Best Life Podcast | Altra Federal Credit Union
Best Life Podcast | Altra Federal Credit Union
Episode 2: Real Estate

Low interest rates have many wondering if now is the right time to purchase, or refinance their home? Tony speaks with VP of Real Estate Services Craig Sacia and La Crosse Area Market Manager Tara Mayberry on what members should know about the housing market, what to expect when buying or refinancing a home, and the importance of getting pre-approved to move quickly on your dream home!



Hello and welcome to the Best Life Podcast where we here at Altra are helping you live your best life. I’m, Tony Beyer and we’re so happy you’re here with us today. A big topic in the news and on the minds of many are the low interest rates when it comes to buying a home or possibly refinancing your current home. To make sense of all this, we’re bringing in a couple of experts from Altra and they’re joining us via video, which I realized means nothing to you as the listener, being that this is a podcast. I mean, we’re trying to create theater of the mind here…and to help me do that we have the privilege of speaking with Craig Sacia, he is the Vice President of Real Estate Services at Altra. Thanks for being here. Craig.

(Craig): Absolutely, happy to be here.

(Tony): And we’re also fortunate to be joined by La Crosse Area Real Estate Market Manager Tara Mayberry, we appreciate you being here Tara!

(Tara): Thanks Tony and I’m happy to be here!

(Tony):Well I’m so happy to have both of you here and taking a few moments out of your busy day to let us know what’s going on in real estate, and speaking of being busy, how busy is the entire Real Estate Department at Altra?

(Craig): It has been incredibly busy. Rates dropped, you know, a year or so ago and 2020 was an absolutely crazy year. We did way more than we had planned, which is wonderful. It’s been very difficult to keep up. We have to extend out, you know, unfortunately, it’s taking a little longer to do a refinance transaction, but it’s one of those things we have to do to get through all the volume. 2021 is looking to be very similar and so it has been a very crazy year. Members have been able to benefit drastically with lower rates and we love helping them through that process and we appreciate the patience sometimes because it has been tough to get those turn around as fast as we’d like, but we work very hard to make sure we’re keeping up with all that and help a lot of people out.

(Tony): Wow, you guys are…everyone’s busy so we really appreciate both of you taking a moment to tell us a little bit more about this important topic! Now Tara, I know you’re the Real Estate Market Manager for the La Crosse area, but I was curious if you knew market conditions were in other areas like Winona, Rochester in Minnesota…Clarksville, TN or Tyler, TX? Are they also experiencing low rates and not a lot of houses on the market?

(Tara): I would say that the Minnesota market yes is experiencing similar things as the La Crosse area. Not enough inventory for purchases, so it’s a really strong housing market. So if you’re selling, you’re going to sell your home fast. They’re homes that are going within a couple of days, so one of the things we always like to tell her members or buyers when they’re coming is, you know, get pre-approved as soon as you can ’cause the realtors are definitely going to need that pre-approval letter to help you get into that quickly so you do have to kind of decide on a home fast. You don’t have time to think about it like you used to in the past, because homes are going so quickly. We do have offices like in Clarksville and Tyler, TX, and I hear similar stories in those areas to get those pre-approval letters ready as the market is definitely a strong market out there. So if you have that pre-approval letter it helps the realtors get you into that home a little bit faster.

(Tony): That’s great advice on getting pre-approved when buying a home so that you’re able to make an offer right away when your dream home comes up for sale. Now Craig, I wanted to shift gears and ask how the pandemic has changed the way Altra does things in terms of getting members what they need to buy a home or refinance or home. I mean, has anything changed?

(Craig): Ironically, in some ways the pandemic has helped us a little bit, so we mobilized very quickly when this thing hit. We already had a really paperless system and that was so important for a lot of reasons. It’s just more secure. You have fewer sheets of paper flying around just makes the operation more efficient, and so we were pretty much paperless which made our ability to mobilize people to work remotely much, much easier than if we had to be shuffling paper. We don’t allow paper out of the office for security purposes, so if we were not paperless it would not have happened and you know some folks had worked a lot of overtime last year, and I think that they were able to do so more effectively because of their working remotely versus in the office. So in some ways it was a little bit of an assistance, I think. It’s been very hard on everybody, though members have had to adapt on how they interact with us. We already had a very strong phone and online application presence we’ve got around that application is a fully functional updates, two-way communication, we have texting, so we had everything in place prior to this to really facilitate a paperless remote process. So we’re able to really do well, you know, relatively speaking, perhaps compared to another institution that’s not as advanced in those areas.

(Tony): Excellent, that’s great that the entire Real Estate Department is doing everything they can to make the process as safe and convenient for members as possible, and I love that you brought up the security piece of going paperless in order to protect our members information, which is the perfect segue, thank you for that, to remind our listeners if they haven’t already to check out our previous Best Life Podcast on Internet security, which had some great tips on staying safe online…and that’s awesome that we’re helping our members. Craig, has the closing process at all changed here during the pandemic?

(Craig): Our loan officers have always attended Closings. If someone buys a house, we have always felt very strongly that we want our folks there too. You know, watch them hand over the keys, thank them, congratulate them, give them a gift and so, that has gone away. The title companies just have not allowed, for good reason, you know they want to limit the number of people that are congregating in any one point, so that’s been a little bit of a change, but we do our best to maintain communication, but we really do make remote, online, virtual communication easy and as effective as possible.

(Tony): Again, we’re talking Vice President of Real Estate Services…really all the real estate! Craig Sacia and also La Crosse Area Market Manager Tara Mayberry, both of Altra…and Tara, why might someone want to take advantage of lower interest rates on buying or refinancing a home?

(Tara): Sure, lots of different reasons for people to refinance right now. Again, the rates are historic lows, so sometimes people are refinancing to get that lower rate, maybe a shorter term so they can pay off their mortgage a little faster. There’s also other reasons for members to refinance. Maybe 2020 was a tough year for them, and they’re looking for a lower payment, going back out to a 30 year with those low rates can really help people out, so there’s lots of opportunities there. Also, there’s not a lot of inventory out there, so refinancing to pull equity out of your current home to maybe do some improvements, a great opportunity to do that, so there’s many different ways we can help you with your budget. Or you know, just get those lower rates and help you live your best life with the historically low rates that we have right now.

(Tony): I could not have said that any better myself and you’re hearing that right here on the Best Life Podcast, and Tara, if someone is interested in purchasing a home or maybe refinancing their current home to save on payments. Or maybe they just want someone to talk to and get some information, how do they go about doing that?

(Tara): Anyone can call in anytime, even if they’re not getting you know, pre-approved. Maybe they just have some general questions about the buying process and there’s a couple different ways you can do that. All of our lenders do have their emails posted on our website next to their profiles, so you can certainly email a specific loan officer if you’re wanting to work with someone in a specific branch. Otherwise, we do have a loan officers that work out of our Operations Center and they don’t specifically belong to a branch, so if you’re in a different state or a different area, you can reach out to them too, and they can give you those answers that you might be looking for. If we have an application, it sometimes a little easier to tell you what you are pre-qualified for, but if you were just looking for the general steps, you can certainly reach out to our loan officers that way. On our website we also have some different home buying tips and how homeownership works as well, so there’s lots of good links on our website that members can use if they don’t know what questions to ask right away, that might be a good resource for them to also go to to just get a little bit of information to develop their questions before they come in but all of our loan officers are very well educated and once they start talking to you they might have some suggestions for you to make sure that we are taking you down the right path. Go over, you know, what fits in your budget and make sure that we are helping you in the best way that we can and get those questions answered that you have.

(Tony): Fantastic! I know education is a very, very important piece of all of this and I like to think that the more information someone has the better decisions they can make.

(Tara): Sure

(Tony): OK, I’m going to ask a question to both of you, you probably hear it a lot, but I’m asking you to take out your crystal ball in look into the future. Do you see these low rates continuing? Do you see them going lower higher staying the same? What do you think is going to happen in the near future?

(Tara): Well, we get that question a lot, and unfortunately there’s never really great way to answer it.

(Tony): Smart

(Craig): Tony, if I knew that answer I could be sitting on a beach in Mexico right now or not having to ever work again today in my life and so rates are low. Are they going to go lower? I don’t know if they do, it really can’t be much at all. Think they certainly go higher, and if you find a rate that works for you and that is going to help you in your financial success, lower your payments, get you what you want. I tell people to take it and then stop watching rates because it is so easy to get buyer’s remorse if they do go down, but boy, if they go up, you’re going to feel like a smartest person on the block. I encourage people to find their rate, figure out what that rate is that’s going to make you do something or make you move or make you happy. Once you can get it, just do it and just know that you made a good decision based on information you had in front of the time and kind of stop watching, because if they go down again, I mean you locked, there’s an agreement in place to go forward at that pace, and so that’s my advice for people who asked me that question. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I’ve been wrong numerous times in the past 12 months, so I’m going to hold off on my Nostradamus-type epiphanies.

(Tony): Gotcha, I did put you both on the spot right there, trying to predict the future in a time that has been anything but predictable…and beach in Mexico, that sounds pretty great!

(Craig): Absolutely

(Tony): So let’s rewind a moment. Both of you have a lot of experience in real estate and many years in lending between you two. I’m going to give you both a moment to think if there’s anything that surprised you, or kind of blown your mind in lending, real estate, or just the financial field in general. We’ll start with you Craig.

(Craig) You know, if I were to think through that, I would say in a purchase transaction, it is staggering how many things can happen and how many folks are involved at every turn of that transaction from offer and acceptance, buyer agent, listing agent, title companies, title work, inspections, appraisals. There are so many things that can get sideways so fast that, frankly, I’m sometimes amazed at how well they go almost all the time. They go pretty smooth, and so you also have emotion. You’ve got the emotion from all the parties involved. You got buyers and sellers wanting their interest served and realtors wanting their interest served, so adding emotion to that transaction too sometimes can get things a little more in phatic. But really, just having an education, asking questions, and you know, staying calm through the process is really what I’ve seen that is effective, but a lot of things have to happen. Title work issues come up at the last minute no one knew even existed. All those things. You could have a hailstorm before you close. So all those things take them in stride the best you can and just know that in the end everyone’s going to come together for what’s right. But yeah, there are a lot of things that can get the deal going sideways real quickly, and it’s pretty remarkable that they do all come together.

(Tony) Oh wow, same question to you Tara.

(Tara): Well, 2020 was definitely a challenging year. I never thought I would see a refinance boom that was that crazy or insane. There was so much volume coming in and so much interest with refinancing. It was a little overwhelming. A little challenging, but as a team and as a department we have certainly learned a ton over 2020, like different ways to improve our processes, how we can communicate better with our members and with each other to make the process more smoothly for our members. Because so much came in all at one time, it was really shocking like to be able to handle all of that volume at one time. But the members have been great. They’ve all been really patient and understanding. Explaining to them, you know what we’ve been going through and not just the volume, but underwriting conditions have also changed, so we’re expected to ask for more from our members. Now throughout the process, which is a little different than what they have been used to in the past, so members have been really patient and understanding and we try to do our best to explain the why behind everything so that they understand, you know, why we’re asking for documents more than once, so that they don’t get frustrated throughout the process. So 2020, just the volume alone has been definitely interesting and surprising. I haven’t been through that much all at one time, but we definitely like the challenge and it keeps us busy.

(Tony): Excellent! So a member, can’t just write on a napkin “I want to buy a house. Here you go?”

(Tara): There’s a little more little more than that!

(Tony): Well, I really appreciate you taking the moment. I know you’re super busy. Is there anything else that you wanted to say, or is there a question that that I’m not asking Tara?

(Tara): You know, if members do have questions about getting pre-approved or refinancing, the best thing is just to reach out and we do have the online application so if you are thinking about moving forward with something, get that application and as soon as you can and we will definitely take care of you.

(Tony): Excellent, I think that is the perfect note to end on and joining us for this podcast to help us understand what’s going on in real estate we had Craig Sacia, he’s the Vice President of Real Estate Services, and we also had La Crosse Area Real Estate Market Manager Tara Mayberry. Thank you both so much for taking time out of your busy schedules, we really appreciate it.

(Craig): Thank you, I’ve enjoyed it.

(Tara): Thanks Tony.

(Tony): Well, there you have it. The Best Life Podcast presented by Altra Federal Credit Union. We appreciate you taking a moment to learn how you can live your best life. If you have a question or a topic you’d like us to cover, send me an email at [email protected] Don’t worry about writing that down, we’ve got the address in the episode description as well, and you never know, it may even make it into a future episode. So, don’t forget to subscribe to the Best Life Podcast wherever you get your podcasts. You can rate, you can review it, all of those things, or you can find it on our website at Thanks again, be well and will talk to you again soon.