Mortgage Market Up 17 Percent in January

By Andy Meek

Lenders at year’s end were already predicting solid mortgage-banking activity to continue heading into 2018 – a feeling that’s been born out by the housing sector’s first monthly performance totals for the year.

New numbers out from real estate information company Chandler Reports,, show a 17 percent uptick in purchase mortgage activity in Shelby County for January. Activity for the month topped $132 million, up from $113 million in January 2017, according to Chandler Reports.

For lenders reading the tea leaves, it’s a positive start to the year across other metrics, as well. Both the number of individual mortgages that lenders made last month and the average dollar amount of those mortgages were up compared to the year-ago totals.

Community Mortgage Corp. chief financial officer Mike Wells – whose employer was the top lender last month as ranked by purchase volume – takes a straightforward view of the market, what it means and what’s to come.

Top January 2018 lenders by purchase mortgage volume

Community Mortgage

January 2018: $10.6M
January 2017: $8.1M

January 2018: $7.8M
January 2017: $7.4M

Pinnacle Bank
January 2018: $7.1M
January 2017: $10.1M

Source: Chandler Reports,

“Positive economic factors cause us to have a favorable outlook for housing in 2018,” he said. “However, those same positive economic factors put upward pressure on rates. The main factor slowing mortgage growth continues to be limited housing inventory.”

The market took more or less a steady climb up last year, with the result falling short of explosive growth but edging out $1.9 billion in total purchase volume for 2016 with more than $2 billion for all of 2017. So far in the new year, things are headed in the right direction.

Lenders made 741 mortgages in January, up from 681 in January 2017. The average mortgage amount last month was just shy of $180,000, up from $165,990 in January 2017.

“Mortgage rates have been rising for several weeks,” said Financial Federal Bank senior vice president Judson Williford. “Due to this, we’ve seen increased mortgage activity with borrowers wanting to lock in rates.

“Sales are still up. We’re very busy, and it’s still a competitive market across Memphis. There’s a limited market supply of real estate. Sellers are seeing multiple offers, which is both increasing prices and causing buyers to need to act quickly.”

The January numbers get things started up again on a similar track to the improvement seen in the fourth quarter. The Chandler numbers showed purchase volume from October through December 2017 surpassing $494 million, up from $486.9 million during the same period in 2016.

Helping underpin continued strength in the housing market both here and beyond Memphis are factors that include a robust job market. Indeed, the national unemployment rate at the beginning of the month sat at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, with some economist speculating it could fall further still.

Developers locally also are scrambling to build new housing stock anywhere they can. The upcoming Land Use Control Board meeting set for March 3, for example, is packed with residential infill projects like Philip Woodard’s proposed 30-lot subdivision in the South Main Historic Arts District.