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Bank of Little Rock Mortgage Leads Local Market
Arkansas Business article by George Waldon: Billions of Dollars Flow Through Arkansas Mortgage Lenders -- May 19, 2008

5/19/08  //  
Nearly a decade since its founding, Bank of Little Rock Mortgage Corp. has become a familiar face among the top tier of residential lenders in the Pulaski County market.

The wholly owned subsidiary of Bank of Little Rock even led the local residential market among mortgage companies during the past two years.

Scott McElmurry, executive vice president of Bank of Little Rock Mortgage, is pleasantly surprised at how 2008 has started.
"It's an ever-changing thing, but we're pretty pleased with 2008 so far," he said. "We're up 12 to 13 percent over last year, and I would've expected us to be down. The central Arkansas market is good."

McElmurry was part of a cadre from U.S. Mortgage Co. who helped launch Bank of Little Rock Mortgage in July 1998, a month after U.S. Mortgage closed. He has resisted the fast-track growth that led to the demise of U.S. Mortgage while avoiding a roller-coaster ride of up-and-down staffing that shadowed market conditions.

"We don't have to have a certain market share," McElmurry said nearly 10 years ago. "We're not out to be the biggest lender because we won't be able to provide the level of service we want. We're out to prove you can be the low-cost provider and give good service."

Bank of Little Rock Mortgage now has a staff of 30 after expanding its network during the past few years. The expansions include moving the Little Rock operations from the old U.S. Mortgage location into new quarters in 2005, opening a larger office in Benton and a Cabot office during 2006 and opening offices in Maumelle and Conway and a larger office in North Little Rock in 2007.

"For the longest time, we were real comfortable with what we were doing," McElmurry said. "But in talking with people we began to ask ourselves, 'Why should we be happy with where we are at?'

"In 2005, we put a plan together, and we've been following the plan. We developed a tagline: Real people. Real results. That kind of relates to service.

"From our perspective, there is no selling. It's about a relationship. We're in the role of an adviser."

For now, the company is content to keep its Bank of Little Rock moniker, but McElmurry can see a day coming when the company will need to adopt doing-business-as names to better reflect new markets.

"Our name hasn't held us back, but it hasn't helped us either," he said. "As far as expanding beyond central Arkansas goes, we don't have any definitive plans. We would like to explore that opportunity. We would look to expand with personnel rather than a location."

Bank of Little Rock Mortgage, with a total 2007 mortgage volume of $192.9 million, ranks No. 8 among mortgage lenders surveyed.

Arvest Mortgage Co. of Lowell originated $830.9 million worth of mortgage loans in Arkansas during 2007.

"Over the last five years, we've broken a billion dollars in originations," Bill Roehrenbeck, CEO and president of Arvest Mortgage, said of the firm's multistate operations. "We're continuing to see increased activity."

A dominant lender in northwest Arkansas with a growing statewide presence, Arvest carries a whopping $29.4 billion servicing portfolio of mortgages. Yeah, we double-checked it: billion.

A separate subsidiary, Central Mortgage Co., augments Arvest's overall mortgage operations by acquiring portfolios as well as providing national servicing chores.

Roehrenbeck said maintaining a large mortgage-servicing operation is part of the company's effort to retain and gain customers.

"It's a strong fundamental at Arvest to keep the customer," Roehrenbeck said. "The markets continue to be challenging, and we're seeing strong activity. We enjoy helping people achieve the dream of owning a home. It's exciting to be a part of that."

Arvest also is a leading player in the larger Arkansas River Valley markets, stretching from Fort Smith to Little Rock.

Roehrenbeck said January saw a pronounced increase in refinancing business as homeowners restructured debt and sought out new lenders.

"This year, doing business with local lenders seems to have gained importance," he said. "We have had a lot of new customers who have had issues with service, of being able to walk into a bank and talk with someone."

A new round of refinancing and migrating borrowers joins a market where mortgage demand and loan performance continue to do well.

"In our markets, loan performance really hasn't been an issue," Roehrenbeck said. "We continue to see the purchase money remain strong in the markets we service.

"We are seeing a swing from conventional loans to more FHA loans. With the contraction in the credit markets and tightening of loan requirements, FHA has picked up in volume."

Government-backed loans through the Federal Housing Administration require only a 3 percent down payment by borrowers with more flexible loan terms. That compares with a typical 5 percent down payment on conventional home loans.

While the venue for home loans has shifted somewhat in Arkansas, the market for 100 percent home loans has all but disappeared since late 2007.

Billions of Dollars Flow Through Arkansas Mortgage Lenders
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