Low interest rates and a strong economy made for a busy year for mortgage lenders.
Douglas County's biggest bank also is No. 1 in making home loans.
Mercantile Bank led Douglas County lenders in the number and value of mortgages made during 1998, a new report shows.
With 534 loans amounting to $57.64 million, Mercantile made more than 12 percent of the first mortgages in Douglas County last year, according to a report from RMS Information Services, an information firm that monitors the banking industry.
"We strive to find reasons to make loans instead of denying them," said Doug Gaston, Mercantile senior vice president. "Not every customer fits into 'the box,' so our ability to think creatively plays an important role in serving our customers and in our success as a bank."
Capitol Federal Savings & Loan ranked second, with 511 loans amounting to $53.23 million. The Topeka-based thrift is the state's biggest mortgage lender.
University National Bank was third, with 371 loans valued at $49.17 million; Countrywide Home Loans was fourth with 444 at $42.27 million; and First Savings Bank rounded out the top five with 337 at $33.88 million.
Mercantile also ranked No. 1 in refinancing, new home loans, second loans and commercial loans, RMS said.
Gaston credited Douglas County's robust economy and low interest rates for his bank's success in real estate lending.
"Without question, the economy has provided opportunities for all banks to succeed," he said, adding that Mercantile's programs and employee experience played an important role. The bank, part of a $36 billion holding company, has seven branches in Lawrence.
In refinancing, RMS said Mercantile had 325 loans valued at $35.83 million, or just over 13 percent of the market.
At No. 2 in refinancing was little University National Bank, a locally owned institution with one office and $54 million in deposits. Real estate lending has been a main focus of the bank since it opened about 10 years ago.
"A lot of banks have done it as a sideline, but it's our main focus," said Todd Sutherland, president. "We've maintained that emphasis on home lending and never really gotten away from it."
Another reason for its success: At University National, all lenders make mortgage loans, leading to more of a team approach than at a company where the work is funneled to a separate department.
With 234 refinancings valued at $33.62 million, University National did more than 12 percent of Douglas County's refinancing last year. Its No. 3 ranking in first loans gave it more than 10 percent of that market as well.
In refinancing, Mercantile and University National were followed by Capitol Federal with 280 loans valued at $28.34 million; Countrywide, with 214 loans at $20.34 million; and First Savings Bank, with 176 at $18.92 million.
In FHA/VA loans, RMS reported that Countrywide led the way, with 91 loans valued at $7.84 million. That accounted for 36.2 percent of all government-backed loans made in the county during 1998.
North American Mortgage ranked second, with 64 loans valued at $5.46 million; First Savings Bank was third, with 12 loans at $1.27 million.
-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is email@example.com.