At a time when many builders still say they’re having trouble getting financing for their projects, Wells Fargo & Company is betting that the housing sector is recovering at a sufficient-enough pace to support a dedicated home builder banking group that this national banker has created to serve residential developers and builders on the East Coast, in Texas, and in the Midwest.
Bird Anderson, a 25-year industry veteran who has been with Charlotte, N.C.–based Wells Fargo and its legacy Wachovia organization since 1985, heads up this new group, which comprises 14 bankers located in Washington, D.C., the Carolinas, Florida, and Texas. Two bankers in this group, in Irvine, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., will focus on national builder accounts, says Anderson, who spoke with Builder on Thursday.
He explains that three dynamics prompted Wells Fargo to develop this group at this time. The first was “general broad data about housing,” which Anderson says “seem to be better over a reasonable period of time. It’s not off the charts, but there’s an upward sloping.”
Second, Wells Fargo’s existing book of business with builders and developers has strengthened. “The credit foundations are solid, stable, or improving,” he says. And while Wells Fargo doesn’t disclose how large its client base is, Anderson says this book “is material enough to be the foundation of an existing business.”
Third, which Anderson says “is less scientific but no less important,” is anecdotal comments from builders and developers that have buoyed the bank’s impression of market conditions. “Nearly everyone we’ve spoken to has said that their business is getting better or has at least stopped deteriorating.”
The creation of this Homebuilder Banking Group comes on the heels of PNC Bank’s announcement last month that it will stop providing construction loans to builders. For months PNC has been winding down this business, which it gained from acquiring RBC Bank.
PNC’s exit was more evidence that certain banks have been reducing their exposure to the housing market, either by tightening their credit requirements or leaving that business.
Anderson says that Wells Fargo is not trying to make a statement in its pursuit of this business. “We’ve got to pay attention to what competition is doing, but it doesn’t drive our decisions.” Rather, he explains that Wells Fargo is forming this new group primarily because “we see an opportunity to serve markets and meet demand.”
Builders and developers in the western U.S. will continue to be served by Wells Fargo’s local coverage teams. Anderson explains that his company has longstanding relationships with builders in that part of the country so there was no need to incorporate their business into the new banking group. “And,” he adds, “we’re not trying to conquer the world.”
The goals of the Homebuilding Banking Group, says Anderson, will be consistent with Wells Fargo’s mission to “serve our clients and meet their needs.” Along with the team leaders, the group will provide clients with several support functions, including credit supervision, asset and collateral management, deposit and treasury services, funding, disbursement, and billing.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.