2018 has been a difficult year for mortgage lenders, and industry experts predict 2019 won’t be much better.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate has increased to its highest level since early 2011, now sitting at 5.11%. Rates are expected to rise again in December, with two to three possible rate hikes in the new year.

Higher rates and limited housing inventory have depressed volume for most lenders this year, but industry watchers see some hope for a slowdown in home price appreciation in 2019, which has been climbing at twice the rate of income growth. However, that’s still a silver lining on a situation that presents an affordability gap for many buyers.

In the midst of these significant economic headwinds, lenders are developing their 2019 budgets, and top concerns include increasing production and decreasing turn-times. The prime driver for the next year has to be efficiency, which makes choosing the right technology partner especially important.

Lenders using FirstClose are seeing efficiencies in two areas that will be critical for success in the next year: home equity fulfillment process and vendor management.

HOME EQUITY OPPORTUNITY

Rising interest rates and rising home values give homeowners an incentive to stay in their homes longer. Homeowners now have $14.4 trillion in untapped equity, which they can use for home improvement, investment opportunities, emergencies and retirement. For lenders who are prepared, home equity lending will provide some of the best opportunities for growth in 2019.

The FirstClose web app and LOS plugin solution is the market’s first and only home equity and refi tool that compiles everything that is required to close a loan (valuation, title, flood) on one easy-to-navigate platform. It makes for an invaluable tool in this increasingly competitive lending environment. With instant reporting, a full suite of products and a streamlined process, FirstClose users have seen 40% reductions in turn-times and significant soft and hard cost savings.

With home equity lending ramping up, the FirstClose web app and LOS plugin makes it easy and profitable for lenders to take advantage of the trend without adding more personnel.

VENDOR MANAGEMENT

The importance of vendor management is typically defined in terms of security, with federal and state regulators casting a keen eye on the ways third-party vendors introduce risk into the lending process.

But done right, vendor management also presents an opportunity for lenders to find incredible efficiencies for real savings. The FirstClose solution leverages its long experience in the industry and wide network of integrated vendors to provide a consultative approach to vendor management, putting the lender in control.

By consolidating vendors and products on one platform, FirstClose makes it easy to identify and repair the holes where lender profits might be leaking out. FirstClose evaluates where vendors are underperforming and provides options that are a better fit. This allows lenders to speed up turn times, reduce origination costs, and increase overall productivity. With the flexibility of the FirstClose platform, coupled with the FirstClose Master Service Agreement, lenders can change providers with a click of a button, no new vendor contract negotiations, no vetting, no minimums, no hassles.

“With streamlined products and processes, we help our clients gain more market share,” said Jorge Ponce, director of product management at FirstClose. “But we do more than just provide products — we provide data and analytics to help lenders make informed decisions with real-time vendor insight, which can change the face of their business.”

FirstClose’s vendor management expertise, combined with its best-in-class services, will make the most of lenders’ budgets in the coming year.