After 20 years in the mortgage industry, Ashley McKenzie-Sharpe sees home loans as unique puzzles to be put together for homebuyers. But they’re not the puzzles she expected to spend her career solving.
McKenzie-Sharpe started out in banking, but had back-to-back harrowing encounters soon after being promoted to branch manager. Her first week on the job, her branch was robbed at gunpoint. Two weeks later, it was robbed again, and her family urged her to seek other opportunities.
A local mortgage lender recruited her to be a loan assistant, and she decided to make the leap. A few months in, her manager told her she didn’t belong as an assistant. She was made to be a loan officer.
“Of course, I was terrified,” she said of becoming a loan officer. “He had to really convince me.”
But once again, McKenzie-Sharpe embraced the new opportunity, not realizing she was stepping into the industry she’d call home for the next two decades.
“I started getting to know the industry, and I started helping people,” she said. That’s when she realized that this was her calling.
“It’s a blessing that we’re able to help people and able to help them figure out the puzzle” of buying a home, she said.
Today, McKenzie-Sharpe is a senior mortgage planner at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, which she joined in 2009 (Fairway owns Home.com). McKenzie-Sharpe is based in Winston-Salem, N.C., where the housing market seems to grow hotter every year.
The good news for buyers in McKenzie-Sharpe’s home market is that it’s more balanced than you might find in larger North Carolina metropolitan areas such as Raleigh or Charlotte.
“Winston is a good, steady ground,” McKenzie-Sharpe said. “We’re not as overpriced as some of those cities can become. I think it’s definitely a fair market.”
Looking at the real estate market more broadly, McKenzie-Sharpe isn’t seeing shades of 2008 in the current housing boom. Though there’s been speculation about another housing crash, she said the circumstances are much different now, in large part due to regulations that have been implemented since then.
“After going through 2008, I don’t think we’ll see the same corrections as we did then,” she said. “Lending standards are different. You’re not going to see so many people underwater on their homes.”
McKenzie-Sharpe acknowledged that finding the right home can be a long game in the current market. Although bidding wars have cooled, the competition for homes is still steep, and homebuyer fatigue may be setting in for some.
But she encouraged homebuyers to take heart and to keep up the search.
“I would be all in,” she said. “I would definitely still be in the hunt.”
She’s seen buyers spend up to a year looking for houses, but their efforts are well worth it — especially because purchase conditions are still favorable.
“They get a fair deal, and the rates are so low, they’re able to afford more property than they might later,” she said.
She said that even borrowers who worry that they have low credit should connect with a loan officer. McKenzie-Sharpe’s team works with homebuyers to create a plan for improving their scores so they can qualify for a loan or secure a better interest rate. And she said that even if you think you’ve got a handle on how to raise your score, it’s always a good idea to talk to a professional.
“People think they know what they’re doing with credit, and then I talk to them, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I have no idea,” McKenzie-Sharpe said.
Most homebuyers don’t realize that the credit score they see on a free credit monitoring app is not the same as the score lenders use to qualify them for a mortgage. That’s why working with a loan officer to create a tailored plan for boosting your credit can be more effective than going it alone.
McKenzie-Sharpe considers Fairway her professional home, and not just because family is a big part of the company’s culture. Her two sisters are part of her mortgage team, and the other women she works with are now “like sisters” as well.
That dynamic creates a close bond in their office and adds meaning to the work they do.
“It really makes everyone really invested in the success of our clients because we are a family,” she said.
When she’s not helping homebuyers put those puzzle pieces together, she’s a devotee of Pure Barre — and of English bulldogs. She and her husband own three of these pups, and “We’re constantly adding to our pack,” she said.
Learn more about Ashley and her team at fairwayloansbyashley.com.