The new American Dream

Patty Arvielo leads by example

The American Dream. How do we define it? What does it really mean? Is it the old mythical tale about not accepting the hand you’ve been dealt, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and building a better life for yourself? Is it something simpler, like striving to do better than previous generations?

Or is it achieving success, then reaching back to help those that are less fortunate? Maybe it’s buying a home, or helping someone else buy a home.

However you define the American Dream, Patty Arvielo is living it.

Arvielo, whose mother left Mexico at 18 to find a better life, has risen from spending her teenage years accompanying her mother to her nightly job of cleaning real estate offices to running one of the nation’s fastest-growing mortgage lenders.

Arvielo, the president of New American Funding, is the daughter of an illegal immigrant — who, after coming to the U.S. in 1965, lived in her uncle’s closet and bagged potatoes at a potato farm in East Los Angeles — and an “Iowa farm boy.” She spent her youth in East Los Angeles’ Hispanic neighborhoods and that culture is deeply ingrained in Arvielo’s daily life.

“I was raised culturally as a Mexican,” Arvielo says today. “But I always tell my dad that I’m only 50% Latino, but I’m 100% all-in.”

Arvielo’s mother experienced considerable discrimination after she came to the U.S. and tried hard to prevent the same thing from happening to her children. While working at the potato farm, Arvielo’s mother was discriminated against by some of her white counterparts because she bagged potatoes faster and more efficiently than they did.

But Patty’s father saw things differently — Arvielo’s parents married just nine months after meeting each other.

“We don’t look at people at being different no matter what,” Arvielo said. “That’s just how we were raised.”

Patty ArvieloArvielo tells a story of when her parents tried to rent their first apartment as a married couple and how things changed once the landlord learned who Patty’s mother was.

“My father went to rent the apartment and there were no issues,” Arvielo said. “He had a job, he had great credit, there were no problems.

“But the next day, when he showed up to move in with his wife, the landlord said, ‘We don’t rent to Mexicans.’

“But my mom, she just warmed this lady’s heart. And so they moved in and after a few months, my mom was her favorite tenant, because she kept the apartment like a palace and everyone else’s apartment was a mess.

“Even after my parents moved out, they remained close friends with that landlord for many years.”

Patty’s mother’s experiences shaped how she raised her children. “My mom didn’t want us to be discriminated against,” Arvielo said. “If you speak Spanish first, it’s always hard to lose the accent. So she wanted us only to speak English. So we did. We were poor, so my grandmother was raising us, so I picked up Spanish pretty well from her. So now, when I speak Spanish, I don’t have an English accent.”

Language proved to be a bonding experience for Patty and her mother.

“My mom taught herself English. She didn’t speak English until I was five or six,” she said. “She taught herself how to speak English and how to read English, although she never could write.”

Arvielo says she was never anything but “super proud” of her mom for what she did for her. “My mom would clean my school friends’ houses,” Arvielo said. “I always thought it was really cool that my mom could clean the houses while I was at school, and when I arrived at home, she was there with us so I wasn’t a latchkey kid.”

When Patty would come home from school, she would do her schoolwork, and then go to work with her mom. “I was raised in a house where we all had to work and chip in,” Arvielo said. “My dad was a 16-hour-a-day guy, too.”

Her  mom’s nighttime job? Cleaning real estate offices. How did her mom get the job? Well, it was her charm again.

“My dad moved us out of the neighborhood we were living in because it was becoming a bit of a rough area,” Arvielo said. “And the Realtor who sold us our first house loved my mom so much that he offered her the job of cleaning the chain of offices at night. It was great money for my mom.”

So Arvielo and her sister would go with their mom to clean the real estate offices, and that was her first taste of real estate. Little did she know then that those nights cleaning out people’s trash cans would lead to her spending the next 34 years of her life in mortgage lending.

“I jumped right in with my mom and started cleaning real estate offices at night,” Arvielo said. “And it kind of opened my eyes to what Realtors do, because they would be there and we’d converse while I was cleaning out their trash or something.”

So when it came time for Arvielo to get a job of her own —  with permission from her school because she was only 16 — she looked for something involving real estate.

She found a job working at Transunion Credit as a clerk, inputting derogatory credit on tri-merges.

“When the people would be calling in to order the tri-merges, I would be asking these loan processors, they were setup girls, why do you need these reports? And they said, ‘oh we do mortgage loans.’ And I asked, ‘what’s that?’” Arvielo said.

“And they explained it to me, and I asked them, ‘Well, how much money do you make doing what you do?’ And obviously it was more than what I was making. So I thought, I’m going to go and do that job.”

So that’s how it started for Patty Arvielo in the mortgage business. “Chasing the almighty dollar,” as she says.

“I was always looking for the task or job where they were making more than what I was making, giving the same effort,” Arvielo said. “Because it’s all about effort for me. I work really hard. It was, wow, she makes more than me. I can do that job.”

That 100% effort, no-quit work ethic was instilled in Arvielo at a young age. “My parents had an extraordinary work ethic,” she said. “Dad worked 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. then went to college classes in his 20s, with three kids! Our only issue is what we could do to make a better life.”

Arvielo quoteAnd make a better life, she did.

Arvielo got a job at a mortgage broker shop and began experiencing success early. “It’s a pretty great feeling to get these people into a home,” she said. “When I was first starting out, I would go to all their homes to take their loan applications.

“The key to top producers, even today, is that connectivity to the borrower  and the experience they get from Point A of talking to you until they close. So to me that was very fulfilling. So I just kept wanting that feeling more and more.”

She spent a few years with the mortgage broker before getting a job at Countrywide. “I was about 23 years old and I got my first job at Countrywide at the lowest position in the branch. I was a loan specialist. I was making good money at the brokerage but I wanted more stability.”

She said she knew the opportunity to succeed was there at Countrywide because she’d seen other people rise there. “So I got my foot in the door as the lowest paid person. And within a year, it was my branch. Within a year, I was top-two in the nation in production.”

How was she able to succeed so quickly? It was the perfect formula.

“Coming from an environment where I had to work with Realtors to get business, now I had people calling me,” she said. “Can you imagine? Customers calling me for loans? I closed every call. It was like printing money.

“This is a perfect world for me. We were originating and underwriting the loans. So it was the perfect marriage of operations and sales. And I have both sides.

“It was a dream-come-true job.”

But it wasn’t always easy for Arvielo.

 “It was a male-dominant business,” she said. “It’s still a male-dominated business. I’m gonna change that. I wasn’t taken seriously, but I never let that deter me. I could push forward and I did.”

She spent eight years at Countrywide, leaving in 1997. But before she left, she made her name by identifying and capitalizing on an emerging market that no one else saw coming.

“In 1994, the market dried up. There were no loans,” she said. “So I decided, I speak pretty good Spanish. I’m gonna go and do loans to Hispanics.”

So she started driving around and introducing herself to Hispanic Realtors.

“Back then, all these starter homes were being purchased by Latinos,” she said. “Hispanic real estate offices were the ones that were busy. It was the first-time homebuyers. That market was thriving in Orange County.

“And these people are not rate-conscious. They just wanted in. They wanted the opportunity to own a home. So my branch ended up thriving while other branches were stagnant.”

It wasn’t long before Countrywide corporate noticed Arvielo’s branch’s success.

“I told them what I was doing, and it kinda took off,” she said. “Doing loans for the underserved is just a whole other feeling.”

After being recruited away from Countrywide in 1997 by Norwest, she found herself wondering why she’d left such a good thing behind at Countrywide.

“I met these three young guys in a bar who had just opened up a broker shop,” she said. “I told them what I’d done and they said, ‘We need you. We’ll pay you $500 per file.’”

“I asked them how many loans they  were closing in a month and they said about 30. So I’m doing the math in my head, and I said, ‘I’ll see you on Monday.’”

After three years, those three young guys learned that mortgage lending wasn’t their passion, Arvielo said. “Well, except for one, Robert, who’s still with me and who’s my top producer.”

Patty brought her boyfriend, now husband, Rick, into the company and the company soon became New American Funding.

“Now we’re on track to do $5 billion in loans in 2014,” Patty said. “We have over 80 branches and I employ over 1,400 people. And 43% of those people are Latino.”

At this point, Arvielo has experienced plenty of success and she’s trying to help others do the same thing.

What’s the secret these days?

It’s still about helping the underserved. “I’m still hearing these stories about people coming to this country,” she said. “I see the way my aunts still live. They live in homes where you have to go outside to go to the bathroom in Tijuana. I help them all the time but that’s just the norm for them.”

So Arvielo still tries to help people build their own little piece of the American Dream by buying a home.

“I can offer them a better life, an opportunity for advancement in our country, because homeownership is where they get it, especially Latinos,” she said.

“So when you have passion and purpose, it’s fun, right? So what I do, for me, is fun. It hasn’t been about money in a long time —it’s about the passion I have for the underserved.”

To that end, she still originates loans herself every month.

“I still lead from the front,” she said. “I still look at files.”

Arvielo’s other main goal is building a company that she hopes becomes the shining example of what a mortgage company can be. She is trying to build a company whose employees become the ones running this industry in a few years.

“We never did subprime. Our biggest product during that time was FHA. Subprime didn’t make any sense to me. Bigger isn’t always better,” she said.

“I’m all about long-term. I put people in houses that are sustainable. I don’t want people to be one broken stove away from foreclosure. It’s always been about collateral, capacity and credit. The minute the industry steered away from those underwriting principles is when we got into trouble.”

These days, she spends a lot of her time working on what she calls “NAF culture.”

Arvielo’s staff is 52% female and 90% of the management team is made up of women. “Women look to me and I empower them,” Arvielo said. “I think it’s important to empower women. Because I don’t think anybody has held me back. I’ve held me back. So I’ve been trying to tell women to ask for the raise, ask for the promotion.

“I love that I’m able to inspire women to reach higher. There are no men holding women back. We hold ourselves back.”

For certain, there will be no holding back Patty Arvielo. She’s still forging ahead and building her own dream.

“I’m here to serve the people I’ve brought on who share my vision. I come in and try to make them happy,” she said.

“To me, I won. I’m bigger than I ever thought I’d be. I never wanted to be the biggest, just the best.”

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