Something to Smile About

Irwin Mortgage has the Top 250's biggest sales gain, thanks to low interest rates and the refi boom

August, 2003

Two years ago, when Irwin Mortgage was featured in Hawaii Business‘ Top 250 issue for having the second-largest sales drop that year, Branch Manager Mark James was photographed grinning from ear to ear. “Real estate is a cyclical business, and I’m not going to let a couple of bad years bring me down,” says James. “But fortunately, this year I’ve really got something to smile about.” In 2002, Irwin Mortgage reported gross annual sales of $125 million, a 167.1 percent increase over 2001’s $46.8 million – making it the company with the biggest sales gain on this year’s list. Talk about a comeback.

“Our sales increase is basically all interest-rate driven. The rates have come down so far that people are refinancing at 6 [percent], which was a pretty good rate not so long ago. These rates are saving the typical homeowner who is refinancing, anywhere from $200 to $500 a month,” says James, who has spent the majority of his career in periods of double-digit interest rates. “These are really unprecedented rates, and as a matter of fact, they’re wearing people out. Loan officers, escrow people, surveyors, appraisers – they’re all tired. Activity is occurring at such a frantic pace that I think a lot of people in this industry wouldn’t mind a slight interest-rate increase to kind of take a breather.”

Biggest Sales Gain
Up 167%
Line of Business: Mortgage and real
estate bankers

2002 Top 250 Ranking: 146
2001 Sales: $46.8 million
2003 Top 250 Ranking: 53
2002 Sales: $125 million

All signs so far indicate that Irwin Mortgage, which caters to minorities, immigrants and first-time homebuyers, isn’t going to get a break anytime soon. James says the company is on track for another record year, and in just the first quarter of 2003, has already written the equivalent of nine months’ worth of mortgages in a “normal” year. He’s predicting at least a 25 percent increase in sales by year’s end. Furthermore, in July, the company opened a second office, in Waianae, to accommodate its increasing clientele on Oahu’s west side.

The good times can’t last forever, though, and James does expect things to flatten out in 2004. “It’s a very lucrative time to be in the mortgage business, but at some point it will end. That’s the nature of the business. So we’re keeping a close eye on our expenses. We’re not increasing staff, and we’re definitely not gonna go crazy and buy a Lear jet or anything,” says James. “We know this boom is temporary, and that eventually rates will go back up. And if things turn around and rates do rise, we’re going to be back where we were in 2001, very easily.” Either way, you can bet that James will still be showing off those pearly whites.

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