MReport November 2020

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10 | M R EP O RT FEATURE Creek Mortgage in Greenwood, Colorado, also reported under- writers taking more time to verify data. "We have to dig a little further than we normally do," Davis said. Besides tax returns, Davis said her company gathers P&L and busi- ness bank statements for the prior two months for self-employed borrowers to determine the effect of COVID-19 on the borrower's business. As for borrowers who are part of a larger workforce, the compa- ny's underwriters need to manage the pandemic by making sure that people applying for loans are still on the job by their closing date. "We are conducting a three-day verbal employment verification prior to closing," David said. Also, in reference to wildfires that have destroyed large sections of California and other western states, location of homes is a factor in underwriting the loans. "We have to verify that the house is not 10 miles from any one fire," Davis said. The verification process became even more thorough at Inlanta Mortgage. Paul Buege, COO at the Pewaukee, Wisconsin- headquartered company, had the company's underwriters follow up on their initial verifications to ensure borrowers still qualified for the mortgage. "The country is seeing unprec- edented unemployment numbers," he said. "Somebody could be employed on Tuesday and think they're closing on Thursday but then lose their job on Wednesday. So, we instituted a few more checkpoints." Among the checkpoints at Inlanta are a series of questions for the borrower, ranging from potential changes in income and job status to whether they've filed for forbearance. "If the customer answers yes to any of those questions, the file rolls back to underwriting to validate those changes and ensure that the borrower still quali- fies," Buege said. "In addition, we realize that some people may be working reduced hours. So, the last thing that we obtain from the consumer is their final pay stub. We have seen pay stubs come through which show that the customer is on reduced earn- ings—maybe it's reduced hours, or maybe it's a reduced hourly rate." A Year of Challenges F or Paul Anselmo, CEO at Evolve Mortgage Services in Frisco, Texas, the greatest chal- lenge from the pandemic was ensuring that underwriters were not influenced by the uncertainty created during the crisis. "We spend a lot of time with the underwriters to make sure that they are solid on their discipline— not so much the standards, but the discipline of underwriting," he said. "In other words, it is not in their role to use anxiousness on the unpredictability of the future to begin to alter the way they look at credit. Credit for a consumer should always be tied to whether they have the capacity to have a job, their willingness to use credit acceptably, and to show they have the assets to enter into the transac- tion to buy or refinance a loan." One less headache for the underwriters, Anselmo added, was that the pandemic brought about a tsunami of radically dif- ferent guidelines and rules that would scare lenders into thinking twice about pursuing transac- tions. Anselmo told MReport, "We have been able to implement system-driven rules based logic to facilitate the interpretation and application of the different guidelines." He continued: "Are we getting more nervous about giving cash to consumers? The answer is no," he said. "The same standards, the same program guidelines, are for the most part unchanged. There have been tweaks within various programs where maybe some of the documentation requirements have gotten a bit more restrictive. But, overall, the world of under- writing is pretty consistent to pre-pandemic." However, not everyone has been suffering financially during the pandemic. And for those with money in their wallet and eyes on the historically low interest rates for home loans, the lure of home- buying animated the purchase market. In normal times, finding high- quality mortgage professionals to handle the workload is a serious task, Civic's Tessar noted. "The challenge in hiring under- writers or processors or anyone in operations is that all different lending channels are competing for the same people," Tessar said. "And when you're running at historic high refinances, it's very tough. It's not easy to find quality individuals." In the pandemic-era market, however, the hunt for more un- derwriters has been an obsession for many lenders. "With the unprecedented low interest rate environment and the strong purchase market, the whole industry is over capacity right now," Lowman said. "We hired a couple hundred people, and we are still looking to hire about 100 more people to keep up with it." "We've been hiring as many as we can, and we would love to hire more," said Andrew Pohlmann, CMO at Stearns Lending in Lewisville, Texas, adding half-jokingly. "If you know any, please let us know." Pohlmann observed that it has become "exceedingly challenging in today's market to find under- "Somebody could be employed on Tuesday and think they're closing on Thursday but then lose their job on Wednesday. So, we instituted a few more checkpoints." —Paul Buegge, COO, Inlanta Mortgage

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