PERSON OF THE WEEK: Appraisal management companies face a slew of operational challenges – keeping up with ever-changing laws and regulations on the federal, state and local level being arguably the biggest one.
But the COVID-19 crisis has created a whole new layer of operational complexity for AMCs – not the least of which is that their employees must now work entirely remotely. In addition, individual appraisers must strictly adhere to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines – not an easy thing when considering that, traditionally, appraisers need to enter peoples’ homes in order to do their jobs.
To learn more about how pandemic is impacting AMCs – in addition to the other operational challenges they currently face – MortgageOrb recently interviewed Garrett Mays, director, valuation and vendor management for USRES.
Q: How do you think the pandemic has changed USRES’ AMC operations?
Mays: Like so many others, our company transitioned to working remotely in early March to 95% remote workforce by mid-March with some critical support functions that could not be handled remotely remaining onsite, spacing them between common areas. We had very few people traveling to and from the office, and maintained our service levels. The procedures and disaster recovery plans that had been established were sound, and we were able to go about the business as usual.
While this disaster was by far the largest magnitude in that it touched every sector of every community and industry, we are also not new to it. Our industry has been faced with the necessity to find solutions during crisis, and our company is no different; fire, flood, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, ice storms, and pandemics. Over the years, we have had opportunities to test our disaster recovery plan for just this type of interruption to ensure that our business had the capacity to run without interruption.
In light of the global pandemic, and the effect on our country and industry, I am pleased with the manner in which our employees handled themselves and our business.
As our country is slowly re-opening, and every staff member has been working remotely, from our auditors and assigning team to our client coordinators, they have adapted well. Daily activities such as staff meetings with 30-plus people have gone virtual – with the unpredictable/funny moments that go along with working remotely when one is not accustomed to doing so.
We have learned to be flexible without wavering on our primary goal to provide the level and quality of work that our clients and vendors expect. The location of our employees may have temporarily changed, but the service and the product did not. In the coming days and weeks those same employees will do an exceptional job of transitioning back into the office as they adapt into the new “old” environment.
I have every bit of confidence in them, on their return, as I did on their departure, and I am looking forward to seeing each and every one of them.
Q: Beyond the COVID-19 crisis, what are some of the other challenges AMCs currently face?
Mays: The AMC world changes at a very rapid pace. It can fluctuate week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year. There is a constant evolution based on guidelines instituted by the GSEs and local governments, which can be amended or updated at any time.
The mark, or compliance milestone, that AMCs must get to is ever-changing. Because of this, compliance is the biggest – and most important – challenge that AMCs face overall. To meet the audit requirements and state-level requirements, we must be collaborative, thoughtful, and flexible in molding our internal processes to best communicate and adapt to these changes downline and throughout our vendor and appraiser networks.
Q: What valuation products are being used more frequently in 2020 than in years past?
Mays: Inspection products have gained momentum over the last couple of years, especially into 2020. Hybrid models that include portions of other valuation standards, such as broker price opinions (BPOs) or automated valuation models (AVMs) are particularly popular when combined with an inspection-centric document. Today’s inspection market is defined by the easy availability of data used to help manage costs and overall risk.
Additionally, the industry’s compliance protocols have increased in recent years, so we are becoming better prepared for natural disasters. Previously a more traditional disaster appraisal product or BPO would be used with just a scattered mix of inspections. Now, with a heavier data presence, sophisticated new products are available to vendors that detail the real cost of damages to a property, along with the risks associated with a natural disaster.
In the case of the pandemic, there will be a fair amount of re-inspections necessary for those properties in which appraisers had no other method to complete the appraisal than to rely on an exterior drive-by. In order to finalize the loan package, a reliable product will be needed that GSEs, non-GSEs, and private investors can depend on to reconcile against the initial reports.
Q: What have you learned about yourself during this time? And what have you learned about your staff?
Mays: This time and distance spent working in a remote environment has reaffirmed how much I enjoy working with my team, and it has made me fully realize and value the benefits provided by in-person collaboration.
By nature, I am a people person, and group settings are where I have thrived, but this new environment has afforded me the opportunity for creative thinking about how to accomplish our same goals. I’ve seen more strategy involved because communication is limited to calls, emails, and video conferencing. Collaboration is much more intentional.
The things we have accomplished since this began, and the new processes, procedures, and ways to communicate are all processes I can and will use in the future to take our team to an even higher level. My staff has shown such resiliency and teamwork; I feel honored to work with each member of my department.
Q: How has vendor management changed over the past 20 years?
Mays: I began my vendor management career in the early 2000’s. Vendor management was in its infancy in the servicing organizations across the country. It was not the most popular department by any means.
At the time, each department had control over its vendor networks, protocols, volume changes and performance metrics. As the years progressed, the landscape also changed. Rewarding vendors on performance ultimately had a positive impact.
The vetting process today is much more thorough and fair, given the minimal standards in my early years, when there were few encumbrances to consider. The protocols that were in place to begin a business relationship 20 years ago – a handshake, a promise and a few mailed documents – have been replaced by systems and processes to ensure transparency. Master servicing agreements, structured statement of works, IT infrastructure, security, compliance and integration requirements, and the requirement to be SOC compliant. Today, having a vendor fit the service or relational need that does not match up to your client or investor’s policy guidelines can carry security or compliance concerns.
Q: At this point in your career, what do you think has been your greatest professional achievement?
Mays: I have built and maintained some of the greatest relationships of my life over the past 20 years in this industry, and I do consider that an achievement. Our industry is very large, but also very small in that the individuals who have been around as long as I have either worked with each other at some point, or participated in the same events, etc.
Creating lasting relationships with people on every side and facet of our industry has enabled such a collaborative environment; allowing knowledge to transfer easily so we can evolve and push this industry forward. Maybe an easy fix that I have implemented is someone else’s greatest challenge and vice versa. This has been a huge component of my growth.
Also, I have been truly blessed with a few great mentors throughout my life. They have helped shape the person that I am today inside and outside of work. As a result of that, I have been able to pay it forward in my own professional career.
A year ago, I received a call from a co-worker who I had worked with for many years. She was calling to thank me for all the support and mentoring that I’d given her throughout the years.
Until this point, I had never looked at myself like that. I did not realize that I was having a similar impact for somebody else. And it may even be those small conversations where you can shift or help someone’s thoughts or attitude about a particular situation that make a lasting impression.