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Q&A: A retired Roxanne Carr takes a look back

Roxanne Carr retired Jan. 1. She founded The Mortgage House in 1995.
Roxanne Carr retired Jan. 1. She founded The Mortgage House in 1995. jlynem@thetribunenews.com

By her own admission, Roxanne Carr has energy to spare.

Her drive to do everything “110 percent” has been a key ingredient in her success in the mortgage finance business, and it’s what will keep her going in retirement, she said.

With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, Carr opened a Central Coast branch for the then-ARCS Mortgage before co-founding The Mortgage House in 1995 with Ira Cohen, CEO of the company and a former boss at ARCS, and president Allen Satenberg, a mortgage banker.

Under Carr’s leadership, her division at The Mortgage House eventually grew to 35 employees from three. Today, there are 31 employees in two offices, and before the housing bubble burst, her division was generating $20 million to $30 million in loans every month.

Carr retired Jan. 1, handing her duties to Charlotte Storlie, who is vice president, Central Coast division manager.

While Carr plans to remain a senior adviser, she is ready to pursue a second act, one that includes writing, traveling, taking classes and spending time with family.

Carr, who raised five children and has six grandchildren, recently discussed the industry — and her role in it.

Q: What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

A: I would say my greatest came from the people I have worked with and been able to train and spend my business time with; and also the amazing clients I have had. I would also add that I am very proud I was able to bring mortgage banking to the Central Coast so many years ago, offering a full range of mortgage products.

Q: Anything that you wished you could have accomplished?

A: I would like to have set up more partnerships, for example, with the local banks on reverse mortgages. And I wish I could have had more time to do more writing about mortgages, beyond my “Ask Roxanne” short columns. At times, I wish that I had opened one or two really large offices instead of moving from small ones so many times as we grew.

Q: Are there any client stories that stand out?

A: I remember a couple, both engineers newly out of college. I sat with them for two hours during an application interview. They wanted to read every word of the deed of trust. They took it home and read every word. I learned right then and there how to treat engineers. Another situation was when I had two professional women come to get a mortgage (in the late 1970s). They were partners, and they were buying a house. They were extremely qualified. Back then, you had to submit the loan to Fannie Mae for approval. They rejected it. They wouldn’t count both incomes and both people’s assets. They did it because they weren’t married. I even went to Fannie Mae and argued it. They lowered their expectations and bought a much cheaper house.

Q: How was your business affected by the bursting of the housing bubble?

A: At first new business dropped off dramatically ... probably 60 percent to 70 percent. After the after-shocks settled down, we ended up being one of the only small mortgage banking firms left, I think, and business picked up substantially. It is still not as busy as it was when we were funding $25 million to $30 million a month, but we continue to be strong.

Q: What were the keys to your success during the economic downturn?

A: Our firm reacted very quickly to the disastrous turn of events. I consolidated all offices into two, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria, and everyone on my team agreed to take a 20 percent pay cut across the board. We didn’t have to lay anyone off and were able to continue business until things started to turn around.

Q: What changes have you experienced as a result of what happened to the housing market?

A: The most difficult part of the downturn has been the changes in loan programs and lending guidelines and restrictions. Instead of just going back to the solid, good lending principles and practices of the 1980s, the pendulum has swung too far, in my view. Investors are scared; they have taken huge losses, but it is mostly due to the lack of good sense in underwriting guidelines and qualifications.

Q: What is your forecast for the industry?

A: I hope we see some sense come back into underwriting mortgage qualifications. For a long time, we were on a dream path of less paperwork, now instead it has increased five-fold. I feel very optimistic overall, even though I also think we have some hard times yet to endure. We are fortunate to live on the Central Coast, which, to me, is somewhat insulated from the worst of it because of all the good things about it — its climate, beauty, and its people. Sales here have been increasing steadily and although many are short sales and foreclosures, this diminishes the unsold inventory to allow for more sales in new construction and resale. Interest rates are incredible, at another all-time low.

Q: You have talked about being in abusive relationships. In what way did overcoming personal adversity help make you successful in business?

A: In those days, you were taught to be the compliant wife, letting the husband lead the way, and I was unfortunate enough to have two very abusive husbands. At home, I had no self-respect, but when I got to the office, I was a different person. It was my life’s blood that saved me. There I could be myself, and the people around me respected me and admired me. Somehow, it gave me more strength for business than maybe I could have had without it.

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