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Intense Inspections Make A Difference

Record high volumes of distressed properties are not diverting one field servicer's eye for more intense inspections and quality fieldwork.

"We're still very busy, the volume is still big," says Alan Jaffa, the newly appointed CEO of Safeguard Properties, Valley View, Ohio, one of the country's largest privately held mortgage field services, which this month celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Current economic factors, including unemployment, are bound to generate more foreclosures, he says, which will continue to be at a record high. Even more challenging is ensuring these properties are properly inspected and maintained. "A big thing we're going to start to see in the industry is the need to really know who the property occupants are, so inspections are going to become a very critical piece of the process," says Jaffa.

If until now the challenge has been to accrue data on occupied vs. vacant distressed properties, now it is turning into an imperative to not just determine that someone still lives in a property, but also to know the identity of that person.

"Who is living in these properties is becoming a greater function for the field service companies," Jaffa told this publication. And it does not necessarily mean asking to see tenant identification cards or other documentation, he adds. It means "a more intense inspection" and making sure the inspector contacts the person living in a house, making sure that when a property is listed as vacant it actually is vacant, and if it is occupied, who lives there. Among others, a reported "parrot incident" describing how a field services company locked a property and removed a pet parrot belonging to a Bank of America borrower made headlines and alerted the industry of risks associated with irresponsible home inspections. So now vendor management departments within field service companies closely oversee those hired to work in the field knocking on doors, recruit and give credentials to these workers.

Jaffa, who is credited for helping grow Safeguard's revenue in excess of 500% and staff to 800 employees since he assumed the role of COO in 2002, has a lot on his plate. In 2010 Safeguard will continue to hire and will soon roll out initiatives that have been in the pipelines for years. The goal is to ensure work quality is not challenged by volume.

"It is difficult times," Jaffa says, and that demands extreme caution when discovering vacant properties and inspecting occupied properties, training vendor partners to understand the sensitivity of the situation "is something that is very big on us right now." So systems are updated with feedback from service users. For example, most recently users praised as "a great tool" the Safeguard "All Client Alert" industry news update, suggested changes to the website technology and data tools. Users conveyed interest on information about code enforcement practices, property lists and other data.

The website gets tens of thousands of hits from businesses and even individuals. Now it is a matter of catering to the company brand and what is expected from it. Following that path, however, the company updated its marketing website enhancing new features based on feedback key industry users. It now includes more streamlined access to services, news, events and industry information, five monthly industry spotlights, the "Ask the CEO" section with answers on mortgage field services industry issues, and a user contact section.