April 4th, 2018

Financial products and services are integral to HDF’s business as we provide mortgage services and downpayment and closing cost assistance to first time homebuyers. But how it’s like from our staff’s perspective? HDF’s Director of Residential Lending, Kelly Almanzar, is with us today sharing his experiences working in the financial service industry and at HDF.

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

I support a lot of different people at HDF as they are doing their deals, and our partners. I’m constantly responding to emails from banks and counseling agencies which we do trainings for.  I also interact with a lot of government agencies, such as the Department of Housing in CT, the CT Department of Banking, Department of Financial Services in New York, and NeighborWorks America. A typical day means that I’m dealing with maybe three or four different entities.

We are a lender and we have to follow protocols and procedures. We still get audited, and we need to do reports for department of banks in Connecticut and Department of Financial Services in New York. Although we are not a bank and are not regulated by them, they do watch us and make sure that we are in compliance as a lending institution.

How did you come to work in the financial services industry?

When I first broke into it, I was a loan originator.  There was something called a refinance boom here in the US at the time, and there was a huge need in the marketplace for refinancing. Before coming into banking, I was a salesperson. I’ve also done other industries like technology. I was 23 at the time and still tried to discover what I wanted to do. I did it and I liked it. I started working in the division that dealt with first time homebuyers who were low and moderate income. It comes full circle!

When the economy and the real estate industry got so bad, about 60% of the people that I have worked with made decisions to leave the industry. I stayed. You know, it was tough because people’s income was cut two-thirds. It was that bad. Remember, when you work as a loan originator, you are commission based, meaning that if you close a loan, you get paid, and if you don’t close a loan, you don’t get paid. So that’s why a lot of people left. If you read about the history of the great recession, you will know that there is a credit freeze even after the recession ends. No one was able to get credit for a very long time. So if you look at it from a loan originator’s standpoint, I have a borrower in front of me but I can’t get them a loan so I can’t get paid.

What made you stay in the real estate industry during the recession?

I liked what I was doing. And I was lucky. I said I was lucky because a lot of people that I have worked with prior to the recession have set their life up with the income that they were making before. I know people who bought a million dollar house and drive a BMW car with $1,000 lease payment per month! So if you are making a good six-digit income, and now your income got cut to a third and your expenses were not in line with that, there is no way that you could survive. I never thought the high income would last forever. I’ve never got an expense that would be hard to live with less money. You have to look a bit in the future. If you want to take a lesson from it, it’s having a foresight and not taking for granted that what’s happening in our industry today or what’s happening in the United States today is going to last forever. Things change. Look at the political landscape in the US three years ago and that’s going on today – it’s very different.

From there how did you come to work at HDF?

After being a loan originator for 6-7 years, I became a lending manager.  I moved up the ranks basically. I always liked lending – it just makes a lot of sense to me. The basic principle of risk versus reward is what lending really is! I just like the whole concept of it. I’m going to lend you this much and I am going to expect this much back. I lend to you at these terms because you are not risky or because you are risky. I also believe in homeownership. I believe that it’s one of the easiest pathway to increasing your net wealth.

From there, I moved on to a community bank in New York City and I became a national product manager. I handled all their products – personal loans, home loans, credit cards, and lines of credits. It was a much higher macro-level position. I dealt with credit policies, pricing, cost of funds, underwriting guidelines, as well as promotional and marketing schemes. Here at HDF, I’m dealing with loan originators and with the loans themselves. I came back to do this because I feel more a part of the business. As a product manager you’re not dealing with the customers. You are not seeing your impacts as much because you dealt more with the bank internally rather than clients. Coming from a sales background, I still enjoy being on the ground level dealing with people.

Could you tell us about a rewarding experience from working at HDF?

Every loan that we close. I really believe that homeownership is a pathway to increase your net wealth. Every loan that we closed is a success to me.

Could you name one person at HDF that you really enjoy working with especially people outside of your immediate working team?

Debbie, the director of Homebuyer Development. Although we are quite different, we complement each other. We are in different departments but we really rely on each other. All my loans come from her department. She and her counsellors trust us that we will do the right things when clients submit a loan. Because of that, we have a close relationship and I enjoy working with her.

What are your work goals over the next two years or what do you want HDF to become?

I want to see HDF expanding. We are on the right track right now. I think my main goal is to see HDF becomes a much bigger player in the first mortgage market.  I think it’s also good for our staff in terms of career path. It will give them new experience and it will also be a path to self-sustainability here at HDF.

What do you do during your free time?

Everybody knows my hobby (laughing). I love motorcycles. I got into them when I was about 16-17 years old. My brother bought a motorcycle and made a deal with my mom that he could buy this motorcycle only if he didn’t teach me because I was a hard heavy kid and driving a motorcycle was dangerous. So I made a copy of my brother’s key and took the bike out whenever they weren’t home. I learned to drive little by little by myself. From there, it has been a part of my family. My brother has been riding a motorcycle for 25 years. My other brother rides as well. I enjoy riding it because it gives me the opportunity to clear my head. One thing about motorcycles is that you are kind of own your own – it’s just you and the road. I also like the opportunity to explore different places. I just did a trip from San Francisco and rode my bike to LA, San Diego and Mexico. It was a great trip. I rode down the Pacific Coast Highway right next to the coast for 300 miles. The scenery was very beautiful and it gave me an opportunity for a quick escape.

Another thing about me that most people don’t know is that I’m an avid runner. I like to run a lot in the park. I started running about 10 years ago and I have been keeping up with it. I don’t like running in the gym unless it’s during the winter. I get all my frustrations out from running.

What do you think of the idea that “I have kids so I don’t have the time to do what I love”?

You have to make compromises. Here are sacrifices that I had to make. For example, when my children were little, I didn’t ride my motorcycle for years. I didn’t have time and it was too dangerous. Now that my kids got older, I have an opportunity to come back to it. There are certain things that you need to sacrifice during a particular time. But another part is that you need to try to make time for yourself! As focused you could be with work or as a parent, you cannot forget that you are still a human being. You see yourself in a different way. I’m a father, a son to my parents, a brother to my brother, a boss here, a friend – you end up playing a lot of different role in your life and you cannot forget the role of you being an independent person. Just like anything else, make a priority for it. If you make a priority for your children, and if you make a priority for your spouse, then you also need to make a priority for yourself.

If you have unlimited time and money to do whatever you want, what would you do?

I would ride around the world. People have done it actually. I’d love to go to South America like Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, and China too. I would probably leave for a year and be on the road somewhere. When I travel, I’m not big on touristy stuff. I’m interested in local stuff. When I was on the west coast seeing the Hollywood, it was the least enjoyable thing in my whole trip. I’d rather go to a local spot and see how people actually live. When I went to Jamaica, I saw most people staying on expensive resorts, but I got a cab driver and had him drive me around the island. It was so much fun.



Thanks Kelly for an insightful interview!