New LERETA Data Finds Southern, Central States Have Highest Number Of Unassessed Properties

Louisiana, Alabama and Kansas top the list of states with the highest percentage of properties with a zero tax bill, according to recent data from LERETA, a leading national real estate tax and flood service provider. There are several reasons for this situation, including a significantly low property assessment, publicly owned property or forgiveness of property tax for other reasons.

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“The number of properties without a tax bill affects a jurisdiction’s budget and its ability to pay for schools, roads, fire and ambulance services and other city infrastructure,” explained Terry Cason, data modeling analyst at LERETA. “This means other taxable properties might have higher taxes in order to compensate for the shortfall in collection.”

LERETA reviewed approximately 89 million parcel records through April of this year and found 5 percent or 4.6 million bills had a zero tax amount. Most of the properties were in rural states. Louisiana has the highest number of zero tax bill properties at 14.60 percent, Alabama had 13.40 percent followed by Kansas with 12.60 percent. LERETA reviewed tax data in 33 states where current tax billing was available. Also on the list of states with significant number of properties with zero tax amounts is Mississippi, Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Arizona, Idaho and Iowa.

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Since 1986, LERETA has provided the mortgage and insurance industries the fastest, most accurate and complete access to property tax data and flood hazard status information across the U.S. LERETA is committed to giving customers extraordinary service and cost-effective property tax and flood solutions. LERETA’s services are designed to increase efficiency, reduce penalties and liabilities and improve processes for mortgage originators and servicers.

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The Six Biggest Technology Challenges


TME-Alec-CheungWhew! Can I just let out a long breath? Give everyone around me a high five and a fist bump? We’ve all just finished a long race! For the past year plus, lenders, settlement agents and mortgage and title technology vendors have expended a great deal of resources and effort in preparation for the CFPB’s Integrated Disclosures rule. And whether you’re feeling exhausted or elated — probably exhausted! — it’s good to at least be able to say we made it!

Now maybe I shouldn’t say we’ve finished this race. It’s probably more accurate to say that we’ve completed our training and preparation, and now we’re finally doing this for real. Just like there are different approaches to race training, there have been different approaches to preparing for TRID. Most everyone has tapped into technology in some form and to some degree in order comply with the new rule. For some, the use of new technology has been incremental, building on the systems and innovations they had already adopted. For others it’s been a major shift, representing a substantial change from their traditional mortgage practices and their supporting technologies. There are also some who have deferred technology changes as a result of TRID, preferring instead to wait until the dust settles, either because they just didn’t have the time and resources, or because they wanted to let the early adopters uncover the known unknowns. And make no mistake – there WILL be unknowns that pop up. TRID is too complex of a rule with far-reaching changes for every single nuance to have been predicted and foreseen in advance, even with 20 months – or make that 22 months! – of prep time.

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Here’s the thing though: Now that the deadline is behind us, we’re in it now. The race is live and no matter what approach you took, everyone will eventually get to the TRID finish line. That’s the point where the new processes and technologies that have been deployed are working and all the kinks have been worked out. So what then? If you’ve taken the time to train for and complete a hard race, ideally you don’t want to just finish and then go back to eating junk food again! It’s time to build on that momentum and keep making healthy progress. There are new challenges just around the corner. The technology and innovation that enabled us to meet the TRID deadline created a great deal of industry momentum. The best thing we can all do now is to keep that momentum going to push the envelope of technology and innovation in order to meet the next wave of change in stride, instead of being caught flat-footed.

Here are five significant technology areas – plus one demographic trend – that follow naturally on the heels of TRID. Each one is influenced by other factors and will evolve at its own pace, but with the right concerted effort, any and all of these will be where the industry progresses next in terms of technology-based evolution.

The Uniform Closing Dataset (UCD)

The Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently announced that data for any loans they purchase must conform to the UCD standard. This standard, which is based on the MISMO 3.3 reference model, defines the structure and contents of the loan files uploaded to the GSEs. The requirement means all the data for loans they purchase needs to be MISMO 3.3 compliant. Some lenders made this transition as part of their TRID implementation; others will have to make the transition by the second quarter of 2017 if they don’t want to lose the GSEs as a secondary market for loans.


The CFPB has targeted eClosings as the next big step in their Know Before You Owe initiative. The eClosing Pilot project, organized by the CFPB and including eLynx and two of its customers among other vendor/lendor pairings, was designed to identify technology options and best practices related to an electronic closing. The CFPB announced their results in August and several vendor participants have identified some lessons learned from the pilot project. The CFPB’s endorsement of eClosings doesn’t mean all closings will need to be eClosings, but most lenders and technology vendors will eventually benefit by supporting eClosings.

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One TRID-focused innovation was the direct integration between lenders and the title production systems used by their settlement service providers. As a result, it is now possible for many lenders and SSPs to exchange loan and fee data instantly and securely, eliminating the delays and compliance issues that come with having to enter loan and fee data manually. The underlying technology to do this is not trivial. It not only requires MIMSO-compliant data, but also a common cloud-based infrastructure or platform that can serve as a hub to interconnect all industry stakeholders. This can extend the benefits of real-time, secure collaboration demonstrated with TRID compliance to all business partners across the entire loan workflow.

Data Validated Mortgage

In addition to increased flexibility and efficiency, moving to a data-centric lending process will have an impact on loan quality and risk. The standardized data structure defined by MISMO will improve transparency in the loan data and ensures that everyone is basing decisions made during the loan process on the same data. It also makes it easier to verify and validate the data in the loan documents, for example comparing the data in the approved loan with the data in the closed loan. This will help lenders and the secondary market better assess loan quality and manage risk.


The all electronic mortgage has been on the mortgage industry’s radar for a decade or more. eMortgages have been technically possible but not widely used. One reason was that the technology innovation was outpacing the industry’s appetite to make changes, solving a problem that wasn’t painful enough to make the technology and process changes required. Now, many of the hurdles have been cleared as part of complying with TRID and other industry requirements. There are very real benefits to the eMortgage and with fewer hurdles lenders may decide the benefits outweigh the effort of getting to an eMortgage.


While not a technology, Millennials represent a significant technology challenge to the industry. According to the National Association of Realtors, today millennials represent 32 percent of all homebuyers. The Brookings Institute projects that within ten years, millennials will form 75 percent of the entire workforce. They are tomorrow’s mortgage customers and they are very different than the mortgage customers of today and yesterday. They grew up with mobile devices in their hands and have grown to rely on their smart phones and tablets as their primary communications channels. Most have never known a world without the Internet and have come to expect information to be delivered directly into their hands anytime and anywhere. They will likely shop for a home and a mortgage online and once they decide to buy, they will expect technology and efficiency to be integrated into every facet of the transaction.

Clearly, paper documents and office visits will no longer cut it with this generation and lenders will have to adapt. Fortunately, lenders who have met the five preceding post-TRID challenges will have laid the groundwork for extending a paperless loan process to mobile channels. Lenders who haven’t will be challenged to meet the expectations of the millennial generations.

These 6 technology areas are what lenders need to be incorporating into their strategies and actively working towards now, even as we currently progress through the implementation period for TRID and sort out the issues that we uncover only through live production. Lenders who build on their momentum will continue to stay ahead of the curve. Even if you’re a lender that has temporarily deferred the use of technology for TRID, preferring instead to go with a manual approach for the time being, you can accelerate quickly and take advantage of the learnings gained through the first wave of deployments. The last thing we should do is give up the momentum that we’ve built as a result of TRID.

So let’s share some high fives and fist bumps. Enjoy a moment of celebration when integrated disclosures processes are operating smoothly and steadily. And then let’s keep on moving to the next thing. It feels good to finish one race, but even better when you can keep it going and knock out additional ones after that!

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Survey: What Realtors Want From Lenders

Inman released the top-line findings from a new study entitled, “What Real Estate Brokers and Agents Want From Lenders,” that examines why real estate professionals choose to recommend a particular lender, what kinds of lenders they prefer and what behavior puts a lender in the penalty box. The study also explores the ineffectiveness of lender marketing, the chilling effect that RESPA is having on broker/lender relationships and their early opinions on big bank “listing” apps.

Commissioned by Inman, the survey was conducted by 1000watt, a real estate brand, marketing and strategy firm, in April. Respondents were mostly real estate agents (74%), but 26% of respondents identified as real estate brokers. More than half of respondents (60%) were independent and unaffiliated with a particular real estate franchise. The remaining 40% were affiliated with top firms. In addition to the survey, individual phone interviews were conducted with real estate brokerage executives running companies with more than 500 agents.

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Here are some of the highlights:

The Who’s and Why’s of Relationships

>> Nearly half of the Realtors surveyed said they prefer working with mortgage brokers over banks and non-banks.

>> Cultural fit and breadth of products are the number one and two reasons for selecting a mortgage partner.

>> Agents are mainly monogamous: 77% say they have one lender who they refer most often to clients.

>> Speed and responsiveness are the most important considerations to refer a lender.

Leads are not a two-way street: 79% aren’t getting leads from their lenders, but 74% would like them—from lenders they know and trust.

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Lender Marketing: Does It Work or Not?

>> The largest percentage of respondents was unsure as to whether lender marketing was effective.

>> More than 35% felt marketing wasn’t effective in building relationships with agents; less than 30% felt it was.

>> Operations with in-house lenders believed that on-site presence was the most effective way to increase capture rates; followed by technology and training; less than 10% of respondents felt print or email marketing was effective.

Tying the Knot or Not?

>> Only 24% of brokers have Marketing Service Agreements (MSAs) with lenders.

>> Only 2% of brokers have Affiliated Business Arrangements (ABAs) with lenders.

>> 42% are now reluctant to enter into MSAs and/or partnerships with lenders due to RESPA concerns.

The Impact of Internet and Mobile Apps

>> Increasingly, clients are doing their shopping for a lender on the Internet and don’t need a recommendation from their Realtor.

>> Big bank efforts to promote mobile apps, like Chase’s MyNewHome or Nationstar Mortgage’s get mixed reviews as 38% were very uncomfortable with them, and 30% were somewhat uncomfortable with these proprietary mobile apps.

“Real estate agents wield an enormous amount of influence in purchase transactions, and so they are a critically important audience and referral source to lenders,” said Brad Inman, publisher and owner of Inman. “But, as this research shows, there’s a wide gap between ‘wanting a relationship’ with agents and brokers and building a successful one. Hopefully, this study will help lenders ‘crack the code’ to develop more effective partnerships.”

The complete study is available to Inman Select members at

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Flipping Is Still Popular

Survey data collected from investors bidding on property online and at live events across the country in January by reveals the continuation of a trend seen in the fourth quarter of 2014 – a preference for flipping over a hold-to-rent strategy, even as demand for rental housing continues to grow in most markets.

“Considering recent reports that have suggested a shortage of rental units in some metropolitan areas, we’d expect to see more investors starting to move toward a buy-and-hold strategy to address this market opportunity,” said Executive Vice President Rick Sharga. “We know anecdotally that some flippers purchase homes specifically to sell them to other investors who repurpose the properties as rental units. But, it will be interesting to see if more investors move away from flipping and towards rental strategies over the next few months if demand for rental housing continues to rise.”

Although’s findings for January show a slight propensity toward flipping overall, investor intent varies considerably by the type of auction (live event versus online auction) and the investor profile. Survey respondents who indicated that they were making a one-time purchase preferred a hold-to-rent strategy, while respondents identifying themselves as full-time “real estate investors” and those indicating that they were working on behalf of another investor favored flipping.

Investors bidding at live events appear to be more likely to flip the properties they purchase based on survey responses collected in January, with respondents indicating a preference toward flipping over holding to rent in all but two of the states where conducted live events. The two states where renting prevailed: Georgia and Missouri. Conversely, responses given at online auctions in January show that investors bidding online are more likely to hold the properties they purchase.

Less active investors (those indicating that they purchase one or fewer properties per year) demonstrated a clear preference for renting properties, while flipping was prevalent among investors who purchase multiple properties per year.

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A Look Forward

Ron Ahlensdorf Jr., President of Summit Valuations, LLC, a full service valuation company, told his firm’s staff and clients in an e-mail today that in 2015 the home finance industry would be impacted by three major trends which, taken together, would spell more opportunities for firms like his as well as the mortgage loan servicers and investors they serve.

“Market forces will complete the work of shifting the industry away from massive industry giants to smaller firms in 2015,” Ahlensdorf wrote in the letter. “We saw this a couple of years back when loan origination fell off at the big banks, opening the doors for smaller community banks and credit unions, and we saw it again last year with the shift from big bank loan servicing operations to smaller non-bank servicers and special servicers. In 2015, we see a similar shift away from very large property valuation providers to smaller, more nimble shops.”

According to Ahlensdorf, the first trend is all about volume. At the height of the foreclosure crisis and shortly thereafter, servicers were sending tens of thousands of orders out to BPO shops for valuations. Even the largest of these companies was overwhelmed and over time the quality of the results suffered. While that wave has crested, the next one is already upon us as investors continue to buy up undervalued housing inventory for rental stock.

“Volume is both friend and foe in our industry,” Ahlensdorf said. “While higher volumes mean more business for everyone, those firms that are ill-equipped to deal with the increased work run high risks. That can also create higher risks for the companies they serve.”

Over the past couple of years, buy to rent investors have snapped up hundreds of thousands of properties around the country, but as the inventory of distressed properties diminishes and home prices rise, these investors are taking more time for their deliberations. This gives rise to the second trend, which is that opportunity is shifting away from the industry’s largest firms in favor of smaller, more nimble competitors, as companies seek out quality vendors.

“When deals were very affordable, it was easier to take risk and absorb any losses caused by bad collateral valuations, but as prices have risen this has fallen out of favor with these buyers,” Ahlensdorf said. “This has led to a flight to quality in the collateral valuation space and sent a lot of work to smaller companies that have a lower ratio of orders to employees.”

Today, Ahlensdorf says investors are seeking out viable partners who have a track record and suitable technology, but also sufficiently trained staff to provide a quality product. They want reports that are easy to read, informative and available whenever they want to access the data. Summit is already winning new business as a result of this trend and Ahlensdorf says his company is poised to see strong growth in 2015.

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Home Sales: More Of The Same has released its Real Estate Nowcastwhich projects that existing home sales for the month will fall between seasonally adjusted annual rates (SAAR) of 4.90 and 5.21 million annual sales, with a targeted number of 5.06 million. This suggests that January sales will be up from one year ago and essentially flat compared to December sales.

“There’s nothing pointing towards a quantum leap in January home sales,” said Executive Vice President Rick Sharga. “Demand continues to be tepid, reflected by the relatively weak search activity that we’re tracking in Google Trends data. And inventory levels of available homes continue to fall, which means that even if demand picks up, there might not be enough homes to meet it.”

On January 23rd, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR®) released its existing home sales data for December, reporting that home sales increased to 5.04 million units following November’s unexpectedly weak performance. One month prior, the Real Estate Nowcast predicted that existing home sales for December would be 4.98 million, providing the market with an accurate picture of December sales activity well in advance of publically available sales data. According to the latest Auction.comNowcast, the housing market is likely to level out this month, rather than repeat December’s impressive month-on-month improvement.

“The existing home sales pace of the past several months shows that housing has shaken off the weakness it experienced in 2013 and early 2014,” said Chief Economist Peter Muoio. “But difficult mortgage conditions, stagnant wages and lingering wariness about homeownership benefits have kept annual sales right around 5 million units, where they’ve been for the past few years.”

Muoio also cited potential fallout from weaker economies in the oil producing states, particularly Texas, as a concern for the housing market in 2015.  “White-hot sales growth in Texas has well outpaced U.S. existing home sales growth over the past three years, pushing the Texas share of U.S. existing home sales up to a near-record 6.2 percent,” he said. “Low oil will cool the Texas economy and likely with it home sales within the state, exerting a drag on U.S. sales in 2015.”

A New Mortgage Tech Startup

Privlo, a non-QM mortgage startup backed by Spark Capital and QED Investors, just launched in its home state of California where a growing self-employed workforce is increasingly locked out of homeownership by traditional banks. Privlo’s mortgage platform takes in a far wider range of credit criteria and unique documentation than traditional lenders to assess high quality borrowers with complicated incomes or financial histories. These segments include small business owners, entrepreneurs, self-employed individuals and seasonal or commissioned workers with spiky incomes. Where banks may shy away from strong applicants who can’t prove financial ability with simple tax returns or W2s, Privlo works with them to sort through the complexity and find a truer measure of their creditworthiness.

In a state where 1 in 6 people in the workforce are either self-employed or small business owners, traditional lending standards are creating an imbalance. “More than 90% of California’s small businesses are sole proprietorships, and it’s no secret that many in this group are totally capable of taking on a mortgage but simply can’t get approved. There’s pent up demand in every state we’ve launched, but we expect California to exceed anything we’ve seen so far,” says Privlo’s Chief Credit & Product Officer Saro Vasudevan. California cities like Berkeley and Santa Monica lead the nation, hovering around 22% self-employment and reflecting the state’s entrepreneurial and contract-based industries like entertainment and technology.

The company, which also specializes in people who have had a single negative credit event, provides mortgages to highly qualified applicants who may have a bankruptcy or foreclosure as recent as a year old, and a short sale 6 months or older. This is compared to the general standard of two years or more among traditional lenders.

“We retain lifetime interest in every loan we make so we’re still quite selective. When we look past things like uneven income, we’re finding really qualified people, some even with credit scores in the high 700s with great financial capability,” says Privlo Founder and CEO Michael Slavin. “What we’re doing is more of a mind shift if you think about it. If you live here in California, you’re probably blazing your own path in one way or another. Traditional careers are becoming a thing of the past and we believe in embracing people and their entire financial picture, however complex it is, rather than devaluing their true financial ability.”

The company expects most self-employed Californians who will qualify for home loans, or “Privloans” as they are called, to come from consumer-facing industries such as entertainment, tech, food and beverage, hospitality, and health care services – sectors with variable income that make them unattractive to traditional mortgage lenders, but an ideal fit for Privlo.

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Lender Drops Its FICO Score Requirement

As volume dips more and more lenders are trying to reach out to new borrowers. For example, South Pacific Financial Corporation (SPFC) has announced a credit enhancement to its Federal Housing Administration (FHA) guidelines. Effective January 20, 2015, there will be no minimum FICO score necessary with loans that meet FHA system approval.

“As long as a borrower receives an automatic approval through the FHA’s automated underwriting system, there’s no FICO score requirement,” said Michelle Millwood, AVP Underwriting Manager at SPFC, and a member of the team that helped develop the new product guidelines.

“This program brings a great deal of relief for the most underserved of all borrowers — those currently with FICO scores below 620,” said SPFC CEO John Johnston. “We’re excited to launch this new program knowing most lenders want to see a credit score of 620 or higher on their FHA loans. Not so at SPFC.”

Giving the housing market a much-needed boost

“This is something much needed in the housing marketplace,” said Dan Manginelli, SPFC Executive Vice President. “I think we’re opening up a lot of possibilities for borrowers who may have had some hiccups in their past. And though they’ve gotten past that, their credit scores don’t reflect that yet. This new program is here to help them.”

How underserved is the market for those seeking to purchase a home with a FICO score of less than 620? Fannie Mae says loans with a FICO score of less than 620 currently account for only 1% of its business.

The numbers at Freddie Mac are slightly higher. As of December 2014, about 3% of its single-family portfolio had a FICO score of less than 620. Conversely, those with a higher FICO score above 700 accounted for 78%.

Data shows FICO requirements trending even higher
As if the headwinds weren’t strong enough, recent trends show FICO scores are inching upward.

According to a recent NAR survey, the market for borrowers with FICOs between 620 and 720 shrank from 95.7% to 80% and the willingness to lend to this group declined by 15%.

The median FICO score for FHA loans has been rounding up as well. According to a recent Mortgage News Daily article the FHA’s median FICO score at origination has climbed from 645 in 2007 to its current level at 684.

Given this lending environment, first-time homebuyers are feeling the crunch. According to NAR’s 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, the share of first-time buyers fell from 38% in 2013 to 33% in 2014. That’s the lowest level in 27 years.

“This makes for a tough lending environment, especially when you consider that more than a third of all consumers have FICO scores below 650,” said Johnston. “Many of those are being left out of the current housing market. We’re here to help turn that around.”

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Executive Spotlight: Stan Middleman of Freedom Mortgage Corp.

Stan-MiddlemanThis week, our spotlight shines on Mount Laurel, N.J.-based Freedom Mortgage Corporation, which is offering a service called “mortgage department in a box” that is designed to help smaller financial institutions in today’s lending environment.

Q: How did Freedom Mortgage’s idea of a “mortgage department in a box” come about?

Stan Middleman: Mortgage lending is far more complex today than it was when I entered the business. You need technology, expertise, back office support and financial resources to create loans quickly, economically and compliantly. The additional requirements mean that it is harder for smaller and medium sized financial institutions to have mortgage departments when their main business lines emphasize banking services other than mortgage lending.

Community banks and credit unions excel at serving their customers and members with products that often don’t include home loans. But they want to offer mortgages to keep customers from going elsewhere and lower the risk of losing them to larger banks.

Freedom Mortgage is one of the largest lenders in the country, and we have plenty of capacity in all aspects of the mortgage manufacturing process. So it made great sense to leverage those capabilities and offer a turnkey solution for these smaller and medium sized banks and credit unions. The division is called the Financial Institutions Partner Group (FIPG).

Q: Currently, how many financial institutions are making use of the services offered by the Financial Institutions Partner Group? And what are your projections for 2015?

Stan Middleman: We had great acceptance of this business segment in 2014. We launched the group in April of 2014 and by October had 25 institutions on board. With many more in process and in view of the outstanding feedback we have received, I expect we can more than double this number in 2015. Lending is not getting any easier for community banks and credit unions, so it is logical that this offering will continue to grow in popularity.

In a short amount of time, the FIPG has done a great job demonstrating the benefits of a partnership and instilling confidence in Freedom Mortgage’s ability to deliver a cost effective and scalable mortgage solution to a tough audience: institutions for whom superb customer service is their stock in trade. It may sound simple calling it a “mortgage department in a box” solution, but there are a lot of moving parts requiring precision and great execution to make it a reality.

Q: This is a time when many community banks and credit unions are struggling with the regulatory burdens applied to residential lending. How does your offering help alleviate these burdens?

Stan Middleman: We have multiple models available to our partners, one of which is a co-branded solution that can help alleviate regulatory burdens. The cause for a great deal of the complexity and cost of residential lending these days is the regulatory burden. There is very little room for error in every aspect of a mortgage transaction, from the first borrower contact all the way through to investor delivery. Scrutiny is greater than ever, so the downside for community banks and credit unions continues to increase.

By partnering with Freedom Mortgage, our partners will have access to a unique model that will mitigate their risk, reduce their cost and allow them to focus on their core banking products.

Q: What is your prediction for community bank and credit union mortgage lending in 2015? Will we see more participants, or less?

Stan Middleman: I would say more borrowers will be turning to their community banks and credit unions because of the uncertainty in the market. Consumers want to feel comfortable in those relationships and are therefore more likely to talk to the credit unions that think of them as ‘members’ rather than as mere transactions. Community banks are famous for personalized service, which is exactly how they can succeed even when located on a corner opposite the megabank. They tend to raise the bar on service levels, and when they can offer mortgage products using a resource like Freedom’s FIPG, it is a win for them and for their customers.

It is important to understand what this means to Freedom Mortgage, also. We would not be as successful as we have been with this division if we lacked the same sense of customer sensitivity as the bank or credit union for whom we are providing the service. We must perform every bit as effectively and with the same service levels as the institutions we represent, and this is not easily accomplished. It requires can-do attitudes, high professionalism, superior expertise and great technology, all of which are integral to Freedom Mortgage’s core business values.

Freedom Mortgage is online at

Holiday Gifts For The Housing Industry

Yes, it is that time of year again. And in the spirit of the holiday season, I gladly pull out my bag of goodies to distribute to the most significant, provocative and ridiculous participants in this year’s world of housing finance and mortgage banking. This year’s gift giving goes along these lines:

Edward Pinto and Stephen Oliner: A Gold Medal for Innovation. Incredibly, the year’s most innovative housing product was not introduced by a financial services company, but by a right-of-center Washington think tank. Pinto and Oliver are co-directors of the American Enterprise Institute’s International Center on Housing Risk, and their Wealth Building Home Loan is, hands down, the most exciting new product to be introduced in too many years. The loan is currently being tested in pilot programs with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America and Bank of America, and here’s hoping that the success of this product will finally spur lenders to begin plumbing the much-needed innovation that the industry has been hungering for since the dawn of Dodd-Frank.

The MBA Opens Doors Foundation: A Gold Medal for Philanthropic Outreach. This charitable arm of the Mortgage Bankers Association rarely gets the level of attention it deserves. And that is a major shame, because its mission – providing mortgage assistance for families with sick children – is not only serving a vital purpose in the lives of many homeowners, but it beautifully refutes the lies spread by the industry’s detractors that mortgage bankers are only interested in raking in money and kicking people out of their home.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: A Dunce Cap. Whether she’s launching surprise attacks on Mel Watt over principal reduction or pocketing $525,000 for a book in which she babbles about income inequality, the Massachusetts senator has gone out of her way to make a fool of herself without actually accomplishing anything that could be defined as a legislative triumph. Maybe next year she will finally do something of value. And here is an idea: perhaps Warren could recall her supposed tribal heritage by donating her extraordinary book advance to finance scholarships for the American Indian College Fund.

Extell Development: A Calendar and a GPS. Extell Development is the company behind a New York City luxury high-rise that, as per municipal guidelines, must have a certain number of affordable housing units. However, their building is being designed with a separate entrance for the resident of the affordable housing apartments – Extell thought it was disgusting to have lower income people occupying the same lobby and elevators as the building’s upper income residents. My suggested holiday gift may remind Extell that we are living in 2014 America and not in the France of Marie Antoinette.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: A Copy of its Original Mission Statement. What in the world has happened to HUD? In the half-century since its inception, HUD has gone off on bizarre tangents that include an annual “Reconnecting Families and Dad’s Program” (which has nothing to do with either housing or urban development), “Promise Zones” in areas that are not in need of federal funding (including Hollywood, of all places!) and an arm-twisting campaign to force providers of affordable housing to commit to the installation of expensive on-site renewable energy solutions on HUD-assisted multifamily housing. Meanwhile, affordable housing has evaporated in many major markets despite HUD’s worthless efforts to correct the problem, while the department’s leaders – along with the White House – have stubbornly refused to push for the expansion of the Fair Housing Act to protect gay and lesbian Americans that have no legal recourse to fight against housing discrimination in nearly half of the country. To be blunt, HUD is an embarrassment, and I am hard pressed to argue why it should be around for another 50 years.

Brandon Friedman: A Volunteer Job at a Veterans Hospital. Friedman is HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, and last spring he took to Twitter to question the sanity and honesty of U.S. military personnel that openly called into question the reasons behind the disappearance in Afghanistan of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Why was a HUD bureaucrat talking about this? Who knows, but his disgraceful badmouthing of the men and women of the U.S. armed forces was thoroughly inexcusable. The holiday gift chosen for him might serve as a reminder of the painful sacrifices that our nation’s military heroes have given in order to preserve the freedoms we often take for granted.

Cher: Membership in the Mortgage Bankers Association. Another bizarre Twitter rant involved the iconic singer and Oscar-winning actress, who took online aim at Zillow, of all things. Her October 15 stated, “#CHINA IS ON REAL ESTATE BUYING SPREE ALL OVER USA. #ZILLOW Has Agreed 2Make Their Listings Available 2 CHINESE CONSUMERS. BOYCOTT #ZILLOW.” I am not certain whether Cher is angry at China, at Chinese investors in U.S. real estate, or in Zillow for listing properties that Chinese consumers may want to consider. In any event, maybe Cher can take a break from her concert gigs and allow Dave Stevens and his team to offer a crash course on how the real estate finance industry works.

Yes, it has been an interesting year. And I would like to take this moment to thank this column’s readers for their continued support and input. I am taking the next two weeks for a holiday break, and I hope to reconnect with everyone in 2015!

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