The American Credit Union Mortgage Association took the message of credit union mortgage originators into the heart of the Realtor world in New Orleans during in the first week of November-and found the overall atmosphere a good deal more optimistic than it had been last year.
"Lord, last year was like a morgue," said ACUMA executive director Robert Dorsa, "everyone was so gloomy and attendance was down."
But this year, by contrast, Dorsa said the National Association of Realtors Conference and Expo was a good deal more upbeat as the real estate industry started to find its footing coming out of the ongoing housing crisis.
Margaret Kelly, chief executive officer of RE/MAX, described how Realtors had begun to adjust to the new normal in the housing market. "The spike up and down in the housing market wasn't normal so we shouldn't be measuring ourselves against it," she said in a statement from the meeting that the NAR distributed.
Kelly said that despite some challenges there are plenty of opportunities in the housing market, adding that low mortgage interest rates, abundant inventory and stable prices are attracting buyers to the market right now.
"To be successful in the current housing market, real estate professionals need to educate themselves about buying and selling distressed properties and working with investor buyers, who are a significant part of the market," said Kelly. "Education is critical. Real estate professionals should be learning how to handle short sales, how to market themselves and find buyers and to really understand market conditions," said Kelly.
Kelly said she hopes the government will incentivize businesses to create more jobs, which is the only thing that will help the housing market fully recover. "Consumers want an instant fix but we need to be patient," she said.
Dorsa closely monitors the overall meeting atmosphere because that can have a strong impact on his efforts to both introduce credit unions to Realtors and to remind credit unions that they have a pool of members who are real estate professionals that love their credit union.
This latter effort sparked an innovative effort to get Realtors who were also credit union members to talk about their credit unions. ACUMA offered Realtors visiting its booth participation in prize drawing if they would agree to a brief on-camera interview about their CUs. Dorsa said that about 60 ended up participating through the whole on-camera interview.
"What we learned was not anything different that many of us already knew," Dorsa recounted. "Many people belong to not just one but several CUs. Many interviewees stated they 'love' their credit union. The big issue is the continuing disconnect with CUs and housing finance. We heard comments like 'my credit union helped me a great deal when my son needed a piano.' Another commented, 'I enjoy having multiple escrow accounts and direct deposit in order to manage the financials for my properties.' Only in a few instances did we hear, 'We obtained our home loan from our credit union,' but we did hear that more than in past years," Dorsa added.
This was the seventh year the association came to the NAR with a volunteer staff drawn from mortgage professionals from a number of different credit unions with strong mortgage programs. These executives mingled with Realtors, introduced them to credit unions as mortgage lenders and even did some business on the NAR trade show floor, Dorsa said.
Dorsa observed that attending this meeting for seven years and carrying a remarkably similar message can get a little frustrating since he believes so strongly that credit unions are forgoing an important income stream just when other income streams, particularly those not tied to interest income are drying up.
"Right now, just when the industry is filled with talk of slim income and shrinking revenue margins in the future, credit unions could offer their members a product and a service they really need," he said.
Part of Dorsa's frustration comes from credit unions as a whole not yet reaching a tipping point on mortgages, particularly with purchase money mortgages, which are often first-time homebuyer loans. Dorsa decried the myth that these sorts of loans are too difficult for credit unions to do, acknowledging they require a program that supported their origination, but he pointed that part of their reward are new member relationships the CU can build upon into the future.
"There are many resources for those who are not in the game or just cherry-picking the easy refinance loans," Dorsa said. "CUs simply must offer all of the products consumers want and need."