Thursday, February 04, 2016

Find out what it's worth

The collateral valuation business is one of the most interesting aspects of the U.S. home finance industry, at least to me. Part of that is probably because I have a number of friends who work in this space and who I value highly, both personally and as good sources of industry information. But I think it's also because this is one part of the business where there are no facts, just opinions.

I'm sure I just send a lot of coffee through the noses of some very serious industry professionals out there who will surely tell us that the estimates of value they assign to a property and place over their signature on a valuation report are based on many iron clad facts. While I'm sure that's true, they are also based on comps and market trends, both of which are fluid and subject to the whim of the mob.

When it comes to the valuation we put on a piece of property, it's all about our best guess. That can be a scary place to work, but I've found that the people who have built their careers in this space are very comfortable with putting those values down on paper. If you ask someone like Elizabeth Green or Joan Trice about how much faith we should put in these opinions, I think I know what they would say. They've both spent the bulk of their careers working with and around professional appraisers and they know how seriously these professionals take their craft.

But if things don't change, we may see this important business taken out of the hands of professional estimators of value and given over to computer models.

I know a lot of people who work on such software and not a single one I have ever spoken to will admit that the goal is to replace an appraiser. I only suggest it because the typical professional appraiser is a member of AARP and probably looking at retirement as a short-term probability. The way this industry is set up, the only people who can afford to bring in and train the next generation of appraisers are those who are ready to get out of the business, and a lot of those guys are tired now and not eager to take on the task.

For some readers of this notebook, I'm sure that a world in which computers assigned property values without the aid of a professional appraiser is way too "2001: A Space Odessy". Of course, those folks would probably not be familiar with firms like Platinum Data, Veros or Magellan or Fannie Mae.

None of those companies are working to replace appraisers either, to my knowledge, but they are all expert at pulling together the data and analytics that make real estate valuation make sense. 

Hopefully, the industry will find a way to attract, recruit, train and excite the next generation of real estate appraisers. In the meantime, I expect we can look forward to more appraiser-assisted valuation tools and, very likely, an increase in the use of alternative valuation tools. Though perhaps not all of them will be tech based.

If you have an opinion about this business and the short-term changes you think we can expect here, I hope you'll comment or at least point me to something you find interesting by placing a link in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Ernst Brings in Industry Veteran to Lead New Business Development for Lending Market

Ernst Publishing Company, Albany, New York, the leading provider of technology and closing cost data for the real estate and home finance industries for the past 26 years, announced today that industry veteran Mike Fletcher has joined the company as Director of Strategic Accounts focusing on the lending market. In his new position, Fletcher will be focused specifically on solutions for large lenders including the addition of new partners and strategic alliances.

"I am very pleased that Mike has joined Ernst and will fill this important position," said Gregory E. Teal, president and chief executive officer of Ernst Publishing. "This is a critical time for mortgage lenders. They need solutions they can count on, delivered by people they can trust. That describes the company we've built and the solutions we provide. I'm very glad to have Mike with us to share this information with the lenders that need us now."

Fletcher has more than 30 years of experience, including positions in operations and sales for lending, technology and mortgage process outsourcing. In all of his roles, he has focused on bringing value to his clients by taking complex problems and delivering simple solutions in a timely manner.

"Everyone is busy, so attention to detail is important, but you can't lose sight of the big picture that businesses are delivering a service," Fletcher said. "Today's environment demands accurate data and new tools to manage it with greater transparency. At Ernst Publishing, we are on the cutting edge of that opportunity; and, the need for greater transparency is not likely to go away anytime soon. I'm very glad to be part of this company."

To contact Mike Fletcher, dial 800-345-3822 ext 304.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

MortgageFlex Adds a New CIO to the Team

MortgageFlex Systems, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida, an company that has been providing loan origination technology since before I started writing about this business (the firm was founded in 1980) and now also offers servicing tech, has hired Steve Shore to serve as Chief Information Officer. Shore brings back to the company a broad range of information technology experience including web development, infrastructure, system administration, software development, vendor and project management. He was employed by the firm over a decade ago.

“We are glad to have Steve back, his diverse work experience at companies like Citi and Black Knight is our gain,” said Lester Dominick, president, MortgageFlex Systems. “Steve’s infrastructure project management experience is crucial to his new role as our CIO and our move to provide more cloud services to our customers.”

Shore will now be responsible for several immediate initiatives including upgrading internal systems to the latest Microsoft Cloud Services and continuing the migration of MortgageFlex's lending software to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. He has company-wide as well overall responsibility for the Technical Services department.

Being a returning employee, he has unique insight into the organization that is invaluable and generates immediate results. “When I first joined MortgageFlex 15 years ago, MortgageFlex was on the cutting edge of technology by being a BETA adopter of the .NET framework and ASP.NET,” Shore said. “Today, MortgageFlex remains at the forefront of technology by leveraging Azure, AWS and other technologies. This is an exciting and unique opportunity for me while bringing my 20+ years of IT experience in the financial sector to MortgageFlex.”

What goes on here?

Think of this as a dusty old book taken down from a shelf long ignored. When I started this blog, the concept of writing short pieces and sticking them out on the Internet, without the benefit of a publication brand to promote them and make them visible, was very new. It's old school now, eroded away by even shorter forms of communication, darts of data that have the power to break through the noise and get some attention in a world that has become so filled with crowd sounds that it's almost impossible to follow a conversation, of any length.

In such a world, what could possibly be the value of pulling down this dusty book? The answer to that lies at the very end of the beast, in the long tail.

My roots, for better or worse, go back to writing about financial services technology. I'm one of the few, weird ones who loves both complicated worlds. There are still stories here to be told, perhaps more and more interesting ones than ever. The few that have any interest in these things, those out on the long tail of the search spectrum, may be interested in those stories. And so, I plan to tell some more of them here.

I'm thinking of it as a rebirth of an old column, a revisiting of a favored topic. Exactly the kind of thing one might expect to find in an old forgotten book, if the pages were somehow magically still being added. If you're one who shares that sentiment, welcome to my notebook.