(udpate 1: corrected reference to Residential Finance) Let’s face it: being a originator means having a different mind set. Especially in times like these, where the number of troubled borrowers is on the rise, underwriting guidelines are ever tightening, and origination volumes are on the wane. While some firms have folded, those with a strong FHA focus seem to have been pushing hard for growth in an effort to gain share in a side of the market that now matters. Others have been rushing in to fill a void in wholesale lending, as well. Two such originators touted their growth plans on Tuesday as part of an effort use the downturn as a chance to steal market share, but also in part to suggest that not all lenders are struggling. Massachusetts-based Mortgage Network, Inc., which bills itself as “the largest independent mortgage company in the Northeast,” said Tuesday morning that it had hired a new manager for its national wholesale lending business and that it would look to expand its wholesale operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, as a result. If there’s anything in common among independent lenders still in the origination business, it’s that nearly every one of them touts a conservative business management philosophy as the reason they’re still standing. “Over the past twenty years our founders carefully managed and grew key areas of the company, resisting high growth speculative opportunities while maintaining high quality services and standards,” said Brian Koss, executive vice president at Mortgage Network. “The result is a company that is profitable, growing and attracting the most respected and experienced professionals in the business.” Growth at Mortgage Network isn’t a mirage, either: the company has opened 8 new offices and increased its staff by over 33 percent in that past year, it said. It also booked record loan volume during the first quarter of 2008 — up 93 percent from year ago levels, and topping $2 billion in total production. Columbus, Ohio-based Residential Finance Corporation — not to be confused with the much-better known Residential Funding Corp. afflicted with Residential Capital, LLC — also said Tuesday that it’s growing and plans to hire between 75 and 100 people in the third quarter. The majority of job openings will fill mortgage banking positions in the company’s Columbus, OH headquarters and Tampa, FL location, the company said in a press statement. The firm touted a training partnership with well-known origination coach Dale Vermillion as a key reason it has been able to weather the storm. “What sets us apart and helps drive our growth in today’s market is our continual investment in technology, training and marketing,” said company president Michael Isaacs. “We provide these critical resources for new employees to help them succeed immediately.” To be fair, if there was a company that collected a dime every time an independent lender said that their people were better trained and had better marketing support, that company would probably be making a pretty good profit. But the company’s plans to ramp up staffing suggest that for Residential Finance, there may be more than hot air behind its claims — and that could be a good sign for the originators determined to stick out the current down cycle.
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