Lender Celebrates Homegrown Success in Hamilton, Ala.
Paula Reeves, president and co-owner of CIS Home Loans, has been in banking and lending for decades, but when she talks about “her industry” she’s talking about manufactured housing.
It’s where her heart lies.
“I try to be an ambassador for our industry,” Reeves said. “The information and education that’s needed, I’ve lived it. I’ve been in the trenches, and all of us in the manufactured housing industry, have to understand that things will not get better until we all are on board to make the necessary changes. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lender, a builder, a retailer or installer. We all have to share the responsibility.
“The more we educate, the greater chance we have of making a difference. It’s really about the consumer. It’s about providing a viable housing option” she said.
In her career, Reeves has gone from a bank teller earning less than $4 per hour to an industry leader in residential lending with an organization that provided more than $500 million in loans to the secondary market in 2017. CIS Home Loans, also known as CIS Financial, currently holds nearly $2 billion in home loans.
CIS Home Loans in Hamilton, Ala.
CIS is based in Hamilton, Ala. With fewer than 7,000 residents, there are 80 in-state cities larger in population than Hamilton. CIS employs 122 people, and is hiring. The company has opened a seventh location, in Tuscaloosa, and recently announced a new chattel finance program that adds to the mix of loans available for manufactured homes.
“To have an organization of this size in Alabama, and particularly in a small rural town in Alabama, is very rare,” Reeves said. “We are very proud of that.”
Credit Where Credit is Due with CIS Home Loans
Reeves spent 13 and took on many roles with SouthTrust in Hamilton. It was 1991 when she was approached by Jerry Wilson, founder and owner of Cavalier Homes. He recruited Reeves to start a captive finance company for the Cavalier dealer network.
The name of the lender was Cavalier Acceptance Corporation, or CAC.
“There were few options at that time for finance in terms of chattel lending. Jerry’s son Jay Wilson and I were originally housed in the Buccaneer Homes building,” Reeves said. “We had $2 million and served seven retailers.”
Reeves gives credit to Wilson, for his vision and thoughtfulness. Wilson shaped a young banker’s life in ways that were difficult to understand at the time, but are fully appreciated today.
“His vision into the future was something I’ve seen from few others,” she said. “He passed away in 1996. What he was able to do with his businesses and in helping those around him continues to inspire me every day.”
Character, Integrity, Service Gives CIS Home Loans its Name
Ten years in, with changes in lending for manufactured homes and all home types, the company opted to change its name to CIS, denoting the chief attributes of the organization – Character, Integrity, Service.
The CIS acronym is a daily reminder, Reeves said, that she and her team are more than a mortgage lender.
“It matters who you are. Character matters,” Reeves said. “One doesn’t suddenly change when they walk through the door at work. It is our goal to provide high standards of service to our customers, our employees and the community.
“Working here is not just a job,” she said. “Ask anyone.”
CIS offers its employees the resources and tools to help them professionally and personally. Our goal is to be a successful mortgage bank and we invest in our employees to help them be successful in their personal life too.
CIS Expresses ‘Love for Others’
“Whether it’s teaching them how to navigate and understand pivot tables in excel or teaching them how to use Powerpoint for personal club presentations,” Reeves said. “We hope our employees are happier because we invest in them. We challenge them to be the best professional and person they can be.”
An employee led committee called “Love for Others” has raised over $40,000 to give to local charities and organizations. Some are for area foster students to have backpacks and the supplies they need for classroom learning. CIS pays employees during the holiday season to ring bells and collect money for the Salvation Army. They raise funds with bake sales. The employees sponsor families who may not otherwise have a holiday meal or toys on Christmas. They participate in blood drives.
“We have helped individual families that have faced catastrophic events. There was a family that almost lost their father. He was critically injured and in the burn unit for several weeks. He was a single parent, and two of his kids died in a fire at their home,” Reeves said. “We raised over $6,000 that helped to pay funeral expenses and other bills.”
When Reeves went to the hospital to drop off the check, the father asked that she be ushered in to intensive care burn unit. The man could barely talk.
“He mouthed ‘I don’t know how to thank you, I don’t even know who you are’,” Reeves said. “He survived and we are good friends today. We attend the same church.”
Character. Integrity. Service.
More Industry Change
It’s been said that the only constant is change. This has been true during the last 20 years in lending, particularly if you have sufficient interest in manufactured housing.
So, CIS started in captive finance, helping keep dealers flush with new homes to sell. CIS was a correspondent to a large national bank, and sold chattel loan portfolios to Conseco and Green Tree. The company was successful and growing.
But, inevitably, change.
Jay Wilson left the company to serve as chief information officer for Cavalier. And the markets began to constrict in the late 1990s. Underperforming loans nationwide invoked added regulatory oversight and created a chilling effect for the secondary markets. CIS began to gear itself toward mortgage lending.
CIS Home Loans Evolves
CIS gained traction with a more diversified portfolio of loan products, and had dramatically increased its holdings. Larger lenders began to notice. Cavalier Homes was pondering a move with CIS because of the changes in chattel, and Reeves mentioned the possibility of a purchase to a fellow MHI board member, Don Glisson Jr. of Triad Financial.
Triad made the purchase from Cavalier in February 2009, creating a wholly-owned subsidiary of Triad that continued to operate under its own same name. The business stayed in Hamilton, same address and phone numbers. And the leadership stayed consistent.
All along, Reeves continued on in service of manufactured housing, working with MHI, state and regional associations and boards.
In 2012, Triad sold CIS to Sonny Jeung, a banker and investor in San Francisco, and as part of the deal Reeves became minority owner of the business.
From teller to bank president, and owner.
Changing Minds, Changing Lives
CIS is a direct, retail and wholesale lender with more than 10,000 accounts, 80 percent of which are for site-built homes.
“Manufactured housing is about 20 percent of our business today, and we’d like to see that more at about 50 percent,” Reeves said. “And I’m not talking about just originating loans, we want to be in every venue including wholesale, retail and varying forms of correspondent relationships.
“Affordable housing has always remained in my heart,” she said. “During times when we had to do other things to survive, my mind was always on manufactured housing.”
In recent months, Reeves has played host to Paul Barretto and his team from Fannie Mae, helping them gain a better understanding of the importance of manufactured housing. She hosted tours of communities – from upscale retirement properties to no-frills parks for affordable housing. Reeves has participated in many calls and meetings in D.C. helping to expand the idea of what home construction is, whether in a residential neighborhood or on the factory floor.
“What impresses me the most about Paula Reeves is how her efforts to transform the manufactured housing industry are equally matched by her desire to see the staff at CIS develop in their careers to be the future leaders of the industry.”
— Paul Barretto
Former Senior Manager at Fannie Mae
New Programs for Manufactured Housing
One result at the start of 2018 was the agreement to offer and provide a Fannie Mae construction loan program for manufactured homes.
“There’s was not a week to go by that a customer would ask for a loan we couldn’t provide,” Reeves said. “And that’s started to change, with secured loans where the first draw allows the customer to buy land for a new home that comes from a factory. That feels good.
“And we’ve just started the new chattel lending program, so things can change,” she added.
Reeves advocates for getting involved with real face-to-face conversation and shared experience, not just through phone calls or email.
“It makes a big difference to be able to show someone what is needed or happening rather than just saying it,” she said. “We can talk to Washington all day on the phone, but an hour of time on the ground showing and educating them is most effective.”
“Duty to Serve” For an Industry In Need
Paul Barretto, senior manager for single-family product management and development at Fannie Mae, said as Fannie Mae executes its Manufactured Housing Underserved Market Plan, Paula Reeves has made evident she is one of the industry leaders to watch, recognized by many for her accomplishments in manufactured housing and affordable lending.
“As the president of CIS Home Loans, her company demonstrates the character and integrity that makes them a valued Fannie Mae customer who knows how to leverage our offering to effectively serve their borrowers while maintaining a high quality book of business. Her strong compliance background, ability to adopt new technology to improve the customer experience, and strategic vision for the market is what will make her company a market leader.”
Progress is Evident
The multi-year process of “Duty to Serve”, the mandate toward Fannie and Freddie to explore finance options that can open the door to manufactured housing for more Americans, has created a certain amount of skepticism in some circles. Reeves said she is no part of that.
“They’ve been working really hard for the past two years, and I don’t think some people realize that,” she said.
Reeves said she sees the progress and is confident more will come.
“Before January 1, if I wanted to build a home I could close a construction loan through Fannie Mae. But I couldn’t do that buying a really nice HUD Code home to put on land that I wanted to purchase,” she said. “Now I can.
“Things are starting to move and I couldn’t be happier about it. Manufactured housing is a viable solution for so many people, and it’s a great product. Our manufactured home portfolios at CIS perform just as well if not better than site built, and you can’t argue with the numbers.”
Paula Watts Reeves Short Bio
President/Minority Owner of CIS Home Loans, Hamilton, Ala.
- Bachelors Degree in Administrative Science/Business Administration from the University of Alabama – 2004
- Membership and board service for more than 20 state, regional and national housing and lender organizations
CIS Home Loans Overview
- Mortgage lender licensed in 27 states
- Loan servicer in 50 states and Puerto Rico
- Licensed insurance provider in 43 states
- New construction and chattel lender for manufactured housing
- Primarily engaged in Southeast, with 40 percent of business in other regions
“People in our industry are like extended family members to us. We have not just survived, but we’ve prevailed and thrived. I’m really proud of that, and I’m proud of our managers who have been with this organization for 20-plus years, and they’re all dedicated to manufactured housing.”
— Paula Reeves
President CIS Home Loans