April 16, 2018

Today, we chatted with Myriam Mena-Polk, HDF’s Senior Underwriter and one of our long-time employees. Myriam has been working for HDF for 11 years and has witnessed HDF growing from a small office in Stamford, CT to an impactful organization in the affordable housing industry in Connecticut. Let’s hear from Myriam how her work experiences were like!

What’s a typical day like for you at HDF?

I underwrite loans that come through our pipelines. We have 2 underwriters at HDF currently – Jackie and I.

How did you come to work at HDF and the mortgage industry?

I started at People’s United Bank, and I worked there for 8 years. I had various positions there, but my last position was in commercial lending. I did a lot of processing for the commercial loans. I wanted to try something different other than working in the corporate world. I was at the point of my life where I was looking for something else to do and I was highly interested in residential lending. In my early twenties, I  purchased my first home. I didn’t have any knowledge about homebuying process. Unfortunately, I had a predatory lender. I went to a broker who totally took advantage of us.  Going through the homebuying process myself made me want to learn more about the whole lending process in real estate. My realtor and I talked a lot, so I started to develop an interest in it. When HDF had a job opening, I applied. I started working at HDF about 11 years ago as an underwriter and closer.

You mentioned that you bought your home when you were 23. What are the pros and cons of buying a home at a young age?

At that time, I had just had my daughter, so I wanted to provide a stable home for my kids to grow up in. My husband and I rushed into buying a home without having any knowledge, and we also bought a foreclosed home, which have more issues. I wish I were one of the people who came to HDF for homebuyer education classes and counseling. I wish that I had known about HDF back then because I had no idea what I was getting into: the responsibilities as a homeowner, the costs, and how important it is to have savings, to know about home repairs, and to budget your finances carefully. I kind of went for it blindly, because when you’re young and don’t want to listen, you do it anyway. I learned a hard way, and it was a tough experience.  Because it was a predatory lending, my interest rate was outrageous. I dealt with it for a year and later was able to refinance.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to buy a house without preparation, education, and understanding of the process. You need to understand both your short-term and long-term goals from the purchase. When buying a house, you need to take into account both the bones and the cosmetics. Are the roof and the heating good?  Those are the things that matter as opposed to how pretty the house looks. With those understandings and knowledge, buying a house is then beneficial in the long run.

How has HDF changed since you started working here 11 years ago?

HDF has been evolving every year since I’ve been here. When I just started, everything was done manually on spreadsheets, and we all worked in a small office together in Stamford. We didn’t have the Encompass database and needed to do everything in paper files.  So seeing it developed to where it is today, it’s pretty amazing. SmartMove has always been a key product at HDF, and Live Where You Work Loans which were called Adopt-A-House loans.  We did a lot of projects with banks for new affordable real estate developments. At the time, we were very small department and limited. Since then, we now have a closing department, a Processor, and opened a new office in Bridgeport. Although I have been an underwriter for so many years, the role is constantly changing. Every year is different, and it’s not something redundant and stagnant. The process and the theory are the same, but there are always new loan products coming that require trainings. Rules and regulations also changed. Over the years, I had to study to get my NMLS license. And now we’re going to do something different again because we will soon do first mortgages. That will be a new learning experience for me, so I’m looking forward to it.

What do you like most about working at HDF?

What I like most about HDF is that, for everything that we have developed thus far, it’s the employees who have put their inputs. We are hands on – and that’s pretty cool. For most companies, the executives just made changes, and you’re just part of the change. At HDF, you’re the change. You’re the one creating suggestions and ideas on how we can do things better. You’re really involved with the growth of the company and your department. It’s a bottom-up management. I appreciate that our opinions matter.

Could you share a rewarding experience from working at HDF?

As an underwriter, my contact with clients is a bit limited, but throughout the years I’ve had situations where the clients called me to thank for helping them out. As you look at paperwork, you’re formatting a story. So it’s nice to see them from the beginning of the homebuying process till the end.

Could you name one person that you particularly enjoyed working with, especially outside your department?

I enjoy working with Debbie because I’m able to ask her questions and learning from her perspectives from the homebuyer counseling side. She’s also someone I look up to; she’s been a great mentor and friend for a long time.

What are your work goals in the next two years and what do you want to see HDF become?

My work goal is to continue to learn. I’m also excited about the first mortgages because it will be something totally different for me. I’d like us to continue to grow and to expand to different products and markets.

What do you do when you want to take a break from work or when you have free time?

Sometimes I walk around and bug my coworkers (laughing). I spend most of my free time outside of work with my family. My 21-year-old son is working, and my 19-year-old daughter is in college. My husband and I are enjoying the next chapter in our life.

Thanks Myriam for sharing her story with us!