Real estate CEOs talk about digitizing the industry

On the second day of Inman Connects Now, brokers and CEOs took the virtual stage and discussed real estate’s transition to virtual technologies, as well as what buying and selling a home could look like post-pandemic.

Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman addressed big trends in housing, which include migration, visualizing listings, volatility, 3D home tours and simplifying systems.

As for being able to make transactions during COVID-19, CEO and Cofounder of Side, Guy Gal, said that Side’s partners were able to transition easier into the “new normal.”

“[While] shelter in place was happening, most brokerages couldn’t even close deals with agents because they provide that service in offices, brick and mortar, with people,” Gal said. “All of a sudden, everybody was home and offices were closed.”

“We didn’t have that issue,” Gal continued. “Our partners were able to transition seamlessly into that new normal, because we provide all that service over software through our proprietary application and platform.”

Trulia’s Cofounder, Pete Flint, discussed how agents should stay relevant while the industry moves to tech. In light of the pandemic, real estate companies have moved to virtual training, 3D home tours and even FaceTime tours.

“A five-year revolution has happened in three months,” Flint said. “I look at what the 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds are doing. How are they conducting their business? They’re doing everything from their cell phone.”

Another topic of discussion was addressing racial and social injustices in response to the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and David McAtee.

Compass CEO Robert Reffkin discussed racial injustices he faced as a young black man and mentioned that he was often the only black man at companies he worked at in the beginning of his career.

“It’s OK not to be OK in this time,” Reffkin said.

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How brokers can prepare for the anticipated summer home-buying season

Austin Niemiec is the executive vice president of Quicken Loans Mortgage Services (QLMS). HousingWire sat down with Niemiec to discuss the disruption to this year’s home buying season and how brokers can prepare to take on more purchase activity.

HousingWire: Economies are beginning to reopen, and we are noticing that it is coming in waves. It seems many states acknowledge the housing market needs to open up as soon as possible. Why do you think that is?

Austin Niemiec: Housing is the heartbeat of America’s economy. It is as simple as that. It’s also critical people who need a home can get it, whether it is new or existing. That is why, in our home state of Michigan, Quicken Loans advocated for the reopening of both the construction and real estate industries.

Opening the housing market will also create jobs at a time when we continue to see millions of unemployment applications filed every single week.

Whether it is construction workers or suppliers, real estate agents, staging experts, photographers and many more – the reach of these industries is wide and will play a role in allowing people to find work again.

Speaking of jobs: here at QLMS, we are hiring like crazy to ensure we keep up with demand from our broker partners and their clients. While the bulk of our new hires will not be coming into the office for the time being, we have converted our training materials so they can be accessed virtually.

We received tons of positive feedback on this shift and know for a fact that everyone is prepared for what is sure to be a busy summer in the mortgage industry. Supporting our partners with competitive pricing, combined with speed to certainty, is our No. 1 focus.

HW: Speaking of a busy summer, the spring buying season seems to be creeping earlier into the year (sometimes starting in January or February). However, due to the coronavirus, brokers had to put their purchase business on hold. What do you tell brokers about making up for that lost time to achieve their goals?

AN: Although purchases have slowed, brokers should be doubling whatever overall production goals they set at the beginning of the year.

Rates are the lowest they have been in the history of America, and no one knows how long they will last. Brokers should be expressing the urgency and explaining to their clients why now is the time to refinance.

This is also a time when cash flow is on everyone’s mind. We have all seen headlines about the millions who are applying for unemployment each week.

Brokers have an incredible opportunity to help homeowners consolidate high-interest debt or take cash out to have savings in the bank.

As loan officers, our job has always been important but now, more than ever, having the ability to save families $100-200 a month or consolidate debt can help them in incredible ways.

Focus and discipline are so important right now for brokers. They need to focus on speaking to as many refinance clients as possible, while having the discipline to not lose sight of their purchase business.

HW: What can brokers do to guarantee they are achieving or exceeding their purchase goals?

AN: It’s no surprise there was a lull in purchase activity due to the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. That said, I expect purchase activity to boom.

The demand for buying a home did not go away – in fact, it’s pent up. On top of that, interest rates are at historic lows, and Americans, now more than ever, are realizing the importance of home.

The key to success on the purchase side is to truly trust the process. Although pre-approvals are not flipping like they typically do, they will.

Brokers need to continue to follow up and paint a vision for homebuyers. Those that lose focus and fail to prepare for home buying season will not be set up for success. Purchase is a patient business; brokers must not lose patience.

Same goes with real estate agent relationships. Brokers should be talking to real estate professionals more frequently than ever. The purchases will come.

In the meantime, brokers can be a constant source of information and industry updates. With the amount of change and mortgage news flowing daily, brokers who are pros can help translate it to their referral partners. Aligning with agents will assure brokers are receiving high-quality referrals throughout this coming surge in homebuying activity.

Lastly, brokers need to make sure they are constantly interacting with the account executives at their lender partners. By tapping into materials and resources available from lenders, brokers can make sure they are achieving speed with certainty at the fastest rate possible.

HW: You have made it clear brokers should be ramping up their operations for a busy summer; however, that is only in the short term. What can they be doing to ensure long-term success and sustainability?

AN: A broker’s superpower is choice. What makes them special is their ability to build relationships with all the top lending partners in the country and offer their client what they view as the best option. When strong lenders compete for a broker’s business, the broker and their client win. Period.

Those who realize this, and have built these strong relationships, haven’t skipped a beat over the last few months. We have seen some lenders respond much differently than others during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brokers who have an abundance of choice are able to pivot and serve their borrowers. Those who have limited their choices to a few lenders are not able to move as fast.

We are proud to be one of those great choices for the broker community. Last month alone, we partnered with nearly 600 new brokers, comprising of 2,200 loan officers. Now more than ever, they are benefiting from choice.

Strong relationships with many diverse lenders are key to long-term success and sustainability.

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First-hand account: Here’s what it’s like to sell your home during a pandemic

Last week, I decided to sell my home.

The decision seemed sudden, but it wasn’t. I watched as the market started picking up. I watched as interest rates continued to drop. I browsed options online as I waited and watched.

My next mortgage payment was due and I cringed as I typed in the payment – seeing the divide from PMI and taxes. We’re in a Public Improvement District, so taxes are especially painful.

It’s nice being away from the hustle of Dallas with our view overlooking the lake, but the price was steep, and I had finally had enough.

“What do you think about moving?” It was posed as a question, but my husband and I both knew it wasn’t. I write for the housing industry. There is nothing he can say that I won’t have an answer for.

We called local Realtor Lisa Bloskas, owner of NorthVineRealty, to begin.

Within a week we had cleaned, fixed up and prepared our first home, which we had lived in for just two years, to go on the market. We bought the home from homebuilder D.R. Horton, so there wasn’t much fixing up that needed to be done. As for the small repairs that were needed? Like true Millennials we YouTubed how to do it, tried to do it ourselves and quickly realized we had gotten ourselves into a bigger project than we intended.

We talked about putting our home for sale on a Monday. On Friday, a professional photographer came out to the home to take incredible shots – it almost made me want to stay! We knew a lot of people would be browsing virtually due to COVID-19, so iPhone pictures weren’t going to do.

By Saturday night, our projects were finished and the home was listed for sale. I had flashbacks of the time my parents tried to sell their first home located in a small town between Dallas and Austin. It never sold. They waited, keeping the home on the market for a year before finally renting it out, which they did for the next 20 years. In fact, my family just fixed the house up again and sold it a few months ago – decades after first listing it.

Needless to say, I was nervous.

But hours after listing our home in a northern Dallas suburb, we got our first showing request. I was elated. Two more quickly followed. After listing the home Saturday night, we had three showings Sunday and three more on Monday.

But Tuesday rolled around and my phone was silent. I started doubting everything. Did we get a surge when it first listed and now it was done? What if no one wanted it for the same reason I was trying to leave? Taxes are too high, it was too far out from the city. It is a cute home, built in 2018 and perfect for a first home or an elderly couple looking to downsize, but would the pros outweigh the cons?

In a world with instant feedback, going all day Tuesday in silence was rough. By the end of the day, I was wondering if we had made a mistake by listing it.

It had been three days.

Hours later, we received our first offer on the home. A cash offer putting up nearly asking price. Wednesday morning another agent informed us their home shoppers were considering putting in an offer. We had two more showings on Wednesday (that’s today!).

The emotional roller coaster continued to drag me along with its sharp twists and turns. I thought I would have more time to prepare. Instead, within four days of listing our home we were looking at multiple offers with more showings still lined up. Closing dates were all set for the end of the month.

And I still didn’t even know where we were moving.

Buying a new home

Meanwhile, we had been looking at homes we could buy. I wanted to be closer to work. That didn’t narrow it down much.

Did we want to buy a new build again? Go for an existing home this time? We still weren’t sure.

HousingWire is located in Irving next to at least three major highways. The possibilities for my commute were endless. My husband’s job is also in the same area.

But now, instead of having weeks to prepare and find a new area, we needed to know now, because we need to move…now.

Last weekend, we fell in love with a home. I had even decided that I didn’t want to move at all if I couldn’t have that one. We put in an offer, but lost it in the competitive market.

The loss was more devastating than I thought it would be. Now, as I scroll aimlessly through new listings, none of them compare. All during a time when I need to decide as fast as I can where I want to move, what home I want and put a contract down so we don’t end up homeless or couch surfing at the end of the month.

Previoulsy, HousingWire Senior Real Estate reporter Angela de Gale wrote about the fierce housing market, and the resulting bidding wars arising.

But suddenly it became personal. Deciding to sell my home showed that Dallas is just as much “in the game” as other hot areas when it comes to the home-buying competition.

And while that is great news for us as we sell our home, I’m sure we have not been met with our last obstacle in our journey to buy the next one.

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NAREB issues call to action removing barriers to black homeownership

The National Association of Real Estate Brokers President Donnell Williams released a statement Wednesday in response to the national civil unrest America is currently facing.

NAREB chose to take an economic perspective in regard to black Americans battling COVID-19, racial injustice, discrimination, prejudice and inequality. To aid in the ongoing fight, Williams encouraged voting, completing the census and a proposed amendment of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 184, which provides low-interest mortgage loans to other minority groups but currently does not include black Americans.

“It’s a new day. If nothing else, the year 2020 has shown us that business as usual is over and some rules were made to be broken,” Williams said. “The National Association of Real Estate Brokers pivots to embrace these changes as we continue to work to have a positive impact upon black lives across the country.”

NAREB called for the elimination of obstructive systemic barriers that hinder or preclude the increase of black homeownership, including “lending discrimination and the despair fueled by racial discrimination that obstructs black homeownership.”

NAREB’s issued a call to action, which included:

  • Call for passage of the Heroes Act  
  • Call for all 50 states to pass and update fair housing laws
  • Call for cities to reform foreclosure prevention laws
  • Call to eliminate zip code-based insurance rates
  • Call for Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to eliminate Loan Level Price Adjustments (LLPA)
  • Call for more investment in black-owned banks, CDFIs, and credit unions
  • Call for more technical assistance to increase commercial real estate, property management and real estate investment.
  • Call to increase funding to create more career and business opportunities for black Americans in commercial, etc.

“This is a historic time,” Williams said. “A new birth is taking place. In the future, you will be asked ‘What’d you do?’”

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United Wholesale Mortgage removes extra employment verification requirement on all loans

United Wholesale Mortgage, the largest U.S. wholesale lender, said it was removing an extra rule, or overlay, it implemented last month requiring a borrower’s employment to be re-verified on the day of closing.

The removal of the overlay applies to all loans, UWM said on Wednesday. Lenders can now use the regular employment verification process that allows the step to be done within 10 business days.

The overlay had been put in place as millions of Americans lost their job after state shutdowns aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus led to more than 40 million claims for unemployment insurance since mid-March.

“We believe the job losses and the velocity of the job losses from the pandemic has slowed substantially,” Mat Ishbia, UWM’s CEO, said in an interview. “That’s why we made the change today. With the velocity slowing down, we didn’t think it needed to continue.”

Layoffs have slowed for eight consecutive weeks, according to Labor Department data on initial claims, as the unemployment insurance requests are known.

In addition, there are signs that American businesses are re-hiring some of the laid-off workers. Continuing claims that measure the number of people receiving unemployment benefits declined for the first time since the start of the pandemic during the week ended May 23, according to the government data.

As the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the nation into a recession, lenders tightened standards to protect themselves from potential defaults. The availability of mortgage credit in April fell to its lowest level since December 2014, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association last month.

The MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index fell to 133.5 in April, indicating the strictest standards in five years as lenders and mortgage investors worried bout the economic implications of the pandemic.

Overlays are aimed at protecting lenders who could be forced to buy back any mortgages that go into default or forbearance within the first one to three payments. That’s part of the deal they sign when they transfer eligible loans to middlemen who sell to companies who package them into bonds that are sold to investors.

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[PULSE] Digitizing the mortgage industry through MISMO

Over the last several years, the Mortgage Industry Standards Maintenance Organization (MISMO) has been the driving force as the mortgage industry has transitioned to a digital world.

MISMO was created to standardize how the mortgage industry communicates, and its mission has been to drive standardized data and information through industrywide collaboration.

This, in turn, ensures efficiency, consistency, cost savings, and consumer benefits through all aspects of the mortgage process.

MISMO’s success up to this point has been notable, and thanks to investments by key stakeholders, it has created tangible benefits for both lenders and consumers, including:

  • Remote Online Notarization (RON) standards;
  • A RON Product Certification to assist lenders in identifying product vendors that meet MISMO standards;
  • A digital mortgage resource center to assist organizations with the transition to digital loan processes; 
  • Standardized Closing Instructions templates to enable lenders to communicate more effectively with settlement agents; 
  • The creation of an Industry Loan Application Dataset (iLAD), which provides a standard way of exchanging information included in the new Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) as well as the GSE automated underwriting systems; and 
  • The creation of standardized terms and definitions that enable consistency in the exchange of information with the GSE Uniform Mortgage Data Program, FHA, VA, Ginnie Mae and CFPB HMDA requirements.

Beyond these accomplishments, MISMO has played an important role during the critical times we face today. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, MISMO’s purpose and execution have never been more evident. The rapid expansion of RON standards, digital closings, and electronic notes have all helped not only the industry but, more importantly, consumers as mortgage closings have continued during this difficult time. 

Robert Broeksmit
Guest Author

MISMO’s continued growth will be even more important in the future. That is why MISMO, with the broad support of MBA’s membership and MER Boards of Directors, will begin collecting a $0.75 administrative fee for every new loan registered on the MERS system. The new fee will allow MISMO to significantly enhance the valuable products and services it provides to the entire real estate ecosystem. 

The establishment of a dedicated source of funding will allow MISMO to speed up the development and adoption of new standards that will benefit lenders of all sizes and business models by reducing friction and improving the integration and flow of data across the entire industry. This will undoubtedly create a better digital mortgage experience for consumers and all parties involved in a real estate transaction.

MISMO has a bevy of initiatives and projects it plans to undertake, including a fully digitized loan file with standard elements, standardized industry definitions to promote document clarity and certainty, common closing datasets to create uniformity, and standardized servicing files to ensure compliance and ease servicing transfers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of digitization in all aspects of our lives. And as we move into the future, it is incumbent on our industry to further embrace this digitization and grow beyond its current framework. MISMO will be at the forefront of this growth by ensuring that the industry effectively communicates across a wide variety of stakeholders as products and technologies evolve. 

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Learn how to master the power of podcasts at in June

Your voice is one of the most powerful tools that you have. At the same time, we’re also living in an environment where there are more ways than ever before to digest information. 

So how do you make sure you’re properly investing your time and resources in ways that help maximize your voice? 

This is especially important since time is our most valuable resource, meaning you don’t want to waste your precious time in the wrong media. On top of this, you need to release content that people find valuable enough to dedicate their time to. 

The good news is people want a voice, and when done correctly, it garners one of the most engaged audiences. For starters, 52% of podcast subscribers listen to entire episodes. That blows so many other marketing stats out of the water in terms of engagement. And with the average podcast length around 43 minutes and 24 seconds, that’s a lot of time to talk to a captive audience. 

As part of our virtual summit June 11-12, HW+ Managing Editor Brena Nath and Phil Treadwell, vice president of development and regional manager for Mason-McDuffie Mortgage, are leading the master class session on voice.

Treadwell explained that there are many ways to deliver engaging content to a target audience. 

“Attending the voice mastermind session will provide people with an understanding of how to use voice content effectively, even over other forms like video and written, and use it in the way their audience wants to participate,” Treadwell said.

“Everyone wants to grow their audience, increase their reach, and create more engagement,” he added. 

In fact, he said that audio and voice are more preferred methods of consuming content for busy professionals, as well as the types of clients that mortgage and real estate professionals want to attract.

This session will explain the why behind this and give tactical examples that are proven to accomplish these things. Reserve your spot here.

To help reaffirm just how powerful your voice can be, we thought we’d leave it to the masters of voice to make our point. Watch the full video below.

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No, we’re still not in a housing inventory crisis – Here’s proof

One of the bigger surprises of the COVID-related financial and health crises is that existing home inventory fell along with demand. 

American housing bears expected monthly existing home supply to skyrocket and home prices to drop when demand fell during the stay-at-home period of the crisis.

But as home sales fell, so did inventory. Home prices not only held firm, but the median sales price increased by 7.4% year over year.

June 1 Inventory
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Summer home-buying set to take off

Applications for purchase mortgages gained for the seventh consecutive week to a level that was 18% higher than a year ago, further evidence that we’re headed into a strong summer home-buying season.

A seasonally adjusted index measuring purchase applications jumped 5% last week, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association. Just as mortgage applications progressively increased, applications for refinancings simultaneously fell 9% from the prior week, though the level was still 137% higher than a year ago, MBA said.

“The pent-up demand from homebuyers returning to the market continues to support a recovery from the weekly declines observed earlier this spring,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

However, there are still many households affected by the widespread job loss and current economic downturn. High unemployment and low housing supply may restrain a more meaningful rebound in purchase applications in the coming months, Kan said.

The Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, decreased 3.9% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier.

After reaching a peak of 76% earlier this year, refinances now account for less than 60% of activity. The index hit its lowest level since February at 59.5% of total applications, according to the report.

Last week, the average U.S. rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to 3.37%, hitting another MBA survey-low.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of this week’s mortgage application data:

  • The FHA’s share of mortgage apps remained unchanged from the week prior at 11.2%.
  • The VA share of applications fell from 12.4% to 12.0%.
  • The USDA share of total applications increased from 0.6% to 0.7%.
  • Mortgage interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) fell to 3.37% from 3.42% the week before.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $510,400) fell to 3.66% from 3.71%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA increased from 3.41% to 3.46%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased from 2.87% to 2.85%.
  • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs decreased to 3.05% from 3.08%.

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Housing Tech Rundown: DocMagic, Qualia and Curbio

With recent indications that summer will be this year’s strong home-buying season, housing tech companies are poised to help consumers and lenders with a variety of challenges related to low inventory and the resulting bidding wars on top of the adjustments they are having to make in response to COVID-19.

As more and more businesses turn to fully remote options for mortgage and lending solutions, here are some of the latest tech product rollouts. 

Qualia, a cloud-based title, escrow, and closing software, recently added its Connect Video Chat program to its digital real estate closing platform. The new product enables contactless home closings, and can be utilized for RINs in accordance with state emergency mandates and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac RIN guidelines.

Qualia’s Connect Video Chat enables title companies to securely launch video conferences with their partners and clients, including real estate agents, lenders, homebuyers and sellers. The two-way audio-video technology can also facilitate recording an ink-based signature and has long-term video storage functionality either on Qualia with the rest of a client’s closing documents or on a title and escrow company’s own internal servers.

DocMagic is now offering its eSign technology for free to help organizations increase productivity and ensure compliance amid stay-at-home orders. DocMagic has modified the platform, making it document agnostic, enabling it to easily handle the execution of important documents such as contracts, NDAs, LOIs and any other agreement, to be electronically signed.

Having executed more than 300 million eSign transactions, DocMagic’s goal is to circumvent wet signings, back-and-forth emails, and scanning or faxing documents while discarding the need for any hardware or software. After the pandemic, the company said it wants to continue to make its eSign technology available for free to assist in the long term.

Lastly, pre-sale renovator Curbio launched its latest campaign “Pivot to Curbio,” an online app providing pre-sale concierge services for all Realtors and their selling clients. The digital marketing support and on-site safety protocols help prepare homes to sell – while deferring all renovation costs until closing.

The app offers virtual seminars, co-brandable collateral such as postcards and brochures, and a complimentary post-renovation virtual tour, which agents can utilize for online market listings. The campaign also offers free living accommodations for home sellers who prefer to vacate the property during Curbio’s on-site work.

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