During a time of immense uncertainty and anxiety created by the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has enabled the mortgage industry to move at a nearly normal pace. With end-to-end mortgage platforms and the digitization of the mortgage process, brokers are able to work remotely and maintain contact with clients during this time. While a slow down is inevitable, the industry as a whole is much less impacted due to the ability to work online.
“I don’t see the pandemic hindering the mortgage process, but rather there are some other concerns surrounding the closing of transactions and access to information,” said Pat Stone, executive chairman and founder of Williston Financial Group (WFG).
Stone has been an advocate for using technology and digital tools to enhance the homebuying process at every step. He encourages business owners and professionals to avoid panicking, but to instead proceed with caution, plan and eliminate risk to employees. Having some sort of pandemic plan in place is vital to the success of any organization at this time. Even though we are in challenging times, Stone predicted a recovery by the end of this year.
“This will be a U-shaped recession. It will cause some pain and disruption, but we don't have the underlying problems we had during the Great Recession. We don't have a tremendous artificially inflated financial bubble,” he said.
Stone said he’s pleased to see the Federal Reserve being so aggressive. Most recently, the central bank announced it would not put a cap on its purchases of Treasury and mortgage securities. This, on top of two emergency rate cuts in recent weeks, has led Stone to believe the Fed is worried about the financial system locking up.
“This isn’t a matter of stimulating the economy as much as it is making sure the financial system continues to operate efficiently,” he said.
There are two issues in the mortgage industry that have quickly risen to the surface, according to Stone. The first, is the heightened consciousness around any signings that can’t be done electronically. The National Notary Association (NNA) recently hosted a roundtable with more than 70 representatives from the mortgage finance industry to solidify important safety guidelines for signing agents and mobile notaries, amid concerns surrounding coronavirus.
The NNA recommended notaries, as well as borrowers, complete a disclosure agreement prior to signing which may include questions about recent travel or contact with anyone diagnosed. They also added additional guidelines including the right to leave a signing location if the notary feels at risk in anyway.
A bigger concern for Stone comes from record documentation during the pandemic. With courthouse closure, the ability to record a document becomes extremely challenging, along with updating real estate records.
“Not being able to record documents to close transactions will impact both refinance and resale markets. The resale market will feel the impact more as people are generally more nervous about access to records,” said Stone, adding that it will come down to identifying the counties that are able to do electronic recordings and those that cannot.
For mortgage professionals, business may be postponed and might see delays, but Stone said it’s not going away. His advice is to maintain contact and use whatever multimedia tools you can employ to keep clients informed and reassured.
“The purchase process is going to be slowed down, but heightened effort to stay in touch with potential buyers and potential refinance clients will pay off,” he added.
At WFG, the company has implemented their pandemic plan where anyone who is able to work remotely is encouraged to stay out of the office. Stone said they operate on one platform for every aspect of the business from title searches through closing so consolidation and the movement of business can be done where required.
“This is not a reason to panic. I still think we’re going to have a good year. It will be challenging, but we’ll get through it.”