RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Mortgage brokers rode the housing boom to great heights, but when the market crashed, many lost their jobs. Two-thirds of these real estate middlemen and women have been thrown out of work in the last two years, according to one estimate.
Curt Nickisch, of member station WBUR in Boston, caught up with two ex-mortgage brokers to see what theyre doing now.
Ms. LAURIE SOUZA: I can tell its gold. I can see the K, its just worn off.
CURT NICKISCH: In a dining room in the Boston suburb of Tewksbury, Laurie Souza is turning over a ring under a magnifying glass. Two dozen people are looking on. She weighs and sorts by carat, gold bracelets, earrings, tie tacks, and then makes out a check to the owner.
(Soundbite of overlapping voices)
NICKISCH: A year ago, Souza started a company that organizes gold parties, where homeowners invite their friends and neighbors over to sell unwanted jewelry. Gold is fetching premium prices right now. Souzas company is expanding fast. She has hired 20 people, many of them former mortgage brokers.
Ms. SOUZA: Were basically riding the gold bubble that came after a housing bubble, and when this is done I have no idea whats going to be next. But Im riding the wave.
NICKISCH: Souza used to ride the subprime wave as a mortgage wholesaler. She was good at it. In her best year, she made $800,000.
Ms. SOUZA: I miss it. I miss it.
NICKISCH: Souza says its not fair to blame brokers for the housing mess. She says buyers were either fraudulent or lazy.
Ms. SOUZA: I wish some of these borrowers would be held responsible. I dont feel bad for those people. Im sorry, I dont. You bought the biggest thing in your life and you had all this time to understand it, and you didnt, you know? How is that our fault?
NICKISCH: She says its not.
Ms. SOUZA: Everyone seems to think that the mortgage brokers were the bad people. As in any industry, youve got the good ones and youve got the bad apples.
Mr. CRAIG GOOD (Fruit Shop Owner): Bring the two if you want. I know its not a hard sell. Its a grapefruit, you know?
NICKISCH: Today, former mortgage broker Craig Good sells grapefruit and apples. He runs a fruit stand in downtown Boston. Back when he sold mortgages, Good used to make up to $400,000 a year. He opened offices all over Massachusetts and was expanding into Florida.
Mr. GOOD: I was greedy. Boy, I was greedy. And when I came up to that conclusion, you know what? It wasnt awesome.
NICKISCH: Good says he was a willing conduit between aggressive lenders and risky borrowers because thats where the money was. He says he did helped deserving people get into homes. But Good feels remorse for his part in what he calls the obesity of the time.
Mr. GOOD: There was a lot of excess. No irony, Im 200 and, you know, 15 pounds now. I was 235, 240 pounds back in those days because, you know, we were eating at good places and, you know, we were living the good life.
NICKISCH: Nowadays, hes not living as large. He earns an eighth of what he used to. But unlike the mortgage business, he feels he daily makes people happy. Before, if someone complained, its not like he could redo a mortgage. But he can hand out another mango now. Good says hed rather teach his son the fruit business than the mortgage business.
Mr. GOOD: Because you know what? For a long period of time, I was glad-handing, rubbing elbows, saying hi, smiling and there wasnt a lot of people that trusted the authenticity. And now this is - I mean, you know what? I wear a four-year-old sneakers instead of four-day-old sneakers, and you know what? I know more about me now than I think I ever was willing to commit to looking at in those days.
NICKISCH: Both of these onetime mortgage professionals, Craig Good and Laurie Souza, say they would go back into that business if the mortgage industry recovered. Good says he would do it differently. Souza says shes afraid it wont ever be like it used to.
For NPR News, Im Curt Nickisch in Boston.