president and ceo
the manhattan mortgage co.
by darrick meneken
Melissa Cohn ranked as Mortgage Originator magazine’s top originator by volume and units in
2007 and 2008. But she didn’t enter her information for Scotsman Guide’s Top Originators 2009
ranking (see Page 18) and said as of mid-February that her ’09 totals weren’t final. So we asked
how the past year treated her — and if she had any advice for doing business in today’s market.
Individually, you closed $885.3 million in mortgage loans in 2008, according to
Mortgage Originator. How was 2009?
Everyone had more of a challenging year in 2009. We worked very hard, and I think we did $2.5
billion as a company.
How does that compare to other years?
We do about $3 billion a year. Our biggest year was 2003. We did about $5 billion worth of
business that year.
Every year, I’ll do several loans between $8 million and $12 million. But the bulk of my business
averages about $1.5 million.
Are there differences between working on a $1.5 million deal and a $12 million deal?
No, the loans are processed the same way. You just have to worry about the qualifications of
the buyer at that higher loan level. The jumbo-mortgage market is a very tight marketplace
right now, and the banks have pretty strict guidelines with regards to borrowers’ income —
especially if they have a significant portion as a bonus — and their closing reserve.
New York City and the Hamptons are a couple of places you do business.
What’s the big difference between those two markets?
The big difference is that New York City is primarily a co-op-and-condo marketplace, and it’s
become somewhat of a treacherous marketplace because of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
guidelines with regards to presale, insurance, reserves and what percentage of a building is
What regulatory or guideline changes would you like to see?
I’d like to see Fannie and Freddie create waivers to do financing in buildings that are clearly
financially sound but may not meet presale requirements. Ease up the restrictions.
Your company has grown substantially since you helped start it in 1985.
What’s your secret?
Provide the best rate and the best service. When a loan closes, you should have a satisfied
buyer and a satisfied real estate broker. If you’re looking to grow and develop relationships,
stay in touch with that buyer and stay in touch with the real estate broker. More than half of my
business comes from repeat clients. Out of sight is out of mind.
Any other tips for how mortgage brokers around the country can stay profitable in
today’s tight market?
Try to be efficient in your overhead and as aggressive as you can in your pricing. If you can
maintain your volume, you can always increase your profitability later on. Don’t walk away from
loans because you don’t think you can make enough. It’s harder to grow back the volume than
it is to grow back the profitability.
Once you survive, you get to thrive again.
Darrick Meneken is an associate editor at Scotsman Guide. Reach him at (800) 297-6061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
… in May’s Scotsman Guide
Doing business with distressed •
RESPA-compliance questions •
A look at deficiency judgments •
Putting the spotlight on •
California’s troubled market
… and much more.
Online? Check out current and past editions of
Scotsman Guide at scotsmanguide.com.
TIP OF THE MONTH
Find new activities
A great way to build your pipeline is to get
involved with something new. This will allow you to meet referral partners and to
educate them about how you can provide
financing for homebuyers and homeowners. Set aside time each week to network.
Create new connections through local organizations you haven’t yet joined and by
volunteering in committee work groups.
From there, you can grow your mailing list
with an Internet presence and periodic
— JUSTINE ASSAL, ACM FINANCIAL
With appraisals now somewhat out of mortgage brokers’ hands, it’s often helpful to know how lenders
and appraisal-management companies (AMCs) build
approved appraiser panels. Although you might think
the criteria are centered on who can make life as challenging as possible for you, there is actually quite a
lot to the process.
Lenders and AMCs do things a bit differently, but
they have similar goals. Lenders build panels for
their own use, while AMCs that build panels do so
for lenders’ use, as well. The objective for each is to
create a go-to team of qualified professionals who
are at the top of their game.
The process starts with ensuring licensing is verified
and current. Appraiser-license requirements differ by
state. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination
Council’s Appraisal Subcommittee ( asc.gov) tracks licensing closely and provides daily updates about appraisers’ status in its national registry. Panel managers
require ongoing renewal confirmations. They routinely
run appraiser-panel candidates through anti-fraud databases, too, with regular updates to ensure appraisers
are not showing up on the wrong lists.
Most states also require errors-and-omissions insurance for appraisers, and AMCs follow suit. Larger, national AMCs frequently will have requirements that
correspond to the strictest state rules, while regional
companies more closely reflect their states’ parameters. Often, lender panels are even more stringent
about requiring this insurance because they are subject to loan buybacks from investors and want protection from issues that appraiser errors cause.
Panel auditors also will require sample appraisals
to give an indication of typical work. These samples
are almost always exemplary, so the first three or so
“live” appraisals are audited closely for quality. Different AMCs and lenders require different levels of skill
Since implementation of the Home Valuation Code of
Conduct and similar appraisal rules from the Federal
Housing Administration, you may no longer specify who
appraises all of your deals. But it doesn’t mean you
can’t make an effort to have your preferred appraisers
approved for panels.
AMCs constantly recruit new appraisers. If your favorite appraisers have good documentation and do
good work that will stand up to auditing, you should
encourage them to market themselves to your lenders
Griff Straw is president of Solidifi U.S., a leading technology-enabled appraisal-management company and provider of col-lateral-risk-management and data-analytic services. He writes a
monthly column on valuation issues for Scotsman Guide. Straw is a
30-year mortgage banker, a former Freddie Mac technology executive and a Mor tgage Bankers Association Master Faculty member.
Reach him at email@example.com or (703) 496-7579.