Tom Gates, Dan O’Kavage (front row), Scott Kelsey and Terry Cooper are senior loan officers at Mortgage Master in Princeton. (Staff photo by Joe Emanski.)

The housing market may rise and fall, but one thing never changes: when homebuyers need a loan, they want to get a mortgage from someone they trust.

Mortgage Master, a Walpole, Mass.-based, privately owned mortgage company with offices in 10 states, has been building its reputation in the mortgage business for more than 20 years. It’s done that in part by employing experienced loan officers, many of whom already have a wide base of clients and business contacts.

Scott Kelsey and Tom Gates fit the bill. They are veterans of Princeton’s financing scene looking for a new opportunity, and when they learned Mortgage Master was interested in expanding to Princeton, saw potential in affiliating with the company. The Nassau Street office was licensed as a branch in 2010.

“Mortgage Master was looking for the right people to bust into Mercer County,” Gates said. “They had offices in New Jersey already, but not at all in this marketplace. (The others are in Wayne, Aberdeen and Sea Girt). So we were a good find for them, and vice versa.”

Kelsey and Gates, with 12 and 18 years of experience respectively, have since been joined by four additional senior loan officers. Dan O’Kavage (10 years of experience), Terry Cooper (8 years), Linda Wolfenson (10 years) and John Sine (10 years) have gone on board and all brought clients and solid networks of referral sources with them.

Gates said prospective clients should know that Mortgage Master offers “every kind of mortgage product out there”—from fixed-rate mortgages to varying term to adjustable rates. But what really sets Mortgage Master apart, he said, is their diverse portfolio. Mortgage Master loan officers work with 83 different investors who buy loans from them, enabling them to shop around for competitive rates and services.

One consequence of the resounding housing market crash of 2008 is that loans are harder to come by than they used to be, and a client’s poor credit score could put the very lowest rates out of reach. All the staff at Mortgage Master’s Princeton office emphasized that getting clients the best rate, in today’s lending environment, also means being realistic. Even so, they see their ability to shop loans to so many investors as a significant advantage over competing mortgage brokers and banks.

“I’m able to look at 83 places and get not only the cheapest rate for you, but also get you approved,” Gates said. “I’m going to find you the right bank where they’ll get to ‘Yes’ at the most competitive rate.”

O’Kavage said his ability to work with so many investors is also a boon for Mortgage Master’s professionals in the jumbo loan market, where lenders are more hesitant than ever to approve a loan because of the large amounts of money involved.

“It’s an advantage to have 83 different investors to funnel through, to find maybe 11 who are willing to [approve] a jumbo mortgage,” he said.

A year ago, the professionals at Mortgage Masters saw home purchases at an ebb, but with interest rates at historic lows, the refinancing market was strong. O’Kavage and Cooper said even though interest rates remain low, the trend has been reversing in 2011, indicating that the homebuying market may be rebounding. First-time homebuyers have been leading the charge.

“Those folks that aren’t burdened down by having to sell real estate at what they perceive to be depressed prices, now they’re getting into the market,” O’Kavage said.

Mortgage Master loan officers work to soothe prospective borrowers who are concerned about what they have heard about the state of the home financing business.

“I let them know there’ve been changes in our industry that have made it a lot safer for them to acquire loans, and for us as lenders, we’re held accountable, even personally, now,” Cooper said. “Each one of us is individually licensed, and we’re individually accountable.”

Cooper said the federal government has sought to ensure that customers are more informed than ever about what they might be getting into, and has restricted how loan officers can be compensated for the services they provide.

“We’re lending experts,” Cooper said. “It’s most important now that people get good advice in this environment, especially with the fears of how many foreclosures there are. We’re not part of the problem—we’re part of the solution.”

Mortgage Master (mortgagemasterinc.com) is located at 215 Nassau St. in Princeton Borough. Phone: (609) 454-3482.