Raising Industry Standards Is Key Agenda for SIRS

When Charles Smith, CEO of the Society of Independent Representatives, looks at the mortgage servicing industry, he notices that at almost every step of the food chain, participants are subject to some sort of credentials, testing or licensing - until you get to field services.

The representatives hired to maintain and protect real estate-owned property on behalf of lenders often have no specific credentials. The Society of Independent Representatives believes that field-service providers can benefit from testing and certification that assures the people who hire them that they know how to do what they are supposed to do.

"We are looking to improve the industry and bring it up to a higher level," Mr. Smith told MSN. Mr. Smith, co-owner of a field service business, knows the ins and outs of the industry.

SIRS sees industry education as a core part of its mission, and the organization has established a certification and testing program for field-service representatives that want to demonstrate their credentials to be in the business. With many new individuals entering the market, he believes lenders would be well served to know that the people they hire for property maintenance and preservation know how to winterize a home, for instance.

"I cannot guarantee that they are going to perform the services correctly, but I can guarantee that they know how to," Mr. Smith said.

While experienced field-service representatives may say they don't need to be tested, or feel that the testing done by the servicers that hire them is sufficient, the concept makes sense to many veterans of the field service industry, Mr. Smith says.

And for that reason, the organization recently voted to implement certification as a requirement for SIRS membership starting next year. However, individuals who are not SIRS members will also be allowed to take the test.

And members that do obtain certification will see some benefits. A major insurance provider is providing a significant discount on coverage for SIRS-certified field representatives.

In addition, SIRS will require members to obtain a background check, which can cost between $50 and several hundred dollars depending upon the jurisdiction. Having a background check on file with the organization means that they won't have to pay for an additional one each time they agree to perform work for a new company. They can just sign a release to share the one on file with SIRS.

"It's going to be a big money saver in the long term because in this industry, a lot of people are working for five or six different people," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith notes that appraisers, real estate agents, attorneys and others who perform work on behalf of mortgage servicers all face testing requirements.

"All the way through until you get to us out in the field people are licensed and certified. This is the way our industry is going now."

Establishing those standards of professionalism may help the field-service industry negotiate better pricing, which has long been a point of contention among field-service providers. Often the HUD guidelines upon which much of the industry's pricing is based are out of date or unrealistic, according to field-service providers. Mr. Smith says that inadequate fees for services is one reason that some work is not done to specification, because some field representatives may need to cut corners in order to make a profit on the work they do.

"I'm finding that most of the lenders we've talked with don't mind paying a little more if they get the quality of service," he said.

SIRS membership includes some national service providers as well as state and smaller area firms. Today, about 100 firms are members of SIRS. (c) 2006 Mortgage Servicing News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.mortgageservicingnews.com http://www.sourcemedia.com