RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Curt Nickisch, of member station WBUR in Boston, caught up with two ex-mortgage brokers to see what they're doing now.
LAURIE SOUZA: I can tell it's gold. I can see the K, it's 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.
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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. Souza's company is expanding fast. She has hired 20 people, many of them former mortgage brokers.
SOUZA: We're basically riding the gold bubble that came after a housing bubble, and when this is done I have no idea what's going to be next. But I'm 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.
SOUZA: I miss it. I miss it.
NICKISCH: Souza says it's not fair to blame brokers for the housing mess. She says buyers were either fraudulent or lazy.
SOUZA: I wish some of these borrowers would be held responsible. I don't feel bad for those people. I'm sorry, I don't. You bought the biggest thing in your life and you had all this time to understand it, and you didn't, you know? How is that our fault?
NICKISCH: She says it's not.
SOUZA: Everyone seems to think that the mortgage brokers were the bad people. As in any industry, you've got the good ones and you've got the bad apples.
CRAIG GOOD: Bring the two if you want. I know it's not a hard sell. It's 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.
GOOD: I was greedy. Boy, I was greedy. And when I came up to that conclusion, you know what? It wasn't awesome.
NICKISCH: Good says he was a willing conduit between aggressive lenders and risky borrowers because that's 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.
GOOD: There was a lot of excess. No irony, I'm 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, he's 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, it's not like he could redo a mortgage. But he can hand out another mango now. Good says he'd rather teach his son the fruit business than the mortgage business.
GOOD: Because you know what? For a long period of time, I was glad-handing, rubbing elbows, saying hi, smiling - and there wasn't 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: For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston.
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