When Steve Furlong and his childhood chums played Monopoly, he always wanted to be the banker. So it's only natural that Furlong is now a mortgage specialist with Twin Cities-based Mortgages Unlimited Inc. and the 2018 president of St. Louis Park-based Minnesota Mortgage Association.
With mortgage rates expected to rise and technology rapidly changing the way the industry functions, it promises to be a challenging year for the MMA, which "aims to promote unity, strength and ethics in the mortgage industry." To help do that, Furlong and the association host monthly breakfast meetings on various housing and industry related topics, with speakers from Fannie Mae, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, U.S. Congress members and industry leaders.
Q: How did you get into the business?
A: An uncle's business partner's brother was a recruiter in 2003. He saw me roofing a house and asked if I had a college degree. I said "yes" and he said "I have something better for you." Serendipity, is what I call it.
Q: What was your first job in the industry?
A: I started with a national call center that had about 300 loan officers. Out of the 300 loan officers, I was in the top 10 every month for a couple of years until they closed. Then 2007 came along and everything hit the fan. The company closed and some of us moved to a brokerage in Edina. Then that closed and I found my way to Mortgages Unlimited in 2009 as a loan officer.
Q: Is this what you dreamed of when you were handling money during those Monopoly games?
A: It's not an industry most people think about. If you survey 1,000 college kids, maybe one of them would say "I've thought about joining the mortgage industry."
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Bloomington-based Furly Management LLC manages rental properties I own. Bloomington Redevelopment is my side business. We are building twin homes in Bloomington. We find sites where the old housing is dilapidated and tear it down and convert these large lots into more efficient use of the land. These are built-to-sell or spec homes.
Q: What's on your MMA to-do list this year?
A: Connecting our association to the Realtors associations. Since lenders and Realtors work together on an individual basis every day, it only makes sense that our associations are connected, as well. We had our first joint event in January, it was called CONNECT, and we had education for Realtors and loan officers with a technology focus and roundtables. I see technology continuing to be a key component to the mortgage industry, which provides an enhanced experience for home buyers and borrowers. Working side by side with our colleagues in the Realtor associations is also important.
Q: What's your plan for tackling all the new technology that's sweeping through the industry?
A: We know the tools are available even to the single person brokerage to automate, so we've been working with Fannie and Freddie to bring info technology to our members. We've created a tech task force to bring knowledge to the forefront to our members.
Q: What's the most exciting technological innovation?
A: It's nearly possible at this point to get approved and complete the entire underwriting process by submitting your photo ID. Fannie says about 15 percent of all borrowers are eligible for this platform they call Day 1 Certainty. It's an automated process that collects info about you for the underwriting process. It can retrieve your income and asset info and use it to underwrite your file. I'm trying to help the industry with adoption and to bring those tools and information resources back to Minnesota. Technology is often used in the larger markets; we're raising our hands and saying "Fannie and Freddie, come here."
Q: Are you worried about higher mortgage rates?
A: There is a good amount of upward pressure on rates. The economy is doing really well, unemployment is really low and the Fed is talking about raising the target rate two more times this year. There's a lot of TARP money still in circulation, so inflation is still a fear. Upward pressure on rates will be felt across all borrowing sectors, but no one knows what tomorrow will bring.
Q: So what's your prediction for how much higher rates will be by the end of year?
A: Higher than they are today, but not a lot. I'd say a half-percent higher.