers of borrowers are giving up and abandoning their homes despite the significant damage a foreclosure can have on the credit ratings that determine their ability to get future loans.

Nationwide, more than half the borrowers who lose their homes through foreclosure never answered their lenders’ calls or letters, according to Freddie Mac. And an MBA analysis found that 23% of loans in foreclosure last fall were to homeowners who had no contact with their lenders, and that an additional 18% were to absentee owners.

The numbers help explain why it’s so difficult to reverse the trends of rising foreclosures and falling property values. Even some homeowners who can afford to pay their mortgages are defaulting, Lauria says, because their house might have lost 30% of its value, and they figure it will be a long time before it’s worth what they paid for it.

“They say, ‘If I play my cards right, I can live here free for 12 months, maybe longer’ ” before the lender can foreclose, Lauria says. “Our challenge isn’t contacting the borrower. I can talk to them, but they stick their tongue out at me.”

Hundreds of thousands of distressed homeowners are reaching out for help. The Homeownership Preservation Foundation, part of the Hope Now Alliance, fields more than 4,000 calls daily to its toll-free hotline (888-995-HOPE). But about 1 in 4 callers don’t want credit counseling, the foundation says. Many simply want financial relief.

Thary Yin, 26, who works at Wells Fargo’s call center in South Carolina, talks with 10 to 20 borrowers a day.

“A lot of the stories I hear from mortgagors are situations that are very, very extreme,” she says. “I talked to a cancer patient, and after Katrina hit New Orleans, the stories I hear. ? Wells Fargo offers solutions on the mortgage side, but on the personal side, you can only cover so much on a phone call. Not being able to do more personally is the most difficult thing for me.”

Getting more aggressive

With home prices sliding and politicians calling for government and the mortgage industry to do more to help troubled homeowners, lenders and loan servicers such as Lauria are becoming more aggressive in contacting delinquent borrowers and modifying loans to make payments a bit easier.

Such tactics make sense for the loan industry: The last thing a lender wants is another vacant property to fix up and sell.

“We’re becoming more realistic about where the market’s going to go,” said David Sunlin, senior vice president for foreclosures and bankruptcy at Countrywide Financial, which is the nation’s largest mortgage lender and the focus of several government investigations into aggressive lending practices that made the company financially vulnerable.

With an inventory of nearly 40,000 foreclosed properties nationwide, Sunlin says, he will work with a borrower to try to sell a property, even with a sizable loss, up to the date it’s scheduled to be auctioned at a foreclosure sale.

At JPMorgan Chase, which has seen foreclosures jump 38% in the past two years, cases now go from collections to the “loss mitigation” department just five days after a borrower misses a payment, so the company can try to find a faster solution to keep the homeowner in the property. Not so long ago, the loss mitigation department didn’t get involved until 90 days after a missed payment.

As soon as a lender takes control of a property, the value begins to drop while the maintenance costs mount.

Safeguard Properties, a company many lenders use to change the locks, cut the grass and board up windows on foreclosed homes, has seen business rise more than 15% during the past year. A lender will pay $600 to $1,200, and more in some cases, for Safeguard to care for each property.

The largest surges in new foreclosures in the fourth quarter of 2007 were in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, where the frenzied real estate boom in the past several years attracted buyers who put little money down and got risky loans with virtually no proof of income.

Avoiding lenders

There are many reasons homeowners behind on their mortgages fail to contact their lenders, mortgage specialists say. Some don’t believe their lenders can help them. Others fear it will only speed the foreclosure process. And some don’t call because they simply don’t have money to give the lender, according to surveys by Wells Fargo and Freddie Mac.

“It’s (lenders’) own fault that borrowers won’t answer their calls,” says Todd Buckner, CEO of National Housing Solutions, a for-profit mediator between borrowers and lenders to stop foreclosures. “Their collections departments have beat (delinquent homeowners) over the head for months. It’s no wonder borrowers won’t answer the phone.”

To reverse public perception that they don’t want to work with troubled borrowers, lenders are hiring and training hundreds of employees to answer calls and help borrowers restructure their mortgages. They also are turning to more creative ways to try to reach at-risk homeowners.

The Hope Now Alliance, a coalition of 28 lenders and loan servicers supported by the Bush administration, has mailed more than 1 million letters since December to borrowers with subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). In many cases, the lenders are offering to freeze the borrower’s interest rate for five years. In other cases, borrowers may qualify for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan. Even so, the response rate has been less than 20%, on average.

To find homeowners who have stopped paying their mortgages and moved out, lenders use companies known in the trade as “skip tracers.” One of them, Players National Locator, for example, is receiving 7,000 cases a month from lenders looking to track down delinquent homeowners, up 20% since September.

Martin Goodman, president of Residential Capital in San Diego, sends his delinquent borrowers a $5 Starbucks gift certificate, along with documents that explain how his company can help them restructure their loans and avoid foreclosure. His response rate is only 10%.

But Goodman says making contact is only one challenge. The other is persuading delinquent borrowers to tell the truth about their financial condition. He suspects at least 90% of borrowers don’t explain the real reason they are falling behind on their payments out of fear it might accelerate their foreclosure.

“Everybody’s grandmother is dying. Everybody’s kid is having surgery,” Goodman says. “I’d rather somebody say, ‘We mismanaged our debt. This is what we make, and this is what we can afford.’ “

A ‘sense of entitlement’

As home prices fall from coast to coast, 8.8 million homeowners will have mortgage balances equal to or greater than the value of their property by the end of the month, Moody’s Economy.com. predicts.

That could come as a shock to consumers who thought property values would always rise, and it helps explain the attitudes lenders are seeing among their troubled customers, Goodman says.

“If you buy a car and it depreciates,” Goodman says, “you don’t expect the automobile dealer to write off your loan. There’s a sense of entitlement (among homeowners) that is just unbelievable.”

Goodman, whose firm specializes in home equity credit lines, says the main reasons people took out the loans were for home improvement, debt consolidation and medical expenses. But he estimates that about 20% used the cash to go on vacation or buy a new car.

Stories like his are fuel for the opposition in Washington against a government bailout for homeowners facing foreclosure. On the other side, consumer advocates such as the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) can cite a litany of abusive lending practices that hurt homeowners.

“The government ought to get involved because there’s been a market failure,” said John Taylor, CEO of NCRC. “Our proposal is for the government to act as a cash-flow agent, to temporarily acquire the mortgages creating these problems long enough to refinance them into sensible terms and conditions. There would be no bailout because the government gets paid back.”

So far, the Bush administration has backed two initiatives from the Hope Now Alliance to help some homeowners avoid foreclosure. But their restrictions severely limit their effectiveness.

In December, for example, the alliance said it would freeze interest rates or refinance an estimated 1.2 million homeowners with subprime ARMs. To qualify for the interest-rate freeze, borrowers would have to be facing a 10% increase in their mortgage payment once their interest rate reset. But many subprime ARMs are tied to an international index that has fallen 2 percentage points since Christmas.

“In our portfolio, 60% of the borrowers who would have gotten fast-tracked (under the Hope Now plan) would not get that now that the rates have changed so much,” said Melissa Lucas, director of loss mitigation for Home Loan Services.

Instead of a payment increase of $450 a month, on average, her customers will see their payments rise by only $135. They may still qualify for other loan modification programs, she said, but not for the Hope Now plan.

FHA can help, sometimes

In a separate push, the administration backed this year’s temporary increase in the maximum loan limits of the Federal Housing Administration, which caters to first-time and low-income borrowers.

The FHA also has created a new loan program, called FHASecure, to help subprime borrowers refinance out of risky ARMs. Since it was announced in fall, the FHA has received about 277,000 applications and approved fewer than half of them.

In New Jersey, Lauria said he sent the FHA about 3,000 of his company’s delinquent loans to see how many could be refinanced under the FHASecure program. The answer: 61.

Even for the borrowers who contact their loan servicers, the options the companies can offer are tightly constrained by their contracts with investors who buy and sell pools of loans that are packaged as bonds.

But Lauria doesn’t believe every homeowner who can’t pay their mortgage can or should be saved.

“One-third of people who are delinquent should be in foreclosure. It’s the best alternative,” he says. “They don’t have the money. They shouldn’t have (gotten the loan) to begin with.”

And that’s why, he says, he doesn’t blame some of them for walking away from their homes.

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 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.