If you're looking for a $500,000 home loan, have a 25 percent down payment in hand and a stellar credit rating, most mortgage lenders — including Roy Sperr, founder of Equity Source Mortgage in Rogers — likely will be happy to work with you.
What Sperr said sets him apart, however, is that he might be more interested in your business if another institution has turned you down because of credit challenges, mounting debt or an upside-down mortgage.
Working with consumers who have gotten rejected elsewhere has become a specialty at Equity Source Mortgage since 2008, as the housing market crash hit both homeowners and the mortgage lending industry, Sperr said. Most Equity Source customers are well-qualified borrowers, many of them return customers or referrals.
But Sperr said he will take time — sometimes years, without charge — to figure out why consumers get told no, in some cases incorrectly. He may offer advice on improving a credit score or help find government programs that enable those with negative equity stay in their homes, staying in touch with the consumer month after month until those who can qualify for a loan are able to secure one.
"I'm a sucker for human beings," Sperr said. "I'm not just going to turn somebody down because I don't have time. That's not fair. It might be a legitimate 'no,' but they need to know why and how to fix it, how to turn a 'no' into a 'yes.' "
Sperr's focus in launching Equity Source Mortgage in 2000 was offering a high level of service, building long-term customer relationships and making the home loan process more transparent. He believed he could offer better service while operating more efficiently based on his experience as a real estate appraiser and a mortgage-lending officer at other brokerages.
Equity Source Mortgage grew exponentially as the housing market boomed, Sperr said. At its peak in 2004, the company had 20 employees and originated more than $200 million in residential financing. But the business became more transaction-based, with little time to get to know people.
The crash, Sperr said, was a "godsend" and a "great awakening.'' As loan volume plummeted, the company downsized, sold its building and moved three times to stay in business. Emerging from the market meltdown, Sperr returned to the core values on which he had founded the company and developed his niche of working with customers who were having difficulty getting loans.
Equity Source Mortgage now has four employees, including Vice President Shawn Hunter, an industry veteran who is the only employee besides Sperr who originates loans for the company. Sperr said the company originated $27 million in residential financing last year, an increase of nearly 60 percent from 2011. He's projecting more than $30 million in loans this year, and plans to grow cautiously. He has capacity to do additional business without hiring.
"There is a customer service [opportunity] for a small company," Sperr said. "I can move fast, I don't have the overhead, I don't require the same margins. Most importantly, I can stay with the customer from the application all the way to the closing table. They appreciate that immensely."
Sperr attributed his outlook to his upbringing, growing up on a farm and understanding the feeling of "wanting something but someone's telling you no."
"The law says everyone is entitled to equal credit," Sperr said. "I don't feel I'm doing my job if I don't give them just that, an equal opportunity to obtain credit. Will I make a little less money? I will. But that's the reason that we have this niche."
Sandi Arvin said she and her husband, Chuck, worked with Equity Source Mortgage for almost two years to improve their credit score before they qualified for a loan and closed on a home in Maplewood. Hunter, the company's vice president, checked in at least monthly.
"They will help you every step of the way; they're a partner through the whole process," Sandi Arvin said. "Anytime I had a question, [Hunter] would answer it, knowing he hadn't gotten a dime for all the work. I got some advice on bringing up the score and it was clear and easy to follow. We love the house."
The expert says: Herb Tousley, director of the master's in real estate program and adjunct faculty member in the finance department at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said he believes there's a definite market for Sperr's niche. (Sperr has a mini-MBA in real estate from St. Thomas.)
While model borrowers are easy to finance, Tousley said he wasn't aware of others pursuing a similar niche.
"There's a lot of people that got hurt by the recession," Tousley said. "I haven't seen anybody that's willing to spend the time, even over a long period, to help them, like he said, get from a no to a yes.''
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org