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A renovation mortgage specialist, Janna Thomas teaches Realtors how they can get buyers financed for homes that need to be fixed up. "Not everybody needs me all the time," she said. "But when they do have a property that's in that condition, they know...
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Oct. 30, 201412:00 PM EST

Janna Thomas knows renovations as investor and loan officer

by: Carole Hawkins

Janna Thomas bought her first investment property when she was 25, a fixer-upper on Jacksonville’s Southside.

So, she has never been intimidated by homes that needed some work.

Today, Thomas runs the renovation loan department for First Equity Mortgage Bankers Inc.

“This whole renovation lending path has not been like a reinvention of myself. It’s almost been a rediscovery,” she said.

In 1993, Thomas was doing well in her job, had money set aside and mortgage rates were good. Her boss encouraged her to buy a house.

She picked a three-bedroom, one-bath VA home that needed paint, landscaping, carpet, and kitchen flooring.

“I lived in it for two years, fixed it up and sold it,” Thomas said. “And then I did it three more times before I started keeping them.”

Her first deal turned an $8,000 profit on a $42,000 sale. She’s never lost money on a purchase since.

Thomas has been a mortgage originator since 1997.

During the recession, when Florida became one of the top three states for foreclosures, she became certified in renovation loans.

Foreclosures can take anywhere from three months to three years to get through, she said. During that time, most homes are completely abandoned.

“That means that no one is running air-conditioning, no one is cleaning, no one is looking for leaks,” Thomas said.

A renovation loan allows a homeowner to buy that kind of house, by rolling renovations or repairs into the standard mortgage.

“This way, we can give homebuyers an option to move into that community, renovate the house and make it theirs,” Thomas said.

Realtors may find a renovation deal intimidating, but Thomas coaches them through it. It’s not hard, because Thomas also is a licensed real estate agent.

In 1996, Thomas took a job as an agent at Watson Realty, but after 1½ years, she decided she didn’t like working for herself.

Her broker kept her at Watson by moving her to the company’s mortgage affiliate.

“The lady who ran the mortgage company had met me, and had told my broker, ‘If she ever wants a different job, send her to me,’” Thomas said.

Thomas would go on to work as a loan officer across two decades for five mortgage companies.

She kept her real estate license active and participated in groups like the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, Women’s Council of Realtors and the Northeast Florida Builders Association’s Sales and Marketing Council, rising to leadership positions within several of the groups.

“It’s important to stay connected and up-to-date with what Realtors are going through,” she said.

Her job at First Equity Mortgage Bankers, where she’s worked since June, places her in management, developing the company’s renovation lending department for the state of Florida.

Miami-based FEMBi is especially active with Hispanics, a community that needs some focused assistance in getting mortgages, Thomas said.

Even though the housing crisis is over, renovation lending won’t be any time soon, she said.

“Every time I hold a session I ask Realtors if they have vacant homes in their neighborhoods,” Thomas said. “Ninety-five percent of the hands go up.”

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(904) 356-2466

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