Michel Gonzales was so eager to work in the home mortgage business that he refused to take no for an answer when turned down for his first job.
“I said, ‘I don’t even need an office,’ ” Gonzales recalls. “They pretty much thought I was crazy if I wanted a desk in the hallway.”
Within months, he said, he was a top lender for the operation.
Gonzales hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for the work 14 years later, despite having seen the ups and downs of the industry.
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Today he operates his own branch of Open Mortgage, an Austin, Texas-based company. Although his office is in west Wichita, Gonzales makes loans around the area.
Indeed, he’s optimistic enough about the business to have recently brought his wife, Tammy, into it as marketing manager for the branch.
“I always felt like it was the family business even though I was working full-time” for other companies, said Tammy Gonzales, who previously worked in marketing for Cargill and an ad agency.
The couple met while attending Wichita State University, where both earned master’s degrees in business administration.
Lenders such as Open Mortgage now make more home loans than traditional banks in the United States, partly because of the regulatory backlash from the housing bubble of 2007-08. Another reason is that such lenders offer more types of loans than traditional banks, including FHA and VA loans and home equity conversion mortgages. That allows them to serve lower-income and elderly buyers as well as traditional customers.
“I see people buying their first home and buying their last home,” Michael Gonzales said.
Recently, for instance, he has been making a lot of loans on patio homes in developments such as Auburn Hills, Estancia and Courtyard Oaks.
“If I don’t have at least a couple of senior clients walk in every week, it’s unusual,” he said.
Gonzales says he is one of the only lenders in Kansas offering HECM, or home equity conversion mortgages. Those allow seniors to purchase homes and obtain a reverse mortgage in the same transaction.
Several loans offered by Open Mortgage require no down payment. Gonzales says many people assume that federal rural development loans are only used “in the boonies,” but he has used them to help people buy homes in places such as Maize and Goddard.
“Michael can say you qualify for two or three different loans – here are the pluses and minuses of each,” Tammy Gonzales said.
Open Mortgage is Gonzales’ second home mortgage branch. In 2004, he started a branch of Florida-based CFIC Home Mortgage. Despite making “every mistake you could,” he said, he built up a sales force of 20 people before getting an email one day in 2008 saying that the company was immediately shutting down.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise,” said Gonzales, who said he had been too busy managing employees to deal with clients. “I like actually working with the consumer.”
Gonzales started the Open Mortgage branch soon after CFIC closed. He hopes to grow it from a handful of employees in a way that allows him to continue working directly with clients.
“We kind of want ourselves to be the brand and build support behind us,” Tammy Gonzales said. “That’s what he excels at.”
Referrals from Realtors and past customers are the biggest sources of business, she added.
The latest challenge the couple faces is competition from online lenders such as Quicken Loans, which command the biggest share of the market. While Open Mortgage’s website includes application forms, Gonzales said most of his clients “want to come in and talk to a live person.”
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