Property Appraiser’s Office Uses Cutting-Edge AI

Employing cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) to aid a profession that requires precise measurements and analysis, the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office is entering the new decade armed with AI-based tools. This busy office, located in Orange County, Florida,boasts some 140 skilled professionals who have an array of new citizen-centric applications to serve the public including a field customer service survey tool, and a website chatbot that utilizes conversational intelligence. OCPA has also implemented an AI-powered financial solution to elevate the execution of an administrative support function.


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“When I first took office in 2013, I determined that I wanted to invest in talent, training and technology and these recent additions to our assets hit all three of those goals,” said independently-elected Property Appraiser Rick Singh, CFA, now serving in his second term. “With a county as complex and unique as Orange County that is experiencing the historic growth we have seen since the end of the 2008 recession, it is critical that our team is equipped to meet the needs of determining values for residential, commercial and tangible personal property. I am proud that our office is an early adopter of breakthrough technology to aid in our work.”


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As home to a premier vacation destination – the region welcomed 75 million visitors in 2019 – Orange County has many unique properties to value. For example, Singh’s team is responsible for the accurate assessment of seven major theme parks, four water parks, more than 16,000 timeshare units, and nearly 90,000 hotel rooms. In addition, since 2012 the total market value of the county has risen an astonishing 89% to $208.2 billion. The additional technology helps the specialized teams keep up with and effectively handle the record growth.

The recent additions to OCPA’s technology lineup include:

Customer Field Survey Tool

OCPA’s new cloud-based, AI-powered customer service survey offers our field appraisers a convenient way to gather customer feedback on the platform of their choice. The five-second survey can be accessed through several user-friendly channels, including QR code, text message questionnaire, SMS link, and email, and is offered in eight languages. Once the survey is complete, the program’s AI-based sentiment analysis capability reviews the constituent’s feedback and immediately flags management to address any negative remarks. This powerful tool allows the agency to measure customer service more efficiently and effectively and identifies training opportunities.


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Conversational Intelligence

OCPA recently added a conversational chatbot to its award-winning website. The agency is the first Property Appraiser’s office in Florida to leverage such technology and has seen remarkable engagement in the first few weeks of implementation. The chatbot – featured as “Ask Rick” to customers – has engaged in nearly 2,000 conversations since its launch in mid-December. The chatbot can answer questions and direct customers to pages on OCPA’s website for more information. If the constituent has a more complex situation, the chatbot flags a trained staff member to take over the conversation in order to provide more specialized care. Since its beta launch last year, the chatbot is constantly evolving to better assist constituents.


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Finance Solution

OCPA’s finance management team has adopted an AI-based system to automate fiscal tasks. The program, which utilizes machine learning to efficiently code and sort funding requests, assists the agency’s financial team with invoices and approval processes. Thanks to this automated system, OCPA’s complex back-office financial functions can be completed in a timelier, more effective manner. Leveraging this state-of-the-art technology to clarify and expedite transactions facilitates the agency in its responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds.

These advancements join other innovative technologies employed by OCPA such as its drone program that allows field appraisers who are licensed drone pilots to capture data from the air that further assists in documenting structures in hard to reach or newly developed areas of Orange County.

Quicken Goes Live With Dynamic Document Generation Engine

Docutech, a provider of document, eSign, eClose and print fulfillment technology, today announced that Detroit-based Quicken Loans, America’s largest mortgage lender, has gone live with Docutech’s ConformX™ dynamic document engine.


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Docutech’s flagship solution, ConformX, was specifically developed to deliver a dynamic document generation engine, providing a balance of productivity and compliance. Rather than static documents, ConformX integrates with a lender’s loan origination system (LOS) to produce data-driven documents that are dynamically generated and placed into the appropriate package. Every relevant data field is imported, defaulted or automatically populated through rules-based intelligence and calculations to ensure the most streamlined document experience possible. ConformX supports first mortgage, second mortgage and home equity loans – as well as the industry’s growing consumer lending needs.


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In late 2015, Quicken Loans introduced Rocket Mortgage, the first fully digital mortgage experience. Now, 98% of all home loans originated by Quicken Loans utilize some aspect of  Rocket Mortgage technology. The integration with ConformX will allow Quicken Loans to more simply generate mortgage documents, helping enhance the lending process.


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“As a company driven by providing the best, most client-centric solutions, we are excited to be working with Docutech to implement ConformX,” said Tim Birkmeier, Chief Revenue Officer for Quicken Loans. “Their product allows us to automatically generate documents, eliminating any potential for human error, which helps our clients get to the closing table faster.”


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“Docutech’s ConformX engine … now supports more than 30% of the nation’s total mortgage volume representing over $500B in loan value as measured by the 2019 HMDA report reflecting 2018 volumes,” said Amy Brandt, president and CEO of Docutech. “We are thrilled to support Quicken Loans in providing smart, compliant, and streamlined mortgage origination documents to enable borrowers to benefit from a more efficient and straightforward mortgage experience.”

December New Home Purchase Applications Increased 38.7% Year Over Year

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) Builder Application Survey (BAS) data for December 2019 shows mortgage applications for new home purchases increased 38.7 percent compared to December 2018. Compared to November 2019, applications decreased by 5 percent. This change does not include any adjustment for typical seasonal patterns. 


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“The sizeable year-over-year increase in new home purchase activity in December capped off what was a strong 2019 overall,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Our seasonally adjusted estimate of December new home sales was virtually unchanged from November, forecasted at an annual pace of 689,000 units.”


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Added Kan, “The housing market is seeing signs of a more significant recovery in new residential construction, which is a promising sign for prospective homebuyers. Even though supply continues to lag, we expect to see another year of gradual growth in new home sales, supported by rising household formation and the healthy job market.” 


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MBA estimates new single-family home sales were running at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 689,000 units in December 2019, based on data from the BAS. The new home sales estimate is derived using mortgage application information from the BAS, as well as assumptions regarding market coverage and other factors. 


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The seasonally adjusted estimate for December is an increase of 0.1 percent from the November pace of 688,000 units. On an unadjusted basis, MBA estimates that there were 48,000 new home sales in December 2019, a decrease of 5.9 percent from 51,000 new home sales in November. 

By product type, conventional loans composed 68.7 percent of loan applications, FHA loans composed 18.4 percent, RHS/USDA loans composed 0.8 percent and VA loans composed 12.1 percent. The average loan size of new homes increased from $337,943 in November to $338,625 in December. 

MBA’s Builder Application Survey tracks application volume from mortgage subsidiaries of home builders across the country. Utilizing this data, as well as data from other sources, MBA is able to provide an early estimate of new home sales volumes at the national, state, and metro level. This data also provides information regarding the types of loans used by new home buyers. Official new home sales estimates are conducted by the Census Bureau on a monthly basis. In that data, new home sales are recorded at contract signing, which is typically coincident with the mortgage application.  

STRATMOR Details Tactics Lenders Can Use To Create Happier Customers

In the latest issue of its monthly Insights Report, STRATMOR Group, a data-driven advisory firm for the mortgage industry, provides tactics lenders can follow to greatly improve the borrower experience.


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The January Insights Report features STRATMOR MortgageSAT Director Mike Seminari’s article, “The Seven Commandments for Optimizing the Customer Experience,” in which Seminari discusses critical findings from STRATMOR’s MortgageSAT Borrower Satisfaction Program. According to data from the program, which measures the experiences of more than 130,000 borrowers annually, monitoring and improving key areas of the loan process can turn unhappy customers (who are highly likely to badmouth their lender) into promoters (who are highly likely to recommend their lender) at an impressive rate.


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“It takes more than a testimonial to drive repeat and referral business,” Seminari says. “We’ve pinpointed some relatively easy tactics lenders can use that will provide substantial improvements in overall borrower satisfaction But, perhaps more importantly, these tactics significantly reduce the number of highly dissatisfied borrowers who may poison a lender’s reputation by posting negative comments on social media and disparage the lender to family and friends.”


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For example, when problems arise during the loan origination process, lenders should make every possible effort to resolve them as quickly as possible. “Roughly one in in every six loans will experience a problem in the course of origination,” Seminari says. “Problems with the appraisal, title, verifications or a change in circumstances can all present unanticipated problems that may cause delays, changes in the interest rate and/or the down payment. Many of these problems can be resolved, and the sooner the better.” 


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One best practice that has helped STRATMOR clients in this regard is to “set proper expectations with borrowers early in the process, letting them know that the loan process is complex and that experiencing a few bumps along the way is normal and can be expected,” Seminari says.

He noted there is an assumption that positive testimonials given to loan originators will translate into referrals. However, lenders that have highly rated loan originators still have trouble improving referral rates because they haven’t improved the overall experience. “Referrals and repeat business are driven by creating a delightful experience for the borrower from the start to the finish,” Seminari said. 

Providing a delightful borrower experience “translates to actual loans,” added STRATMOR Senior Partner Garth Graham. “This is why the loan originators of MortgageSAT clients have realized an increase of more than 20 percent in loans produced per month.”

In a second article on the borrower experience, “Prepare to Thrive in a Purchase Market,” Seminari offers tips on how lenders can succeed under more challenging market conditions. He cites the Mortgage Bankers Association 2020 Forecast, which anticipates a 24.5 percent decrease in refinance originations this year. Purchase originations, on the other hand, are expected to increase by a modest 1.6 percent. The forecast also predicts margin pressures like those seen in 2018 are likely to reappear in 2020, and that the industry will continue to be challenged by higher costs. 

According to Seminari, lenders can improve their chances of success by measuring and pinpointing problem areas with a program like MortgageSAT, then working to fix those problems. Doing so has already helped MortgggeSAT clients realize impressive gains in their borrower satisfaction scores, and can have a remarkable impact on the likelihood that borrowers will recommend a lender to their friends and family, he said. 

Seminari points to data from the 2020 MortgageSAT survey that show document collection and underwriting issues comprise roughly a third of the problems borrowers report with their lender, while communication breakdowns make up another third. “Notably, less than 20 percent of the issues are related to cost,” Seminari writes in his article.

Doc, LOS And Servicing Players Integrate To Further Digital Lending

Docutech, a provider of document, eSign, eClose, and print fulfillment technology,  announce an agreement of integration for dynamic document and digital mortgage capabilities with MortgageFlex Systems, a loan origination software (LOS) and servicing provider. Once live, the integration will enable lenders utilizing MortgageFlexONE to generate loan documents through Docutech’s ConformX dynamic document engine and enable relevant documents for eDelivery, eSign, and eClose through Docutech’s Solex platform.  


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“As we continue to grow and extend our reach in the mortgage industry, we’re focused on improving the experience for borrowers while decreasing origination costs, streamlining processes, and improving compliance for lenders,” said MortgageFlex Systems COO, Craig Bechtle. “Integration with Docutech’s industry-leading doc gen, eSignature, and eClosing technology is key to that pursuit.”  


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MortgageFlexONE is an intuitive system operating on a modern, relational database. The system enables support for both mortgage and consumer lending operations through the entirety of the origination process. Paired with a variety of interfaces, users have heightened security with PPE technology, a graphical workflow tool, and a reporting dashboard building tool.  


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“We are thrilled to be partnering with MortgageFlex,” said Amy Brandt, president and CEO of Docutech. “MortgageFlexOne’s unique vision and single system of record for all mortgage and consumer loan types aligns well with Docutech’s integrated doc gen and digital mortgage capabilities.  As lenders strive to optimize efficiency and deliver a true digital mortgage to their customers, strategic technology integrations that enable them to do more are critical.” 


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Docutech offers a wide range of document technology solutions for mortgage, home equity, and consumer lending from document generation to eDelivery, eSign, eClose and print fulfillment. Docutech’s knowledge and solutions empower lending professionals to efficiently produce accurate loan packages in all 50 states to ensure compliance with constantly changing laws and regulations. 

Vendor Launches Dynamic Demand Generation Program

Monster Lead Group, a provider of direct marketing technology, data, and creative that drives mortgage lending growth, is proud to unveil its new offering called The Monster Way.  The Monster Way is an 8-week dynamic demand generation program for lenders looking to scale their business dramatically. 


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The Monster Way combines leading-edge technology, advanced data solutions with direct marketing, sales process automation, and call training into a scalable business model delivered by Monster’s team of experts. Many of the lenders who implemented individual aspects of this program have realized record-breaking revenue, contributing to more than $10 billion in originations in 2019 alone.  For the first time, these individual elements have been combined in a revolutionary manner to deliver radical growth.


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“It’s about transforming direct marketing and traditional selling from demand fulfillment, (which is basically marketing and selling rates), to demand generation.  Demand generation is all about dynamically solving a problem for the borrower and becoming their trusted expert,” said Ken Bartz, CVO. “The long-term survival of mortgage lenders will depend on a lender’s ability to develop and keep relationships with borrowers. That’s ultimately the real results of implementing The Monster Way.” 


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From the first week of The Monster Way, MLOs learn how to change their conversations to position themselves as trusted advisors to the borrower, instead of just trying to take an application. Once mastered, this technique results in higher conversion rates from the inbound calls generated by Monster’s direct mail marketing. By week eight, production managers see teams increase their conversion rates by as much as 50%. 


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At the end of 8 weeks, MLOs “graduate” and Sales Managers receive a Monster Playbook with their tailored scripts, templates, and training materials. The marketing campaigns continue with additional business benefits to the client for as long as they continue marketing with Monster.  

“Where preparation and opportunity intersect is what others called luck. The Monster Way and what we do here brings together preparation and opportunity, so you no longer need to get lucky,” stated Bartz.

This is a step forward for mortgage professionals who are looking for a solution that can scale and help them reach their full earning potential.

Industry Vet Joins LOS As COO

Blue Sage Solutions, developers of the Blue Sage Digital Lending Platform, a browser-based, end-to-end mortgage platform, announced today that David Aach has joined the company as chief operating officer. In this role he will focus on increasing the company’s relationships with industry partners, clients and prospects.


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Prior to Blue Sage, Aach led the sales and marketing team as executive vice president of Docutech, helping the company more than double its revenue and become an industry leader in its field.  Before Docutech, Aach worked for 10 years at IBM Corp. as director and industry expert in its mortgage practice. He previously served as chief operating officer at Palisades Technology Partners, which was acquired by IBM in 2006. At Palisades he worked with its founder and president, Carmine Cacciavillani, who later then founded Blue Sage Solutions.


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“We are extremely pleased to have David joining Blue Sage,” said Cacciavillani, Blue Sage’s president. “We plan to leverage his extensive knowledge of the industry to better meet the needs of our customers. We are confident the addition of David to our team will significantly impact our ongoing growth and success moving forward.” 


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“I am very excited to be back working with Carmine and with the Blue Sage team of professionals,” said Aach. “Their expertise, industry experience and innovative technologies will allow our clients to accelerate the growth of their business and reduce operating costs. I am looking forward to helping Blue Sage meet the market’s growing demand for its products and services.”


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Blue Sage is a cloud-based digital lending platform for retail, wholesale and correspondent lenders that provides a superior lending experience for every borrower. The company’s technology is 100% browser-based and provides end-to-end functionality for the entire lending and fulfillment process, regardless of channel. All Blue Sage solutions include mobile applications and are delivered through a secure, fully managed cloud service. Blue Sage Solutions is headquartered in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. 

Veros Predicts That Home Appreciation Will Continue This Year

Veros Real Estate Solutions, an industry leader in enterprise risk management and collateral valuation services, announced that Q4 2019 VeroFORECAST™ data indicates an average projected appreciation rate for residential real estate in the nation’s Largest 100 Housing Markets will be up 3.9% for the year ending December 31, 2020. This forecast is slightly higher than the rate predicted in the first three quarters of 2019, closing the year with moderate home-price growth.


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“VeroFORECAST reveals an average increase of 3.9% by the fourth quarter of 2020,” said Eric Fox, Veros vice president of Statistical and Economic Modeling. “The sound fundamentals of the economy, low interest rates and strong levels of employment should result in moderate home-price appreciation with very few geographic pockets of weakness.”


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The 10 markets forecasted to increase the most between Q4 2019 and Q4 2020 are primarily located in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon and Idaho) and the West (Arizona and Utah), with one outlier in Georgia. The defining factor in the strongest markets is a very low housing supply which is forcing prices to increase much more rapidly than in other markets. 


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Markets with depreciation are almost non-existent compared to previous quarters. According to the VeroFORECAST for Q4 2020, only Monroe, Louisiana, is expected to decline. Connecticut has three cities in the bottom group, Illinois also has three, California has two, and one metropolitan area in Alabama rounds out the 10 least-performing markets.


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In this quarter, it appears that the $10K-cap on the State and Local tax deduction (SALT) has softened markets where these taxes are high and growth is stagnant such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. California, also hampered by SALT and has seen some recent out-migration, continues to struggle compared to the years when home prices there were growing by double-digit percentages year over year.

Although Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm, made landfall in North Carolina in September 2018 causing significant freshwater flooding, two years later, several markets in North Carolina are expected to be solid performers and should experience above-average appreciation by December 2020. 

OptifiNow Unveils Advanced Reporting And Business Intelligence Engine

OptifiNow announced today the unveiling of their Insights onDemand business intelligence engine, a reporting and analytics tool built into their flagship OptifiNow CRM platform. BI Insight combines sales and marketing data managed in the OptifiNow CRM with external data sources to provide a 360-degree view of business performance. Insights onDemand is included with the CRM platform and is provided with OptifiNow’s White Glove custom configuration service.


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BI Insight transforms the OptifiNow platform into a strategic decision-making tool. By leveraging OptifiNow’s robust API integration capabilities, BI Insight can connect to LOS, POS or other business systems to generate reports and dashboards that augment visibility into business performance and how it impacts revenue generation. 


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“BI Insight gives mortgage executives clarity on all their business processes and helps them devise a strategy that is well informed,” said John McGee, CEO and Founder of OptifiNow. “Our CRM and sales enablement modules allow mortgage companies to run their sales and marketing processes more efficiently. But at the same time, we’re helping lenders convert these activities into measurable data points so that they can use BI Insight to make decisions that have an actual impact on their bottom line.”


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Having the resources and expertise to implement a business intelligence strategy is a challenge for many companies. The lack of training or knowledge to create reports that yield practical results oftentimes leads to higher opportunity costs and lower ROI on business intelligence efforts. OptifiNow solves this problem with their “White Glove” configuration service, which streamlines the time and effort required to implement Insights onDemand.


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“Our goal is to get clients to use our solutions effectively and as quickly as possible. That’s why every client receives our White Glove service,” said McGee. “We apply our best practices and inherent system knowledge to configure a BI Insight solution that meets their specific needs. We start by assessing the goals of our clients and then we build reports and dashboards that provide real-time insight on critical metrics of their business. We believe it is our job to ensure clients are getting maximum value out of both our technology and service.”

Millennial Refinance Activity Slows

The share of refinances closed by millennials decreased in November 2019 as interest rates on 30-year loans climbed. According to the latest Ellie Mae Millennial Tracker, 31% of loans closed by millennials in November were refinances, down 3% from the month prior. This marks the first month-over-month decrease for refinance share since May 2019.


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The refinance market slowed as the average interest rate on all 30-year loans increased for the first time in 2019. For all loans closed by millennials in November, the average interest rate was 3.95%, up from 3.90% in October. Key markets across the United States saw the effects of surging interest rates as refinance share declined month-over-month in Los Angeles (56% to 50%), Chicago (43% to 38%), Austin (32% to 26%), Miami (28% to 22%), San Francisco (51% to 48%) and Dallas (30% to 26%).


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While the average interest rate on FHA and VA loans dropped in November compared to the month prior, the average rate for Conventional loans, which accounted for 73% of all loans closed by millennials for the month, increased from 3.90% to 3.97%. Refinance share declined for all three loan types.


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“Millennials are well-educated on their options as homeowners and have played a major role in driving the refinance market in 2019,” said Joe Tyrrell, chief operating officer at Ellie Mae. “Interest rates increasing in November for the first time this year may indicate that the refinance boom has passed its peak, however rates are still relatively low and refinance share is up 21 percentage points year-over-year.”


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With the decline in share of refinances as a percentage of total closed loans, purchase activity was on a relative upswing. As such, time to close on all purchase loans increased from 41 days to 42 days month-over-month. Time to close on all refinance loans reached 45 days, up from 44 days in October.

The average FICO score for all loans closed in November remained relatively flat month-over-month, dropping one point to 729 while the average borrower age dipped slightly from 30.6 to 30.4.  

“For millennials, 29 and 30 are prime homebuying ages and millions of millennials will reach this marker next year,” added Tyrrell. “Millennials expect a balance of automation and human touch in the mortgage process and as their purchasing power continues to grow, it’s important that lenders invest in technology to meet this demographic’s expectations.”