Education, Technology Point to Industry Enhancements
In the past few years, technology has reshaped the way parties in the field services business communicate with each other, and industry leaders expect to see more technology adopted by the industry.
Leaders of the National Association of Mortgage Field Services say that technology, coupled with an increased focus on education and training, is helping to foster better relationships between field service contractors, national field service providers and mortgage servicers.
Alan Bunker, president of the NAMFS this year as well as president and CEO of Spectrum Field Services, Salt Lake City, said that the increasing use of technology has created a need for the industry to develop standards and offer education.
"One of the challenges is to get everyone in the industry on the same page in terms of using this technology," Mr. Bunker told MSN recently.
The NAMFS is in the process of updating its manual for property preservation, which will be released late this year or early in 2005.
That, coupled with a focus on "best practices," will further help industry participants to do their jobs more efficiently and provide higher-quality services, Mr. Bunker said.
Marc Insul, president and chief operating officer of Fidelity National Field Services, said that one reason each national field services company has developed slightly different technology is that the industry is a niche field that doesn't have technology vendors catering to it.
"You can't buy this kind of software off the shelf," he noted.
But the NAMFS as an organization and its larger members can help by offering discounted ways for agents to get technology if they don't already have it.
Increasingly, the Internet, e-mail, laptop and palm computers, and digital cameras are helping field service providers send data and images quickly to the national firms, which in turn provide the information to mortgage servicers.
That has shaved a considerable amount of time from the process, leaders of NAMFS say.
And increasingly, investors are realizing that getting high quality of property preservation and protection work is just as important as getting a low price, he said.
"The benefit is that the quality of what they get back allows them to turn around and sell the property faster," Mr. Insul said.
Toward that end, the NAMFS continues to lobby mortgage investors, including the government-sponsored enterprises, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow what field service providers believe is fair compensation for field work.
"The value of what field service providers deliver to their customers far exceeds what they get paid," said John Ward, a 35-year veteran of the industry and currently executive director of the NAMFS.
One factor driving up the cost of field services is the cost of liability insurance, he said. Because field service contractors frequently are dealing with property that is in the process of foreclosure, insurers see an apparent risk that is huge, he said.
Another factor affecting the quality of homes that are conveyed back to lenders is the rise of subprime lending, Mr. Insul said. In many cases, subprime loans result in subprime REO as well.
Mr. Ward said that the adoption of technology means that people doing field services work today have to be sharper than they were when he was in the business, but technology can only go so far, he noted.
"At the end of the day, at least in my lifetime, some human being is still going to have to go the property and drain the pipes or cut the grass or clean the pool," he said.
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