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RISMEDIA, September 10, 2007–(MCT)–Harry Mortgage Co., a family-owned mortgage lender in Oklahoma City since 1963, is selling its company headquarters, “winding things down” and downsizing.”After 40-something years, we’re winding things down as a lot of mortgage companies are having to do, but we wanted to do it a little more gracefully than some that are having to declare bankruptcy,” said Steve Harry, senior vice president and a grandson of co-founder V.M. Harry Sr.

V.M. “Bud” Harry Jr., 81, company president, said the company is concentrating on big projects instead of financing houses. He and his brother, Robert, 85, chairman of the board, founded the company with their father 44 years ago.

“We’re not doing single-family anymore,” Bud Harry said. “We’re just doing the project stuff, multifamily, assisted living, apartments and stuff like that. We’ve got 11,000 square feet here, and we don’t need that much space. Another thing: The single-family dropped off so much we couldn’t make any money off of it.”

Dakil Auctioneers will sell the headquarters at 3048 N Grand Blvd. and three other parcels of Christopher’s Lake Office Park at absolute auction at 10 a.m. Oct. 2. Harry Mortgage Co.’s office furniture and equipment will sell at auction at 9 a.m. Oct. 3.

Shrinking industry
The move comes at a time of contraction in the mortgage industry. Hundreds of companies are folding or scaling back, costing thousands of people their jobs as the credit that backs home mortgage loans dries up.

Even historic Lehman Bros. in New York, founded in 1850, said Thursday it was cutting back its mortgage business and laying off 850 people. It’s part of the fallout of a national housing boom that has gone bust in much of the country.

The Harrys have been in the home loan business since 1950, when Bud Harry’s father and brother started Midland Mortgage, which they operated from the Hightower Building downtown until forming Harry Mortgage 13 years later.

At the peak, single-family mortgages comprised half of Harry Mortgage’s loans, Bud Harry said. The company is changing by cutting home loans but, he said, mortgage lending went first.

“It bothers me in the sense that we’ve always done it, but the fact is the mortgage business has changed so much,” Bud Harry said. “We used to deal with builders and big subdivisions. Now you have to use loan originators and the best ones go to big banks. It’s hard to compete with Bank of Oklahoma and Wells Fargo. We’re just a little old family-owned company.”

‘Back to reality’
Oklahoma City, so far, seems to have skirted the worst of the housing slowdown and credit tightening, and commercial property specialists say few deals have been scotched by the accompanying commercial mortgage credit crunch.

However, Wall Street investors’ flight from the kind of mortgage loans that are now causing borrowers’ woes has hit lenders, as well as mortgage brokers here.

“There’s a lot of gut-checking going on,” said Dean Riddell, assistant vice president of Market Street Mortgage’s branch at 3636 NW 63, Suite B. “There’s been a lot of products eliminated, products that Wall Street no longer accepts. We’re kind of getting back to reality.”

Scott Groves, who recently joined Market Street as a home loan specialist, moved over after selling his ownership interest in another local mortgage brokerage. He said he left the smaller firm partly because it did not handle Federal Housing Administration- or Veterans Administration-backed loans.

With subprime lending virtually over, and lending guidelines tightening for all kinds of loans, Groves said he knew he needed to be able to make FHA and VA loans to be successful. He said maybe half of mortgage brokers have the capitalization required and the willingness to work with the regulations surrounding government-backed loans.

“Brokers, the ones that can’t offer government product, are falling by the wayside,” he said.

Groves and Riddell were at a national Market Street meeting in Clearwater, Fla., Thursday. Housing, mortgage and related industries have taken a bigger hit in most of Florida than in Oklahoma City. Riddell said the mood was resigned.

“It’s a difficult time,” he said. The thinking among his colleagues, Riddell said, is, “Let’s ride this thing out. The market is cleansing out — brokers, lenders, home builders. It’s cleansing itself out.”

Harry highlights
For its part, Harry Mortgage Co. has managed to thrive despite the ups and downs of Oklahoma real estate fortunes, as well as the long-term contraction of the mortgage industry. The company recalls some highlights on its Web page in an article written before its 40th year in business in 2003.

“Fifty years ago, there were 30 or more mortgage companies located in … Oklahoma and Tulsa (counties),” the article says. “Years of acquisitions, mergers and buy-outs have dwindled the numbers substantially. You can now count the number in both counties on the fingers of one hand. One of those is Harry Mortgage Co.”

V.M. Harry Sr. and his sons founded Harry Mortgage Co. in 1963 after Robert Harry and his father sold their interest in Midland Mortgage, now part of MidFirst Bank. Harry Mortgage remained a family-run business as the firm expanded from single-family home loans to multifamily and commercial lending. Four generations of Harrys serve as officers, directors or managers, the article says.

Harry Mortgage entered the millennium with a new company headquarters, built in 1999, and soon reached a new lending benchmark.

“Having resisted mergers and take-overs, the company has grown and prospered over the years,” the article says. “Just last year, Harry Mortgage Co. exceeded the $200 million mark in combined residential and commercial loans, due to the help of its 47 capable employees.”

Bud Harry said the company has halved its peak work force of about 60 people.

Copyright © 2007, The Oklahoman
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.