Hard times in the housing market have put real estate-related firms into survival mode, but many are still expanding their staffs and finding ways to take advantage of new niches.
Scottsdale-based State Mortgage has added 12 to 15 new people, mostly loan officers, in the past six to eight weeks.
They’re coming from the mortgage firms that are in trouble or have shut down in recent months, said Roy Meshel, president and managing partner of the company.
“You don’t want to pass on the opportunity to get good people,” Meshel said. “You want to pounce on the opportunity.”
Hundreds of loan officers in Arizona were laid off this year, as a rising number of loan defaults and foreclosures stung the market. Tucson-based First Magnus Financial Corp. and American Home Mortgage, which had branches in Arizona, were just two of the firms to feel the impact.
Good loan officers coming out of defunct businesses were quickly snapped up by other lenders. Some received more than a dozen calls from competing firms, Meshel said.
AmeriFirst Financial in Mesa has added 70 to 80 people in the past six months, bringing its total number of loan officers to more than 200.
The firm has 400 additional applications it’s sifting through with room to hire about 70 more people, AmeriFirst President Eric Bowlby said. The firm also opened two branches this year and has a third one on the way.
Bowlby attributes the success, in part, to the firm’s ability to do Federal Housing Administration loans that require 3 percent down but don’t have specific credit-score criteria. He estimates that about 50 percent of the company’s business comes from FHA loans, and the amount is growing.
Many Arizona mortgage companies didn’t keep their FHA licensing because it was easier to put people into subprime loans, Bowlby said.
“The people who stuck to their guns and did it right those years, they’re really reaping the benefits right now,” he said.
Sandra Wilken, owner of Sandra Wilken Luxury Properties, is also in the market for real estate agents.
Wilken has recently made some hires and is interviewing to possibly add a couple of more people to her 14-member group. She looks for agents who have had successful careers in other fields, such as law, interior design and banking.
“It makes us a well-rounded firm,” she said.
Some people looking to enter real estate think it’s an easy business, but they need to do their homework and have a mentor, Wilken said.
“This is a tough market right now to break into,” she said.
Faced with a changing marketplace, real estate firms are setting their sights on new niches.
Wilken’s company has been focusing on international clients. Her staff also spent the summer redoing marketing materials and updating the Web site.
State Mortgage is focusing on the areas of the mortgage industry where there is still activity, such as divorce lending, reverse mortgages, foreclosures and short sales. The lender hosts classes for real estate agents and investors and is working on a seminar for first-time home buyers.
It’s a challenging time, Meshel said. The company is doing about 25 percent less business than last year.
First-time buyers are sitting on the sidelines because people are telling them it’s a horrible market, but they could really be taking advantage of the slowdown, he said. First-time buyers don’t have homes that they have to sell first.
And the perception that it’s impossible to get a loan right now isn’t true, Meshel said.
“If you have a job, steady employment, decent credit, it’s not that hard to get a loan right now,” he said.