Philip Bracken, 43, was named chairman and chief executive of Lender's Service Inc. in January after a 17-year career in mortgage banking.
The Pittsburgh unit of Prudential Insurance Company of America is the nation's largest resedential appraisal management company, with 10,000 appraisers, over $150 million in revenue, and more than 900 clients, mostly lenders.
Teresa Carson, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, talked with Mr. Bracken.
Q.: We've been in a huge refinancing boom. Should your clients be worried that you can't keep up with the demand?
BRACKEN: I'm confident we'll be able to keep up. I'm a little bit less confident about the infrastructure of some of our clients at these volume levels for this length of time. It has been a marathon refinance stress test.
We are beginning beta tests to automate the assignment process [for appraisers], the order process, the way lenders or clients order from us.
Where we want to head is to make it a personal-computer-based order system, so anybody can put it right on any PC they have anywhere in their office. It will be a seamless transaction which will take only minutes. We expect to be through the testing phase by the third quarter and we will have-begun the rollout.
Q.: Are we on the brink of yet another boom?
BRACKEN: Yes, we are relatively close to the point where the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage passes below the fully indexed adjustable mortgage rate. If we get there, that will stimulate another boom.
And there are still something like $1 trillion of adjustable-rate mortgages on the books, and something close to $1 trillion of fixed-rate mortgages out there with rates over 9%. And that doesn't even take into consideration the purchase activity.
Q.: What about rates?
BRACKEN: The likelihood of their declining is probably a little greater than the likelihood of their increasing. I don't expect to see a 100-basis-point change either way for six to nine months.
Q.: Has the flood in the Midwest affected your business at all?
BRACKEN: We are a significantly larger number of orders for properties we have appraised there in the last six months. In some cases, the loans have been sold and the lenders want to know if the home is still there.
Q.: What regions have strong housing markets, and where is there still weakness?
BRACKEN: We have this incredible living software network, our appraisers, that we survey. It is a very thorough survey and it is prospective, not retrospective. I want to thrust us forward in this regard and be in lender information services. We're going to improve the data and the speed and probably the frequency of the information.
But to get back to your question, the strongest markets are Austin, Denver, Omaha, and Madison, Wis. The worst continue to be in California. The four worst in the country are Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and San Francisco.