May 13: Letters constructing a resume, improving customer service, and how pricing engines work; vendor updates; Saturday Spotlight: FirstClose

Certainly, the headline-grabbing, sensationalist headlines of home values “plummeting” are not quite accurate. Appreciation rates have come down, which is fine given that 20 percent year after year is unsustainable and not good for first time home buyers. Owners are hanging on to their homes (check out the chart here: click on “Outstanding Mortgages” near the top). With only 562k active listings of homes for sale, millions of people in their 20s and 30s and now early 40s wanting to own their own place, well, the demographics argue against a big drop unless something changes. The latest comes from the National Association of Realtors: “Almost Seven in 10 Metro Areas Posted Home Price Gains in the First Quarter of 2023.” “Single-family existing-home sales prices climbed in approximately 70% of measured metro areas (152 of 221) in the first quarter. The national median single-family existing-home price declined 0.2% from one year ago to $371,200. About one in 14 markets (7%) posted double-digit annual price appreciation (18% in the previous quarter).” I hope that you have the products to offer to those first-time home buyers!

Saturday Spotlight: FirstClose

___________________________________________________

“Solving industry challenges, which we do with a client-first mentality.”

In 3-5 sentences, describe your company (when was it founded and why, what it does, where, recent growth and plans for near-term future growth).

FirstClose was founded in 2000 to bring the mortgage industry home equity-specific technology. Today, it is the only platform built specifically for home equity. FirstClose clients enjoy a platform that seamlessly integrates with their LOS to identify viable applicants faster, accelerate HELOCs and home equity loan closings, as well as improves the borrowers experience, all while mitigating risk.

 

Tell us about what type of volunteer work employees are encouraged to engage in, or charities your company supports, and why. 

Our team contributes their time, money and energy to dozens of food banks, charity walks, children’s causes, animal rescues, affordable housing, human trafficking causes, and more, every year. As a company, we take our corporate responsibility seriously and have programs in place that utilize our people, products, and financial assets to make a difference.

We are proud to partner with organizations like Austin Habitat for Humanity and Operation HOPE to promote community reinvestment, research, and financial literacy. At FirstClose, giving back is part of our culture and we are always looking for opportunities to make a positive impact in our community.

 

What does your company do to help elevate your employees’ growth? Describe any mentoring programs, outside classes or training, in-house training. How does the company help people develop?

FirstClose is committed to cultivating a culture of learning that inspires our employees to develop their talents and deepen the skill sets needed for their current and future roles. Employees have access to a variety of best-in-class educational resources from industry associations such as MBA, CBA, ICBA and ACUMA; numerous education and certification programs through our key integration partners and live workshops hosted by our own leaders.

 

Tell us how your company maintains its culture in a work-from-home environment, or how you plan on bringing employees back into the office, if applicable.

We have a blended environment of hybrid and pure remote employees. I think we can all agree that there is no replacement for seeing colleagues face-to-face, even if it’s through a screen. Each quarter we have an “all hands” meetings which is in-person for folks in Austin and virtually for our remote folks. During this meeting, we update the entire organization on important events and milestones. Employees have a chat room during the meeting to ask questions and add commentary. For those in the Austin area, we have a social outing after the meeting for employees to network with each other.

 

Early on, we equipped employees with appropriate hardware, software, and real-time chat applications to improve communication and expectations. We are also looking to create a couple of fun chat channels for employees to bond over mutual, non-work-related interests and after-hour virtual socials which could include trivia or Family Feud via Teams.

 

Things you are most proud of that don’t have to do with sales 

The solutions we’ve built are changing how homeowners tap into their available equity. We’ve seen incredible results including, 77% reduction in time to close from application to funding, 35% increase in online applications and a 25% increase in pull through rate.

 

Fun fact 

The company was started by two brothers over 20-years ago after realizing that applying for a home equity loan didn’t need to be so difficult or take so long to close. The FirstClose name was derived from the concept of helping lenders “be first to process and close a transaction.” It encapsulates the pursuit of being first in all aspects of helping lenders and borrowers close loans faster via innovation, automation, and collaboration with its customers, vendors, and partners.

Thoughts on improving customer service

___________________________________________________

“Rob, we have tried everything. We lowered margins, cut fees, recruited new loan officers, marketed niche products. Nothing is working! Any advice?” Have you tried to secret shop yourself to see what the real experience is your prospective new customers actually go through? Try to fill out a contact form on your website and see how long it takes for a response or call in and pretend to be a first-time home buyer. Literally forget everything you know about mortgage and see if the loan officer explains your options in plain English and don’t forget to ask for a quote in writing. You might be shocked what comes back.

For more information I asked STRATMOR’s Brett McCracken who specializes in this for clients. He replied, “I remember when I was a little kid and a teacher explained to me what it meant to miss the forest for the trees. It is perfectly applicable here because it’s so easy for executives to get caught up in the day-to-day world of internal projects and statistics being pumped out in mass quantity by their business intelligence platforms that they overlook the actual consumer experience. I wish every lender had a mechanism to compliantly record all sales calls because I can tell you exactly why a loan was or was not originated listening to those.

“The other day I had a brief conversation with a loan officer in which I told him I was a third-grade geography teacher as part of the secret shop. He told me he was quoting the par rate which I could buy down and cautioned I’d have MI that will drop off when I hit 80% LTV. That’s overwhelming for a first-time homebuyer, especially. When I secret shop lender experiences, I often run into website issues, no return calls when requested, auto generated text messages that tell me responses aren’t monitored, and probably the biggest one is having to repeat the same information several times digitally and then verbally to the loan officer.”

Thank you, Brett. Unlike 2020 and 2021, when loans seemed to grow on trees, these days every lead is precious, and no one wants to lose a borrower due to a bad experience that could have been prevented.

Product and pricing engine primer

___________________________________________________

With all the wiz bang technology that is out there, often it is good to remember what that technology replaced. James Hedvall, Chief Capital Markets Officer with Doorway Home Loans, reminded me. Plenty of process and procedures have remained unchanged in Secondary Marketing throughout the years, which is good for me in case I need a side-hustle if this commentary thing ever turns south.

James observed, “I would argue that hedging a pipeline has had few changes, and selling whole loans has had few as well (granted, the buyers have certainly changed along the way). But one thing that doesn’t even remotely appear to be similar is the way secondary groups publish their rate sheets. It used to be a laborious task. Investors would fax or email rate sheets to individual secondary groups, which normally had to be copied or keyed into spreadsheets, margins manually removed (over multiple branches usually), with caps applied, all across every product set that was offered.

“Now, thanks to Product and Pricing Engines (PPE’s) like Optimal Blue, Marksman, and Lender Price, it’s hitting a few buttons and viola. The process is pretty straight forward now, especially for the investor issuing the rate sheet considering they only have to ensure delivery to the PPE and not the 100 or so banks they may buy loans from. These engines allow for very granular pricing strategies, and literally take away the fat-finger errors that were very common back then.

“Also, on the customer facing side, for loan originator, it’s never been easier to run scenarios on multiple borrowers, not only obtain a price, but find out if a borrower is qualified for a specific product given that eligibility requirements are also managed within the system. No more looking at a base rate, applying the myriad of loan level pricing adjustments, from a hard copy faxed, or emailed rate sheet, only to find out their DTI is too high. I speak with a lot of Secondary folks who say their PPE, and its management, easily pays for itself within the first year.”

The job search, and resume writing 101 (more next Saturday)

___________________________________________________

Those searching for a job can post their resume for free at www.lendernews.com; employers can search the database for a nominal fee of $75.

 

James Zeldin, President of MTG Services, writes, “Finding a job in the mortgage industry today is very challenging. Tens of thousands of positions have been eliminated resulting in significantly more people chasing fewer opportunities. As a leading executive recruiter in the mortgage space, we frequently hear from job applicants that no matter how many resumes they send out to potential employers, nothing materializes… no calls, no interviews, etc. In this market, job applicants must differentiate themselves and your resume is typically the initial introduction to any employer or recruiting firm. There are ‘best practices’ that, if followed, will increase your interview success rate when applying for a new position.

“Be concise, use bullet points and not paragraphs when summarizing your experience: Employers potentially receive hundreds of resumes for each role and must quickly assess your background against the position parameters. Bullet points should be short and easy to read.

“Use performance metrics to differentiate yourself, use them:  Focus on achievements, not tasks. Describe your role using performance metrics as employers are substantially more likely to interview candidates that show prior performance on their resumes. This is imperative for more senior-level roles.

“If other people with similar backgrounds can write the exact same text, it should likely be removed: Remember, the key is differentiating yourself from every other applicant. Example: if you are an underwriter, you don’t need to state that you ‘Review a borrower’s credit report’ or “Evaluate income, asset, and other documents”. These functions are implied in the role and do not need to be called out on your resume.

“Customize your resume content for each position: All components of your resume should directly correlate to the role for which you are applying. Take the time necessary to understand the role and then customize your resume for potential employers showing why you should be selected for an interview.

James wrapped up with, “Ensure consistent formatting throughout: Using inconsistent fonts, bullet points, spacing, etc. shows a lack of attention to detail which will adversely impact your interview potential.” Thank you, James.

And Paul Conway with Conway & Greenwood, Inc. writes, “The resumes that I like the best always have a short description of the company and a short description of each role. The bullets should be reserved for their specific accomplishments while in the role. In mid-to senior level roles in the mortgage industry, I like complete resumes and would never encourage someone to limit it to one page. I am not a fan of functional or skills-based resumes, because you have a hard time seeing the progression of the career.”

(More next week.)

Vendor/third-party provider news

___________________________________________________

RiskSpan announced the incorporation of Flexible Loan Segmentation functionality into its Edge Platform. The new functionality makes Edge the only analytical platform offering users the option of alternating between the speed and convenience of rep-line-level analysis and the unmatched precision of loan-level analytics, depending on the purpose of their analysis. RiskSpan offers cloud-native SaaS analytics for on-demand market risk, credit risk, pricing and trading. This new functionality is the latest in a series of enhancements that further the Edge Platform’s objective of providing frictionless insight to Agency MBS traders and investors, knocking down barriers to efficient, clear and data-driven valuation and risk assessment.

Clear Capital launched Universal Data Collection (UDC), the latest in the company’s suite of products designed to support appraisal modernization. UDC directly supports Fannie Mae’s newly announced Value Acceptance + Property Data program, as well as Freddie Mac’s ACE+ PDR solution, empowering lenders with immediate national scalability and coverage.

“When a lender receives loan eligibility for agency loan programs that allow for an inspection-based appraisal waiver, UDC ensures fast and accurate collection and submission that meets both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae data standards. With varying standards across the property data collection space, UDC provides flexibility, as eligible loans can be quickly and easily transferred to the agency with the loan program that meets the borrower’s needs, without the need for an additional product. In addition to the flexibility provided, UDC is available at a fraction of the cost of a traditional appraisal and completed in half the time. “The solution also leverages CubiCasa, a global-reaching real estate software company, to produce digital floor plans that provide Digital Gross Living Area (GLA), aligned with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.

OptifiNow announced the launch of OptifiNow Flex, a version of its successful CRM platform to support multi-channel mortgage teams. “Flex unifies the workflows for wholesale, retail, reverse mortgage, recruiting and more into a single system. This flexibility, coupled with OptifiNow’s commitment to long-term customer success, offers unprecedented coverage for the industry.”

R3 AMC, a full-service Appraisal Management Company (AMC), announced the industry’s first insured appraisal solution, Val-Insure*, for both overvaluation inaccuracies and undervaluation due to appraisal bias and related regulatory and legal claims. This unique program combines mandatory bias training with enhanced errors & omissions (E&O) insurance to safeguard stakeholders. Val-Insure includes three components to address and mitigate risk: education of appraisers delivering covered appraisals to reduce bias and discrimination; review of covered appraisals for potentially discriminatory content; and insurance coverage that protects against losses caused by claims of bias or discrimination. Bias Training Systems, LLC was formed to address the need for practical, concise, and consistent appraiser and loan officer bias training.

A good home equity program needs a fast and accurate AVM solution. There are three misconceptions about using AVMs in home equity lending. CoreLogic’s Total Home ValueX uses: State of the art analytics. Cloud based architecture, A comprehensive data strategy, Consistent, single model output driven by use-case, CoreLogic’s 20+ years’ experience in AVM solutions.

Secure Insight, a New Jersey based data analytics and reporting firm announced a new initiative in collaboration with Data Millennium of Orlando, Florida. The two companies will be offering operational evaluation services to assist lenders in determining whether their policies and practices meet state and federal regulatory requirements for managing data privacy and security. Read the news article for the full story.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Here’s a fun, sentimental video. (Warning: tissues required.)

Visit www.robchrisman.com for more information on our industry partners, access archived commentaries, or to subscribe to the Daily Mortgage News and Commentary. If you’re interested, visit my periodic blog at the STRATMOR Group web site. STRATMOR’s current blog is titled, “Doing Business with the Agencies: The Golden Ticket?” The Commentary’s podcast is live and at any place you obtain your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify).

qoɹ

(Market data provided in partnership with MBS Live. For free job postings and to view candidate resumes visit LenderNews. This newsletter is for sophisticated mortgage professionals only. There are no paid endorsements by me. For up-to-date mortgage news visit Mortgage News Daily. For archived commentaries, or to subscribe, go to www.robchrisman.com. Copyright 2023 Chrisman LLC. All rights reserved. Occasional paid job & product listings do appear. This report or any portion hereof may not be reprinted, sold, or redistributed without the written consent of Rob Chrisman.)

 

Rob Chrisman