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VOL. 123 | NO. 214 | Friday, October 31, 2008

Memphis Branch Of Investors Group To Expand

By Eric Smith

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At a time when mortgage lenders are shrinking or even shutting down in response to the housing crisis, Knoxville-based Mortgage Investors Group is expanding.

The independent, residential lending company has opened its first branch in Memphis – its 20th overall – at 5384 Poplar Ave. with a staff of nine and plans to add three more employees before the end of the year.

Todd Brown

Led by branch co-managers Todd Brown and Patti Sachenbacher, the Memphis office of Mortgage Investors Group opened its doors last month. The collection of Memphis employees is unique because Brown, Sachenbacher and the office’s other seven employees have more in common than working for Mortgage Investors Group, which next week celebrates its 19th anniversary. They also have a shared past.

“We all are veterans of First Tennessee,” Brown said. “They changed the way they did things, and we sought this company out and really felt like they had something to bring to West Tennessee.”

Patti Sachenbacher

Brown had spent 19 years and Sachenbacher had spent 24 years at First Tennessee, and neither one of them expected to start anew this far into their careers.

“We both figured we’d retire from First Tennessee,” Brown said, “but when the playing field changed, everything else changed with it.”

Gigantic shifts

The playing field has clearly changed. In the past two years, nearly 300 lending operations have either eliminated some lending practices – chiefly subprime loans – or closed shop altogether, according to the Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter (ml-implode.com), a Web site run by Las Vegas-based Implode-Explode Heavy Industries Inc. (IEHI), which tracks the industry.

Many of those that survived have suffered a disastrous year, evidenced by a credit crunch and widespread layoffs. As a result, local mortgage activity has declined 35.2 percent, according to the latest Lender Analysis report from real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.

Chrissi Rhea, co-founder and co-president of Mortgage Investors Group, said the company has always avoided subprime lending and instead remained focused on “old fashioned lending practices,” such as 30-year fixed rate Fannie Mae and 30-year fixed rate FHA loans.

That tack has proved beneficial to the company.

“It certainly paid off to our stability and allowed for us to survive this weird platform of lending,” Rhea said via phone from Knoxville. “Everybody is trying to figure out a cheaper, better way for the borrower, well, it’s never better for the borrower when you start taking away services. We’ve decided that we’re here, and this is what we do, and this is where we want to be and we need to invest in that platform.”

Experience and proximity

Rhea cofounded Mortgage Investors Group with Chuck Tonkin in Knoxville in November 1989. The company began with one office and seven employees – five of whom still work for Mortgage Investors Group – and has since grown to 20 offices and 200 employees.

But the company never established a Memphis presence, and when Brown and Sachenbacher suggested opening a branch here, Rhea and Tonkin knew they had the right people to complete their Tennessee footprint.

“We have had other opportunities to open offices in Memphis, but we just didn’t feel the fit was right with a group that had the same focus in mortgage lending that we did until we found Patti and Todd,” Rhea said. “It was a wonderful fit with their experience and their past performance in that market.”

For Brown and Sachenbacher, one appeal of Mortgage Investors Group was working for a company that does in-house loan processing and underwriting – important factors in these shaky lending times.

“They’re a mortgage banker, not a mortgage broker,” Brown said. “We control the transaction until it’s closed and done, and the fact that they have been for a number of years and remain the largest THDA (Tennessee Housing Development Agency) lender in the state … is good for this market.”

Foot in the door

Branch employees are eagerly awaiting a move into their new 4,000-square-foot office space, at the same Poplar Avenue building, which more than doubles the temporary space they quickly outgrew. And the company expects to bring on two more loan officers and a loan processor once that move is complete.

Brown said a smart, steady growth signals that the company is not too big and not too small. Also, the fact that its employees have years of experience in this market should help Mortgage Investors Group make a splash on the lending scene.

“We are a Tennessee lender and not a national player, which is appealing,” Brown said. “But it’s a sizable company so we’re not a small player by any means. I think having that local feel, if you will, has helped us. There’s been a lot of changes with some of the large players here in Memphis and the Mid-South, and with some of the mortgage professionals moving to various companies that I guess it’s the right market to bring something new.”

Chandler Reports is a division of The Daily News Publishing Co.

PROPERTY SALES 62 288 2,619
MORTGAGES 52 197 1,783