Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) has long been one of the top automobile lenders in the area, but a drive launched in 2017 to diversity its loan portfolio with more home loans has helped Chattanooga’s biggest credit union also to become the region’s biggest mortgage lender.
TVFCU surpassed America’s biggest retail home lender, Rocket Mortgage, for the first time last year to emerge as the biggest home lender in the Chattanooga area. Across its 13-county footprint in the Chattanooga region, TVFCU made a total of 1,947 residential and home equity loans during 2022 with an average loan amount of $163,983.
“About six years ago we decided that we were going to drive to be the No. 1 mortgage lender in the market and we began upgrading our technology, our staff and our marketing to grow this line of business,” TVFCU President Todd Fortner said in an interview last week. “We wanted to diversify beyond our automotive lending and we knew there was an opportunity in the real estate mortgage lending business to pursue.”
When the credit union began to devote more resources and attention on making mortgage loans, TVFCU trained and focused nine lenders on home mortgage lending all the time. Previously, credit union regional heads and other vice presidents and lenders made home loans along with other car loans, personal loans and commercial loans at most TVFCU branches.
TVFCU also hired Cynthia Blackwell as a mortgage marketing specialist to help promote the credit union’s home lending options to real estate agents, home builders and home buyers.
The credit union has grown its mortgage lending volume in recent years as both the number of home sales and the prices of houses have grown in the Chattanooga market. Despite a drop in closed home sales last year of more than 10% from the prior year, the total number of homes sold by Chattanooga Realtors last year was still more than twice what it was a decade ago after a decade of consecutive yearly sales gains from 2011 through 2021 prior to last year’s drop. In the same period, the median home price of single-family homes sold through the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors multiple listing service has doubled from $137,000 in 2012 to $264,500 last year.
Eric Weekley, vice president of real estate for TVFCU who joined the Chattanooga-based credit union four years ago, said Chattanooga home prices are still well below the $315,000 median price in Knoxville or the $341,700 median price in Nashville and remain about 10% below the U.S. median price. With a lower cost of living and a growing economy, Chattanooga is attracting new residents into the area.
“Taxes and the cost of living in the Tennessee Valley are lower than most other regions in the country,” Weekley said in an interview at TVFCU’s corporate headquarters in downtown Chattanooga where the mortgage division does much of its work. “Home prices in the Chattanooga metropolitan area are very competitive as well, and our region’s vibrant culture, outdoor opportunities, small business-oriented mindset and other features are enticing for many people looking to relocate.”
According to Realtor.com’s 2023 Top Housing Markets forecast, Chattanooga is poised to have the ninth-strongest housing market in the U.S. this year.
Weekley acknowledged that rising home prices and interest rates pushed up by the Federal Reserve Board’s tightening of its monetary policy have combined to make houses less affordable in Chattanooga than they once were.
“Affordability is certainly becoming more of a challenge and home buyers who may have once qualified for a $300,000 or a $400,000 loan are not qualifying for only a $200,000 or $300,000 loan,” Weekly said.
As 30-year conventional mortgage rates doubled last year to more than 7% last fall, TVFCU has begun offering more discounted adjustable rate mortgages still priced below 5% to help more people get a home loan and buy a house. Although the rates on adjustable rate mortgages may increase in the future when they are readjusted, the interest rate market may be more favorable in the future or home appreciation may help to offset higher rates in the future by allowing home borrowers to renegotiate the terms of their mortgages.
“We have a strong balance sheet and loan portfolio so we have been able to offer lower cost options to benefit many home buyers,” Fortner said, noting that the credit union both books some of its home loans on its own balance sheet and sells others in the secondary mortgage market. “The credit union industry’s philosophy of ‘people helping people’ applies perfectly as we help community members attain home ownership as affordably as possible.”
Unlike most lenders, TVFCU pays for home appraisals on most of its mortgages, rather than forcing the homeowner to make such assessments when the consumer wants to borrow against their house. The typical home appraisal costs between $325 and $450, according to the online residential website HomeAdvisor.
“The Tennessee Valley is a very affordable place to live, and at TVFCU our adjustable-rate mortgages are unbeatable in the area,” Weekley said. “We have a variety of other competitive loan options as well, and the credit union is currently paying for the required appraisals on behalf of applicants, saving consumers hundreds of dollars.”
Founded in 1936 in Chattanooga,TVFCU has grown its assets to nearly $2.5 billion and is now the 5th biggest credit union in Tennessee. The Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) expanded its field of membership from 13 to 17 counties in the Chattanooga region last year, adding Chattooga, Gordon, Murray and Whitfield counties in North Georgia.
BIGGEST MORTGAGE LENDERS IN THE CHATTANOOGA REGION
1. Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union, 1,947 home loans with a total value of $319.3 million
2. Rocket Mortgage, 1,465 home loans with a total value of $315.6 million
3. Regions Bank, 1,109 home loans with a total value of $162.5 million
4. FirstBank, 875 home loans with a total value of $248.5 million
5. Citizens Tri-County Bank, 846 home loans with a. total value of $168.8 million
6. Movement Mortgage, 769 home loans with a total value of $215.7 million
7. Truist Bank, 699 home loans with a total value of $128.3 million
8. Pinnacle Bank, 672 home loans with a total value of $260.2 million
9. Mortgage Investors Group, 602 home loans with a total value of $149.4 million
10. Caliber Home Loans, 555 home loans with a total value of $137.9 million
Sources: Property records from Hamilton, Bradley, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in Georgia.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.