Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mortgages Booming Again

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Mortgages Booming Again

Article excerpt

HOME LOANS: Activity has reached a post-recession peak in Southwest Florida

As Rob Robertson drives along Interstate 75 between Bradenton and Naples, he gets excited to see dump trucks hauling dirt.

"It lets me know that activity is high, that builders are definitely building," said Robertson, the area manager for Southwest Florida at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

New home construction is helping to fuel a mortgage boom in the region. Coupled with record levels of existing home sales and, to a lesser extent, homeowners refinancing loans, mortgage lenders say they are busier than they have been in years.

"It's really hot right now," Robertson said. "Buyer confidence has increased, and buyers are now willing to spend and are out looking to purchase homes."

While cash buyers still account for more than half of all housing sales in Sarasota-Manatee, mortgage lending has surged.

Mortgage lenders in Manatee originated 2,015 loans in March, more than double the February total and pushing the market to a post- recession peak, a Herald-Tribune analysis found.

The dollar value jumped to $504 million, up 170 percent from the previous month.

Regions was the top lender with 45 loans totaling $14.2 million, followed by BB&T, with 53 loans at $14 million, and Homebridge Financial, with 57 loans at $12.4 million.

In Sarasota, lenders originated 1,476 loans in March, a 46 percent increase. The dollar value of $348 million jumped 51 percent for the month.

Bank of America was first with 93 loans for $19.3 million, followed by Wells Fargo with 88 loans at $17.5 million.

"Our overall loan volume is up almost 70 percent as compared to this time last year," said Leslie Swart, owner of Blue Skye Lending in Lakewood Ranch.

Her firm was one of the region's few independent mortgage lenders that survived the Great Recession and its aftermath, with many companies leaving the market or folding their business.

"We made it through the tough times, and now I can't even count how many lenders have moved into our market," Swart said. "They are popping up everywhere."

'Dreams are back'

At Regions Mortgage, the Sarasota-Manatee market ranked in the top five for new construction lending in March among the bank's 16- state footprint, said Steve Pickett, regional sales manager.

"As values have increased around the country, it has unlocked people's ability to take equity and move again," Pickett said, "Retirement dreams are back on track. Many folks are buying second homes, knowing that in one to three years, they intend to move to this area permanently."

In the two-county region, about 50 percent of Region's mortgage activity is purchase business, including existing homes and new construction, he said. Twenty-five percent is construction lending that later rolls into permanent loans, and 25 percent is refinancing. …

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