Marketplace Scratch Pad

Eye of the beholder

Scott Jagow Feb 16, 2010

I’m always amazed at how two people can go through very similar experiences and come out the other side with completely opposite viewpoints. Take, for example, the story on NPR this morning about two people who were mortgage brokers during the housing boom and bust.

Curt Nickisch reports from Boston on former mortgage brokers Laurie Souza and Craig Good. Souza says:

…it’s not fair to blame brokers for the housing mess. She says homebuyers were either fraudulent or lazy.

“I wish some of these borrowers would be held responsible,” Souza says. “I don’t feel bad for those people. I’m sorry, I don’t. You bought the biggest thing in your life and you had all this time to understand it, and you didn’t! You know, how is that our fault?”

But the other broker, Craig Good, sees it very differently:

“I was greedy,” Good remembers. “Boy, I was greedy. And when I came to that conclusion — you know what? — it wasn’t awesome.”

Good says he served as a matchmaker, a conduit between aggressive lenders and risky borrowers, because that’s where the money was. He says he did help deserving people get into homes. But Good feels remorse for his part in what he calls the obesity of the time.

Good used to pull in up to $400,000 a year. Now he makes a fraction of that running a fruit stand. More from the story:

… unlike the mortgage business, what he’s doing now makes people happy each day, he says. Before, if someone complained, it’s not like he could redo a mortgage. But now, he can hand out another mango. Good says he’d rather teach his son the fruit business than the mortgage business.

Souza, on the other hand, is selling — wait for it — gold. Her new company, Gold to Green, organizes “gold parties” where friends and neighbors sell unwanted jewelry. She has hired 20 employees, many of them former mortgage brokers:

“We’re basically riding a gold bubble that came after a housing bubble,” Souza says, “and when this is done, I have no idea what’s going to be next. But I’m riding the wave.”

Souza used to ride the subprime wave as a mortgage wholesale representative. She was good at it, and she made a good living — $800,000 in her best year during the housing boom.

“I miss it,” she says.

Both Souza and Good say they would go back into the mortgage business if the housing market recovers. But they see that differently too:

Good says he would do it differently. Souza says she’s afraid that with the new rules and regulations that have made the business more cumbersome and costly, it won’t ever be like it used to be.

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