SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.-CU Realty Services is using the occasion of its 10th anniversary to launch a long-awaited expansion campaign to increase the number of credit unions it serves.

The CUSO said it helps credit unions increase their mortgage business by installing a turnkey real estate program that it claims helps members save money and time when buying or selling a home, by providing assistance in finding house, researching a neighborhood and connecting with an agent, while acting as an active lead channel when the member is ready for financing.

CEO and Co-founder Mike Corn told Credit Union Journal the goal is to make credit unions the "first point of contact" with members who are looking to buy a home, as opposed to a real estate agent who takes them to another lender.

CU Realty Services' expansion strategy calls for adding six credit unions per year, for a total of 500,000 to one-million members, which is a relatively limited audience. Corn said approximately 18 months ago it began working on marketing and public relations to get the word out to credit unions that had not heard of the company-prior to that all of its business was generated through referrals from the credit unions that already were part of its network. He said it is focusing on geographic areas where it has real estate agents and brokerage licenses in place, but not a lot of CU clients.

"We are really pushing harder to bring on more credit unions in California, but also Colorado, Illinois and Florida," he said. "We have been preparing for this step for a while. Like credit unions we are pretty conservative-we don't want to take on something that leaves us unable to handle credit unions' needs. We have invested a lot in our systems and infrastructure to get everything in place, and we have beefed up the information available on our website to let credit unions know what we are doing."

Corn said this is a good time for CU Realty Services to expand, given that credit unions have been increasing their share of the mortgage market for several months. Thanks to restraint when other lenders were booking shaky real estate loans, CUs are "in good shape and a lot of members are looking to their credit unions for mortgages," he said.


Ten Years Gone

In 2001, CU Realty Services demonstrated its concept to Deer Valley CU in nearby Phoenix, where the initial pilot took place. Soon after, CU Realty Services partnered with several other large Arizona credit unions. Then, after a pilot partnership with Bellco Credit Union in Greenwood Village, Colo., CU Realty launched an affiliation with Member Gateways, LLC in South Bend, Ind., in 2004 that it said led to wider growth.

Corn said from one perspective the launch of CU Realty Services seems like a long time ago, especially when recalling all the effort its team put into it to get the business going, "but on the other hand it feels like yesterday."

"Having a 10th anniversary is pretty good," he said. "It is impressive for any company to stay in business that long, especially a smaller company. It shows the service we have created is valuable and is working. We have a number of case studies and testimonials that show we are saving people money. This allows people to do some landscaping or get some furniture along with their house, which is great."

In 2011, CU Realty Services said it delivered $1.8 million in cost savings to credit union members who bought or sold their homes using the company's network of real estate agents. On average, these members saved $1,499, or approximately 20%, in real estate commissions.

The CUSO services more than 100 CUs in 19 states and 49 metro areas. It has 400+ real estate agents in its network.

Corn said CUs that are part of the program "love it" because it creates loyalty among their members and is driving more mortgages.

"Having the mortgage helps make the credit union the primary financial institution," he asserted. "The home is where the kids grow up, and helping credit unions help members in that process increases the bond. Realtors also love it because we give them well-qualified leads. We have three audiences and treat all of them as good as we can and it is working at multiple levels."

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