By Matt Brown
Sterling National Bank’s acquisition of Universal Mortgage Inc. is more than just a grab for territory, the bank says. It is an opportunity to do long-term business in two of the most attractive neighborhoods of one of the city’s most desirable and dynamic boroughs.
Sterling, a $2.5 billion bank based in Manhattan, jumped on the opportunity to acquire Universal in early August. Universal has offices in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, which, to put it plainly, are “hot,” said Michael Bizenov, a Sterling executive vice president and head of the bank’s residential mortgage division.
On its own, Brooklyn would be one of the largest cities in the United States, a fact not lost on the folks at Sterling. Universal’s two offices will be Sterling’s first two offices in the borough.
Universal’s loan volume is mostly in purchases, a near reversal of the national trend toward refinance loans, which constitute about 80 percent of national loan volume, Bizenov said.
In Brooklyn, Sterling will have access to first time buyers, “step-up” buyers and luxury buyers, all of whom have a place in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. They present an opportunity to cross-sell Sterling’s banking products.
“It’s a significant add to our volume,” Bizenov said, “and Universal is a referral-based business.”
Louis J. Cappelli, Sterling’s chairman and CEO, said the Universal buy is “a strong source of mortgage production,” and an asset that will “further enhance our significant level of non-interest income.”
Bizenov said he and Universal principal Norman Calvo have known each other for years. Calvo and his partner Edward Ades have been closing mortgages in Brooklyn for more than 20 years, and now they and their staff will work for Sterling.
Sterling has about 500 employees and holds about $1.6 billion in loans in its portfolio. Universal says its mortgage volume was more than $300 million over the last year, most of it in purchase loans. “Rents have been driven so high that people are saying now might be a good time to buy," Bizenov said. "We’re seeing multiple bids, and going higher than asking price. You have people coming out of rentals that have put off buying for a while.”
Bizenov said they have a good number of options, from Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope's brownstones to multi-unit buildings, single-family townhomes, mid-rise condos and several gut-renovation projects and new construction. “Each neighborhood has its own personality. It’s a nice blend,” Bizenov said. “People think it’s all young families, but you see a lot of diversity.”
Will Brooklyn welcome the bank from Manhattan? Calvo seems to think so. “We share a philosophy of exceptional customer service,” he said.