Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Laura Brandao, President of AFR, about everything from her success predicting market trends ahead of others, to AFR’s ongoing commitment to strong partnerships.
SettlementOne: You have been instrumental in spearheading the inclusion of Manufactured Home, One-time Close and New Construction loan products at AFR. Can you share the findings that led you to believe these would become prominent offerings in the mortgage industry?
Brandao: Since the company began, AFR has always been a strong leader in the manufactured housing side of the business. As each year went by we started to notice the lack of homes, really the lack of affordable homes, available for purchase. Coupled with an increase in the number of millennial buyers, we saw an opportunity to help buyers and brokers alike – by expanding our expertise in manufactured homes and renovation lending into the government construction to permanent marketplace.
SettlementOne: It seems in recent years that manufactured home purchases have been on the rise, why do you feel that this type of housing has become more prominent and how do you believe AFR streamlines the Manufactured Home loan process?
Brandao: Affordability. Lack of available affordable housing has become a challenge. People are moving where they can afford to live, and many more now have the flexibility to be able to live where they want (e.g. working from home).
I think manufactured housing is often viewed as this very unique property type; however, the lending process does not need to be overly complicated. Our vast experience in manufactured housing has led us to become extremely knowledgeable about – and comfortable with – the process. This has allowed us to streamline it in a way that makes the most sense, and we are always happy to partner with others in the industry to share our experience and expertise.
SettlementOne: When seeking an appraiser for a manufactured home or new construction, what are the key areas of importance that make an appraiser qualified for this type of appraisal?
Brandao: Experience. You want to make sure that as you are choosing your partners for your AMC, you have an appraiser that is very comfortable and confident in the manufactured and new construction marketplace. They really need to understand the market and the comparables, because it’s not a single-family home. I mean, let’s face it, it’s a piece of land they are looking at…dirt. And they are looking at plans and specs in relation to this piece of land, and if putting those pieces together is not something they are comfortable doing, that can make things difficult for you.
SettlementOne: Beyond your core offerings, what do you feel makes AFR unique in the industry?
Brandao: I think our core specialized products are what make us unique. AFR has never been afraid to step outside our comfort zone. At a time when others were focused on doing straight refi’s, we were building out more specialized programs like our OTC construction loans. In knowing where our expertise lies, we remain true to ourselves.
For example, when a client mentioned to us they thought there was a VA Renovation program available, we immediately reached out to VA. Working with them directly, we were able to shape the guidelines for a program for our clients.
SettlementOne: In recent years AFR has become a leader in the wholesale lending space. What specifically made you believe that you could become a leader in wholesale?
Brandao: I believe that wholesale is a relationship business. In the wholesale arena, it’s all about building a trusting, long-term, high value relationship between client and lender. That’s one place where we excel. Dedicated to the growth of our clients, we continuously find ways to add value to our partnerships, offering differentiated products that they can provide to their buyers.
SettlementOne: Much like remote underwriting, you have beaten your peers to market with many products that are now staples in the industry. What do you attribute this consistent market timing to?
Brandao: Listening. We are always open to hearing what’s happening in the marketplace. Our partners are continuously telling us what needs they have and what challenges they face; in turn, we are then able to develop products based on those needs. An example of that would be our On-Demand Processing. We noticed some of our clients were struggling with their staff understanding the process of a construction loan. Our On-Demand Processing allows us to assist in processing the loan for you, so your staff doesn’t have to get tripped up processing a specialty loan with which they may not be too familiar. That product offering came from listening.
SettlementOne: You, and AFR, have stressed the importance of a strong partnership between your brokers and the company. How, going forward, do you offer them additional value-added services to strengthen your broker partners beyond what you’re currently offering?
Brandao: Listening and then developing programs based on the market; hearing what brokers need, like, don’t like, and then being able to truly help them. Our technology was built on that concept, as well as many of our programs. Most recently, based on client feedback, we launched a program to monitor property addresses and provide notification to our broker network when a house – with which AFR has a relationship with the borrower, for example in our servicing portfolio – is listed for sale. This alert provides brokers an opportunity to reconnect with the homeowner and possibly the realtor. We’ve then put the broker in a great position to obtain two mortgages, the relisted property as well as the borrower’s next home.
Similarly, in the correspondent space, we recently enhanced our down payment assistance program to provide better pricing. Again, all based on actively listening to our clients.
SettlementOne: With specialized loan types becoming increasingly more prominent, having the appropriate technology in place to correctly assign appraisals becomes even more important. At SettlementOne, we’ve implemented intensified appraiser qualifications and segmentation as well as intelligent property data to make sure the right appraiser is assigned each time. At AFR, how much importance is put on making sure the appraiser doing the job is right for the specific loan and/or property type?
Brandao: Having the right appraiser is extremely important. We have seen loans go sideways because an appraiser was not comfortable enough, or knowledgeable enough, with manufactured housing, renovation or new construction. So, it’s imperative to ensure all the appraisers that are working on specialized loans are qualified to do so.
For more information regarding American Financial Resources (AFR) and their services, please visit www.afrcorp.com.