from June 25, 2004
ORLANDO — First Horizon Home Loans is looking to take advantage of downtown Orlando’s condominium craze.
The Dallas-based mortgage company is teaming up with The Vue at Lake Eola, the 35-story, 384-unit condo tower proposed for the southwest corner of Rosalind Avenue and Robinson Street, to provide mortgage loans for the project’s buyers.
For the company, it’s a way to position itself as the preferred lender for Orlando condo buyers in an effort to expand business locally and statewide, according to principal Rob Nunziata.
“One way to help First Horizon grow in Florida is by offering special financing products that are available for condos,” says Nunziata. “We currently are in negotiations with other condo developers to strike similar deals.”
First Horizon officially came to Orlando late last year, when it bought 25-year-old American Heritage Mortgage in Longwood. Prior to that, the company had a small commercial support office in Maitland.
The two offices merged and moved downtown last December.
At the same time, First Horizon was eyeing market share growth across the state. In February, it opened an office in Stuart. Now, plans are in the works for offices in Daytona and Jacksonville.
The condo focus is the first step in that growth, says Nunziata.
That may be fortuitous timing for the company: More than a half-dozen new downtown condo projects have been announced in the last year, including 55 West, The Plaza, The Sanctuary, The Vue, Eola South, The Jackson, The Plaza at Orlando Lutheran Towers, The Wellsley, Star Tower Condominiums, The Ivanhoe and North Orange Avenue Condos.
That’s more than 1,500 new condos in the pipeline.
Moreover, condo conversions also are hot.
Downtown Orlando’s most successful conversion project — The Metropolitan at Lake Eola — had more than 1,000 people on its waiting list and sold out in less than a week. Another condo conversion project, dubbed La Costa Brava, sold half of its 194 units in just five weeks.
Plus, earlier this month, Echelon at Cheney Place was bought for $36.5 million by Cheney Place II LLC, an investment group led by Chicago developer Robert Forloine.
The plan: Convert its 303 apartment units to condos.
According to mortgage industry experts, First Horizon’s focus and its partnership with The Vue are not uncommon.
“It’s a vertical expertise,” says Betty Harbort, senior vice president of Coldwell Banker/The Condo Store in Atlanta. “A lot of developers will have preferred lenders on-site that pre-approve projects before they are even built.”
She says that’s because developers and builders like to have lenders they trust to send business to, and it allows them more control over the transaction.
In the case of condos, it also allows builders and developers to more easily provide financing options for their product.
Another option First Horizon brings to The Vue is that it is among only a few mortgage companies qualified to help condo buyers get approved for Fannie Mae loans.
That’s something new, Nunziata says. Before, he says, if a project was half finished and it stopped, it decreased the value of the project and the condos that were already built.