Posted by Lolo Robison
President Julie Pingston summoned everyone from their breakout rooms, and sounded the bell at 12:30 p.m. to start the meeting and welcome everyone.
The meeting commenced with a wonderfully moving invocation, presented by Nicole Baumer. At a time when so many hearts and lives were struggling to find peace, Nicole prayed for all Rotarians to be filled with grace, patience and determination to keep moving forward. She asked for our strength and strength for others as we all continue to battle the physical and mental fatigue of the pandemic; that we not loose sight of our larger purpose here on Earth. She prayed for our clarity and that, despite the trials and tribulations of recent years, we never take for granted the many lessons to be had.
For the patriotic song, John Dale Smith played My Country ’Tis of Thee on piano. President Julie thanked him and announced, specifically to Kevin Schumacher (who apparently loves live music), that John Dale is our May Chair of the Month.
President Julie then asked Rotarians to introduce and welcome their guests.
Casey Jacobsen introduced Jenn Rostar as a good friend and an incoming Rotary Club member. Jenn said she was thrilled to be at Rotary and thanked everyone for their warm welcome. She is the district director of Junior Achievement of Mid-Michigan, which is located in Lansing, covering the tri-county area. Junior Achievement focuses on financial literacy for students K-4. President Julie indicated that Jenn had already been provided a membership application.
Sue Hansen introduced Brenda Geohegan, who attended her third meeting today with Lansing Rotary. Brenda had also requested a membership application and said she looked forward to becoming an official member.
Mitch Cook then introduced Robert Lajcaj. Mitch also reported that he’d accepted a role at Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids, which means he’ll be moving there. Robert will take Mitch’s place as store director at Capital City Market in downtown Lansing. Robert introduced himself and said he’d sat in on some past Rotary meetings with Mitch. He’s been in the Lansing area for a while and managed a couple of other retailers in the area. He’s been with Capital City Market for just about one year. He looks forward to being part of Rotary. President Julie congratulated Mitch and told him we would all miss him. He echoed the sentiment and said he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity in Grand Rapids.
President Julie then welcomed Maria Lenz to her first virtual Rotary meeting.
Diane Sanborn reported on the health of the club. Nancy Little had an emergency colon surgery Monday for a perforated colon. She is recovering but must undergo rehab for three months, followed by another surgery. Nancy would appreciate our prayers and good thoughts for her. Nancy compared herself to a computer main drive, because she has so many tubes and wires running in and out of her body. Diane asked members to keep Nancy in our thoughts and prayers.
In absentia, Jenn Dubey – who was traveling to Chicago to meet and spend time with her daughter – announced by video that it’s Paul Harris month. She appreciates those who’ve submitted their donations, which are slowly but surely trickling in. If you haven’t yet made your donation, please do so. Jenn assured everyone that it’s not about the dollar amount but about having 100 percent participation. “If you can give $20, please do,” Jenn said. “If you can give more, fantastic – we’ll take whatever you are willing to donate for this awesome cause.” She reminded everyone that our Rotary is committed to giving three times a year, and this commitment was discussed with Rotarians when they join. Paul Harris is one of three opportunities for Rotarians to give, in addition to our birthday month and Christmas. While compliance with this commitment is expected, the donation amount is about what each of us feels in our hearts to give. Please give to Paul Harris online through Rotary International at (select Annual Fund for the district match), or by check, payable to Rotary International, and mailed to Lansing Rotary Club of Michigan,  PO Box 13156, Lansing, MI  48901.
Next, President Julie announced the upcoming virtual networking fundraiser event for our foundation: Rocco’s Taste of Italy. Rotarian Rocco will partner with his co-host, Sheri Jones, for an evening of cooking appetizers, May 12, at 5 p.m. Details can be found in the Rotogram. This fundraiser is being organized by volunteers who came up with this idea in a breakout room. Rocco and Sheri will talk about how to make appetizers, stories of Italy and Rocco’s family, and how these recipes came to be. President Julie then launched a poll that asked, “If you’re thinking of attending Rocco’s Taste of Italy, what is your level of cooking expertise? Here are the results:
8% responded that “My smoke alarm goes off a lot when I cook!”
57% said, “I can keep up in the kitchen but I’m still learning!”
31% answered, “I’m a pro! Bring on your best!”
4% replied, “I’m attending to watch and spend time with Rotarians!”
Under Rotarians doing great things, President Julie reported that she was amazed by Kevin Schumacher’s Editarian notes, which were extremely well-done in haiku. It’s a must-read feat of excellence.
Our special music featured the Alma College Choir performing Highland Cathedral. The performance took place outdoors. Scott Keith’s daughter was among the musicians, and Irv Nichols’ son was the conductor. President Julie, who graduated from Alma College, shared with us that the college is “all things Scottish and bagpipes.”
President Julie thanked Heidi McNaughten for serving as April’s Chair of the Month and ensuring a wide variety of programs. Heidi introduced Denya Macaluso, vice president of residential lending at MSUFCU, where she oversees the mortgage and home equity divisions. In her role at MSUFCU, Denya is a team member of the 48th largest credit union in the U.S. In 2020, the credit union assisted over 27,000 households with mortgage financing, totaling $425 million. Also in 2020, the credit union assisted 500 members with deferment or forbearance assistance due to the pandemic.
Denya gave a housing market update, dove into 2020 and how the pandemic and politics impacted the housing industry, and then fast-forwarded to the current pandemic landscape, and how it all affects everyone. Highlights included:
  •  At the end of February 2020, there were record mortgage volumes throughout the nation. Rates were low.
  •  MSUFCU typically handled 200 applications per week. At the end of February, there were 600 applications in that week, with no change in staffing. It was a frenzy.
  •  The fact that 70 percent of those applications were refinances is significant, because typically, when a borrower applies for a purchase, they get a preapproval and then takes a month or two to buy a house.
  •  When applications are all refinances, not only are those borrowers applying right then, but they are ready to move forward, which created a bottleneck.
  •  On March 10, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced, and Michigan declared a state of emergency.
  •  At 5 p.m. on Friday, March 13, there was a full moon. Denya’s boss pulled all the lending division managers in and said, “We need to figure out which half of our staff can work from home for the next weeks.” Denya resisted but was told there were no other options. She contacted 30 of her 60 reporting employees and told them they needed to take all their work equipment home where they would be working from for the next two weeks, then rotate.
  • Ten days later, the stay-home-stay-safe order was in place, and everyone else ended up taking their equipment and work home.
  •  The Michigan Mortgage Lenders Association contacted the Department of Insurance Financial Services (they do a lot of consumer protection) and the governor’s office to figure out how to get temporary legislation in place to continue to close mortgages. Everything was closed with curbside service. There was a remote online notary that was passed in the state, but there were only a couple of platforms that could be used. Everyone worked together to get one of the first legislations passed to give some flexibility for e-notary and e-closing. MSUFCU then began immediate initiatives to try to figure out how to be digital from start to finish, which they now have in place.
  •  In March, CARES Act funding was passed, DIFS clarified its definition for essential workers, which was critical, because the federal government had published its definition of essential workers, but every state had a different interpretation. Realtors in Michigan, for example, were not deemed essential, yet in Indiana they were. They tried to figure out who in the industry was permitted to work. On March 30, the definition was nailed down.
  •  Denya summarized other key events during the pandemic that impacted her industry, including K-12 school closures, eviction protection and mortgage forbearances.
  • CARES Act funding led to the formation of the Michigan Mortgage Relief Partnership and its adoption of CARES Act guidance standards.
  •  In May the realtor and construction industries reopened; PPEs appeared everywhere; and restaurants and bars reopened in time for Memorial Day, because everyone believed we’d turned the corner.
  • Retail across the state opened up, but there was skepticism.
  •  Masks and social distancing became commonplace, home-schooling had an impact on the workforce. In the fall, many tried to bring their workforce back. MSUFCU tried in November, based on case counts, but never moved forward with the reopening.
  •  Mortgage rates dropped to under 3 percent for a 30-year mortgage – the lowest rates ever.
  •  Valuation challenges began last summer. There’s not as much inventory available, so buyers are willing to pay $10,000 to $20,000 above the appraised value, which is not typical in the market.
  •  Throughout the holiday season, forbearances and deferments continued.
  •  There was a foreclosure and eviction moratorium that was set to expire, but that was also extended due to the pandemic.
  •  Organizations created hybrid and remote work policies, which was not MSUFCU’s culture. Today, they have both hybrid and remote work policies, and they were just as productive as when they were in the office.
  •  Retention was the other side of the issue – MSUFCU lost a couple of really good IT individuals to companies out of California, because they were able to live in East Lansing, keep their kids in the schools and communities they were already in, and get the dream job they’d always wanted.
  •  Women started stepping down. Moms were suddenly not only working remotely but also taking care of a household and being a teacher to their children
  • The good news was that the housing industry was very strong in 2020, with over $4 trillion in mortgage loans.
  •  Denya’s word cloud summed up 2020: Coronavirus, social distance, PPP, mask (she now has a mask wardrobe), the fact that she can say the word “efficacy” without any effort.
  •  January 1, 2021, everyone woke up hoping that the new year would bring a fresh new outlook.
  •  There were higher interest rates or costs. Mortgage rates increased for the first time in one year. The American Rescue Plan was signed in March. Mortgage application volume increased again but instead of refinances, they were purchases.
  •  Inventory of available homes for sale is low.
  •  Forbearances have come down but are still high.
  •  National Association of Realtors reported that income is not rising at the same level as housing is appreciating, which can be a problem.
  •  Unemployment rates are coming down; fed fund rates are stable and will be lower for the next couple of years for consumers. • Good news: Housing starts are at the highest level since 2006. There’s a demand for housing right now and the construction industry is booming.
  •  Inventory of homes has declined – it’s a seller’s market. “List price is starting price.”
  •  Michigan Real Estate forum was started for those who work in the financial industry and wish to collaborate. • Consumers shifted to digital – these habits are here to stay. • Remote work resulted in more growth in rural areas.
  •  This year has been challenging for every single one of us. We live most of our lives inside of our head. Make sure it’s a nice place to be. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace. You made it through a tough year and are continuing to plow through.
NEXT WEEK: We will meet April 30th via Zoom and our speaker will be Chris Buck, Senior Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of Martin Commercial Properties, Inc. His topic: Commercial Real Estate Navigates the Pandemic – an Unclear Future.”
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