Andrea Furr, 24, admits that she never would have thought that she would be interested in learning anything about real estate or about how to process mortgage loan applications.
But she and 11 other participants who recently graduated from the 14-week D.C. Private Industry Council mortgage loan processor training program said they are ready to put their new-found knowledge to work.
"It really took about a month for me to really catch on," said Furr, who worked as a secretary in the D.C. government before being accepted in the program. "I spent a lot of time studying, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning."
The program is part of the nonprofit council's effort to train economically disadvantaged residents of the District and help them get jobs with local companies. It is only the second class the eight-year-old council has held for mortgage loan processors. The council has ongoing training programs in accounting, building maintenance and repair, computer programming and car repair.
"The good thing about this program is that if they don't like mortgage loan processing, there are a variety of other jobs in which they can use the same skills and information," said Lorraine Whipple, the council's director of employment and training. "We're often criticized for putting our graduates in dead-end jobs, but this is a field where they can let their ability take them on to bigger and better things."
For the training, the council used some funds from the federal Job Training Partnership Act and received a $10,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., commonly known as Freddie Mac, which specializes in buying and selling loans in the secondary market.
The Potomac Real Estate Institute; the accounting firm of Peat, Marwick, Main & Co., and A.E. Landvoigt, a mortgage banker, helped coordinate the curriculum, choose participants and oversee the program. The participants in the program were required to be District residents, at least 16 years old, out of school, from a low-income family and receiving unemployment insurance.
Leland Brendsel, acting president and chief executive officer of Freddie Mac, said his firm helped sponsor the program because "the way we see it, a company simply can't aspire to excellence unless people who make up that company aspire to excellence. That's why we devote a lot of time, and a lot of money, to finding employes with just the right talent and training."
Students spent the first two weeks taking refresher courses in basic math, algebra and English, then the remaining weeks studying basic principles in accounting, finance and banking and learning how to analyze and approve loan applications.
"I've been a real estate agent for about a year, but was trying to understand the whole process," said Avis Baucum, 38. "Now, I understand both ends of it."
Riccman Russell, 46, an architect, said the program has been "a real door-opener. I've been an architect and know real estate from the design point of view," he said. "Now I've learned how to provide the finance to make my design a reality."
But not all students who enter the mortgage loan processing or other council programs graduate. About 40 percent of them drop out or are asked to leave the program because they fail to attend classes, Whipple said. Problems with family, drugs or money are some of the reasons for the high attrition rate. Out of the 20 students who started the mortgage loan processing program, only 12 graduated and most are now looking for jobs. Out of 16 graduates from last year's class, 10 found jobs with mortgage companies, real estate agencies or appraisal firms while five others found jobs outside the field.
During the program, students get a $7-a-day allowance. While some may still receive unemployment insurance, others must generate income with part-time jobs or help from their families to carry them through the program.
"To stick it out for 14 weeks to the kind of harassment we subject them to takes a lot of fortitude," said Warren Porter, president of the Potomac Real Estate Institute. "The training they get in 14 weeks is the same information they might get in six to nine months on a job."
Damon Simpson, 29, was a computer operator before entering the training program.
"I have a new baby and need the security for my family," he said. "I'm going to go out there shining."