We’re not necessarily looking to break technology news, but we are looking to put it all into greater context for you. Right now we’re hearing:

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.”

Acquisition Expands Quote To Order Capabilities And Enables Digital Mortgages

ClosingCorp, a provider of residential real estate closing cost data and technology for the mortgage and real estate services industries, and WEST, a Williston Financial Group Company and leading provider of technology and services to REALTORS®, brokers, title companies and mortgage lenders, announced today that ClosingCorp has acquired WESTvm, an innovative order management solution, from WEST. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.


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The first loan-centric ordering technology available in the market, WESTvm significantly streamlines the ordering and management of critical settlement services needed to originate or service a loan. It allows lenders to order appraisals, flood certifications, title and closing services and documents in less than sixty seconds.


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ClosingCorp said it is renaming the WESTvm platform as ClosingCorp Order Management, and its fee management service, SmartFees, as ClosingCorp Fees. Both solutions are immediately available through Ellie Mae Encompass Digital Lending Platform and ClosingCorp’s standalone web portals. The company will also build other third-party integrations.


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“For more than a decade, lenders have turned to ClosingCorp for accurate and reliable settlement services data. This transaction further strengthens ClosingCorp’s position as the market leader in closing cost information and technology,” said Bob Jennings, chief executive officer of ClosingCorp. “Lenders will now be able to quote, order, track and receive specific services – within 


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a loan file – all at the click of a button. Integrating our fees and order management solutions will help lenders leverage automation from borrower engagement through investor delivery and servicing.”

The solution also delivers automated vendor allocation to help drive down costs and time of loan origination: a key deliverable in many data-driven transformations. Having access to even more current loan level data will enable lenders and closing agents to review and collaborate before heading to the closing table, creating a better overall borrower experience.

Jennings continued, “I’m pleased to welcome Lance Melber and his team to the ClosingCorp family. They will bring additional expertise and imagination to our leadership team.”

As part of the acquisition, ClosingCorp will continue to offer a private-label order management solution to WEST’s customers and partners. Commenting on the acquisition, Marty Frame, president of WEST said, “The growth of WESTvm has been remarkable, and this transaction with ClosingCorp will create additional distribution channels to better serve our customers. We have been impressed with the ClosingCorp team and the vision we share to deliver a more efficient and innovative order management experience. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Amerifirst Taps Mortgage Vet As New CFO

Amerifirst Home Mortgage, a division of Amerifirst Financial Corporation, announces the appointment of Robert Truitt as Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Truitt joined the company January 1 and is based at the company’s headquarters in Kalamazoo, Michigan. 


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Truitt most recently served as CFO of Flagstar Bank’s Mortgage Division where he oversaw financial statement preparation, budgeting, forecasting, regulatory reporting, risk management, and investor relations for a network of 88 retail locations and a wholesale network of approximately 2,000 third-party mortgage originators. He also oversaw recordkeeping for $204 billion in home loans servicing and subservicing. 


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Before this, he served as Senior Vice President at Citizens Bank, and held senior roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley. He holds a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) focused in finance, from the University of Connecticut, and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Ramapo College of New Jersey.


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“Rob is a recognized industry leader with expertise in financial analysis, forecasting and budgeting, strategic growth planning, capital management, and capital markets,” said Mark Jones, Co-CEO and Co-founder of Amerifirst Home Mortgage. “With Rob on board we’re confident our financial future will remain strong as we continue to expand our footprint and provide opportunities for individuals and families to attain the American dream of homeownership, many for the first time.”


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Amerifirst Home Mortgage employs over 700 team members and provides home financing opportunities for thousands of individuals and families each year, especially in rural and underserved communities and among first-time homebuyers. It operates in branches across a dozen states throughout the U.S. and is recognized by Inc. 5000 for its 78 percent growth over a three-year period. Its mission is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Amerifirst Home Mortgage is a division of Amerifirst Financial Corporation.