As omicron surges, some major lenders are quiet about safety measures

Rocket Mortgage, LoanDepot, Guaranteed Rate, Freedom Mortgage all either declined to comment or did not respond to questions

During the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, mortgage lenders were eager to discuss the measures that they were putting in place to keep employees safe. Two years later, as the omicron variant surges, some lenders have very little to say.

Of the top 10 nonbank lenders that HousingWire reached out to, only six provided any updates on how they are dealing with the surge of the Omicron variant. Rocket Mortgage, LoanDepot, Guaranteed Rate, and Freedom Mortgage all either declined to comment or did not respond to questions. California-based PennyMac said that they “follow state mandates,” but wouldn’t elaborate further.

For the lenders that did respond, the most common response is that they allow their employees to work from home, whether it be full-time or on a hybrid basis.

Both Homepoint and Fairway Independent Mortgage have kept most of their employees at home since the onset of the pandemic, starting in March 2020.

According to a spokesperson from Homepoint, 95% of their employees work remotely.

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“We shifted to remote work and have stuck with it,” said Brad Pettiford, director of public relations. “Even before the pandemic, Homepoint had nearly 40% of its staff working remotely (just based on a more national approach to recruiting and having multiple locations around the country), so it was easy for us to make that transition to having practically everyone work from home.”

Fairway echoed similar sentiments, noting in a statement that more than 80% of its workforce works remotely.

 “We’ve continued to assure our teammates that the decision to return to the office is theirs and theirs alone,” said Julie Fry, chief human resource officer at Fairway.

Sean Harding, chief human resource officer at Caliber Home Loans, which was acquired by Newrez in 2021, said that while the company’s policies have not changed as a result of the Omicron variant, the company has “solid safety measures and policies” in place.

Caliber employees who work in the office must be fully vaccinated, unless an exemption is granted, Harding said.

He added: “We remain committed to providing our employees with flexibility to ensure a comfortable, productive working environment. Many of our employees remain remote at this time, but our offices are open to those who wish to be hybrid or work from the office.”

As of Jan. 12, 2022, the seven-day moving average of daily new cases (782,766) increased 33.2% compared with the previous seven-day moving average (587,723), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions. A total of 63,397,935 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States as of Jan. 12, 2022, the CDC noted.

The recent surge of COVID-19 is mainly being driven by the omicron variant, which now makes up approximately 98% of cases, the CDC said.

In reaction to the surge, numerous businesses moved to postpone reopening their office spaces. A Dec. 15 study by research firm Gartner found that 27% of executives have opted to delay reopening their offices or have closed reopened workplaces altogether.

However, some in the mortgage industry are continuing business as usual.

Michigan-based United Wholesale Mortgage, which requires all 8,000 employees to work in the office, said that they follow state mandates, and provide masks to their employees.

Rocket, which did not respond to HousingWire’s inquiry, said in August – as Delta was the primary variant – that it would require weekly COVID tests and masks for unvaccinated workers. Much of LoanDepot’s workfroce is also working remotely.

Michigan and California have limited restrictions in place, with capacity limits and physical distancing requirements lifted last year. Michigan also has no masking requirements.

Lenders not displaying a united front in their COVID-19 measures stands in stark contrast to the onset of the virus in 2020. One of the reasons for this, according to Paul Hindman, managing director at Grid Origination Services, is that some businesses may view the “Omicron variant as less deadly…and as such, precautions are normalizing back to measures taken for seasonal flu, etc.”

“Given so many more of the working population is now vaccinated, I think that also explains part of the reason for the change in tone, as COVID 19 remains politically polarizing,” said Hindman.

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