Surviving and Thriving During Hard Times
Reaching Out to New Markets
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
President and CEO
Company: First Housing
Revenue: $6 million in 2007; $5.5 million projected for 2008
Description: Mortgage banking firm specializing in multifamily affordable housing, lending money to apartment developers through partner banks. The company also works with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on federal programs and financing, and works as a consulting firm for the state of Florida.
Biggest economic challenge: A virtual shutdown of credit markets. “All of the work we do through the FHA program is sold through issuance of Ginnie Mae securities, and that market has been very volatile, just like the other financial markets,” McCree says. “At best, it has raised the lending rates. Sometimes it hasn’t been open and you couldn’t get anyone to buy the securities. It scared some people away.”
Other challenges: A boom in single-family housing construction has left a glut of unoccupied homes on the market. Some renters are filling these, while other renters who have hit hard times are moving back in with family to preserve cash. The upshot: Traditional rental communities aren’t as easily able to fill their properties.
Challenge for 2009: “We’re predicting another very tough year,” McCree says. First Housing hasn’t laid off people, and that’s something he doesn’t want to consider. “In general, profitability is down, but we are monitoring expenses and staff levels. As people leave, we’re re-evaluating whether we can pick up that work through existing staff. We’re also looking to expand business relationships outside of our existing customer base, branching out into neighboring states.”
Survival secrets: Marketing the firm’s consulting experience to organizations that are not in its normal customer base. For instance, about 95% of the firm’s business is within Florida, but First Housing is now approaching other Gulf Coast states that receive federal aid for disaster relief and are not as in tune with government regulations. The firm also is considering providing construction financing and even getting into the property rental business by taking advantage of the depreciated market and acquiring apartment complexes and single-family homes.
Advice for other business owners: “Think outside the box as to who might benefit from your services. Market your expertise or product to that new end user,” McCree says. “It’s one of those things where it might not be as profitable, but it keeps the lights on and it keeps the employees in your shop and positions you to be ready to execute when the market does turn — and it will turn. We don’t want to lose our good talent.