National Mortgage Professional Magazine’s Mortgage Professional of the Month is Kelly Taylor, senior vice president of StreetLinks Lender Solutions, a nationwide appraisal management company (AMC) based in Indianapolis, Ind. Recently, we had a chance to ask Kelly about his career and the industry.
Congratulations on being named NMP’s Mortgage Professional of the Month. Can you give us a quick overview of your personal and professional background?
I am originally from Colorado, which is where my mortgage career began. I have 20 years of mortgage industry experience on both the origination and operations sides of the business and I’ve run large retail divisions from Florida to Hawaii and everywhere in between. Seven years ago, I invested in StreetLinks and became one of the minority owners and then moved to Indianapolis five years ago with my wife and four children to be at headquarters.
How did you come to the AMC business from lending?
I had used most of the AMCs out there so I understood the good and bad of what AMCs were doing from a lender’s perspective. I got to know some of the guys at StreetLinks and felt I could bring a lender perspective to their business to help run a company the way a lender would if they had their own AMC.
At that point, StreetLinks was a small company. They had good technology, really good ideas and a solid core foundation but lacked the ability to scale a business. They hadn’t done anything like that in the past, but they were eager to facilitate change and make a huge impact in the mortgage industry. I was able to shed some light on the lender’s perspective of the AMC world. That insight coupled with a knowledgeable leadership team, industry-leading technology and a ton of dedication kept us going and allowed us to grow rapidly.
StreetLinks has become a dominant force in the AMC space. To what do you attribute the company’s success?
I’d like to think that we were doing things the right way and that’s how we gained our market share and retained our customers. It’s the core foundations that we had back then plus the passion that our team continually pours into bringing customers the best quality and service in the industry that have contributed to our success.
Who have been some of your mentors?
One of them would be Ed Wooten. Ed was my senior vice president when I was just a loan originator, and then later on as a manager. Ed was a hard-nosed executive who didn’t accept excuses. He pushed me to be the best and always held me accountable. He was also good at knocking me down when I needed to get knocked down and was able to dust me off and get me back up again. He kept me grounded in constructive ways so I could continue to learn.
Another mentor that comes to mind is Steve Haslam, CEO of StreetLinks, who came on board when I did. Steve and I have a track record that goes back over 20 years. He is a phenomenal salesperson and has taught me more about sales than anybody else. Steve instilled in me an understanding that better management can come from better reporting, so we track everything that can be possibly measured and are much wiser for it. Most importantly, Steve’s philosophy is “do things right and do right things,” which has truly been the root of StreetLinks philosophies as a whole and paramount to our success.
What do you love about the business?
I love building life-long partnerships and friendships with our lender clients. It’s not just about building our business but actually going in and helping other lenders be more successful because of the things that we do. That approach of being a partner and not just a vendor is what builds friendships.
What concerns you about the business or keeps you up at night?
The regulatory changes that are happening have made the industry incredibly complex—not only from a lender’s perspective when it comes to disclosures, requirements and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), but from an AMC standpoint as well. It’s challenging that every state has its own rules which all vary wildly.
Another is the dramatic increase in interest rates, which has a massive impact on the loan volume of a lender. Refinance volume went from very robust to almost nothing overnight and that dramatically impacts volume for everyone. I also have concerns about QM, the qualified mortgage rules that are coming out in January and what impact they will have on the industry, particularly on wholesale lenders and mortgage brokers.
Some lenders complain that AMCs assign appraisers from too far a distance. What do you say?
Years ago, I was presenting to a large regional lender in Wisconsin and I sat down with the guy who was in charge of appraisals. I think he was saying that there are people from Milwaukee driving all the way up to Oshkosh or Green Bay to do an appraisal, which doesn’t make any sense. I agreed with them. I said, “Mike, what if I give you reporting on how far the appraiser comes from on every file?” He was thrilled. StreetLinks assigns orders first based on proximity of the appraiser—then quality measures, and then on service measures. We don’t assign on based on fees. Since then it has become more of a national requirement that AMCs provide reporting on how far away their appraisers are and as one of the first to do it, I like to think we helped change that in the industry.
You recently announced another industry-changing innovation. Tell us about it.
In August, we launched our AppraiserPlus program that allows appraisers to get paid at inspection–something that’s been unheard of for years. Since the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) came out, appraisers have been getting paid 30 or 60 days after an appraisal was completed–with some AMCs they never got paid at all. With AppraiserPlus, we are paying appraisers within one business day of the inspection. The program also eliminates phone, email and systemic message follow up notifications, treating appraisers like professionals and allowing them to do their job. I think it’s going to change the industry for the better.
Do you worry about stories of AMCs and lenders still pushing appraisers and attempting to load panels with “preferred” appraisers?
I don’t think anyone really wants an appraisal that is pushed or not done in a compliant manner. There is too much regulation out there and too much risk. It’s not worth trying to push an appraisal to get a value that is not supported just so that you can end up getting a buyback a month, six months, or a year down the road. Lenders want appraisals done right and done in compliance. Right means not low, not high, but supported and accurate. I think that’s what the industry is striving to do and it gets better all the time.
We’ve never let people load up their own panels when utilizing our AMC services. I think that’s a questionable practice and I don’t know how you can have a long-term business doing something that you know is questionable. It’s just a matter of time before that shoe drops and you are out of business.
We only assign orders based on quality, service and proximity, which really means that the best appraisers will get the most orders from StreetLinks. Any appraiser can join most AMCs’ networks but the ones with a proven track record of delivering on quality and service within a given local area will be the ones that see the most work.
What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
Without a doubt it would be helping to grow StreetLinks. When I came on board, StreetLinks was doing less than 1,000 appraisals a month. In fact, I recall some days early on where we weren’t even doing double-digit appraisals in a single day! Today, we will do 30,000 to 50,000 appraisals in any given month. Seven years ago, no one had even heard of StreetLinks and now, I don’t know if there’s anybody in the industry who hasn’t. I’m extremely proud of helping us to become a strong force in the industry and a company who is changing the industry for the better by setting the bar higher on quality, service, technology, reporting and innovation. We’re forcing other AMCs to rise to that level, and frankly, the ones that can’t, will go away.
Can you offer a couple of predictions for the industry over the next two years?
I think you will see fewer AMCs and very few, if any, captive AMCs. I don’t know exactly how many AMCs there are today—hundreds I’m sure—but I see there being be far fewer in the coming years. Especially with QM on the horizon, I think it will be difficult for the captive AMCs to compete effectively. I think property values will continue to rise over the next couple of years. I also think that you are going to see a massive rebound of home equity lending.
What should folks in the mortgage industry know about StreetLinks?
We really want to continually improve the industry not just from an AMC standpoint, but from an overall standpoint. We want to make it better for the appraiser by treating them like partners and ensuring they get paid more easily and more quickly. Also, from the lender’s point of view, we feel strongly that the lender should expect more from their AMCs and hold them accountable for quality and service. The lender should expect their AMCs to back them when there is a problem with the appraisal.
Do you believe it is important to be involved in industry trade organizations such as the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and NAMB—The Association of Mortgage Professionals?
I think it’s extremely important. If you want to help drive change in the industry, you need to be part of the industry community and part of the voice of the industry. The only way to have a positive impact on what’s going to happen in the future is to work together with others to formulate those changes in ways that benefit everyone.
David J. Coster is senior editor of National Mortgage Professional Magazine. He may be reached by phone at (919) 559-2171 or e-mail email@example.com.