Home & Garden

Q&A with Ralph Taylor, First Choice Mortgage President

Taylor is president of First Choice Mortgage, which is headquartered in Columbia and operates 22 branches in four states. He has been in the mortgage business for more than 40 years.

What kind of mortgages have people been getting this year?

The government stimulus program and low interest rates have been driving sales of lower-priced homes.

"We've had a very, very strong purchase market in the homes from $100,000-$200,000. Anything over that, it's been real slow," Taylor said. "We also have done quite a few refinances because of the low rates."

Taylor said most new mortgages are through the Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Administration or Rural Development programs because they require little to no money down. Home buyers are having to put down at least 20 percent for traditional loans.

How is the mortgage industry faring?

"Our volume is up 30 percent over 2008," he said. "We had a great year. We've opened five new offices this year, mostly with people that had other mortgage companies that are struggling and wanted to join our company."

Taylor said First Choice underwrites, closes and funds its own loans and has been able to keep its credit lines despite a tightening credit market. "We were real fortunate."

Their variety also has kept them strong. Taylor said his company is the largest Rural Development lender in the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture program offers 100 percent financing to customers who buy in a rural area.

His company also does a lot of unique loans, such as the FHA's 203K loans that provide a mortgage based on the value of a house after renovations, allowing customers to purchase a home and have money in the bank to fix it up.

What will 2010 look like in the mortgage business?

"We should have a very, very strong market between now and April," Taylor said, as people continue to take advantage of the government's tax credits for first-time and existing home buyers.

The second half of the year might not be as strong, but it should be steady, he said.

"There's so many people coming back from the service that are doing VA loans that are going to need housing," he said. "South Carolina's got a lot of military. They're going to be eligible for 100 percent financing."

The credit market is still going to be tight with standards to get loans continuing to increase, he said. But that will help reduce the number of foreclosures and make people take their credit more seriously, he said.

"It's going to cause some people to not be able to buy," he said. "But at the same time, there's a lot of information to bring awareness to credit scores and how it affects people. The overall credit quality is going to keep increasing."