Where the Mortgage Jobs Are Now

Where the Mortgage Jobs Are Now

If you’re one of the nearly 94,000 people working in mortgage finance who got laid off in the first eight months of 2008, don’t despair. There are opportunities for you both within the lending industry and outside it, experts say.

With Wall Street pulling out of the subprime and jumbo mortgage markets and dozens of mortgage banking firms declaring bankruptcy, thousands of people working on the production side of the business have lost their jobs or seen their commission-based incomes dry up.

In the overall finance sector, employers cut more than 153,000 jobs in 2007 and had cut nearly 103,000 more just eight months into 2008, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm.

The silver lining in the mortgage cloud is that even when 12,000 people get laid off in a single month, which is what happened at Countrywide Financial in September 2007, those jobs tend to be spread across the country, rather than concentrated in one market, Challenger says.

Look at Your Options

About 50 percent of the former bankers Challenger’s firm has assisted have changed industries for a new job. “A lot of people losing jobs are sales, customer service, administrators or processors, and their skills are transferable to other industries,” he says. “You can move into other sectors that are doing well, such as healthcare, business service sales or customer service.”

Other options include: small-balance commercial lending, community development lending, the burgeoning payday lending field, down-payment assistance companies and housing counseling.

Some recruiters are specifically targeting employees laid off by mortgage banks. The Fort Worth office of Pro Staff ran an advertisement on Monster saying, “Were you laid off from Countrywide Home Loans/Financial? Then we want to help you!”

Get an Inside Job

The best place to look for a nonproduction job is in your own company, since mortgage bankers are beefing up their loss mitigation, collections and servicing departments, says Roger Iris, executive vice president of staffing firm Workway in Burbank, California. “They’re taking people who understand the nuances of the mortgage industry and training them in those positions,” he says.

Huge opportunities exist in default administration and foreclosure management, says Jim Boghos, president of executive search firm Corporate Search America in Longwood, Florida. “Companies are looking for inside loan officers to rewrite and renegotiate the loan terms,” he says.

Got management experience? Your leadership is needed on the servicing side of the business. “There are very few people in the leadership talent pool who know how to staff, guide and drive loan counselors,” he says.

Processors and closers can shift into the commercial mortgage market, says Maureen McDermott, president of McDermott Advisors, a banking recruitment firm in Morris Plains, New Jersey. She recently placed a closer who had earned $45,000 a year doing residential loans in a commercial position paying $40,000. “It was more than a 10 percent reduction in salary, but at the same time, it’s $40,000 more than zero, and as a commercial closer, she won’t face this [layoff] again,” McDermott says.

Underwriters who do A paper are still in demand. If you’re a subprime underwriter, hang in there, McDermott advises. “There’s a refi boom around the corner,” she says. “The down cycles have gotten shorter.”

Benefiting from Experience

Most of the companies going under are mortgage bankers, but commercial banks continue to have access to capital. That was James Chidester’s target industry after he lost his account executive job in early August 2007. “I was very proactive,” he says. “I made as many phone calls as possible to people I knew and to banks. I went online to see who was hiring.”

By September 2007, he’d landed a job as an account executive for a major national bank that wants to add new correspondent brokers in Virginia. “It’s just like putting on a new shoe,” he explains. “I was always A paper and Alt-A, and they’re all A with a hint of Alt-A.”

One thing that helped Chidester was the fact that he had put away savings during the boom years. Two decades in the industry taught him that booms never last. For those who weren’t so foresighted, it could be two years of Top Ramen and Wal-Mart before the market returns to normal.