'Transformed' Niche Hiring Many

Dallas-Residential servicers, grappling with a transformational tidal wave of loan modifications, are beginning to hire "like crazy" according to Mary Coffin, a senior servicing executive with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

Ms. Coffin, speaking at SourceMedia's Loan Modifications Conference here, noted that new servicing employees working on modifications are receiving four to five weeks of training in order to deal with the volumes they are facing.

"When you think about the number of people being added, and this is one of the most painful subjects for me, our history had always been to train early and often to make sure we were ahead of the default, delinquency and foreclosure forecast," said the EVP in charge of loan servicing and post-closing for the nation's second largest player in mortgages.

"We would hire people, bring them in and maybe start them in collections, easier calls, and over tenure let them encounter workout situations. We no longer have that advantage in this environment. We are hiring people by the thousands and thousands. It is very painful. The borrower has high anxiety and a lot of fear, complex documents to sign and return to us, and you are hiring people that get four and five weeks of training."

She said servicers are going much deeper in collecting financial information from the borrower. Ms. Coffin described a transformation of servicers and what has evolved as the foreclosure crisis began and where the company sits today.

"In the old way of doing business, when the borrower first went delinquent, we would start with a repayment program. They don't work to the point to where we have almost tried to get rid of them. It is a circular process that ultimately ends up with a different solution that needs to be found," she told conference attendees.

"Today, we're underwriting the financial condition of the borrower in order to pick the right solution that is sustainable. That is the first big change that has happened for servicers."

The Wells executive noted there has been confusion regarding documentation under the government's Home Affordable Modification Program, including re-requesting documents from borrowers and instances of losing documents.

"We are still dealing with pulling documents. We have gone back to the administration and I'd like to thank them. They already streamlined the documentation requirements for the HAMP. If we receive what are called the 'critical documents' then we are able to do the underwriting and the decisioning that we don't turn the customer down if every paper is not signed perfectly. That's a real plus," said Ms. Coffin.

"We still have work cut out for us. We have customers where the administration has extended it four to five payments. We have a few borrowers sitting in that situation. We have heavy, heavy lifting to do in the next couple months to pull these customers through."

Wells is trying to be as innovative as possible, working with external third-party providers, using phone calls, mail, door-knockers, branches, its sales teams, everything possible to help these borrowers get these documents in and finalized.

Wells is seeing short-term modifications as another solution for people who are able to regain employment immediately or who require only a short-term mod. It is taking an aggressive approach to the option ARMs from Wachovia. It is the one area where Ms. Coffin says they are doing principal forgiveness.

"We have lower redefault rates. Our key to these pay-option ARMs, if a customer is able to make a payment, we have to find a way to continue to allow that payment to be able to be made. What we are doing is restructuring the loan looking at net present value. It's been very effective. Many of these customers need to be bridged from a negative amortization to an interest only. If you took them to a fully amortized product, there's no way they are going to be able to make it. Over time, they will from an IO, step up, so there's no payment shock."

Early on, after analyzing its portfolio, Wells quickly saw that yes, HAMP was going to be a great tool and valuable to use, but it was not going to save 100% of their problems.

"Thirty percent to 40% of our portfolio who would be eligible for HAMP was coming to us for solutions. The remainder did not meet the criteria for eligibility. The biggest one was they were coming to us with DTIs below 31%. So, we also went to work on our in-house modification programs."

This included the payment-reduction mod and the implementation of a full-quality review so no loan can go to a foreclosure before it actually goes through a quality review test to make sure all opportunities have been reviewed.

"These loans are going through multiple looks before they ever go to the foreclosure sale," she said.

After the creation of the HAMP program, the volume for Wells jumped to over 40% of borrowers who were current on their mortgage that tried to get modifications.

"I knew from talking to investors, their biggest concern was the moral hazard of this program and people going delinquent to get a mod. The guidelines were not provided on default definitions. We worked to provide consistency."

Because of all the attention on modifications "we went from a day when borrowers who were truly in need called to say, 'What can I do?' and we know what to do. Now we are sorting through hundreds of calls from borrowers who have been educated to some extent. We are still educating them on what you truly have to look like before you can get a modification."

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