When Peter Lansing launched Universal Lending Corp., mortgage rates were at 17.5 percent and the average home in the Denver area sold for $65,000.
A 30-year mortgage would have cost a borrower more than $1,000 a month. Fast-forward 30 years since Lansing, with $4,000 in his banking account (less than $10,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars) created what is now the oldest mortgage-banking firm in Denver with the same ownership. That $65,000-home would cost an estimated $192,000, and if rates were unchanged from 1981, monthly and principal and interest charges on a 30-year loan would be $2,815. At today’s current rate of 3.75 percent, the payment drops to $889.
Lansing never dreamed when he started Universal Lending that it would grow to be as big as it is today, closing more than $1 billion in loans annually. But he perhaps is even more surprised that rates are below 4 percent.
“To put this in perspective, when my parents bought their first home in Denver in 1952, they got a 3.75 percent interest rate with a half-percent origination fee, for a total of 4.25 percent,” Lansing said at the Renaissance Hotel, before he kicked off a day-long celebration of Universal Lending’s 30th anniversary. “So we are now back to 1952 rates. It really is back to the future.”
Back to the future was a theme that Lansing addressed repeatedly, as he addressed employees, friends and colleagues who filled a hotel meeting room at the hotel on Quebec Street, across from Stapleton. Coincidentally, it wasn’t planned, it was also the theme of the keynote speaker, Brian Chappelle, of the Potomac Partners think-tank in Washington, D.C.
It was a day to re-connect with old friends, some of whom had retired from Universal Lending, and even a few who now work for competitors, as well as honoring those who work at Universal Lending, and to provide a road map of where the mortgage industry is heading and how Lansing envisions Universal’s role over the next decade.
Slide shows of employees and old TV commercials – including one in which featured Don Knotts, best known as Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show – were periodically shown on screens, although Lansing didn’t know that he would be standing at the lectern three decades later, so confessed he did not take as many photographs in the early days as he should have.
“I feel like a bad mother for not taking a lot of photos,” early on, he said, to laughter.
During his tenure, he launched the nation’s first bridal registry for down payments, making it easier for newlyweds to buy a home. His research found that 67 percent of people getting married lived together before tying the knot, ” so they didn’t need a toaster. What they wanted to do was buy a house.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, of course. Bruce Bowler, Lansing’s partner for 14 years, noted that right after investing $500,000 on renovating their new headquarters buildings on East Evans Avenue, mortgage rates shot up to 10.5 percent from 8 percent, bringing lending activity to a standstill. He noted that when they had a group photo in front of the building, all of the 100-plus employees were wearing the requisite smiles, “except for Pete and me. We were the only ones not smiling.”
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, all of the employees were glued to the TV, as people were all across the country. After days of doing nothing watching the news, no work was being done. To motivate the troops, Lansing suggested that they donate a part of every commission to a fund, with the idea of raising $100,000 for New York City. But by January, with plans to give a six-figure check to the Red Cross, so much money had poured in that it had closed the fund. Instead, the Universal Lending Foundation was born, which has been since for help renovate and fix poor senior’s homes in Denver, as well as buying Christmas gifts for very sick kids at Children’s Hospital.
During the g0-g0 days of lending, Universal Lending avoided the short-term riches of selling subprime lending, as Lansing saw them as poison for consumers. By contrast, many of his competitors aggressively pushed them, but later collapsed, but not before helping to drive the economy to the brink of economic Armageddon.
And although the lending industry is increasingly one of the most regulated in the industry – neither Democrats nor Republicans want a repeat of the recent worst housing crash since the Great Depression, and lenders are easy targets for increased more rules, even if the intended outcome is questionable - Lansing remains optimistic.
“Complexity is our friend,” Lansing said. “I think the future is bright for the independent mortgage lender.”
Lansing, who turns 60 this year, has no intention of throwing in the towel.
“I’m having fun,” Lansing said. “I’m having fun as a mortgage lender. I’m having fun helping people achieve the American Dream of buying a home.”
Universal Lending is a sponsor of InsideRealEstateNews. InsideRealEstateNews would not exist without the backing and vision of Peter Lansing. Happy 30th, Universal Lending and congratulations Peter Lansing.