The extent to which natural disasters are hitting the United States is beyond historical servicer casualty planning. The three costliest natural catastrophes in the world occurred here in 2018. As all servicers can attest, navigating record-breaking natural disaster has epitomized operational disruption. This year is likely to produce a whole new set of homeowners in need of disaster relief, continuing to put the onus on servicers to triage these issues in real time. As this trend continues, servicers should take the lessons learned from 2018 to rethink and strategize how to more effectively manage the effects of future occurrences.
Over the past decade, mortgage servicers have had a front row seat to a dramatic transformation of the regulatory and investor landscape. Just about the only thing that has been consistent since the financial crisis is change. Simply identifying and staying abreast of ongoing updates has been an enduring challenge for servicers, who are trying to make the most of available resources.
With an unprecedented number of US natural disasters in 2018, servicers remain in the mode of assisting borrowers that have been impacted. In addition to handling ongoing cases, every new contact necessitates that servicers immediately begin to triage borrower circumstances. With each government entity stipulating their own unique requirements, servicers face a conundrum as they endeavor to analyze and execute on different modification options across disparate timelines and qualifying criteria.
Interest rate increases, natural disasters, and seasonal changes can cause dramatic swings in delinquencies, oftentimes making it difficult for servicers to accurately forecast an uptick in foreclosure volume ahead of time. An annual September spike in mortgage delinquencies is one of the more predictable industry trends; however, this September’s figures, which were published a few weeks ago, may have caught some servicers by surprise, and could indicate a hefty ramp up in loss mitigation efforts is on the horizon.
Is hurricane season over? Not if you’re a loan servicer. Given the skyrocketing amount of devastation caused by hurricanes, wildfires, flooding and other natural disasters, loan servicers are faced with developing a complete process for relief that begins when disaster strikes. Historically, disaster relief was an infrequent and isolated issue, allowing servicers to manage assistance on a manual, ad hoc or one-off basis. In today’s environment, the volume of natural disasters, the geographic breadth, and extent of recent changes to investor requirements, make this approach a risky venture.
What does it mean to be disaster ready? As a servicer you’re already juggling a variety of change initiatives at any given time, with unreasonably thin margins and minimal resources. Beyond basic system enhancements to your loan servicing system…
The end of this year’s hurricane season is less than two months away; however, with hurricane Florence barely in our rearview, are your operational processes in check to meet disaster relief requirements? If not, they should be.
Last year’s federal aid for natural disasters was nearly tenfold that of the previous year. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria alone are said to have affected approximately eight percent of the population in the U.S. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who provides assistance in the event of all natural disasters, reported that more than 25 million people were impacted by hurricanes, flooding, or wildfire in 2017, and close to five million households applied for FEMA’s Individual Assistance program requesting direct support.
One can only begin to imagine how many homeowners have contacted their mortgage servicer for information and participation in relief programs. Although the servicers' phones start to ring as soon as there’s a Presidential Disaster Declaration, the real test of readiness occurs when borrowers are unable to make payments and need to understand their options for financial assistance.
While nearly all government-backed mortgage guarantors provide a wide range of disaster relief programs, perhaps none are quite as unique and diverse in their offering as the Small Business Administration (SBA). Most mortgage lenders and servicers have been working hard to stay abreast of updated disaster relief requirements for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), but not as many are aware of the extensive options available to SBA customers, not to mention that the SBA administers their programs directly.
Just last week, Freddie Mac issued a press release advising mortgage servicers to prepare to assist borrowers whose homes or places of employment were impacted by Hurricane Florence. Likewise, they directed homeowners to pursue disaster relief once out of harm’s way. Freddie Mac said, “We strongly encourage homeowners … to call their mortgage servicer … to learn about available relief options,” adding, “we stand ready to ensure that mortgage relief is made available.”
As Hurricane Florence tests the preparedness of state and local governments up and down the East Coast, Fannie Mae servicers must similarly ask themselves if they are prepared for revamped disaster relief requirements this hurricane season and beyond. Fannie Mae’s disaster assistance requirements span more than a dozen chapters of the Seller/Servicer Guide.
When a disaster strikes, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is ready to respond to the needs of American farmers with a vast toolbox of disaster assistance programs, from emergency loans to crop insurance. In the mix of a wide range of programs, it can be difficult for servicers of Rural Development (RD) mortgages to see where they fit into the ‘farm safety net.’
When it comes to disaster response, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the more responsive federal agencies. Servicers of VA loans should be prepared to closely monitor the needs of distressed homeowners in disaster-stricken areas and provide timely and flexible relief.
Three of the top five costliest hurricanes on record occurred last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), resulting in an estimated $306.2 billion worth of property damage. That shatters the previous record of $214.8 billion worth of damages in 20051. In a world of billion-dollar weather events, mortgage servicers face the challenge of managing hundreds of thousands of hazard insurance claims, repairs, foreclosure moratoriums and relief programs. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is particularly vigilant in managing its portfolio and exposure to loss, and expects servicers to stay on top of fluctuating timelines, priorities and policies that apply to recovery areas.
Last month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing rolled out extensive amendments to its Technical Handbook for the Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program (HB-1-3555). These updates were particularly concentrated in Chapter 18, Servicing Non-Performing Loans - Accounts with Repayment Problems, which serves as the primary guidance for USDA default servicing.