Regional branches of the Maryland-based lender, which remains bullish in Richmond despite a slowing mortgage market, are all settling into fans’ new homes.
Led by Ben Barkett and Greg Cowart, Richmond-area NFM Lending recently opened an office at 1127 West Main Street.
Local mortgage industry veterans Burkett and Couwart purchased the building in December and then refurbished it for two teams with a total of 20 employees.
While the duo technically each run their own branch and team, they share building and overlapping costs. They paid him $775,000 for the building and an adjacent parking lot, according to city records. The property was previously owned by the Eck family. sold a large fan real estate portfolio last year.
Burkett said he and Cowart decided to move into the 3,600-square-foot building after the lease on 1512 Willow Lawn Drive ended in January.
“Coronavirus made us realize that we don’t need as much space as we used to,” Birkett said.
Burkett said his team moved into the building in March. Cowart’s group had to wait for the previous tenant’s lease to expire before moving in after completing renovations in recent weeks.
Burkett says the 110-year-old building has been used as a residence, office and restaurant for many years.
“There must be a ghost or two,” Birket said jokingly. “And trust me, when I’m here alone, I’m listening.”
He said he and Cowart met about six years ago and joined forces on NFM. Burkett, 49, previously worked at Capital City Home Loan and Benchmark Mortgage. Kawart, 50, was previously with NVR Mortgages, Movement Mortgages and First Heritage Mortgages.
Burkett said, like all current mortgage lenders, loan volumes are declining in the face of rapidly rising interest rates and rumors of a recession.
“Volumes are definitely down, about 65 to 70 percent of last year’s highs,” Burkett said.
He said most of that decline was the evaporation of mortgage refinancing, which has almost completely dried up in recent months.
“That wave is gone,” Birkett said.
But that doesn’t mean Richmonder has stopped buying homes altogether.
“Richmond has always been good and we have been lucky enough to build great businesses and have great relationships. I’m here.
And Richmond continues to attract buyers looking to move into the region from more expensive areas, a trend that has accelerated since the pandemic began.
“Richmond represents a reasonable cost of living. Probably 25 to 30 percent of all loans I make are borrowers who have moved from outside of Virginia,” he said.
Current interest rates are around 7.25% for a 30-year mortgage, Burkett said. He said the numbers may put borrowers on edge, but he believes the rapid rise in interest rates instills more fear than the actual rates themselves.
“I think it’s not where interest rates are but how quickly they got there. It works like fireworks. There’s been a bang and when the economy softens it’s going to start to settle,” he said, already feeling some softening. He added that there were
NFM was founded in Baltimore in 1998 by David Silverman. The company currently has 98 branches nationwide. This is called a correspondent lender, which is not affiliated with a bank but finances the loan itself before selling it to the secondary market. According to Burkett, his NFM mortgage volume last year had him over $10 billion.
Burkett wouldn’t comment on specific loan amounts for local businesses, but said his team and those at Cowart’s have helped more than 700 homes with mortgages in 2021.
Burkett said there are only two NFM outposts based in the Richmond area, his and Cowart’s branch. We have a team in Charlottesville, and we have a team in Northern Virginia.
Due to the volatility of the industry, many lenders are laying off employees as trading volumes decline. Burkett said NFM has been making headcount cuts at the corporate level, mostly underwriting and closing, but so far he and his Cowart have not had to cut headcount locally.
In addition to putting down roots and owning your own building, the turbulent market presents a ripe opportunity to lure employees away from competitors, so Huang’s new office will have a better chance of recruiting local talent. I hope that it will help me to gain the upper hand.
“When a loan originator doesn’t have a lot of stuff in their pipeline, they start looking around and saying, ‘Is this where I want to be?'” he said. This change in will give people an opportunity to reassess their current situation and whether it is time for a change.”