In this month’s issue of National Mortgage Professional Magazine, we had a chance to speak with Eddy Perez, president of Equity Loans. The son of Cuban immigrants, Eddy has had a front row seat to the American Dream. Now balancing family obligations with the challenges of building a growing retail mortgage banking firm, Eddy is living out the lessons he learned in childhood. Here is Eddy’s story.
How did you begin your career in the mortgage business?
My father owned a residential construction company, so I have always been somewhat into residential real estate. After I graduated college, I got into stocks and financial advising. However, the crash of 2000 hit me really hard. My girlfriend at that time told me I should try mortgages because, as she said, her hairdresser’s brother had gotten into it and was doing pretty well for himself! I went online found a company that was hiring and was willing to train me.
What was it about the mortgage business that attracted you?
My parents moved to the United States from Cuba. It brought back childhood memories from being with my father and seeing how many homeowners bought his houses. It is truly what separates us from a lot of other countries. It’s very American to be a homeowner.
I understand that your mother is a frequent visitor to the Equity Loans offices.
Oh, my mom’s cakes are legendary here at Equity Loans! I mean the employees want to make up holidays sometimes just to get them. The good thing is my mom will bring them in for any holiday: Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, etc. Also, my mom’s cooking is phenomenal. People joke by saying they don’t know how I am not fat! I am like 5’10”, but am only 175 pounds. They don’t understand why I am not 100 pounds heavier!
How did your mortgage career develop?
I originated a lot of loans and started to get licensed in a lot of states. My partner and I decided to open up our own office. We were mortgage brokers, and then in 2008, at the height of the U.S. housing crisis, we decided to become mortgage bankers. We were running an office of 21 employees and thought it was the right move for all of our futures to move into mortgage banking. It was very evident that the regulators wanted people to have more skin in game—more involvement and be held more accountable.
How do you balance family time with your business?
I wake up early in the morning, and I go to the gym first to avoid traffic. I stay at the office until anywhere between 6:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m. Then, I spend a couple of hours with my children at night, and on the weekends, I am completely devoted there. I spend time with my kids whenever I can so that they don’t grow up with an absent father.
Do you travel a lot?
We are licensed in 30 states, but we have offices in about 17 of those states. We like to go out and see the branch managers ourselves and shake their hands. We also go to all the major mortgage events. The industry has shrunk now and everybody knows each other on the national level. The consolidation of the industry was good, because it left the survivors and left those who are very committed and have passion for this business.
Is it important to have direct approval authority?
I think one of the things that helps set any independent mortgage banker apart from the rest of the field is having government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) approval. It just allows you not only to have more products, but it allows you to have more flexibility. The big banks you were selling loans to are two to three weeks behind. They are bogged down with business. If you can sell it directly to the GSEs and keep moving, it doesn’t disrupt you as much.
What are the biggest issues facing our industry?
I think we have done a great deal on the regulatory front. However, if we do not address our nation’s budgetary issues, if we don’t deal with entitlement spending, and if we don’t work together, it could potentially lead to downgrading of our bonds. Foreign investors will not want to buy our bonds one day. What encourages me is that Americans, as a whole, have always been able to do that, even if it does come with some kicking and screaming. Courage is never popular until something is accomplished, then it is commended.
What is your proudest accomplishment in the business?
I think the proudest accomplishment is that Equity Loans started with 21 employees, and today, we have more than 200. Our volume has grown from a little over $30 million the first year, to last year when we did more than a half billion in production.
To what do you attribute your growth?
Excellent employees. KP was born in India. I was born here in the U.S., but I am first generation American. We attribute a lot of our success, not just to working smart, but to working hard. You could be very smart, but if you work five hours a day, you won’t accomplish as much as someone who puts in 14-hour days. We couldn’t have done it without just amazing hard-working employees.
What are you looking for as you grow?
I want other like-minded folks. I want to also move into other areas. I would like us to be able to expand on some products. This business is very, very pure in the sense that it is very American. What separates us from other countries is how much we value homeownership. Homeownership builds unity, it builds family, and it builds memories that you can never take back. We, as a company, want to provide that to people.
Who have your mentors or role models been?
My father was my mentor, my confidante, and my best friend. He passed away when I was 31. He taught me to be very humble. He set an example. He showed me a sense of purpose. Both of my parents showed me how you can change people’s lives. My dad was a contractor and he took so much pride in his work. He would put in the extra hour, even though it hurt the bottom line, but he wanted his work to be great, not good. He also taught me about preparation. Have all your ducks in a row … have all of your facts and study. He taught me to be tough, but to be fair. If your employees do not perform good work, hold them accountable.
My father taught me not only lessons in life, but also lessons in business. He was the first one who introduced me to residential housing. Now, I took a different path. I finance residential homes. My dad showed me how rewarding it is when people move in to a home you helped them get into.
Another role model was a gentleman by the name of Tim Arrington. He was a very, high-producing loan officer when I first met him. At that time, I was new to the industry and young, and he took me under his wing when we met at another company. He told me: “You know, your conviction is very strong. You speak well and you study the business, which is unheard of. I just need to show you few things: How to qualify loans, ways to think outside the box and the technical side of this business.” He made it clear that anybody can talk and spit out interest rates, but looking at the situation from your client’s standpoint is how you will stand apart from the rest.
The last role model is KP. He taught me how to look at a financial statement. I am the production side and on the operations side. But KP taught me the finance side. He would say, “Hey, you’ve got to look at this, we have to worry about expenses here.” You know we have never lived extravagant lifestyles. We have chosen to keep our money invested in the company.
What differentiates Equity Loans from the rest of those in the mortgage marketplace?
I think we bring a unique, complimentary management approach and that is an advantage. I have been an originator and I have been a branch manager, but I haven’t had to learn how every moving piece works. KP and I divided and conquered. I took over the operation and sales side, while he is over financing and maintaining compliance. I think that works very well. We are each other’s Yin and Yang. I don’t think we are perfect, however, you know our motto has always been, “Work every day to improve.”
Any closing comments?
I think this business helps to continue the American dream of homeownership. I understand that some things happen. However, the purity of it is still there. It is still very rewarding that if you take care of your clients, you will be taken care of for the rest of your life. You get a very big sense of accomplishment. Which is something I learned from my father is a key to a happy life.
David J. Coster may be reached by phone at (919) 559-2171 or e-mail [email protected]