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New London - Keith Turner sounds a lot like his well-respected dad, the late Phil Turner of Niantic, when he talks about helping out first-time homebuyers.
"You almost feel like it's a volunteer position you're getting paid for," said Turner, a mortgage loan representative for McCue Mortgage in southeastern Connecticut. "You're helping people make one of the biggest financial decisions of their life."
That's the way people remember Keith's father - who died nearly three years ago at age 60 after a courageous battle with lymphoma - approached his job. He was the go-to guy for first-time homebuyer information, as Marilyn Graham of the affordable-housing group HOPE remembered, and now Keith is following in his footsteps from the same small building on Union Street that he shares with office manager Pam Gourlay.
Turner said that between him and his dad, the McCue office in New London has been the No. 1 Connecticut Housing Finance Authority lender in the state for the past two decades.
But for Turner, now 29, it has been a baptism by fire. His father's health started to deteriorate just as Turner joined his dad's business, deciding against pursuing a career as an aeronautical engineer - an area of study he completed at Georgia Institute of Technology.
"I'm not a cubicle guy," Turner said.
But Turner had worked off and on in the office before, and he seems to have imbibed his dad's same affable dedication that, as Keith recalled, still had Phil working on helping people realize their dreams just days before his own death.
"He did a mortgage the week he passed away," Turner recalled.
Turner's decision to become entwined with the world of first-time buyers in southeastern Connecticut might not have been the best timing, as the region's home sales and prices slumped initially. But sales numbers have turned around over the past two years, and Turner reports that business is steady.
Turner specializes in being well versed in a variety of first-time buyer options, including special programs geared toward teachers, police, the handicapped and people looking to buy in distressed areas such as New London and parts of Groton. Some of these programs knock as much as 1½ percentage points off the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage.
"I'm seeing a lot of people coming in, interested in these programs," he said. "And there's no adjustable (rate) catch."
One of the advantages to McCue, Turner said, is that it's a lender as well as a servicer of mortgages. That means it never got into the high-risk subprime loans, and works to get buyers into low-interest CHFA mortgages.
Turner said he believes now is a great time to buy a house, with interest rates still near historic lows. Many people Turner works with, he said, find they can save a substantial amount by buying a property rather than renting one.
Still, Turner said he prefers educating the public to pushing sales too aggressively.
"My dad's motto was 'I'm going to see you at Stop & Shop, so I don't want to have to hide behind the Coke machine,'" Turner said.
Turner, who lives in New London, said the biggest hurdle to owning a house these days is documentation: Banks need to see where the money is coming from to be able to give people loans.
Clearing up problems with credit is easier to deal with, he said, as long as you can document that a loan was paid back.
"Buying is stressful, but it can be pretty straightforward if you do A, B, C and D," he said.
Turner said his father's reputation helped give him instant credibility in the business community, but he has worked to develop his own niche by volunteering at the annual Brewfest and getting involved with, among other organizations, the Rotary Club and the Young Professionals of Eastern Connecticut, a group affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.
"This is a life endeavour," Turner said. "I hope to be doing it for a long time."
WHAT: McCue Mortgage
WHO: Keith Turner, mortgage loan representative
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 60
EMPLOYEES: 90 (2 in New London)
WHERE: 8 Union St., New London
PHONE: (860) 444-0650