In her first media interview, Cerita Battles, senior vice president, head of Diverse Segments for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, sat down with The Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes last month to answer questions about the national homeownership crisis. With foreclosures slowing down, interest rates falling and home purchases on the increase, The Washington Informer wanted to know how Battles, through her role at Wells Fargo, is helping low-income residents and minorities acquire new homes.
Describe what lenders learned as a result of the recent homeownership crisis?
First, Wells Fargo learned that it needed to always put customers first – we need to make sure we are educating them and preparing them for sustainable homeownership. Second, as lenders, we have a responsibility to be responsible; to remember that quality is important; making sure we’re doing all the right things, asking all the right questions, meeting the customers’ needs and providing the right solutions that cater to those needs. Third, we need to create an infrastructure that supports the commitment. The organization has to be a responsible lender. When hiring we must be dedicated to making sure we are hiring the right people; folks committed to doing their job with integrity to the lending practices, and making sure we’re out there representing the community and Wells Fargo, well. We [Wells Fargo] are doing those things well from a lending standpoint.
What is Wells Fargo doing to create homeownership opportunities?
You’ve got to understand your customer’s need. You can’t make any assumptions. Critical things we look for are people who have been employed consistently, that the customer has the capacity and ability to pay for their home; and to sustain homeownership.
What about the current situation of job insecurity, how does it impact lending criteria?
Customers should be able to show a good credit score. Today, it’s important to show two years of consistent work history and you must provide W2s to show that. You should be able to show a consistent string of income to prove you can afford to by a home and sustain it. Now, it’s not only important to show income to get in, but to stay in.
What is Wells Fargo doing now to keep the doors open for potential homeowners?
I would say to anyone looking to own a home that anything that’s good takes time. Visit our online tool for perspective homebuyers that will take you through the homebuyer’s process. We also do homebuyer seminars at markets, churches and banks. Unlike any other lender, Wells Fargo offers My Home Road Map, a program that provides customers denied a loan or ones who decide not to apply, an opportunity to meet with a financial counselor paid for by Well Fargo. Before it was about achieving homeownership, now it’s about sustaining homeownership.
What are the biggest concerns consumers have about homeownership?
The biggest thing is confidence. You still get the questions “Can I get a mortgage?” and “What does my credit score have to be in order to get a mortgage?” The higher your credit story, the better your chances of getting a home. Anything above 640, we have a solution for you. But we won’t try to deter others from getting a loan. The application will tell you if you qualify. If you don’t quality, we give numbers you can call.
We must take the time to educate ourselves. We’ve got to take a more active role in understanding the process and not leaving it up to everyone else to tell us what we need to know. I would challenge us to do more reading to educate ourselves, to ask questions. We don’t need to be ignorant to the process; we need to understand it. Education…that’s it.