What to do about the appraiser shortage

What to do about the appraiser shortage
What a two-year stretch it has been for appraisers.

The appraisal workforce was already in decline in 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the industry’s workforce shrank even further. To compound matters, homebuyer demand skyrocketed thanks to historically-low mortgage rates and societal changes.

These factors combined to throw the appraisal industry in flux. It has a very uncertain future: will in-person appraisals be the norm, or will technology overtake the process completely or partially?

In a panel entitled “The Brave New World of Valuations” at HousingWire’s Spring Summit on March 4, Tony Reese and William Fall – chief appraiser at RPM Appraisal Services and CEO of The William Fall Group, respectively – tackled these subjects. Both said the human appraiser is still the future of the industry.

Overcoming the current appraiser shortage is the first hurdle in restocking the shallow field, Fall said. But compounding the problem is a lack of appraisers entering the profession, Reese said.

Mentor appraisers have begun letting their apprentices go earlier and earlier in the training process, Reese said, simply due to financials – the mentor isn’t make as much money on a job if a trainee is with him.

“Usually the younger appraisers enter the profession and have a mentor, but there’s no real financial gain for the mentor in the first year,” Reese said. “So, trainees go out into the field with little training and the mentors don’t even break even. Plus, a lot of appraisers are nearing retirement age and don’t want to take on someone else at the moment.”

New appraisal technology and alternative products could offer life support, though, in bringing younger blood into the profession. Hybrid appraisals, desktop appraisers, and new online platforms are slowly being introduced, which could appeal to the newer labor force, Reese said.

At the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, the Federal Housing Finance Agency began easing standards on property appraisals that allowed drive-by and desktop valuations in certain circumstances. This was the first step the FHFA took in combatting the pandemic as it pertained to appraisers.

But the FHFA also backed the use of hybrid appraisals, which would increase coverage for rural markets and high-volume areas where time becomes a greater issue. In August 2020, several lenders voiced concern over the appraisal industry’s finite number of appraisers and underwriters as well as appraisal quotes taking anywhere from 10 to 27 days to hit the lender’s desk.

Though hybrid appraisals are expedited and typically cheaper, adding a layer of third-party involvement could complicate matters: a uniform set of standards does not currently exist at both the state and federal levels that hold non-appraisers accountable for their appraisals, the FHFA said.

If new technology is eventually the answer, it’s imperative to get all platforms working correctly before introducing them in the field, Reese said.

“There’s been a rush by people in the industry to try and be the first to solve everything,” Reese said. “One company will use hybrid appraisals, another one will use some kind of technology platform. These are all great solutions, but if the products don’t integrate together, we gain no efficiencies.”

As an example, if an appraiser in the field can’t get his 3D mapping to integrate with his form software, he or she will have to take a different step to make sure data transfers over, Reese said.

“I don’t really save any time that way,” Reese said. “The overall goal needs to be finding ways to make the appraisers job easier. We have some great products and an eager labor force, but we need to take our time to make sure everything is working together before we push them out.”

As the vaccine rollout continues and a second round of stimulus checks hits consumers’ bank accounts, expect the housing market to even out into the warmer months, with more inventory and less demand.

In the end, Fall said, there will always be a need for a human appraiser.

“As we talk to people in the secondary market, the human appraiser is still highly preferred, and I don’t see that changing.”
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Mat Ishbia outlines UWM purchase strategy

Mat Ishbia outlines UWM purchase strategy
At HousingWire’s Spring Summit on Thursday, UWM CEO Mat Ishbia sat down for a one-on-one interview with HousingWire CEO Clayton Collins to discuss UWM’s strategy for this purchase market.

However, as Ishbia had just announced that UWM would no longer partner with mortgage brokers who also work with Rocket Mortgage or Fairway, the discussion became a broader conversation about the lenders’ overall strategy to grow broker share.

Talking about the broker announcement, Ishbia distinguished between other wholesale lenders that brokers might be working with and Rocket and Fairway, saying those two companies are actively undermining brokers.

“There are 75 wholesale lenders…brokers can use all 75 — but if they are using those two, I don’t want to partner with them. That’s our belief system. I have no problem if they want to work with [those two] but I’m not going to give you our proprietary technology, that’s not for people funding the competition of the broker channel,” Ishbia said.

UWM will require its broker partners to sign an addendum by March 15 that says they will not work with Rocket or Fairway. Ishbia said this would only affect about 25% of the 12,000 brokers who currently partner with UWM.

“Rocket goes to real estate agents directly and helps them to get licensed to be a loan officer and says ‘we’ll pay you a fee if you don’t send to brokers’… that’s not good for brokers. I don’t like that. Let’s win together as a family, as a team,” Ishbia said. “I support all brokers…all brokers are winning with this decision and that’s how I think about it.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Ishbia said UWM is well-positioned for the purchase market and to grow their market share. UWM is the top wholesale lender in the country and No. 2 overall, after Rocket.

“I don’t have on my board my goal is to be the No. 2 overall lender, it’s to be No. 1 and we’re going to do that.”

Ishbia said that UWM’s efficiency will serve brokers well this year since one of the company’s hallmarks is closing fast.

“UWM is closing loans in 16-17 days…In a purchase market you can’t miss the contract date. It’s so much more important to be fast on purchase than on refi. You’ve got to be fast and efficient and UWM wins on that with our technology.”

Ishbia also talked up the company’s new Jumbo Smart product, launching March 17, which will have an LTV up to 89.99%. Like many lenders, UWM pulled jumbo last spring during the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, but Ishbia said UWM’s new jumbo will be even better, with the ability to fund loans up to $2 million. Based on UWM’s volume, Ishbia estimated the jumbo business could be $1.5 billion a month.

“Our job is to give [brokers] the tools to compete. I bet on brokers all the time — as long as they can compete, they’re going to win.”

UWM announced it “sharpened pricing across the board” on Thursday, but Ishbia said the company won business based more on certainty and quick turn times than on pricing. He also said that the company’s investors (after its public debut in January) understood the value of UWM’s long experience in the mortgage industry.

“Our investors understand our history of growing in all markets. We’re a lot less cyclical than our biggest competitor,” Ishbia said. “We provide a better opportunity for those who want to invest in mortgage in the long term… We’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here 18 years and I’m going to be here a while.”

One of those long-term plays is holding onto mortgage servicing rights. Ishbia said UWM finished 2020 with about $185-190 billion in MSRs , and said he expects UWM will grow that to about $300 billion this year. He said rates on those are in the low 3s or high 2s and they will see “immense value” when rates go up.

When asked why UWM started retaining MSRs, Ishbia said, “It comes down to access to capital issues… when you get big enough you can take advantage of the fact it throws off cash too, that’s one of the biggest benefits of going public.”

Ishbia said UWM’s modus operandi won’t change under its new public structure.

“Investors have been clear: ‘keep doing what you’re doing.’ I always say, ‘What got us here will get us there.’”
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Employment gains small but mighty in February

Employment gains small but mighty in February
For the fourth month in a row, the U.S. unemployment situation was left virtually unchanged, dropping just .1% to 6.2% in February, according to the U.S. Labor Department. 

However, due to a greater number of job gains versus losses in the second month of the year, economists responded positively despite an estimated 10 million people still reported as unemployed.

“Non-farm payrolls beat expectations, rising by 379,000 in February. We’re not out of the woods yet – the U.S. remains 9.5 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic employment level, but this is positive news,” said Odeta Kushi, First American‘s Deputy Chief Economist.

Last month’s employment gains were led by an increase in private sector jobs while overall employment is still down 6.2% compared to February 2020. Offsetting these gains were losses in government education jobs – though this number can be hard to track given the seasonality of education employment.

Employment improvement was also concentrated in the leisure and hospitality sector, in particular, the bar and restaurant sub-sector, a strong signal of the service industry reopening. As this sector is heavily dependent on people gathering in close proximity, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, Doug Duncan, said the GSE strongly believes efficient distribution of effective COVID-19 vaccines will be crucial to support the ongoing recovery.

“On the downside, the construction sector lost 61,000 jobs in February, likely impacted by recent severe winter weather, which would hamper hiring,” Duncan said.

While the housing industry battles ongoing supply constraints, declines in non-residential specialty trade contractors and heavy and civil engineering construction also fell.

Though with January’s growth revised up by 117,000, the jobs picture is brighter than expected, said Mike Fratantoni, senior vice president and chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“All in, this report is strongly positive for the broader economy’s growth prospects over the next several months,” Fratantoni said. “We have been expecting a burst of activity from pent-up demand as the vaccine rollout continues. This may be the first sign of that increase. Higher employment will support a very strong spring housing market, while somewhat higher mortgage rates will continue to slow refinance activity.”

Throughout the pandemic-induced recession, now a year old, the Federal Reserve has stated that the housing market has been among the only persistent bright spots. However, much of that strength has piggybacked on the industry’s historically low interest rates, and left some economists worried that the rapid rise in Treasury yields in the last several weeks risk choking off that activity.

On Thursday, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the outlook for the economy has improved after three months of weak job growth. But he cautioned that the economy and the job market are still far from fully recovered and that full employment would not be achieved this year.

Powell did not comment whether the Fed will respond to rising interest rates on Treasury securities by altering its bond-buying policies.

“We think our current policy stance is appropriate,” Powell said.

On Friday, Senate Democrats struck a deal on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package to extend the current $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits through the end of September, adding an extra month of coverage for those who have lost jobs during the pandemic.

Overall, the economy has only regained approximately 58% of the jobs lost at the start of the pandemic, but according to Kushi, “the recovery has momentum now.”

However, as of February 2021, 4.1 million people were considered long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks or more) and this long-term unemployed statistic accounted for 41.5% of the total unemployed last month.

“The potential implication of long-term joblessness? A prolonged recovery,” said Kushi.
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CoStar drops bid for CoreLogic citing market volatility

CoStar drops bid for CoreLogic citing market volatility
CoStar Group announced that is bowing out of the multi-billion dollar takeover bid for CoreLogic after the firm’s board rejected CoStar’s latest offer, valued at over $7 billion.

In February, CoStar made an offer to acquire CoreLogic for close to $97 a share, roughly 20% higher than the accepted offer Stone Point Capital and Insight Partners made earlier that month, which was about $80 a share, all in cash.

The updated bid put CoreLogic’s share price closer to $90 a share, a move the CoreLogic board did not feel was “superior” to its prior bid.

“We appreciate your inclusion of cash consideration that, as we expressed in our prior letter and had discussed with you previously, helps to provide greater certainty of value. However, $6 per share in cash does not meaningfully reduce CoreLogic shareholders’ exposure to the concerning volatility of your stock,” said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic in a letter to Andrew Florance, CoStar’s CEO and president.

Because of rising interest rates that will affect the refi mortgage market, CoStar said CoreLogic’s value had declined, and it was done negotiating. About 50% of CoreLogic’s revenues are tied directly to mortgage volumes. 

“With interest rates moving up, now is not the time for us to aggressively buy into the residential mortgage market,” Florance said in a statement.

Since the summer, CoreLogic had been battling with investors who jointly own or have an economic interest equivalent to approximately 15% of CoreLogic’s outstanding common stock. In a July letter sent to CoreLogic’s board of directors, Cannae Holdings and Senator Investment Group proposed buying the firm in an all-cash offer for $66 a share.

The investors dropped the CoreLogic takeover bid on Nov. 2 after CoreLogic confirmed it was exploring multiple offers to sell at or above $80 per share. Cannae and Senator still exerted pressure on shareholders to fully replace the board with their own nominees.

A compromise was reached on Nov. 24 following a proxy vote was held that replaced three of the 12 directors on CoreLogic’s board with that of the investment groups’ nominees.

Though no formal announcement has been made by CoreLogic, Stone Point Capital or Insight Partners, Florance congratulated the investment companies on their successful bid to acquire CoreLogic.

Also this week, a judge in Delaware ruled that CoStar will have to pay a $52 million break fee to RentPath after its failed acquisition of the residential rental portal.

RentPath pulled out of a $585 million deal in December, after federal regulators sued on the grounds that it would violate antitrust laws. Redfin announced last month that it would buy RentPath for $608 million, pending approval from bankruptcy court and the Federal Trade Commission.
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Mike Cagney eyes Walmart’s potential move into mortgage

Mike Cagney eyes Walmart’s potential move into mortgage
Figure Technologies CEO and co-founder Mike Cagney said that when it comes to watching out for non-endemic players impacting the real estate market, he has his eye on Walmart.

“Everyone should be taking notice of the moves that Walmart’s making, because they’re absolutely going to come into the mortgage space,” Cagney said at HousingWire’s 2021 Spring Summit event on Thursday.

FinLedger previously reported that Walmart announced it was teaming up with fintech investment firm Ribbit Capital to create a new fintech startup that will offer “innovative and affordable” financial products.

Cagney also said separately to HousingWire on Thursday that he never intended to build a mortgage lending company. Upon leaving SoFi, Cagney and the founding team at Figure were laser-focused on applying blockchain technology to financial services. But now, with proof of concept cleared and a large war chest, he intends to buy a mortgage lender to achieve scale. He might even buy a few of them.

At the event, Cagney said, somewhat facetiously, that when Figure is looking to acquire a mortgage lender “the less tech the better.”

“Because then it’s a lot easier for us to go in and do what we want to do,” Cagney said. “Fortunately, within the mortgage universe, that gives us a pretty large opportunity zone.”

As a technology vendor, Cagney explained, it’s hard to get the attention of mortgage producers because they’re either booming or busting.

“I’d just rather have direct control of it,” Cagney said. “We already have our own mortgage origination business that’s growing pretty rapidly right now. But we’re going to do some acquisitions for scale. We have a SPAC that was just launched that may also be doing some acquisitions within the mortgage vertical. Not necessarily. But, I would expect you to see at least one major transaction from us this year.”

When it comes to staying ahead as a company, many businesses consider either building technology in-house or buying. But Blend CEO & Co-Founder Nima Ghamsari said at the event that the buy vs. build conversation used to be very binary – but has shifted to what do lenders NEED to build coupled with solutions they buy. All through the lens of how do lenders accelerate their growth.

“We don’t know where this market exactly is going, and we all have ideas,” Ghamsari said. “But in a world where nobody knows exactly where it’s going, being the one that’s furthest ahead and driving the outcomes, as opposed to [doing a] passive, defensive play or defensive maneuver is the name of the game. So speed is the name of the game, that’s all I focus on.”

Meanwhile, Radian CTO Mark Wai said at the event that although it feels like the housing industry is on the path toward digitization – but from the lens of a home buyer, home seller or real estate agent, the technology just isn’t quite there yet.

“We have not seen the Uber kind of experience in our industry, where the journey of buying or selling a home [and] the process of a mortgage transaction is quicker, simpler and overall a much [more] pleasant experience than what we have today,” Wai said, “All in all, I feel that we [have made] some progress. But I feel that we still have a way to go.”
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CFPB delays QM compliance date to October 2022

CFPB delays QM compliance date to October 2022
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a notice of proposed rulemaking on Tuesday to delay the mandatory compliance date of the Qualified Mortgage final rule from July 1, 2021 to October 1, 2022.

“At a time when so many consumers are struggling and at risk of losing ground, particularly Black and Hispanic consumers, we need to do all we can to help people stay in their homes and to ensure the availability of responsible, affordable mortgages,” said CFPB Acting Director David Uejio. “In proposing to extend the date by which lenders must comply with the CFPB’s new General QM definition, we are working to provide needed options for both homeowners and lenders during a time of uncertainty and hardship.”

The CFPB just issued its final rulings on QM in December, which established a pricing threshold that effectively replaced the debt-to-income limit of 43% with a price-based approach that gives lenders relief for loans capped at 150 basis points above the prime rate.

The Ability to Repay/QM rule was enacted by the CFPB after the financial crisis and requires lenders to verify a borrower’s ability to repay the mortgage before lending them money. But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not bound to this requirement, a condition known as the QM Patch.

The QM Patch was set to expire in January 2021, but the bureau decided to extend the QM Patch in October, until “the mandatory compliance date for the new QM.” With this newest announcement, that date is now pushed out to October 2022.

In its statement on the extension, the bureau notes: “Extending the mandatory compliance date of the General QM final rule would allow lenders more time to offer QM loans based on the homeowners’ debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, and not solely based on a pricing cut-off. Extending the compliance date of the General QM final rule would also give lenders more time to use the GSE Patch, which provides QM status to loans that are eligible for sale to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”

Amending the QM Rule has been a long process. Last January the CFPB told  Congress of its intention to propose an amendment to the QM Rule that would “move away” from debt-to-income ratio as a factor in mortgage underwriting. In June, the Bureau made good on that plan, and set the expiration date for the QM Patch at January 2021, before it decided to extend the QM Patch in October, and today.
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FHFA extends multifamily forbearance through June 30

FHFA extends multifamily forbearance through June 30
Multifamily property owners who are struggling to make mortgage payments due to the coronavirus pandemic now have a reprieve through the end of June for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced on Friday.

Forbearance options for multifamily mortgages backed by the GSEs were set to expire on Mar. 31, but the FHFA has extended that till June 30, 2021, provided landlords are also extending benefits to their renters. Landlords must:

Inform tenants in writing about tenant protections available during the property owner’s forbearance and repayment periods; andAgree not to evict tenants solely for the nonpayment of rent while the property is in forbearance.

Eligible landlords must also:

Allow the tenant flexibility to repay back rent over time and not in a lump sum;Not charge the tenant late fees or penalties for non-payment of rent; andGive the tenant at least a 30-day notice to vacate

“COVID-19 continues to financially impact Americans across the country, thereby hindering many tenants’ ability to pay their rent,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria. “To help tenants in financial distress and property owners, FHFA is extending the multifamily COVID-19 forbearance and tenant protections through the end of June 2021.”

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The FHFA’s multifamily extension now aligns its expiration with its single-family housing forbearance request date also set to end June 30, 2021. However, single-family borrowers have the option to potentially forgo mortgage payments for up to 18 months.

As of Feb. 22, the Mortgage Bankers Association estimates 2.6 million homeowners are still in some form of forbearance. The MBA reported on Monday that the portfolios of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac held at 2.97% forbearance volume and the GSEs have consistently seen lower forbearance rates than other owners of mortgages during the pandemic.

Based on the rate of improvement to date, Black Knight estimates there could be more than 2.5 million active forbearance plans remaining at the end of March 2021, when the first wave of plans reaches their 12-month expirations.

However, the limitations of survey data are particularly apparent in the rental market space, which lacks real-time data and has fewer data in general, the Urban Institute noted. According to the Washington D.C. based think-tank, the data sets available tend to show a higher share of renters missing rental payments than the administrative data show, suggesting that the survey results need to be interpreted with caution.

“It is unclear whether the Biden administration’s $25 billion of additional rental assistance is significant for renters, who have been hit harder by the pandemic than homeowners,” the institute said.

As for single-family borrowers, safety measures such as the loss mitigation waterfall and home equity buffer are expected to protect even the riskier homeowners in forbearance from foreclosure.
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Plaid unveils Income to aid customer finance

Plaid unveils Income to aid customer finance
Fintech company Plaid has announced the release of Income, a beta product looking to simplify income verification so customers can secure loans, qualify for mortgages, rent apartments, lease vehicles, and more.

The company said Income can also be used by mortgage lenders to capture and “digest” a person’s income data directly from their payroll provider to make more informed decisions about their creditworthiness.

Carputty and Myra, two financial service companies are partnering with Plaid in the endeavor.

“The past decade of fintech innovation has shown that people can make better financial decisions, more easily with better access to and control of their own financial data,” said Kate Adamson, Plaid’s product lead. “We see access to payroll data as the next area of opportunity for innovators to enhance how financial services can serve consumers and create a whole new swath of services that help people live healthier financial lives.”

The traditional verification approval process can be lengthy: A mortgage pre-approval can take up to two weeks, and the entire mortgage process can take one to two months. The goal of Plaid Income’s verification process is to streamline the application process safely, by providing instant access to source income, employment, and tax data with one authentication. 

When accessing Plaid, consumers are given two options on how they can verify their income – by using their employer or payroll provider account, or by uploading payroll documents like paystubs, W2s, and 1099’s.

All information must be permission-granted by the customer.  

Income is the second platform Plaid will use in its payroll operations, the first being Deposit Switch; Deposit Switch begins the instant process of switching a customer’s direct deposit to their bank account.

Plaid’s technology enables apps to connect with users’ bank accounts. Its customers include fintech platforms like Venmo, SoFi, Betterment, Square, PayPal, Robinhood and Affirm, as well as tech players such as Google and Microsoft.

Since its founding in 2013, Plaid has collected $309.3 million in funding. Aside from Visa, Plaid’s investors include Goldman Sachs, a16z (Andreessen Horowitz), Citi Ventures, American Express Ventures, GV, Index Ventures, NEA and former Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker. Its most recent valuation was $5.3 billion.

In January, Visa and Plaid cancelled a planned $5.3 billion merger
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UWM to block brokers working with Fairway and Quicken

UWM to block brokers working with Fairway and Quicken
[Article has been updated to include responses from Quicken and Fairway]

United Wholesale Mortgage, the top wholesale lender in the nation, announced on a Facebook live Thursday that it will no longer partner with brokers who also work with Rocket Mortgage and Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.

Mat Ishbia, president and CEO of UWM, gave brokers and owners a deadline of March 15 to sign an addendum saying they are not working with those two lenders.

“If you work with them, can’t work with UWM anymore, effective immediately,” Ishbia said. “I can’t stop you, but I’m not going to help you, help the people that are hurting the broker channel, and that’s what’s going on right now.

“We don’t need to fund Fairway Independent or Rocket Mortgage to try to put brokers out of business. We don’t need to do that. If you want to do that as your own deal, no hard feelings, but you can’t work with UWM anymore,” he said.

According to the announcement, the decision comes in response to Rocket and Fairway participating in actions including soliciting loan officers away from brokers and working directly with real estate agents to cut brokers out of the entire process.

On Feb. 1, the wholesale mortgage lending division of Rocket Companies launched a national mortgage broker directory on its website, and this week launched a jumbo product for brokers.

Ishbia pointed to the “other 75 great lenders” and said that there are other lenders where he doesn’t agree with their business practices, “but these two are going after the broker channel.”

The news is just one of three announcements from the wholesale lender, which announced the launch of Prime Jumbo, coming March 17, with LTV up to 89.99%, and sharpened pricing across the board.

In May 2020, UWM launched its “Conquest” program to enable brokers to go after new customers, even ones that a broker lost to another lender just weeks earlier. Ishbia said that the program’s “been great. It’s had it’s in place,” but moving forward, “We’re gonna pivot here at UWM, we’re all gonna do it together. Conquest will still be out there, but our regular programs, our elite programs, our non-elite programs, our regular conventional, FHA, VA, all those programs, those are going to be the focus.”

In response to UWM’s announcement, Austin Niemiec, Rocket Pro TPO vice president, said in an interview with HousingWire: “Brokers are incredibly smart and savvy mortgage professionals and business owners. They are dialed in to their industry. And we know that we need to provide value, and we need to support them. And if we don’t, it’s their decision and their choice to fire us. But what you’re seeing happen is the complete opposite.

“This isn’t a move to support the broker community, it actually harms brokers. This isn’t a move to support the consumer, it actually harms the consumer. This is a move to support UWM, and UWM alone. A consumer goes to a broker because of choice,” Niemiec added. “A broker’s competitive advantage is choice, it is their super powered. By UWM dictating brokers to eliminate one of their choices, it harms the broker and harms the consumer, period.”

Fairway declined to comment.

HW Media CEO Clayton Collins discussed this breaking news with Mat Ishbia during HousingWire’s Spring Summit on Thursday. An on-demand version of the session will be available exclusively to HW+ members after the summit.
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Stewart continues acquisition frenzy with Signature snag

Stewart continues acquisition frenzy with Signature snag
In a continued attempt to streamline the customer experience, Stewart Information Services Corp. announced that it acquired Signature Closers.

Stewart did not disclose the financial terms of the deal.

Stewart officials said the acquisition “strengthens its digital strategy” that is currently focused on ease-of-use for customers by creating a centralized experience.

Signature Closers provides self-service signing support for title companies and lenders via an eNotary-capable network of notary signing agents and attorneys. It also provides a proprietary internal solution. Included in the acquisition is Signature’s SYNC – Secure Your Notary Closer – platform, which provides a way for companies to bring signings in-house.

“With their industry-leading notary panel and technology platform, Signature Closers is the perfect addition to our digital capabilities, advancing our strategic vision of accelerating, securing, and simplifying the title and closing process for our customers,” said Stewart CEO Fred Eppinger.

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This is the first acquisition of 2021 for Stewart after it acquired NotaryCam and five other companies in 2020, expanding its workforce by more than 600 employees. Plus, the company announced a partnership with money transfer protection company CertifID in November in order to help combat wire fraud.

“Our goal is to deliver a simple yet superior experience for every borrower, buyer, and seller, and by combining Signature Closers with NotaryCam and our existing services, we are creating a more complete digital customer solution,” Eppinger said.

Stewart acquired a significant number of Western U.S. operations from ET Investments back in September, and even expanded into Alaska with the acquisition of Yukon Title.

“We recently acquired six companies, adding 57 office locations and over 500 talented people, and it repositioned us in four markets,” Eppinger told HousingWire in December. “We’re going to be able to have the depth and capability in those markets to be the best every day. Apart from that, we’ve brought in an additional 100 people to meet our strategic needs.”
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