News & Press
Mark Cohen has quietly cemented his reputation as one of the major players in Hollywood. Unlike many in the field, he hasn't always been one to toot his own horn, relying instead on strong word-of-mouth from satisfied clients. But the press has certainly taken notice of his impressive achievements.
Honored by Los Angeles magazine in 2005 in their “The Best of LA–Hall of Fame” feature for helping close the deal on some of the Southland’s most palatial spreads, Mark was first profiled in that magazine back in July of 1999. Here are some more recent articles and notices:
National Mortgage News – April 3, 2013
Mark Cohen Top Producer for 2012
By Brad Finkelstein
April 3, 2013
Mark Cohen, the owner and founder of Cohen Financial Group in Beverly Hills, Calif., finished 2012 as the leading loan producer by dollar volume, with $590 million in loan funded; by units, he had 767 loans originated where he ranked ninth overall.
The list of the Origination News Top 200 loan officers by dollar volume is available here.
Cohen said he has a heavy emphasis on sales, one he has had since entering the business 27 years ago realizing the unpredictability of rate-sensitive refinance business.
Among his sources are real estate brokers, certified public accountants and business managers. “So I have always paid heavy emphasis to that and that smooths out the volatility in the origination business,” Cohen said.
His business in 2012 benefitted from a feeling among consumers that things have bottomed out and are now back on the way up. Combine that with the low interest rate environment, and “that is a good recipe for a strong market.”
The vast majority of his loans are within a 20-mile radius of his offices, like the west side of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and coast.
For Cohen, mortgage originations are a family business. His mother was the first woman mortgage broker in Los Angeles, and his family had always been involved in real estate. At the time he graduated from law school, she had been in the business for four or five years and he found mortgages to be more interesting than the practice of law.
His company, Cohen Financial is both a mortgage banker and a mortgage broker, with 35% to 40% of the company’s production being banked. It has been operating for 15 years now.
The average loan size is $700,000; recently, he closed a $9.5 million loan. But he added he does a lot of conforming loans as well.
At one point, he said the average loan size was $1 million, but the drop was due to the decline in real estate values.
His office has two people who do commercial and multifamily loans, and Cohen said he prefers to let those who are experts in the product handle it.
Cohen has 12 people who work on his team, and that staff allows him to handle the kind of volume that it does, he noted. The team includes underwriters, processors, people who assist with marketing, “it is a pretty decent size operation.”
Besides his referral sources, he advertises in publications such as the one sent to local public accountants and other local real estate trade magazines. Cohen also has a weekly newsletter sent to a client list of 8,000 to 10,000 people, whom receive an email every Monday morning.
However, he does not do any social media marketing, saying he is “too old school.”
For 2013, business activity has been good, as rates have remained low. There has been a lot of loan sales volume so far, Cohen said. The good thing about southern California is a lot of people are more willing to trade-up to a larger house, he noted, unlike other areas of the nation.
Mark Cohen Top Producer for 2012
Scotsman Guide – April 1, 2013
Q&A: Mark Cohen, Cohen Financial Group
Mark Cohen, founder and senior mortgage broker, Cohen Financial Group
Raymond Fleischmann, associate editor
As published in Scotsman Guide's Residential Edition, April 2013.
Cohen Financial Group’s Mark Cohen is making his first appearance in Scotsman Guide’s Top Originators rankings — and he’s making that debut a memorable one. Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., Cohen closed more than $590 million from 767 loans this past year, earning him the No. 1 spot on our Top Dollar Volume list. In fact, Cohen’s total volume is the largest we’ve seen since we started compiling the rankings. We spoke with him to learn more about his production and approach to the mortgage business.
What kind of loans make up your production pipeline?
For the most part, my business is jumbos. The average loan here for myself is probably in the $900,000 range, but at the same time, I do a lot of small loans — a lot of conforming loans, $200,000 or $150,000 or so — so I have a wide range of clientele, which I think smoothes out the volatility in the business.
What kind of loans make up your production pipeline?
For the most part, my business is jumbos. The average loan here for myself is probably in the $900,000 range, but at the same time, I do a lot of small loans — a lot of conforming loans, $200,000 or $150,000 or so — so I have a wide range of clientele, which I think smoothes out the volatility in the business.
What are some of the keys to working in the jumbo market?
You have to have the relationships with people who are in that price range. Being in a west-side town [in Los Angeles], there’s a lot of affluent people — I grew up here, so I know a lot of people — and just doing a good job feeds upon itself. I have a lot of close relationships with CPAs [certified public accountants] and real estate brokers and business managers, who are great referral sources.
How has the market changed in the past few years?
It’s getting to be a very aggressive market. There are a lot of players in the market, and a lot of smaller, regional-sized banks. I’m not so sure the major money-center banks are as big a player as they have been in the past, but regional banks are popular. Mortgage banking like what we do here is back in vogue — and the broker business is strong, too — so I think there’s been a little movement from the major money-center banks to the smaller, niche lenders.
What advice would you have for up-and-coming mortgage originators?
It’s a process. You have to be slow and patient, and you’ve got to be confident in yourself. Know the products, always respond back to people, and if you don’t know an answer, say ‘I’ll get back to you.’ Be professional. I think about how I would want to be treated by somebody — [how I’d want to] deal with somebody who’s confident and knowledgeable and straightforward — so just reverse the situation.
How’s 2013 going so far?
The sales market is very strong in Southern California. There’s heavy demand for houses. Most things are selling instantly with backup offers and multiple offers in all price ranges. Rates are pretty consistent, so it’s the perfect backdrop for a good real estate market. A little more accommodating lending in some of the niches that we have has really helped our company out. There’s been a lot of portfolio lending — common-sense lending — that has been just a big advantage for us versus the competition.
Raymond Fleischmann is an associate editor at Scotsman Guide.
Q&A with Mark Cohen
Los Angeles Times – March 22, 2013 Report:
Report: Mortgages become slightly easier to get as standards ease
By E. Scott Reckard
Here's some good news on the mortgage availability front as you house-hunt this weekend: Credit standards appear to be easing, just a bit, according to an analytical study and reports from front-line lenders.
The average borrower credit score for a closed loan dropped from 749 in January to 745 in February, Ellie Mae Inc., a provider of software to home lenders, reported Friday. Though still steep, it was the lowest average score since last May, said Jonathan Corr, Ellie Mae’s chief executive.
The average down payment for a home purchase was exactly 20%, the report said -- the first time it’s been that low since July.
And the percentage of total income that borrowers were being allowed to devote to debt payments averaged 35% -- the highest since June, Corr said, “suggesting that the credit box may be expanding.”
Meantime, the mix of purchase versus refinance mortgages shifted toward the former, reflecting improved buyer confidence and a recent increase in mortgage rates, which dampens demand for refis. In February, 32% of all closed loans were for purchases, compared with 27% in January.
In another sign of easing mortgage standards, a few banks are now providing home-equity lines of credit for as much as 90% of the home value, up from 80%, said Mark Cohen, a Beverly Hills mortgage banker.
That means that someone owing $350,000 on a $500,000 house might get a $100,000 credit line instead of one for $50,000 – assuming they have a minimum credit score of 720 and can fully document their ability to make payments.
Cohen said he's also seen a slight loosening of borrower worthiness gauges such as the debt-to-income ratio. “There’s a slight credit easing, but in a subtle way,” he said.
For people with less than 20% down payments, mortgage insurance is now easier to get, said Jeff Lazerson, a Laguna Niguel mortgage broker.
And so-called delayed financing, unavailable in recent years, is back, Lazerson said -- someone who paid cash for a one- to four-unit property may be able to get back up to 75% of their money by taking out a loan right away, instead of having to wait for six months.
Mortgages become slightly easier to get as standards ease
Los Angeles Business Journal - February 25, 2013
Putting Out Welcome Mat
By MARK COHEN
Smaller niche banks help fill gap for loan-seeking homebuyers who don’t fit large lenders’ restricted criteria.
We’ve all heard of banks being too big to fail. But some banks became too big to succeed. Their inflexibility in mortgage lending practices hurt L.A.’s real estate market and that has slowed the area’s economic recovery.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that these large money-center banks are now more conservative in their mortgage lending practices. After all, their overly lackadaisical lending guidelines of just a few years ago allowed borrowers to obtain mortgages that well exceeded their financial means.
These lending practices eventually resulted in more than 15 million foreclosures filed and 5 million homes repossessed nationally since 2007. These foreclosures cost the banks billions
of dollars, required government intervention and ushered in the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.
However, I believe the pendulum is swinging too far toward overly conservative lending practices for the current real estate market.
Buoyed by continued historically low interest rates and accessible inventory, Los Angeles – and the rest of the country – is in the beginning of a real estate recovery. In December, L.A.-area home prices rose by nearly 10 percent year over year, while the foreclosure rate fell by 34 percent in the last quarter of 2012 and by 23 percent year to year.
The conditions remain favorable for the recovery to continue. Interest rates are likely to remain low for the remainder of 2013 and money will be “cheap” to borrow. It’s doubtful that
the Federal Reserve will raise rates until we see a significant reduction in the unemployment rate – probably around 6.5 percent or lower.
But the new lending guidelines are inflexible and lack common sense. That means agents cannot serve their clients with confidence, brokers cannot find funding for qualified potential buyers and deals take longer to close, when they close at all. All these factors combine to hobble the real estate industry and slow the recovery. And that’s bad business for Los Angeles and our economy.
Potential borrowers, who don’t fit neatly into predetermined guidelines and those with legitimate but less traditional financial means are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain funding.
Take, for example, one client of mine: a foreign national with millions in liquid assets around the world but lacking any U.S. tax returns or credit history. Trying to purchase a home in Los Angeles proved nearly impossible because the large banks couldn’t see beyond their cookie-cutter criteria. A smaller niche bank, however, was willing to take a more commonsense approach to this individual borrower’s circumstances.
By looking beyond traditional qualifying criteria, and instead focusing on liquid assets and other financial conditions, the bank was able to offer an exclusive mortgage product tailored specifically to borrowers in this financial situation. This niche bank was able to close a deal where others had refused to try.
Increasingly, these smaller niche banks are filling the void. Recognizing the opportunities that exist, these lenders understand that in markets like Los Angeles many would-be homebuyers simply don’t fit into the stringent, traditional guidelines. By offering greater flexibility and products geared for those with more complex needs, these niche banks – and the brokers who have relationships with them – are able to close deals that the large money-center banks no longer can.
That’s significant because Los Angeles is a unique economy and the needs of potential borrowers reflect that. For example, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., more than 160,000 people are employed in the film industry – accounting for approximately 5 percent of all private-sector jobs. Thousands more work in the investment industry. Both are groups whose income is large but seemingly sporadic. These aren’t high-risk borrowers, just people with less traditional financial resources. Yet too few of them can obtain mortgage funding under most lending guidelines.
Make no mistake about it: I’m glad to see more prudent lending and I certainly am not advocating that we return to the free-for-all days of loose lending. That was bad for the economy and disastrous for far too many L.A.-area families.
But it’s time for some common sense.
Large money-center banks need to recognize that the inflexibility of traditional guidelines are costing them deals, impeding the L.A. real estate recovery and threatening the area’s economy. Until then, niche banks and seasoned mortgage professionals must continue to work together.
Understanding the unique needs of Angelenos is the only way to ensure loans can be funded and keep L.A.’s economic recovery on the right track.
Mark Cohen is president of Cohen Financial Group, a Beverly Hills-based loan origination firm.
Putting Out Welcome Mat
Los Angeles Business Journal - January 21, 2008
Local Residential Property Values Will Always Roar Back Stronger Than Ever
By MARK COHEN
Last spring, I wrote an opinion piece for the Business Journal arguing that it remained a good time to buy real estate in the Los Angeles area. I also cautioned there would be an inevitable adjustment in the market. In the past six months, the market has changed dramatically. The credit market has tightened and home sales have slowed. Nevertheless, I submit that it remains an opportune time to buy real estate in Southern California. There's a very basic reason for my assertion: Every time the market has receded, it has always roared back stronger than ever.
Nationally, we've seen declining home prices for the past 18 months and more homes available for sale. When an individual area has a supply of existing homes on the market for six consecutive months, it is considered a buyers' market. Currently, there is over a 10-month supply of available homes in the U.S.
Moreover, markets differ dramatically region-to-region. Detroit and parts of Florida face a much more difficult challenge in returning to a more normal market than Los Angeles. Building booms and weak economies impede recovery in those areas. However, here in Los Angeles, we have a significantly stronger economy, although one that has slowed over the past year.
Prices have come down in almost every region. But I would argue they adjusted to a more sustainable and realistic level. However, it is important to remember that home prices will not plateau forever, especially in Los Angeles. Indeed, we are already seeing signs that in more resilient areas prices have stabilized and will likely begin to increase in 2008 or 2009.
As in previous real estate corrections, some areas are more resilient to downward fluctuations than others. Neighborhoods in high demand and with limited areas in which to build have fared much better these past few months. These include many parts of the Los Angeles area – like the Westside and beach communities.
For example, a two-bedroom, two-bath home that likely would sell for $600,000 to $700,000 in less sought-after areas is still fetching over $1 million in West Los Angeles. Admittedly, a few years ago, that same house probably would have been listed at $1.1 million, but there's little doubt it will command that price level again in the near future.
Of course, regardless of the price-range of a home, most of us still need to finance the purchase. It's true, since this past August credit guidelines for lending have become extremely tight. The tight credit standards are a reaction to a period of too-loose standards in which many subprime loans were made to borrowers, who, frankly, should not have received the loans. This has caused lenders to be much more stringent regarding borrowers' qualifications across the lending spectrum.
Nevertheless, we must remember that credit remains available. And financing is already returning to more appropriate standards, thanks in part to the recent moves by the Federal Reserve Bank.
In today's market, lenders are looking for qualified buyers. Borrowers with credit scores over 700, who have verifiable income and available assets for a down payment are getting their loans funded. We've also seen a much-needed improvement in so-called "jumbo" loans – those loans over $417,000, which are common in L.A. and other metropolitan areas. Just a few weeks ago, the news stories made it seem as if these loans had all but disappeared or were priced unreasonably. But as some lenders have effectively removed themselves from this market, others have moved in, and "jumbo" loans are once again being funded and at competitive rates.
The most compelling argument for buying a home in L.A. during any type of market remains that homes here increase in value over time. Whereas no one can predict the future, history has proven time and again that in the long term, owning real estate in desirable areas of Los Angeles is one of the best investments you can make. The key is recognizing opportunity and striking when the iron is hot.
Mark Cohen is president of Cohen Financial Group, a Beverly Hills-based loan origination firm.
Local Residential Property Values Will Always Roar Back Stronger Than Ever
The Wall Street Journal Online - August 14, 2007
How the Mortgage Bar Keeps Moving Higher
Home Buyers With Good Credit Confront Increased Scrutiny And Fewer Choices as Lenders React to Subprime Debacle
By JONATHAN KARP
August 14, 2007; Page D1
Frankie Van Cleave says she has paid all her bills on time for more than three decades, save one car payment that got delayed in Christmas mail. But neither solid credit nor her track record running a number of businesses is sparing the 70-year-old from the turmoil in the home-mortgage market.
Several mortgage brokers had courted her to refinance a $1 million adjustable-rate mortgage she currently carries on her home, on two acres of prime riverfront property in Marietta, Ga. But most of them "dropped me like a hot potato" last week after two appraisals came in below $900,000, she says. Her bank of three decades won't help her after her monthly mortgage payments recently ballooned to nearly $8,200, so Ms. Van Cleave is working 80 hours a week as a technical writer to make ends meet.
The impact of the subprime-mortgage crisis is spreading through most segments of the home-lending business, ensnaring more and more people who just months ago might have coasted through a refinancing or home purchase. In addition to raising interest rates on so-called prime mortgages, lenders are tightening requirements for everything from borrowers' income verification and credit scores to home-appraisal reports, and yanking products that had allowed low-risk borrowers to avoid putting any money down.
The consumer market is changing at a dizzying pace, with loan applicants -- even those with strong credit records -- being placed under more scrutiny and given fewer choices than they were just weeks ago. Whereas lenders used to change guidelines a few times a year and would give mortgage brokers advance warning, they are issuing revisions almost daily now and dropping products overnight, industry officials say.
"We thought the dust was going to settle, but instead, it just blew up," says Mitchell Reiner, president of Mortgage Associates, a Los Angeles-based lender that does business in 48 states. "Everyone is being affected."
Yesterday, for example, IndyMac Bancorp Inc. imposed tougher rules on a big product, Alt-A mortgages, a category between prime and subprime that often involves borrowers who don't fully document their income or assets, or those buying investment properties. It is the latest lender to shun 100% financing for borrowers who want merely to state their income. For Alt-A loans that don't have third-party mortgage insurance, IndyMac is insisting on at least a 5% down payment for "all loan sizes and property types," according to guidelines sent to mortgage brokers.
Frankie Van Cleave has had difficulty refinancing the mortgage on her riverfront home in Marietta, Ga.
"Banks want to see that you have a vested interest in the property," says mortgage broker Mark Cohen of the Cohen Financial Group in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Everybody thought the damage would be contained to the subprime market but it has spread to A-paper [products]. The impact is that there are fewer choices" for borrowers.
The curbs for creditworthy borrowers have accelerated in the past month as institutional investors have fled mortgage-backed securities, sending stock and credit markets reeling. Major players such as Countrywide Financial Corp. have acknowledged rising defaults among prime borrowers, and have responded by tightening terms for many credit grades. Lenders such as National City Corp. have all but gotten out of the home-equity loan business, while a range of lenders are curtailing their offerings of piggyback mortgages, or second loans above the standard mortgage maximum of 80% of a home's purchase price.
The screws are tightening at the upper end of the market, for so-called jumbo mortgages that exceed $417,000, the limit for loans eligible for purchase and guarantee by mortgage institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While lenders used to provide mortgages without proof of income up to the full value of a $1.2 million purchase, now 80% financing for a purchase up to $2 million is the maximum for stated-income mortgages, Mr. Reiner says. And creditworthy borrowers have to satisfy higher asset requirements: Instead of reserves equal to two months of a home's mortgage principal, interest, tax and insurance payments, lenders are demanding six months of reserves, or even more.
The fluid market is frustrating sterling borrowers such as Orange County real-estate agent Valerie Torelli, who recently sought a mortgage for an investment property she bought in Costa Mesa, Calif. She considered a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of at least $450,000 for the house, which she plans to rent out until the market improves. She says that despite her high credit score of more than 800, lenders wanted 8.75% for a stated-income jumbo loan or 7.25% with full tax documentation, which she didn't want to provide. The average 30-year fixed-rate for a nonjumbo loan, known as a conforming loan, is currently 6.64%, according to HSH Associates.
A week ago, her mortgage banker at Washington Mutual Inc. called with a warning that products were being pulled from the market. Ms. Torelli decided to do something she had never done before for a short-term investment: She injected extra cash equity into the house so as to reduce the mortgage to the $417,000 conforming-loan threshold, and locked in a rate of 6.875%. She paid half a point, or 0.5% of the loan's value, to exempt the loan from a prepayment penalty.
"Jumbo loans weren't cost effective," says Ms. Torelli. "I have great credit and relationships but none of it matters. The market isn't discriminating between me and every deadbeat, zero-down borrower."
In Marietta, Ga., Ms. Van Cleave doesn't have cash for a refinancing down payment, and she faces a problem hitting more consumers: Appraisers say her home is worth less than her current $1 million mortgage. Ms. Van Cleave concedes she took a risk, borrowing close to the appraised value of her home two years ago -- at the market's peak -- to help fund a start-up company that sells a patented fishing-rod holder. She opted for a two-year ARM, with a piggyback mortgage at nearly 12%, and planned to refinance.
But the start-up hasn't taken off, and even as she saw the credit market tightening, she couldn't afford the penalty to refinance her loans early. For months, eager mortgage brokers sought her out, promising to help her roll both mortgages into a single 30-year fixed-rate loan. Then came this month's credit crunch, and appraisals of $858,000 and $890,000. One broker who hasn't abandoned her has offered to pay for a third appraisal. Ms. Van Cleave rejects the first two appraisals, saying that one report has factual errors and neither makes fair comparisons with other homes. She believes she is a victim of appraisers who are being pressured by lenders and are "so afraid they're going to lose business or have their license taken away."
One of the men who surveyed her property doesn't entirely disagree. "The field has changed quite a bit. There is more pressure for tighter appraisals," says Mike Russell. A year ago, he says, lenders weren't as demanding for comparable home prices in the immediate neighborhood, and about 70% of his appraisals ended in approved loans. Today, about 70% of his reports end in rejected loans.
To Washington state appraiser Bill Hanson, the shift is dramatic. Lenders are demanding more comparable home prices and "asking for unrelated information, such as permit numbers for remodeling work," he says. "Before they would ask: 'Is the home still there and does the roof leak?' "
GETTING A LOAN
Mortgage lenders are tightening standards, even for borrowers with strong credit. Here are some tips:
- Try to make at least a 5% down payment.
- If possible, put enough money down to avoid taking out a higher-rate jumbo mortgage.
- Be prepared to verify your income through tax or other documents.
- You may be required to have assets on reserve equal to six or more monthly payments.
"A good credit record doesn't count for anything now," Ms. Van Cleave says of her futile refinancing effort. "If you don't have assets, forget it. If you're self-employed, you have real problems in this market."
How the Mortgage Bar Keeps Moving Higher
Los Angeles Business Journal - July 2 - 8, 2007
Mortgage broker Mark Cohen, who did more than $1 billion in business last year, has turned his real estate roots and relentless energy into a powerful force in the industry.
By DANIEL MILLER
MARK Cohen comes from a family of real estate industry entrepreneurs. From grandparents who owned a local hotel to a mother who started a local mortgage brokerage, Cohen has been surrounded by family members with a knack for the business. So, he says it wasn't a surprise to those who knew him when he left his mother's firm to start Cohen Financial Group.
Since founding the company in 1997, it has grown from seven employees to 30 and Cohen has gone on to become one of the top mortgage brokers in the country. And in 2006, he originated more loans and had the highest dollar volume of any broker in the country, according to an industry trade publication. Accolades like that keep Cohen at the office for marathon 11-hour days. Cohen, 47, rarely sits down in his corner office atop a Beverly Hills office building. Instead he conducts business standing, from a tall, custom-built desk. Cohen, who lives in Holmby Hills with his family, recently took a break from a hectic day to discuss his life, his business and the state of the mortgage industry, which is still reeling from this past winter's subprime meltdown.
Question: How has the mortgage industry changed in the last six months since the subprime meltdown?
Answer:The 100 percent loans without showing income verification have been virtually eliminated. That has taken away a pretty big segment of the starter home market. You have to be a fairly transparent buyer to banks; they want to know whom they are loaning money to. It might be O.K. on the Westside but in other parts of Los Angeles the market may not be as strong.
Q: So has business slowed down?
A:For myself, no. I have probably increased market share in the last six months. But there is less subprime. It has benefited me because a lot of mortgage companies that were focused primarily on subprime have gone out of business. We have benefited by what has happened in the market.
Q: Do you feel like you are helping people realize their dreams?
A: There is something to helping people get their dream home. I have a thick stack of thank you letters saying, Thank you for your help, and in some extreme cases, You changed my life. There is a lot of personal satisfaction and economically you can do well if you know what you are doing.
Q: Do you ever tell overextended buyers they shouldn't be buying a home?
A:I tell them that because I do have a conscience. Some people are making, for example, $10,000 a month and their mortgage is $7,000. I say, What are you trying to do to yourself? You are working as a slave to live in your house. If people are spending more than half of what their income is on the mortgage, they shouldn't have that size mortgage. When I see people that are really overextending themselves I can only imagine how hard it is going to be to maintain a normal lifestyle.
Q: What is your take on the local real estate market?
A: I think it's a mixed market right now in the sense that certain pockets of town like the Westside and coastal areas are significantly stronger than more inland areas. The market is going to be mixed through the end of the year. I've got a feeling there are going to be a lot of foreclosures coming on the market in more inland areas. I think that will tend to depress prices and I think it will have an impact on the Westside. The market is still in a state of shock. It is going to take time.
Q: Did you always plan to get into the mortgage business?
A: In 1981, my mother, Gloria Shulman, had started a mortgage company, Crestview Financial Group. It was really interesting to me and it was a brand new field. She took me by the hand so to speak. She is still in the business; she is sharp and very knowledgeable. I learned from her to a large degree. I went to USC and graduated in 1981 and got an M.B.A. from USC. After the M.B.A. I went to Loyola Law School and graduated from there in 1985. I never really wanted to practice law; I did it to pacify my parents and grandparents. Right after law school I got into the business in summer 1985.
Q: Did your time at university prepare you for this job?
A: It prepared me - studying business and even the law degree - it gives you instant credibility with people who research you. The discipline of studying and understanding concepts and being able to analyze things, I am a big proponent of education.
Q: Was the business different back in the mid-1980s?
A: The business was in its initial stage. People went to their banks for loans or they went to a home savings bank. There wasn't such a thing as mortgage bankers or brokers. My mother was the first female broker in L.A.
Q: Was it fun working with your mother?
A: It has got its pros and cons. Initially it was great because I learned from someone who knew what they were doing. It was nice to have financial support initially. She is creative with great marketing. She now has a new mortgage company, called CenTek Capital Group.
Q: Sounds like she was one of the most influential people in your life.Were there any others?
A: My late grandfather, Benjamin Shulman. He had one of the nicest general personalities you could have and was a very good businessman. He was in sales. He had the first dry goods store in Boyle Heights in the 1930s. He knew all of his clients. My grandparents used to have a hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, the Century Wilshire, which is now being developed as condos. I worked there and I learned how to deal with people and watched their interaction with people and how to have great customer service. He taught me how to be a sincere person and be available for people. I learned from his work ethic.
Q: When did you decide it was time to leave your mother's company?
A: I left in 1997 to form Cohen Financial. You realize there is a time in your life when it is time to make a change. I am very close with my mother - always have been, always will be - but sometimes there are family dynamics. At that point in time I was fortunate to associate with some good people. I didn't miss a beat. All the clients I previously had were all with me. Except for maybe a week it was business as usual. Cohen Financial was in Westwood for four years before moving to Beverly Hills.
Q: Do you compete with her now?
A: It's friendly competition. We share a lot of clients. There are never issues with things. I do deals they can't place and so forth.
Q:Was there a moment when you realized you had picked the right career?
A: One of the key moments in my life was a really defining moment in my business career. In December 1986, right before there were major tax law changes set to take place in January I got a call from a business manager who was buying a house in Santa Monica. It was a $600,000 sale - a nice-sized deal - and he said, "If you can close this deal in 21 days you'll be very happy and I'll introduce you to people who'll give you a lot of business." He wanted it closed before the law change.
Q: Was his an extraordinary request?
A: In those days the market wasn't nearly as efficient as it is now; there were no fax machines and no easy-qualify loans. In hindsight, now it's nothing, but in those days escrows were 45 days. Everything had to be typed by hand and sent in the mail. It was a slower process. So, 21 days was the equivalent of eight or 10 days.
Q: So what happened?
A: The deal closed and I got married in January. I called the business manager at the end of January, and he said I should call up an executive at City National Bank, which at that time didn't do real estate loans. So I met with her and we immediately had a great rapport for one another and she introduced me to 40 or 50 business managers who I still work with today. I became the guy at City National Bank because they didn't do real estate loans. The whole bank said, "Use Mark Cohen for your loans."
Q: According to the Mortgage Originator trade magazine, in 2006, you originated more loans (1,606) and had the highest dollar volume ($1.1 billion) of any broker in the country. How is that possible?
A: I am a creature of habit. I get up at 5:30 a.m., check any e-mails sent overnight because I have some clients on the East Coast and I see what is going on in the financial markets. I leave the house around 7:10 a.m. and I am here at the office everyday at 7:30 a.m., until about 6.30 p.m. I am on the phone all day long. I probably make a couple hundred phone calls a day. I am on the phone all day with escrow companies, clients and banks. I try to get to the gym at least twice a week for an hour after work. I take work home. I do about two hours of work at night and I'm in bed at midnight.
Q: Do you ever stop during the day for a breather?
A: There is one thing I've done religiously for the last 15 years: I got out for 45 minutes to an hour everyday for lunch at 1 p.m. - my mind has to be cleared. When the New York markets close I am done for an hour.
Q: Why do you stand and not sit?
A: I've got my files in four different rooms here and I have to navigate and see what is going on in every single deal. I think better when I am standing up. I am standing up typically six or seven hours a day. It's a custom built 5-foot tall desk. I like standing it helps me remember what I have to do.
Q: Do you have any plans to slow down?
A: I am a Type A personality, so probably in 20 years. I really like what I do. I really do. It's a great passion for me in life; I wake up everyday looking forward to my work. It is strange 22 years later, but I do.
Q: Why do you think it is so rewarding?
A: I like the challenges; it isn't the same every day. There are new opportunities. Some days are better than others obviously. But I like the contact I have with people. Some of my closest friends were once clients of mine. I've met a lot of great people in the business.
Q: How has Cohen Financial Group grown?
A: In the last 18 months we've opened an escrow company, Camden Escrow, which is doing well. We can do outside purchase transactions for people. And we are mortgage bankers so we can fund our own loans. We started that about nine months ago. We are looking at potentially expanding but it has got to work. I'd rather keep it small and efficient.
Q: Could you ever relinquish some control at Cohen Financial? There are seven other mortgage brokers here.
A: People come to me for loans and I am the kind of person that wants to deal with people, because I am still young enough, hungry enough and energetic enough.
Q: With all of that work,how do you maintain a family life?
A: I have dinner with the family every night. On weekends I am with them. I have a hangout with the kids at 11 p.m. for a half hour every night. We convene in the kitchen, have a little snack and joke and talk about sports.
Q: What's the most unique deal you've done?
A: When I was in Africa three summers ago with my family I had a mortgage deal that had to be done in 2 and 1/2 weeks. I was in Botswana on a satellite phone for 2 and 1/2 hours, probably costing $5 a minute. To use the phone I had to walk to an office, away from our camp. It was done early in the morning when it's not entirely recommended you walk around by yourself because of the wildlife.
Q: Did you get it done?
A: Is there a choice?
Company: Cohen Financial Group
Born: Los Angeles, 1959
Education: B.A., finance, M.B.A., USC; J.D., Loyola Law School
Career Turning Point: Meeting the head of the entertainment division of a prominent Westside bank, who introduced Cohen to about 50 business managers who brought him business.
Most Influential People: Cohen's mother and mentor, Gloria Shulman, one of the first prominent women in the mortgage business in Los Angeles; his late grandfather, Benjamin Shulman, who taught Cohen how to "deal with people on a personal and business level."
Personal: Lives in Holmby Hills with his wife, Laurie, and three children, Seth, Evan and Sophie.
Hobbies: USC sports, travel, skiing and tennis
The Loan Arranger
Mortgage Originator Magazine - June 5, 2007
Mark Cohen Recognized as Number 1 Loan Originator in Country According toMortgage Originator Magazine®
~ Tops Lists for Dollar Value and Number of Loans ~
BEVERLY HILLS, CA., June 5, 2007 – Mortgage Originator Magazine® (M.O.M.) rankings of the top 200 loan originators in the country for 2006, once again placed Mark Cohen, president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group, as the number one single originator of home loans in the nation. Mr. Cohen topped both the lists for dollar volume and number of loans originated. During 2006, he originated $1,052,309,476 in dollar volume on 1606 loans.
“I am grateful to my clients and my remarkable referral network for helping me to achieve this honor,” Cohen said. “I have strived to work closely with my clients and their financial advisors to protect assets and build wealth by making the most of real estate financing. In my over 20 years of experience, I’ve learned that in every type of market, the key to success is having a qualified and experienced mortgage advisor who can close all types of loans.”
Cohen is widely recognized throughout Los Angeles as the leader in blue chip mortgages. He holds a BS in Finance and an MBA from the University of Southern California, as well as a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School. He is well positioned to advise his clients on wide-ranging home financing issues, from mortgage solutions to equity leveraging and tax mitigation. His hands-on management of the loan process at every stage, from opening to close, helps clients secure financing best suited to their personal financial situations and investment goals.
Honored by Los Angeles magazine in their “The Best of LA – Hall of Fame” feature, Mark has cemented his reputation as one of the quietest major players in Hollywood. First profiled in that magazine in July of 1999, he has over the years helped close the deal on some of the Southland’s most palatial estates.
Mortgage Originator, located in San Diego, California, is the leading trade magazine covering the mortgage origination business. As the recognized authoritative voice of the mortgage industry, M.O.M. is committed to producing hard-hitting, quality editorial every month. Seven Hills, Ohio-based Summit Business Media, L.L.C publishes M.O.M.
For more information please visit www.cohenfinancialgroup.com
Mark Cohen Recognized as Number 1 Loan Originator
Los Angeles Times - April 19, 2007
Bubble Babble In Biz Journal
There's a decent housing bubble debate in the current Los Angeles Business Journal, but it's on the paid portion of the site, so I will summarize:
Economist Christopher Thornberg, formerly of UCLA and now of Beacon Economics, argues it is a bubble, and "the pop is not over ... Past bubbles have been years in the making and years in the unmaking. ... We have a ways to go until the bottom is found."
He concludes with this advice to homebuyers: "If you can wait, do so. There is no point rushing into a market tht is far more likely to get worse than get better."
Speaking for the No-Bubble argument is Mark Cohen, president of the Beverly Hills mortgage brokerage firm Cohen Financial Group: "A crash or a long drawn-out correction has not and will not happen."
He concludes with this: "No matter what fluctuations the market experiences, over time, prices in Los Angeles rise."
Bubble Babble in Biz Journal
Los Angeles Business Journal - April 16 - 22, 2007
L.A. Won’t See a Real Estate Crash Because the Region’s Economy Is Strong
By MARK COHEN
While most of the Southern California real estate market has remained resilient over the past two or three years, much of the rest of the nation has experienced a more volatile market. In other parts of the country, homes are staying on the market for longer periods, asking prices are reduced, and bidding wars are rare. Sadly, in some places, foreclosures also have been increasing.
Some pundits have heralded a real estate “crash.” Perhaps in some parts of the country “crash” is an accurate term, but not to describe the market we have been experiencing in Los Angeles. I still think now is a good time to buy providing a homeowner plans to remain in the house for a few years.
Homeowners and would-be homebuyers are looking for answers as to what kind of real estate market Los Angeles can expect in the near term. Some real estate agents and mortgage banks have looked for these answers by comparing the current market with the down market of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
There are some similarities, but a significant difference is that home loan interest rates rose dramatically in the ’80s and ’90s and reached well into the double digits. Today, even after 17 consecutive Federal Reserve rate hikes since June 2004, interest rates for home mortgages are substantially lower than those of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Today’s fixed-rate loans are still near all-time lows.
Perhaps more importantly, the current economy of Southern California is considerably more diverse. Twenty years ago, the local economy was heavily dependent on the entertainment, aerospace and defense industries. That dependency meant a downturn in any one of those industries could have a dramatic impact on the housing market. Since that time, the area has experienced significant growth in the banking, manufacturing and professional service industries. Today the greater Los Angeles area enjoys the largest manufacturing base in the country, with some 700,000 jobs. That’s nearly twice as many manufacturing jobs as Chicago, the next largest base.
Additionally, homebuyers have access to a myriad of mortgage products that simply didn’t exist in previous real estate markets. For example, interest-only loans have helped to usher in greater affordability, making it possible for homebuyers to purchase more expensively priced homes.
Yet some significant negative factors also exist, which could impact the housing market in Los Angeles. With jobs and lower interest rates have come all-time high levels of consumer debt. Taxes, the price of health care coverage, and other everyday costs associated with doing business threatens our continued job base.
Subprime loans are another stumbling block. Although they are sometimes referred to as risky or “exotic” loans, some version of these loans has been available for several years. Used properly they are not inherently risky. However, in recent years, noteworthy lenders have used subprime loans more widely and in some cases they should never have been recommended or approved. This has caused subprime lending guidelines to become overly restrictive and the supply of dollars to fund these loans potentially reduced.
In spite of these challenges, when pundits declare that we are experiencing a real estate crash, they seem to be forgetting that prices always vary depending on the home and its location. And Los Angeles remains one of the most popular places in the country to live, which means there will always be a growing demand to own property here.
In spite of the slightly lower asking prices we’ve seen over the past couple of years, the Los Angeles real estate market has remained relatively strong and prices are already improving. Whether we will see home prices return to the levels of two or three years ago remains to be seen. But a crash or a long drawn-out correction has not and will not happen.
There is one important lesson that can be drawn from every real estate market on which homeowners and homebuyers can bank: No matter what fluctuations the market experiences, over time, prices in Los Angeles rise. During any market, I remain convinced that owning real estate in Southern California is one of the best investments a person can make. That was true in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it remains true as well, today.
Mark Cohen is president of Cohen Financial Group, a Beverly Hills-based mortgage brokerage firm.
L.A. Won't See A Real Estate Crash by Mark Cohen
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles - October, 2006
Q&A WITH MARK COHEN
by Marc Ballon, Senior Writer
Mark Cohen thinks those doomsday scenarios about an impending Southland housing crash miss the mark And the founder and -president of Beverly Hills- based Cohen Financial Group has learned a thing or two about real estate over the last 20years. With an MBA from USC and a law degree from Loyola Law School, the 47-year-old mortgage broker helped secure nearly $ 1billion in home loans this year, making him the No. I individual mortgage loan originator in the country, according to Mortgage Originator Magazine. When not spending time with his three children and wife Laurie, Cohen has been involved with the local Jewish community. A member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' Real Estate and Construction Division, Cohen has also played an active role at Sinai Temple for more than two decades. He and his wife have long supported ATID (which translates as future in Hebrew), a Sinai program that trains future Jewish leaders. They also recently contributed funds toward the writing of a new Torah.
The Jewish Journal spoke to Cohen about the recent reversal in the local housing market.
Jewish Journal: Why has the housing market slowed in Southern California?
Mark Cohen: Southern California is a great place to live, which is why so many people want to live here. However, that also means the supply of apartments, houses and condos is limited. Over time, this supply-and-demand situation in housing has pushed prices up dramatically, pricing many people completely out of the market. Added to this are the interest rate hikes by the Fed. Rates have increased by about 2 1/2 percent over the past few years, and that has made the cost of borrowing more expensive, closing the door on even more potential homeowners.
JJ: If the Fed raises interest rates to keep inflation in check, will that help or hurt the market?
MC: The jury is still out on whether or not the Fed will continue to raise rates. It all depends on whether or not they can keep inflation under control. If there are more rate increases in the near future, they will likely have a negative effect on the market in the short term. However, if the Fed is successful in keeping inflation in check, they can keep the door open for future rate cuts should there be a slowdown in the economy. Recent economic reports are showing that inflation has moderated for the time being, which means the Fed's tightening cycle may be over. And that would have a positive impact on the real estate market
JJ: What areas of the Southland are most at risk of having the bottom drop out? Why?
MC: It's difficult to single out specific areas in Southern California that have the most risk. However, right now, San Diego seems to have an oversupply of new condominiums on the market due to all the speculation that occurred over the past few years. There's also usually a deeper correction in areas where there has been excess in new construction. Palm Springs is an example of this. On the other side of the coin, the Westside, South Bay and San Fernando Valley will likely fare better during a slowdown because of the lack of new construction, limited supply of homes and desirability. All in all, Southern California is a great place to live and historically, over time, real estate here has proven to be great investment.
JJ: Do you anticipate a hard or soft landing locally?
MC: A soft lading will depend on several factors. First, the direction of interest rates will have a big impact, as will die strength of the local economy. As long as jobs are being created and the economy stays at its current growth levels, it's highly unlikely that well experience a hard landing. Obviously, the actions by die Fed in die next few months will affect the local real estate market for the foreseeable future.
JJ: How long do you expect the market to remain soft?
MC: It really depends on the economy. If we have continued job creation and continued economic growth, the market will recover more quickly. Fewer jobs created and slower growth will mean a longer slowdown. The real driving force behind the real estate market isn't interest rates; it's the economy. That's because even though fixed-interest rates have risen recently, they are still at manageable levels.
JJ: How is this housing market of today different from the boom-and-bust cycle of the late 1980s and early 1990s?
MC: This is a very different market from the one we saw in the late 1980sor early 1990s, primarily because the Southern California economy is now much more diverse. During that period, the economy here was based on the aerospace, defense and entertainment industries. Today our economy is much more diverse, with financial services, technology, biotechnology and other industries playing major roles on the region's vitality. A more diverse economy means the chances of a hard economic landing are reduced, and this, in turn, helps to support the housing market.
JJ: What kind of industries might suffer in a soft housing market, and how could that impact the entire local economy?
MC: The real estate industry has a large effect on the Southern California economy, because there are so many people employed in it either directly or indirectly, including lenders, tide companies, escrow agents, real estate sales agents, contractors, and developers, This means that a prolonged slowdown would hurt the folks employed in these industries and the overall local economy as well.
JJ: How much do you expect housing in Southern California to drop in the next year? What price ranges will be hit hardest?
MC: I don't expect prices will fall more than 5 percent to 10 percent from the market highs of a couple years ago, with the hardest hit homes being those in the mid-level price range between $1 million to $3 million.
JJ: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying or selling a home in Los Angeles?
MC: I'm a big proponent of home ownership. Don't we all work hard so we can eventually own our own home? My advice is for people to feel comfortable living in a new home for at least five years so interest rates and real-estate- cycle influences are reduced. I don't think we're in a market that allows for short-term housing speculation, since the market is extremely volatile.
L.A. Won't See A Real Estate Crash by Mark Cohen
Nationwide Press Release - April, 2005
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Beverly Hills Mortgage Originator Laps National Field
In 2004 Top 200 Residential Mortgage Origination Rankings
SIZZLING MORTGAGE MARKET + HIGH DEMAND/LOW SUPPLY + UNPRECEDENTED PROFESSIONAL REFERRAL NETWORK + EXTRAORDINARY CLIENT SERVICE = WINNING FORMULA FOR MARK COHEN
BEVERLY HILLS, CA–APRIL 12, 2005—According to just released 2004 rankings published in the April 2005 issue of Mortgage Originator Magazine® ( M.O.M.), Mark Cohen, President of Beverly Hills, California-based Cohen Financial Group was #1 among the Top 200 mortgage originators nationwide, in dollar volume and loans originated. Mr. Cohen originated $1,353,797,483 in dollar volume on 2,722 loans.
"I learned long ago that when deals close, doors open. I am truly grateful to my successful clients and extraordinary professional referral network for helping me set a new industry benchmark," noted Cohen. "And given a finite supply of desirable, upscale homes for sale, an ever-increasing domestic and foreign demand, and mortgage rates that remain among the lowest in 30 years, Southern California home appreciation and prices are headed in only one direction: Up. 2005 promises to be yet another spectacular year for our industry," he continued.
The M.O.M's criteria for the Top Originator list were the same as in previous years. Residential loan originators had to personally close at least $30 million and/or 140 loans of personal, residential volume in 2004, to be eligible for consideration. This Ninth Annual List features 355 individual originators in the Top 200 FHA/VA and Rookie categories. Mr. Cohen has ranked in the top five for the past eight years.
Astonishingly, Mr. Cohen lapped the 2004 runner-up who generated $651,471,431 and 921 loans. "If someone would have told me 20 years ago that one day we would see $300 million loan originators—let alone a $1 billion loan originator, as we celebrate in this year's top originators list—I would have called them crazy", says M.O.M.'s Doug Smith, in a rankings sidebar article titled "Start Thinking Big."
With more than 20 years of experience in home loan origination, Mr. Cohen is widely recognized throughout Los Angeles as the go-to guru of blue-chip mortgages. He
is an anomaly among brokers/originators. An astute businessman who holds both a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School and a MBA from USC, Mr. Cohen is positioned to advise his clients on wide ranging home-financing issues--from mortgage solutions, to equity leveraging, to tax mitigation. Through hands-on management of the loan process—literally, from opening to close—he helps his clients secure financing best suited to their personal financial situation and investment goals.
Mortgage Originator, located in San Diego, California, is the leading trade magazine covering the mortgage origination business. As the recognized authoritative voice of the mortgage industry, M.O.M. is committed to producing hard-hitting, quality editorial every month. Deerfield, Illinois-based Pfingsten Publishing, L.L.C publishes M.O.M.
# # #
Beverly Hills Mortgage Originator Laps National Field
Westside Today - April, 2005
Give Me A Home Where The Affluent Roam, And I’ll Show You A Supply And
By Mark Cohen
The free enterprise system is alive and well in Southern California. Homes are bought and sold with few, if any, governmental restrictions. Sellers ask any price they wish, and buyers offer whatever price they are willing to pay. The dearth of available homes for sale in desirable areas,
coupled with a growing demand from both domestic and foreign buyers seeking lifestyle above all else, continue to drive bidding wars and home appreciation. It’s Economics 101, but the subject still deserves further explanation.
During a sellers' market, homes sell quickly and sellers have a lot of pricing power. As a result, prices rise more rapidly than at other times. During a buyers' market, homes may sit on the market longer before selling. Sellers become more flexible and may even drop their prices. The market is fully determined by supply and demand.
In the real estate industry, the relationship between supply and demand is calculated as “available inventory.” Here’s how the real estate industry measures inventory: At the current sales pace, how long would it take to sell the total number of houses available on the market? Value increases as more and more people compete for the available housing. The relative
scarcity of housing, the ability to pay, and population growth can all affect the value of a home.
Inventory is measured in weeks and months: Longer inventory times are associated with buyers' markets; shorter inventory periods are associated with sellers' markets. But the real estate market does not necessarily move in tandem with the stock market or with the economy as a whole. Part of the reason is interest rates.
After a bloated 2004 summer and fall, the inventory of homes for sale in the Los Angeles area slimmed down to the point that multiple offers were once again common occurrences. Sluggish supply could trigger a spring 2005 season of accelerated price increases after six months of relative flatness.
The Southern California region continues to be a magnet for well-heeled foreign homebuyers. The value of the Euro in relationship to a depreciated US dollar has made LA-area homes a bargain relative to homes in other parts of the world. Keeping in mind the supply and demand imbalance, foreign investment—coupled with interest rates that remain near their lowest in 35
years—will keep home prices and values at an all-time high.
Luxury homes in Los Angeles County posted their largest-ever gains in appreciation last year according to the California Association of Realtors. The average price of a luxury home in LA––those worth more than $1million—rose nearly 28 percent to a record $1.97 million. The region’s rapid price increase outperformed high-end markets in San Diego and San Francisco,
where appreciation came in at 16.4 percent and 13.7 percent, respectively.
The record gains in 2004 follow five years of already robust growth. Luxury prices rose 14.9 percent in 2003, 3.6 percent in 2002, and 9.4 percent in 2001. Since December 2000, the average luxury home in Los Angeles County has increased more than $600,000 in value.
There's a downside, however. According to a just-released report by the California Association of Realtors (CAR), the percentage of households in the state able to afford a median-priced home stood at only 18 percent in January, a five percentage-point decrease compared with the same period a year ago.
In a study written by the UCLA Anderson Forecast, issued March 15, 2005, researchers noted, “California’s hot real estate market is destined to cool down—and when it does, the state’s economic recovery could be over.” Meanwhile, property values in the last four years have swelled to $1.7 trillion, the equivalent of about 35% of the total personal income since 2001.
The study also cites the sharp increase in home equity as responsible for the up-tick in consumer spending that has fueled economic growth. “We have an economy that’s rolling along on the basis of a false sense of wealth.”
But, is the sky really falling? Thirty-year fixed interest rates averaged just 5.71 percent in January 2005—unchanged from January 2004. Given a finite supply of desirable, upscale homes for sale and an ever-increasing domestic and foreign demand, home appreciation and prices are headed in only one direction: Up.
That’s excellent news both for high-end buyers and sellers. Luxury homes in exclusive areas, such as Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Brentwood, Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades, will continue to sell at premium prices. And buyers able to pay a premium price will continue to enjoy the quiet, natural setting of a large estate; the social fulfillment of an exclusive address; the proximity to desirable schools; and the adjacency of luxury shopping and fine dining.
On the Westside, it's how our economy works.
Mark Cohen is president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group, rated the “#1 Mortgage Broker in California” for eight years in a row by Mortgage Originator magazine and “Best of LA” by Los Angeles magazine.
Give me a home where the affluent roam...
Brentwood News - February, 2005
|LA’s Westside today seems a long way from the tony enclave in which I grew up during the 1960s and 70’s. Throughout the decades since, much of the familiar has disappeared. And much more has gotten bigger. Wider. Taller. Pricier.
Global fashion houses have displaced Rodeo Drive’s mom-and-pop retailers. The local food scene has achieved international reputation. Double-digit million-dollar compounds now dwarf
one-time million-dollar mansions.
Still, I love this place. There’s nowhere else on earth like it. Especially when it comes to our geography, coastal climate, envious lifestyle, beautiful people, stylish cars, and ever-increasing
Fact is, the average value of a luxury home in the Los Angeles area has risen for 10 consecutive quarters. And values set all-time highs in each of the first three quarters of 2004. Overall, Los Angeles home values jumped 13.2% from the second quarter of 2003 to the second quarter of 2004 and 27.2% from the third quarter of 2003—the largest year-over-year increase recorded by the Index for the Los Angeles area. The average luxury home in Los Angeles is now valued at a record $1.95 million—up $417,000 from a year ago.
Beyond Los Angeles
By contrast, after years of posting breathtaking price increases, several of the nation’s biggest home markets are witnessing trouble. Double-digit annual gains are stalling. Homes are remaining on the market longer. Home prices in some areas are actually falling.
Nationwide, home price appreciation has moderated significantly, according to Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, the government agency that tracks home cost trends. Its conclusions are based on data from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the nation’s two biggest sources of mortgage capital.
According to the California Association of Realtors (CAR), the median price of an existing home in California in November 2004 increased 23.1 percent and sales increased 4 percent compared with the same period a year ago. The median price of a home in California continued its upward march, increasing by double-digits for the 36th month in a row to $473,260. The CAR reported in mid- January that after four consecutive record years, California home sales are expected to drop slightly but remain close to record levels in 2005.
David Lereah, the association’s chief economist, said, “No one expects home sales to set a record every year, with some ebb and flow normal as market conditions and needs shift. Even so, home sales will stay well above what was considered to be a healthy level
in the late 1990s. The population has grown, household formation is strong and demographics tell us this trend will continue. In addition, a similar mix of economic conditions is expected in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.”
2005 Westside Forecast
As we enter 2005, the Los Angeles Westside market is hotter than ever. Inventory is in short supply and demand is high. There’s now an influx of foreign buyers because of the strong Euro. Despite the extraordinary year-over-year gain, Los Angeles real estate is not overvalued because of the quality of life and strength of the region’s economy. Indeed, the market is
certainly as strong as we’ve seen it. There is far more wealth than there is an availability of luxury homes. The availability of cheap money and the lack of alternative investments are also fueling the luxury home market. In short: it’s still the hottest market we’ve seen in the last three decades.
Don’t you just love this Westside Story?
About the Author
Mark Cohen is president of Beverly Hills-based Cohen Financial Group––rated the “#1 Mortgage Broker in California” for eight years in a row by Mortgage Originator Magazine and “Best of LA” by Los Angeles Magazine. Learn more at www.cohenfinancialgroup.com. You may reach Mark at (310) 777-5401.
West Side Story
Westside Today - December, 2004
As 2004 draws close to the New Year and a new four-year term for the Bush administration, it’s appropriate that we examine the U.S. housing market—looking back from last January and forward to 2006.
We've finally come to the end of the political season. With all the negativity and focus on what’s ailing the country, attack ads and sniping, it's little wonder that measures of consumer attitudes have been beaten down in recent weeks: the yardsticks that cover those concepts all pointed to a somewhat more disappointed electorate. For example, the Conference Board's Index of Consumer Confidence dipped to a reading of 92.8 in October from September's 96.7; and the University of Michigan survey of Consumer Sentiment slid to 91.7 from 94.2. Based on the November 2 election results, I expect that sentiment will begin to improve as the partisan politicking falls behind us.
It is fair to say that those sentiment levels haven't affected home-buying and refinancing decisions. According to financial publisher HSH New Home sales in September jumped back up to a 1.206 million (annualized) level of sale, rising 3.5% from August. In addition, sales of previously-owned stock powered higher by 3%, landing among the best levels of this stellar year.
To be certain, lenders, mortgage brokers, realtors and homeowners have enjoyed a prosperous 2004. Driven by a strengthening economy, low mortgage interest rates, and a demand for home ownership that far outweighed the supply in most regions, home values have skyrocketed amidst a selling, buying and refinancing frenzy held over from 2003. And all signs point to the continuation of a strong single-family home mortgage market over the next 24 months.
Let’s examine the nation vs. California vs. the Los Angeles Westside. The national median existing-home price was $186,600 in September, up 8.6 percent from September 2003, when the median price was $171,800. During the same period in California, median home prices were up 21%, from $384,690 to $465,540. By comparison, many Westside L.A. areas showcased September 2004 median home values exceeding $1 million. Acknowledging the widespread proliferation of million-dollar homes throughout the Westside, Coldwell Banker recently upped to $2 million, from $1 million, the listing requirement for homes represented by its Preview Homes division.
For 2005, the Mortgage Bankers Association is forecasting continued, though moderating, economic growth, with purchase mortgage originations remaining near the record levels of 2004. The MBA says low rates are keeping mortgage payments very competitive with apartment rents, so apartment vacancy rates are increasing as home-ownership rates increase. Additionally, low mortgage payments are opening home-ownership opportunities to many immigrant families. The mortgage industry has shown itself adept at using the capital markets to bring greater liquidity to a number of innovative products like hybrid ARMs, low documentation loans and loans to borrowers who want to buy a house while they are still rebuilding their credit.
According to Douglas Duncan, the MBA’s senior vice president and chief economist, the MBA is forecasting only a modest increase in rates, despite the continued expansion of the economy. “As long as rates remain at these levels, home buying will remain an attractive alternative to renting and the purchase market will continue strong,” said Duncan.
Duncan believes—and I agree—that 30-year fixed mortgage rates will increase gradually to 6.5 percent by the end of 2005, and to nearly 7 percent by the end of 2006. This will largely be a result of long-term Treasury rates staying well below 5 percent during 2005 and climbing to 5.1 percent by the end of 2006. Short-term (1-year) Treasury rates are expected to climb even more quickly, increasing from 2.2 percent to 3.2 percent by the end of 2005 and to 4.0 percent by the end of 2006.
Many factors will continue to positively influence LA County’s home values. Population density together with the dearth of available land on which to develop and build new single-family housing is a winning combination for sustaining property values. Much of this market’s economy is comprised of small entrepreneurial businesses, professionals, and of course a booming entertainment industry—people to whom lifestyle is a priority and can afford to buy up and want to live in LA’s most desirable neighborhoods.
Further buoyed by our diverse Southern California economy and an influx of foreign money, especially from Asia, I foresee home sales remaining extremely fluid and home values continuing to appreciate accordingly.
About the Author
Mark Cohen is president of Beverly Hills-based, Cohen Financial Group—rated the “#1 Mortgage Broker in California” for eight years in a row by Mortgage Originator Magazine and "Best of LA" by Los Angeles Magazine. You can learn more at www.cohenfinancialgroup.com. You may reach Mark at (310) 777-5401.
Forecast: Westside Home Market Will Remain Four Seasons Hot
Beverly Hills Courier - November 19, 2004
NOVEMBER 19, 2004
Even in these days of mega-priced properties, originating $1 billion worth of home loans in a year’s time represents an impressive achievement for any mortgage company, regardless of its size. But when that total emanates from a single individual, the business world stands up and takes notice.
That’s certainly so with Mark H. Cohen, a 45-year old dynamo and native son of Beverly Hills, who has built Cohen Financial Group into a powerhouse in just over half a decade. Operating out of a high-rise office at Wilshire Blvd. and Camden Dr., Cohen possesses a spectacular 180-degree, panoramic view of the city and mountains. From this vantage one can virtually pinpoint many of the estates and houses for which he has arranged financing.
“Like most situations these days, the mortgage industry is highly competitive with little or no room for error,” said Cohen. “Besides building personal relationships and knowing which banking sources to go to for getting something done fast, the main things we have to sell are service, service, and more service.”
And service is what Mark Cohen delivers. For instance, late last December the workaholic was able to take a few days off from the grind and fly his family for a week of skiing to British Columbia’s Whistler Resort. While there, he takes a call from a mega-celebrity client sun basking on the lovely Caribbean island of Anguilla. The client needs to get his loan opened and closed by December 31.
Through Federal Express and door-to-door messengers on both ends, the necessary documents were shuffled back and forth between the island and the mountain. The loan indeed came through on time for New Year’s celebrations by all.
“You have to be there for people when they need you and make the improbable happen—otherwise, there’s always somebody ready to try to take your spot,” explained Cohen. “This is certainly no place for the faint of heart.”
Cohen learned the basics of the business from his mother, Gloria Shulman, herself a pioneer mortgage broker and one of the largest in the city for the past quarter century.
After attending Hawthorne School and Beverly Hills High School, he went on to the University of Southern California, where he earned BS and MBA degrees. A proud alum, the rabid Trojans football fan has only missed three home games in 28 years.
Although he also obtained a JD degree at Loyola-Marymount University’s law school, Cohen stated: “I never really wanted to practice law on a full-time basis—but it sure comes in handy in real estate transactions these days, since the legalities and paperwork seemingly never end.”
And speaking of paperwork, the Cohen office is a sea of files of every size and shape. Asked how he keeps track of every minute detail among some 150 current active or pending loan deals, he pointed out: “I write everything down and I mean everything. There are just too many contingencies that can crop up and you can’t leave loose ends or anything to chance.
“Our diverse economy and low interest rates, plus the recent influx of foreign money, especially from Asia, has kept home sales up here in Beverly Hills and on the Westside generally. Loan demand is still at a fever pitch though, frankly, not quite as much as in the recent spring and summer months,” he said.
As Westside home values rose sharply the last 24 months, so have those in the San Fernando and Conejo valleys, especially the zip codes running along the Santa Monica Mountains from Studio City to Thousand Oaks.
“More than 25 years ago Joyce Rey and Harleigh Sandler created Rodeo Realty as an umbrella under which to market and sell Westside homes valued at $1 million and upwards. Today, $1 million houses are commonplace in many LA areas —so common, in fact, that Coldwell Banker recently upped the low end of this specialty division to $2 million,” explained Cohen.
Some experts predict the 30-year fixed mortgage rate will hit 6 to 7 percent by the end of 2005. “But even at that, the mortgage market will still be active due to the high demand for housing in the Southland,” he continued.
According to Cohen, many factors will continue to influence LA County’s home values, which are currently among the nation’s highest and will remain so. Population density together with the dearth of available land on which to develop and build new single-family housing is a winning combination for sustaining property valuations.
“Much of this market’s economy is comprised of small entrepreneurial businesses, professionals and, of course, a booming entertainment industry. People to whom lifestyle is a priority and can afford to buy up and want to live in LA’s most desirable neighborhoods,” he said.
Cohen also reminds that in some areas, home values are often influenced by the excellence of public school districts where residents don’t have to spring for private education—Beverly Hills being a prime example of this.
“Older homeowners, age 55 and up, often take advantage of this hot market by scaling down and using their one-time tax incentive. For instance, if someone paid $750,000 for a primary residence a few years ago, sold it today for $2.5 million, and then purchased a smaller home within the same county for $1.5 million, the property tax on the latter would normally be $18,000,” stated Cohen.
“Under the exemption, the new property tax would be based on the $750,000 valuation of the original home, not the $1.5 million, resulting in an annual tax savings of $9,000. This makes selling a home much more attractive.”
Cohen’s first lucky business break came in the late 1980s from the entertainment division of a premier, regional bank. Through that relationship, Mark developed and has maintained ties with more than 50 prominent business managers. This, along with client word of mouth and a strong realtor referral base have continued to help solidify Cohen Financial Group’s leadership in the industry.
His workday starts at 5 a.m. and ends some 13 hours or so hours later when he breaks for a daily workout across the street at Sports Club LA.
Cohen and his wife, Laurie, who were married in 1987, are active members of Sinai Temple, United Jewish Fund, and LA Philharmonic’s board of overseers. She is also a member of the Los Angeles County’s Museum of Arts Costume Council and on the parent board of Buckley School.
Along with their three children, (sons Seth, 16 and Evan, 14; and daughter Sophie, five), the family jointly participates in tennis, basketball, running, and annual travels. Recent destinations have included France, Italy and a safari in South Africa.
“To have a wonderful wife and kids, an exciting business and be able to help people realize their dreams of home ownership, I’m truly a very lucky man,” he exclaimed.
Profile of Mark Cohen