United Wholesale Mortgage looks ahead after strong start to the year

EVP and chief strategy officer hails company's performance, emphasizes importance of brokers

United Wholesale Mortgage looks ahead after strong start to the year

A strong earnings performance by United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM) in 2024’s first quarter showed that the mortgage giant is well placed to thrive in any market cycle, according to a top executive at the company.

Alex Elezaj (pictured), UWM’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer, told Mortgage Professional America that the company’s Q1 earnings – which included its highest-ever first-quarter purchase volume – marked further proof of its resilience and ability to flourish even in so-called down markets.

“We’re very excited about the first quarter and just the overall performance of our company,” he said. “We’ve been telling people for a long time: when rates are high, we’re going to do great and when rates are lower, we’re going to do great. So really, we win in all cycles, and I think that continues to prove itself out, quarter after quarter.”

UWM’s originations were up 23.8% year over year in the first three months of 2024, climbing to $27.6 billion, with purchase originations contributing to $22.1 billion of that total.

Results show continued borrower resilience, homebuying intent

For Elezaj, the results – particularly on the purchase side – reflected borrowers’ continuing determination to enter the housing market, even despite high mortgage rates and rising home prices.

He said mortgage brokers were poised for further success amid a robust, but challenging, home purchase market.

“I think when you’re in a purchase environment, there’s still going to be activity regardless. If rates are a little bit higher, people are still going to buy homes and move and do things,” he said. “So in a purchase environment that’s really when brokers win – because it’s a much more complex transaction than just the refinance.

“Even when they’re refinancing, but specifically when they’re purchasing homes, you have buyers’ or sellers’ title companies, you have a lot of different parties, and the independent mortgage broker is the best option for consumers all around. So I think when people are dealing more in the purchase market, the local market wins. Local brokers win in those markets all the time.”

Independent brokers, specifically, can give borrowers a crucial advantage when it comes to finding the most suitable product and rate in today’s unpredictable market, according to Elezaj.

“They’re working with UWM and many other lenders. That gives consumers the best options for speed, pricing, and all those different things like that,” he said. “They want to be teed up with options.

“And that’s what a broker does as opposed to going with a single retail unit [where] obviously you’re only getting whatever their captive products and services are. So I think the broker with more products, more options, is the best choice for consumers and they really need that in times like these.”

Company ‘very confident’ looking to the future

A degree of uncertainty has emerged in recent weeks about whether the Federal Reserve will introduce long-awaited interest rate cuts this year, with some suggesting that persistent inflation and a surprisingly strong labor market could see the central bank hold off on lowering rates in 2024.

UWM remains confident that rates will begin to tick lower at some point – and Elezaj restated the view of chief executive officer Mat Ishbia, who said on last week’s post-earnings call that the company was already prepared to capitalize on lower rates when they come.

“We continue to hire and train and develop our people,” he said. “So there’s not going to be another lender in this country that’s more prepared to deal with the refis now when they do come in again – whether it’s a couple of months from now or six months from now, we’ll be prepared.”

As well as striking an optimistic tone on the inventory front, Elezaj said prospects for UWM and the market as a whole appeared strong looking ahead, if its record-breaking Q1 performance was anything to go by.

“We’re seeing very strong purchase volumes and overall originations in great shape. Our margins are in great shape,” he said. “And we’re feeling very confident about the second half of 2024, into 2025 and 2026.”

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