Underscoring how important sales and people skills have become for loss mitigation, Bank of America Corp.'s home mortgage unit now has 660 originators working on loan modifications, an executive said.

These are people who understand the most "complex refi," — which is what Rebecca Mairone, BofA's national default servicing executive, calls a modification — and who understand how to handle the customer.

Total staffing in customer outreach is over 15,000. Local home retention events and door knocks are producing better results than phone calls to borrowers, Mairone said.

"We have brought in resources from the marketing department and formed best practices, which I don't think has ever been done before, for solicitation for how we put offers in place and how we get customers to respond," she said last week at SourceMedia's fourth annual mortgage servicing conference here. "This is an important and dynamic change in servicing."

In November, a spokeswoman for BofA said the company had moved a few hundred employees from former Countrywide Financial Corp. branches that had back-office fulfillment operations to its home retention center.

BofA is not alone in deploying resources from loan production to the servicing side. At SunTrust Banks, for example, the mortgage default department has recruited marketing experts from the origination side to come up with unique ways to get borrowers' attention. In one such campaign, SunTrust mailed ornamental Halloween pumpkins to a group of borrowers in high-foreclosure states who were 90 days or more past due. To entice the borrower to get in touch, each pumpkin came with a $200 gift card that could be activated by calling SunTrust.

Addressing a crowd of more than 350 here last week, Mairone also echoed comments that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives made at an industry conference in February about finding a "graceful exit" for seriously delinquent homeowners who do not qualify for loan mods.

"We all know there will be a lot of customers and borrowers who will not make it, who cannot afford a modification, who cannot afford to stay in their home," Mairone said. "Our solutions and creativity are really helping that consumer with getting a dignified way out of their current mortgage and transition either into renting or other alternatives."

One a more positive note, she said BofA has helped more than 800,000 borrowers with loan modifications. "We do believe that's significant," Mairone said.

Of those, 520,000 qualified for BofA's proprietary programs, rather than the Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

Under HAMP, BofA had completed 20,666 permanent modifications and had another 22,303 such mods pending at the end of February, according to data released last month by the Treasury Department.

For the next Treasury report, BofA expects nearly 32,000 permanent modifications. It also expects to have 30,000 modifications pending.

Mairone called these numbers encouraging. "We have made progress around helping customers in Hamp," she said.

The company has more than 260,000 customers in trial modifications for Hamp, up from 240,550 in the last Treasury report.

BofA manages 225,000 calls a day just in the default portion of the business. "It's intense to say the least," Mairone said.

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