What are the odds of winning in a ravaged industry like mortgage lending, especially when you name your fledgling company after one of the biggest lenders to melt down in the Southeast?
For longtime banker and avid thoroughbred racehorse owner Jerry Campbell, that gambit has paid off like a glorious day at the track.
Since buying rights to the HomeBanc name out of bankruptcy court and raising $45 million in a public offering two years ago, Campbell's Tampa-based institution has been on a tear.
The new HomeBanc's assets have jumped 84 percent since January, from $100 million to $184 million, and the company is on track to pass the $200 million mark by year-end. This year, it opened two more bay area branches — in Westchase and Belleair Bluffs — giving the bank four branches in Tampa, one in Orlando and one in Sarasota.
Some of its growth, Campbell said, came courtesy of Wachovia Corp. customers who defected before that troubled megabank was absorbed into Wells Fargo. "There's an old expression that there's not an ill wind that doesn't blow someone something good," he said.
At 69, Campbell has spent more than 40 years in banking, much of it in Michigan where he built up Republic Bancorp into the second-biggest bank in Michigan ($6.5 billion in assets) before selling it and moving to one of his favorite getaways, Tampa. Campbell, who's commuted to and from the bay area for more than 25 years to stay at a Clearwater Beach condo and race horses at Tampa Bay Downs, recently sat down with the Times.
HomeBanc is described as a full-service bank. How much of your business is mortgage origination?
It's almost all mortgage origination. We're a conforming single-family mortgage lender. ... We deal with Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, the (Federal Housing Administration).
Is the mortgage climate improving, or is the recent rise in interest rates scaring away buyers?
The rise in interest rates a couple of weeks ago has already abated. Rates are still extremely low. We're seeing a lot of first-time home buyers, a lot of FHA properties and a lot of VA product. Eighty-two percent of our volume in the month of June were home purchases, not refinances.
June was by far the best month we've had all year. Our volume was up dramatically. We've got 21 loan officers in the Tampa market, and we're seeing a real building presence here. It's still not robust in the market, but it feels real good to us.
How are you growing when others are shrinking?
Others are growing, but a lot of people have pulled back in the past two years. They cut back their staff. They cut back their efforts. If you were underwriting mortgages in 2005 or 2006, you're probably underwater.
We have the advantage of timing (in entering the market). There's a great sale with (the price of homes) in the Tampa Bay market down 35 percent from where it was in 2005. It's really a great time to buy a house.
The old Atlanta-based HomeBanc was well-known in the region with $8 billion worth of loans when it entered bankruptcy. Has buying the name helped or hindered you?
I think it's helped. Most people in the market don't even know what happened to HomeBanc. They had some offices in Tampa and all of a sudden they closed. There wasn't a lot of publicity about it.
We think it's a great name, and it typifies the business we're in. In a couple of limited cases, people have called us for a payoff in their mortgage that they got five years ago from the old HomeBanc, and we've helped them track down where that mortgage went.
Are we on the path to financial recovery or do you see more upheaval ahead?
What's been happening in my opinion is there's no stimulus whatsoever. All this year, it's about billions and trillions going to stabilization. It's not, 'How do we get the economy going?' I've written everyone in Washington that I can think of that we need a mortgage plan that would stimulate the industry. We need a long-term low rate.
Take the (Troubled Asset Relief Program) money. I think in Florida only 15 banks in the whole state out of 425 banks got TARP money. It's not having a great impact in Florida or anywhere in the U.S. Almost all the TARP money has gone to the two coasts, and it's not working. It started out they were going to buy troubled assets, and now they switched to force-feeding capital.
I'm a giant critic of what's going on. We just hit a 26-year-high unemployment rate, and everyone is predicting that's going to go higher. And I'm very concerned there's no stimulus out there, and we're still sinking. No one has heard that thud that's called hitting the bottom.
Away from the banking world, how's the horse breeding and horse racing business going?
That's what brought us to Tampa in the first place. We've been racing at Tampa Bay Downs for 30 years now. We've had 25 horses there this year. Tampa Bay Downs is a wonderful spot; it reminds me of a giant fairgrounds.
You've had your share of winners at the Downs?
I guess we've won several hundred races. We had a horse called Above the Wind. He won those big stakes races in Tampa three different years in a row. ... We had a horse called Tricks of Glory. It went off as a high odds, and it won and actually paid $116 on a $2 bet to win and $5,700 on a $2 trifecta bet. You just need to do that once a day and you're happy.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8242.