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Branch System Shutting Down

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A Florida mortgage company that at one time topped the list of fastest growing mortgage companies, operated nearly 300 branches and employed nearly 1,000 people, will close its doors on New Year’s Eve.

Family First Mortgage Corp. will be “ending operations on Dec. 31,” according to a somber message posted on the company’s Web site.

But the company plans to retool, drop its branch network operation and return in late 2008 as a direct lender.

“While the industry is ailing as everybody is experiencing and our business has slowed, we are certainly not dead,” CEO and Vice President Glen Hill said in an interview. “This is a tough time for the whole industry. Our plan is to abandon warehouse lines and go directly to the consumer through loan officers that will report directly to us.”

The company’s loan volume totaled about $1.3 billion in 2006, according to Hill.

In the fall of 2005, Inc Magazine ranked the company as one of the fastest 300 growing privately held companies in the nation, with a growth rate of 446 percent. In 2004, Family First topped Inc.’s list of the country’s fastest growing companies when it reportedly had 541 employees in 211 branches covering 30 states with 2003 revenue of $24.1 million.

Hoover’s, a business tracking service, reported that Family First had as many as 941 employees earlier this year and sales revenue of $43.3 million.

The company, a former advertiser with MortgageDaily.com, had reported on its Web site that it worked with a network of more than 450 lenders.

“Family First has been my life and my family’s life since 1979 so you can understand the difficulty in coming to this decision,” Hill wrote in the Web site mesage. “More importantly, however, we are greatly saddened by the affect this has on our loyal and hard-working employees.”

In the letter Hill promised to help employees find new jobs and opportunities in the industry.

But some employees apparently learned they were fired via a recorded phone message.

“If you’ve been directed to this voicemail box your employment with Family First Mortgage Corp. has been officially terminated effective immediately,” the message said.

Hill said the company — based in Palm Coast, Fla., — is operating with a “limited staff at the corporate office” and will not be answering phones, just checking voicemail and returning messages. The company pledged to work with borrowers with loans in the pipeline that will not close by Dec. 31.

Family First was founded in 1979 as a home builder. It began offering mortgage loans and, by the mid-1980s, was out of the building business and concentrating just on lending. Family First was licensed in 34 states.

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