Sun Belt Success And Stress: One-On-One With Troy Williamson


Craving some sunshine? You are not alone as the migration to the Sun Belt continues past the pandemic.

Data from U-Haul and North American Van Lines shows that the Carolinas, Florida, and Texas were among the top inbound states for migration last year. That trend is expected to continue.

And as the state of North Carolina sees an influx of new residents, the coastal city of Wilmington has been attracting accolades. It was listed as the second best place to live in North Carolina by Forbes Advisor last fall, coming in after Raleigh, the state’s capital.

In January, the median listing home price in Wilmington was $435,700, trending up 18.1% year-over-year. The median home sold price was $372,500, according to a report from

Troy Williamson is a senior loan officer at Cornerstone Home Lending. He has lived in Wilmington since 1996 and said in a recent interview with The Mortgage Note that he is seeing first-hand the results of homebuyers flocking to the Sun Belt for warmer weather and a better quality of life.

Haas: All right. So tell me, what are you seeing in North Carolina? I mean, you’ve been there your entire life, growing up on the Outer Banks, and now you are in Wilmington. What are some of the highlights?

Williamson: I think because of all the things that Wilmington has to offer, it is a highly sought-after area.

We live in a coastal area. We’ve got so many beaches nearby. We’re in close proximity to Myrtle Beach, Raleigh, Charlotte. We have the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. We have a great technical community college here. We have a historic downtown.

And so the number one thing that we’ve seen here is just continued growth, especially over the course of the last couple of years.

Because let’s face it, when a lot of people started going to remote work, if you lived in Kansas, but you really loved the beach, what was going to keep you in Kansas? Why would you not move to Wilmington?

I mean, there’s always been an influx of people moving to this area, but especially over the course of the last two to three years, it’s been a massive influx of people.

And I think that that would go for the majority of the southeastern United States. I mean, Florida’s booming, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, there’s just a lot of areas in the southeastern United States that have been the recipients. So many people have moved here from other parts of the country as a result of a change in mindset because of Covid.

Haas: How has that affected prices?

Williamson: There’s a significant amount of demand and a very limited amount of supply. That’s not going to get any better anytime soon, in my mind, until interest rates come down because, I mean, if you’re sitting on a 2.75% interest rate, and granted, yes, “Hey, I can sell my house right now and make $400,000 or $500,000,” but if I’m going to go buy something, I’m going to pay more for it, and my interest rate’s going to be more than double.

As a result, I think people are just continuing to sit tight. They’re not willing, at the current time until rates come down a bit, to list their house on the market.

A lot of it falls with a lack of existing inventory. Obviously, we have a lot of new construction here, but then you’ve got new construction prices because of the supply chain issues, labor shortages, delays, and things like that.

So the demand’s going to remain strong and the supply is going to take a long time to catch up. I don’t think that we will see the appreciation that we’ve seen over the last two to three years by any means, but I definitely think that we will continue to see a gradual rate of appreciation in this market for the foreseeable future.

Haas: What are some of the challenges?

Williamson: If you’re trying to buy in Wilmington with the high amount of demand, there are people moving here from California, Montana, Idaho, New York, New Jersey. And they’re moving here with money, coming in with large down payments or cash.

Then you’ve got a first-time home buyer who’s very well qualified, that has a good income and maybe has 10% to put down, they’re still not going to be able to compete with the cash buyer.

It stinks because then people have to rent, right? And so, if you drive around Wilmington and you look, there’s an apartment complex being built on every corner.

When people are throwing millions of dollars at building these things, it’s not because they think they’re going to rent them. They know they’re going to rent them.

If you count all the people that are coming here that either can’t buy, whether they can’t afford it, can’t qualify, or can’t find something, they’re forced to rent. Now you’re creating an affordability crisis from a rental perspective as well.

It certainly presents a lot of challenges. I would not want to be in the shoes of leaders here locally. And I know they talk about it.

I think there will be some affordable housing options, but they’re going to be in neighboring counties that are a little bit further out, and people are just going to have to get comfortable with the fact that they’re not going to be able to live in Wilmington. They’re going to have to go to more rural areas in order to be able to qualify to buy a house.

Haas: Now, how does that play out with work? Are a lot of people in your area still in a remote or hybrid mode, or are a lot of employers demanding that people come into the office place?

I mean, are they flexible with their work schedules to accommodate the needs of these employees that may have to live in someplace that’s a little bit more remote to have something that’s affordable?

Williamson: I believe that they are. People that I talk to going through the application process and talking about their employment situations, we do encounter a lot of employees that have very flexible work schedules or their employers are completely fine with them being remote.

Now, there’s gonna be some positions that don’t lend to remote employees and that’s a whole different set of challenges. But for the vast majority of people that we encounter, I feel like they’ve got a relatively good situation from a flexibility standpoint with their employer that accommodates them if they do have to potentially move out a little bit further.

And honestly, I think a lot of people, with the way that Wilmington proper has gotten with the influx of people and the traffic, I think a lot of people want to move to more rural areas. Even if they could afford to be in Wilmington, they don’t want to deal with the hassle and the headache of the traffic and everything.

So I think for some it will become a necessity, but for others, it will just be something that they choose to do in their preference.

Haas: I notice on Twitter you do videos. What are some of the key ways that you’re reaching people in the modern marketplace?

Williamson: Being in the market for so long, I’ve got a great returning client base.

We get a lot of return clients and a lot of referrals from clients. We have great relationships with referral partners as well because we value our reputation in this market. And when we say that we’re going to do something, we do it. People know that they trust us.

We’re not cherry-picking loans. We’re willing to take on the most challenging loans to the easiest loans.

We’d always had a social media presence, but I knew that it was going to become increasingly more important moving forward. And what we ended up doing was hiring a marketing intern on a six-month trial.

It was a paid internship. It was great. We actually ended up landing a phenomenal candidate, hired them on for another six-month internship, and then hired them on full-time after the internship as our local marketing coordinator.

I told him when he came in, I said, “It’s not gonna be like this forever. You know, the business is not going to be like this forever, and I want to be proactive instead of having to be reactive.” We created a social media campaign. We were the first, I think, the first team in Cornerstone to have a TikTok account.

I know clients look at it. I get a lot of good feedback and commentary. Plus, it makes you a trusted resource for information. And I think ultimately that’s what everybody’s looking for. Yes, I can do your mortgage, but you know, it’s like, in addition to just being able to do your mortgage, you want to know that I know what I’m talking about.

You want to know that I’m trying to get you the best interest rate that I can and that I know what I’m looking for to try to capitalize on the best time to lock in your interest rate.

I can’t meet with everybody face to face, right? So it gives people an opportunity to get to know me just by listening to me talk.

Haas: Well, I like how you say that. It gives people an opportunity to know you. That is one benefit of social media because you’re right, you can’t meet with every single person face-to-face. But if you’re offering that information to people across all platforms, and they can find it, they can rely on it, they can follow it. I think it does help in that relationship building.

So what are you seeing when you talk to other loan officers? Are people adjusting to the new normal in your area? How are the loan officers in your area adjusting, and what are they looking forward to in 2023?

Williamson: There are a lot of great loan officers in our market. Thankfully we’re all blessed that there’s a significant amount of business. There’s a bit for everybody and we can all be successful and make a living, which is great because I want everybody to be successful.

With that said, over the course of the last two to three years, I do think that a lot of people have gotten into mortgages and real estate because they saw what was happening and they were like, “Oh, this is a great industry to get into and make a lot of money.”

I hate to say it in a way, but I mean, I kind of welcome this because it weeds out some of the people that don’t need to be in the industry.

I talk to people sometimes and they talk to another loan officer who I’ve ended up finding out hasn’t been doing it that long, and they get bad advice. They haven’t taken the time to gain the knowledge and do the appropriate training to get to the point where they need to be. It can give all of us a bad name.

Haas: It seems like you really have to be tough and understand the market well enough to be able to prepare for the good times when you are busy, obviously, but also have enough sense to know, like you said, that it’s not always going to be super busy where you’re just trying to keep up, and to have those tools and strategies in place in order to be able to sustain some of those slower times. Am I correct in asserting that?

Williamson: Anybody that’s been in the industry for a little bit, you recognize the cycles and you know it’s a cycle. It begins and ends. So you have to grind it out, recognize the beginning, why it’s happening, and do your best, but you also have to prepare for when the cycle inevitably ends.

And then you prepare for the next one.

It can be frustrating for someone who hasn’t been through cycles, but we spend a lot of time with people on that in our office that maybe haven’t been doing it for as long, but are very good at what they do.

Haas: How about regulations and stuff like that? Is there anything that’s hampering you folks as loan officers there in North Carolina, things that maybe the state legislature is doing, which is making your life a little bit more difficult?

Williamson: No, not necessarily. I mean, one thing that we did encounter here, and it has nothing to do with state legislation, but we have a very strong second home market here, very strong, because we’re near the beach and a lot of people have vacation homes here.

And so the new loan level pricing adjustments that were instituted last April on second homes, which basically bumped up the rates to more comparable with investment properties as opposed to what they previously were, closer to a primary, that did not help at all.

Yes, you still get to benefit from the lower down payment and the lower PMI compared to what it would be on an investment property. But, when the rates were comparable to what they were on a primary, and now they’ve gone up by one, one and a half, 2%, in some instances, that’s a problem.

That’s one thing that I’ve seen that, over the course of the last 10 months, that has been a significant impact, I think, on our business, just in addition to interest rates going up in general.

Haas: What are some of the ways you’re overcoming some of those hurdles?

Williamson: The down payment matters a lot more.

I try to push my second home borrowers to put a little more money down to get to that 25% threshold because it makes a difference, whether that’s tapping into an equity line on their current primary or something like that. You’re talking potentially half a percent, three-quarters of a percent, sometimes more, difference in rate by going up to that 25% down payment.

In October, leaders at Cornerstone announced the completion of its previously announced acquisition of and merger with The Roscoe State Bank of Roscoe, Texas.

“This exciting transaction allows us to provide more comprehensive financial services to our customers nationwide,” Marc Laird, founder, chairman, and CEO of Cornerstone, said in a statement.

A press release in January announced that Cornerstone had positioned all of its loan officers to originate residential mortgage purchase and refinance loans across their current footprint in 37 states and the District of Columbia without the need for individual state licenses. Additionally, Cornerstone has residential mortgage lending operations in the state of Maryland.

Chief Executive Officer Adam Laird said in a statement that after the company acquired The Roscoe State Bank and formed Cornerstone Capital Bank, teams enhanced internal technology to promote production growth across the country for loan officers through expanded lending areas, specialty portfolio loan products, training, and other services.

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