MReport December 2020

TheMReport — News and strategies for the evolving mortgage marketplace.

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14 | M R EP O RT COVER FEATURE maintain a steady stream of com- munication with their teams— even though they aren't able to do so face-to-face. "That's the biggest thing, I think, that people miss," Lindblom said. "Everybody's home and you can't pop into a cubicle or hop into an office to talk to each other. People feel lost without that human interaction. I encourage every one of my managers to do virtual meetings. They don't have to do it every time, but they should do it at least once a month, twice a month or more to engage with their employees. I think with that virtual interaction, employees feel more a part of the team and collaboration." While working remote has plenty of challenges, it has also presented plenty of opportuni- ties for companies in the mort- gage and housing industries. Stanley Middleman Stanley Middleman, CEO of Freedom Mortgage, says that, in many ways, working from home has made it easier for industry professionals to help more people achieve homeownership. "It takes all the boundaries down," Middleman said about working remotely. "We don't have to worry about parking spaces, and we don't have to worry about desks and windows and space. And those physical limita- tions held us back from fulfilling our mission, which is fostering homeownership and helping people have the ability to leverage their homes to build personal and family wealth." He adds that despite obstacles, working from home "allows us to do our job and bring the liquidity that's available in the marketplace to the consumer. And that's what we've done a great job of." The Changing Needs of Consumers T hose working in the mortgage and housing industries aren't the only ones whose lives look a bit different in 2020. Americans seeking home loans, refinancing, or help with forbearance plans have all undergone significant changes this year, and their needs have also shifted. The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, provided some much needed financial as - sistance to the American public. However, many people continue to face unemployment, lost wages, and financial distress, leading to a rise in forbearance. This has been incredibly difficult for those who were already struggling financially before the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. Stanley Middleman says he believes the mortgage lending industry has stepped up this year to help Americans in forbearance. "We are very heavily involved serving the underserved com - munities through the FHA and as well as the veterans community. Essentially, we are responsible for the payments of our customers in forbearance," Middleman said. "We've provided forbearance back in March for a lot of folks—even more since April. And it's a big deal, we take it seriously because it's a big responsibility." Tendayi Kapfidze Tendayi Kapfidze, Chief Economist at LendingTree, says that COVID-19 also impacted consumers' demand for purchase loans and refinancing. "With COVID-19 early in the year, we saw a drop-off in demand for purchase loans," Kapfidze said. "But because inter - est rates were declining as a result of COVID-19, and as a result of the Fed intervention in the markets, we saw a strong increase in refinances early in the year which has persisted throughout the year." Kapfidze says that toward the middle and end of 2020, there has been a rebound in some of that purchase activity, as consumers began to take advantage of the low rates. Those who chose to search for a home to purchase this year faced a competitive market. Home prices rose, and many homes on the market faced bidding wars this year. Demand for homes intensified because of record-low interest rates—another economic side effect of the coro - navirus pandemic. "Consumer interest in home- ownership right now is fueled by record low-interest rates, which are indirectly or directly, depend- ing on how you look at it, an effect of COVID-19," said Kurt Kurt Johnson Johnson, the Chief Credit Officer at Mr. Cooper. He adds that what potential buyers are looking for in their homes has also changed this year. "The shift to remote work has certainly changed what people are looking for," Johnson said. "We track purchase loans density. And by density, I mean how many residents are in every square mile. We have seen a shift from very high dense urban populations to suburban populations, which are slightly less dense." While Johnson notes that this shift to a greater interest in subur- ban homes has not been enor- mous, it is a noticeable change among consumers this year. An increase in work-from-home situations is likely one cause of the growing interest in suburban housing. People do not have to be concerned with commuting to the city to work at centrally located offices. Johnson also says that homebuyers are looking for more square footage, another perk of the suburbs. This makes sense as more families work from home or go to school remotely; they have started seeking out more space in their homes to set up an office. "Everybody's home and you can't pop into a cubicle or hop into an office to talk to each other. People feel lost without that human interaction." —Suzy Lindblom, COO, Planet Home Lending

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