Mortgage lender stakes out his own identity

What’s in a name?

A lot. Jusk ask Josh Moffitt, the soft-spoken president of Silverton Mortgage Specialists Inc. He was flooded with calls from worried customers and parents of some employees when Atlanta-based Silverton Bank went belly-up in May 2009 in Georgia’s largest bank failure.

Silverton Bank and Silverton Mortgage were completely separate and unrelated entities. But because their names were so similar, Silverton Mortgage’s customers, lenders and other business associates were confused and worried.

Silverton Bank, formerly Bankers Bank, had adopted the Silverton name over Moffitt’s objections a little over a year before it was shut down in May 2009.

Silverton Mortgage, founded by Moffitt in 1998, got its title from a family name, Silver, which has been used in family businesses of various kinds for years. It’s his mother’s maiden name.

Moffitt said the bank’s failure hurt the name and reputation of Silverton Mortgage Specialists. It was the last thing the mortgage company needed at a time when the housing market was tumbling during the Great Recession.

Q: Is the problem behind you now?

A: Unfortunately, no. We still get asked whether we are related to Silverton Bank. Time, money and energy have been lost. It’s almost one of the first questions I get to this day.

Q: You still have a disclaimer on your website, don’t you?

A: Yes. It says, “We are NOT Silverton Bank.” It also says, “We are very sorry for any confusion and hope that the news reports have not caused you any concern regarding the work we have done together or the services we perform.”

Q: So the Silver name has been used in other family endeavors?

A: That’s my mother’s maiden name. The name has been used in the family since the late 1800s. There was N.H. Silver and Sons out of High Point, N.C., a clothing store. My grandfather had a furniture store, Silvercraft Furniture. His son had a technology company, Silver Systems.

Q: How are you doing now?

A: From 2008 to 2012, the company had growth rate from $1.4 million to $17 million.

Q: Can you tell me the number of loans you handled in the past few years and their value?

A: In 2010, 1,087 units for $227 million; in 2011, 1,369 units for $275 million; and in 2012, 2,507 units for $492 million.

Q: How many employees do you have?

A: 140. We feel like the next few years there’s going to be growth opportunities. We are in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida now.

Q: How did you start a mortgage company?

A: After college, I joined a large mortgage company to get experience. I had a bachelor’s in business, but knew very little about mortgages. I left that company in 1998 and together with a business partner started Silverton Mortgage Specialists with $5,000.

As a mortgage broker, you are not lending your own money. A customer would come to me wanting to buy a house and I would say, “What are you looking for, let me get you a quote.” As a broker you are the middle-man to introduce a customer to an investor.

Q: But you’re no longer just a mortgage broker, right?

A: That’s right. We were mortgage brokers from 1998 until 2006. Now we are a correspondent lender.

Q: What’s that mean?

A: As a correspondent lender, the entire loan process is managed in-house. But we can still shop rates with multiple banks. This allows us to close loans faster and to keep clients informed about what’s going on every step of the way. Through this correspondent lending platform, Silverton has been able to provide customers with competitive mortgage products, improve communications and speed up processing times.

Q: What is the amount of your average mortgage?

A: Our average was right around $200,000 for 2012. This was below 2010, which was $225,000. However, the first quarter of 2013 was slightly over $200,000, so we are seeing a bit of a pickup, which we expect to see continue in the spring.

Q: Did you see the mortgage meltldown and recession coming?

A: I would love to say we did. Few people could say that.

Q: When did you realize we were headed for trouble?

A: I was in a restaurant and in my bill the waiter gave me with a note saying, “I do mortgages, too.” I left thinking there is something wrong with a market when people are doing this as a hobby. That was one “aha” moment.

There were others. Looking back, Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loran Mortgage Corp.) and Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association) weren’t requiring many documents. There wasn’t much income verification. People were able to buy houses and get mortgages without putting a lot — or even any — money down.

Q: Haven’t regulations been strengthened now?

A: From an industry perspective, a number of things were addressed that needed revamping when it comes to regulations and guidelines. Now, more paperwork and documentation are required, which can be frustrating, but as a whole it will help us recover and have a healthy market moving forward.

Q: How is Atlanta doing now?

A: You’ve got to be cautious. Atlanta is tough to define. There are pockets of Atlanta that are doing very well and pockets that are still struggling. There’s a lot of pent up demand.

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