Social distancing workaround: Local lender launches drive-up closing table

Customers signing at the drive-up closing table. (Photos by Michael Schwartz)

A lot of otherwise run-of-the-mill tasks are proving to be trickier than usual in the age of coronavirus. That apparently includes closing on a mortgage.

But one local lender has found a workaround to a peculiar predicament created by rising loan volume in the face of required social distancing.

Behold, the drive-up closing table.

Innsbrook-based CapCenter, which offers home purchase loans and mortgage refinancing, last week launched a drive-up closing table that allows borrowers to pull up in the company’s parking lot, step up to a table and sign their closing documents with a pen they can either throw away or take home, and then get back in their car and drive off.

CapCenter’s headquarters in Innsbrook.

Bryan Piacentini, CapCenter’s COO, said the idea is to allow borrowers to complete the process without entering the building, without being too close to CapCenter representatives and without having to touch more than the pen.

“We’re adapting with the times for sure,” Piacentini said. “We’ve exploded at a time when it’s become super operationally complex to do business. It’s bizarre.”

The set-up is rudimentary, consisting of a pop-up tent and tables in front of the company’s headquarters at 4510 Cox Road and a cache of 5,000 pens, some CapCenter-branded ball caps and cleaning supplies.

The idea came about after the company realized the logistical challenges for completing its loans – most of which require certain documents to be “wet signed” with a physical signature. The company has the bulk of its office off limits to customers and most of its 141 employees, the majority of which are working from home while the pandemic plays out.

COO Bryan Piacentini

“We thought, ‘Let’s get this outside the office to the extent that we can,” Piacentini said. “They take the pen and the hat and they go on their way.”

The drive-up process also allows CapCenter to keep the spigot flowing at a time of nearly all-time-high loan volume. While the company’s home purchase loan volume had been humming for the last few years, Piacentini said refinance volume began to spike last year as interest rates slid downward, reaching record lows in recent months. And it’s been going gangbusters ever since for CapCenter and its competitors.

“The entire industry is completely backlogged,” he said of refinancings, declining to share any numbers in terms of volume, citing competitive reasons.

CapCenter is a private mortgage lender that funds its loans with a line of credit, then packages and sells the loans off to investors. Its main pitch to the public is so-called “no cost” mortgages and refinancings, in which CapCenter covers the bulk of the typical closing costs and fees.

It’s been in business about 20 years, originating loans only in Virginia and North Carolina. It also in recent years launched an in-house real estate brokerage, which now has 10 agents. Its competitive angle on that side of the business is charging sellers a 1.5 percent commission, as opposed to the usual 3 percent.

Piacentini said the company is in hiring mode to try to keep up with the volume, and that he recognizes that the coronavirus-fueled downturn may be opening up a larger labor pool after a streak of steadily high employment rates.

“We’re definitely in hiring mode for loan officers, agents. We’d probably do a bit more remote training these days, but yeah, we’re hiring,” he said.

As for the drive-up closings, Piacentini said they’re done by appointment only and they expect to do 15-20 closings per day for the time being

“We probably need to get more pens the way things are heading,” he said.

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