Small-Town Girl Builds Big Business

A profile of leading by example

Encouragement is a wonderful thing to receive, not always immediately recognized, and is usually appreciated in retrospect. But for Stephanie Norvell, encouragement has been a constant thread running through her life, received lovingly from her parents and passed on to her children and grandchildren. It’s a thread that guided her from her professional beginnings as a loan processor to her position today as owner of one of the region’s largest and most successful mortgage brokerage companies.

“I want to grow up to be a mortgage broker” doesn’t have quite the pizzazz of  “I want to grow up to be a fireman or an airline pilot.” But an hour with Norvell leaves you with the feeling that mortgage brokering must be one of the most exciting things on the planet.

“I’m an encourager. I make exciting things happen in people’s lives,” she said, leaning intently forward over the desk in her brightly decorated office in The Town and Country Home Loans building at the corner of 10th and Main streets.

While much of the country bemoans the apparent collapse of the real estate market, Norvell absolutely rejects the notion that these are bad times to consider buying a home. The bad times of little regulation and virtually no control are history, she said.

“Prices are down, interest rates are low, there are plenty of very attractive homes available. Anyone can walk into my office and we can craft a plan by which they can be a homeowner in six to 12 months for the same money it’s costing them to rent. I can sit down, show them what they need to do with their credit record, what they need to save, what kind of home their income will support, and then they can go forward with confidence. My job is to find solutions —  lay out all the options, and make people’s dreams come true. It’s wonderful work. ”

Common sense, which has been missing in the recent past, has returned to the real estate world, Norvell said, with “No more 100 percent loans or stated income loans. In those past circumstances, the buyer had absolutely no vested interest in the property and could just walk away from it. Today there is a minimum down payment, and the buyer must show a reasonable ability to maintain the payments. Often, parents help out with the down payment, and, because they want to protect their own investment, the parents are interested in seeing that the payment can be maintained. In the end, everybody benefits, because everyone feels more secure that the deal is going to hold together.”

Under the conditions of the past few years, homebuyers often were not focused on a house they could afford, but, instead, looked at homes they wanted, even if the property was wildly beyond their means. “I might tell them it would cost them $4,000 a month, which was all they made, but it didn’t matter. The loans were out there and there were no conditions to be met in order to get one.

“Today, a lot of young people have seen their own or someone else’s parents get into difficulties under those conditions. In those times people were encouraged to think outside the box. In fact, there was no box. It was a case of anything is possible,” said Norvell. “But today, there are qualifications which constitute a box, and if the buyer can fit into that box, everyone involved feels better and more certain that the outcome will be good. That’s the way of doing business the market has gone back to, and I am very much in favor of that.”

Norvell is a huge Ramona booster.

“I’m a small-town girl, and I love small-town values,” she said.

Now 52, she was raised in Yucaipa, near the San Bernardino Mountains, as the youngest of five children. “My father was an incredibly hard worker. He was in construction designing and building all those Fotomat kiosks where you could take your film one day and pick up the photos the next. He designed and built a series of Health Tree stores and then the Timex Watch kiosks. He designed the Wine Cellar at the Santa Anita Race Track.

“In addition to construction, my father would deliver milk in the morning and we kids were heavy into swimming, so dad was the guy with the whistle and mom kept the score.” Her father died 20 years ago, and her mother lives in a granny flat at their Ramona home. “She’s in her 80s and she is my very best friend. I want to say that again,” Norvell stressed, “She truly is my very best friend.”

Norvell graduated from Clairemont High School in 1974. “I married my high school sweetheart in 1975. I was 18, he was 19. I was  the girl next door.”

“I never intended or even thought of being a career woman or entrepreneur,” said Norvell. “I went to work as a loan processor for a mortgage company in Mission Valley, followed by one in Carlsbad.”

Then the family moved to Ramona where she and her husband, Paul, built a home 22 years ago. Paul is in commercial and residential building and remodeling with Mike Adams Construction, and he built her new offices on the northeast corner of the intersection of highways 67 and 78.

Why Ramona? “I think most people who move here are encouraged to do so by a friend who already lives here,” said Norvell. “That was true with me.  I worked with a friend who lived here and we came to visit. We were immediately taken with the genuine small-town feel of Ramona and agreed that this is where we wanted to raise our kids.”

A past president of the Ramona Chamber of Commerce (1997), Norvell is a strong believer in small-town community spirit. In fact, she strongly favors a return of the annual parades.

“A community like this should come together with parades,” she said.

When the new office was built, it included a parapet roofline, so, “we can stand up there and get a bird’s-eye view of any parade coming down Main Street.”

 It was 1995 and Norvell decided it was time to get her own license as a mortgage broker. She opened up in the small white house they owned at the corner of 10th and D streets.

“I was there for 10 years when a wonderful friend and mentor, Harry ‘Chip’ Rumis, urged me to build this new building (in 2005) and watch my business grow,” said Norvell. “I love talking with Chip. He is so insightful and has a wonderful knowledge of business. He is another great encourager.”

 The interior of the building reflects a distinctly Western style of decor, said Norvell. Her daughter, Tanya, who has been working with her for 10 years, is an integral part of the successful operation. “Tanya graduated from Ramona High School and came to work with me. She can run this place. We can pick up any file that the other has been working on and know exactly what needs to be done next.”

“The majority of our clients drive past this office almost every day and they can drop in here to see how their appraisal is going or what stage their loan is at. They come in and visit for a while. They like to know it’s fine for them to come in with their boots covered in mud after cleaning out the corrals and it’s OK to bring the dogs and kids, too. They may apologize that they could not get a babysitter. I tell them, ‘Hey, I have grandkids and I love them.’ We have a designated play area,” said Norvell, pointing to a large stuffed pony in the corner of her office. “In any event,” she added, “they’re not going to do any harm.”

“We do everything as a family,” said Norvell. “We have a house on the Arizona side of the (Colorado) river and we love the water sports. We love to enjoy San Diego as a vacation spot and each September a whole bunch of us rent about 20 cottages on Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach and stay awhile. We have been season ticket holders for Charger games for 30 years and each family member has a ticket. We go to Hawaii almost every year and we love cruises, but it is always as a family — Tanya and our son, Nick, each have two children: Dawson, 8, Paige, 6, Katie, 8, and Dalton, 4.

“It’s really pretty simple,” added Tanya. “We work hard, we play hard and we are pretty good at both. We take the future into account, of course, but mainly we tend to try and enjoy life in the present, living in the moment, focused mainly on today and tomorrow.”

To contact Stephanie, call 789-9995 or stop by the office at 976 Main St. Town & Country Home Loans’ Web site is www.townandcountryhomeloans.com.

   
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