LOS ANGELES -- Mortgage lenders are beefing up their staffs and working weekends to handle a flood of refinancing requests spawned by the lowest interest rates in nearly two decades.
In the Los Angeles-area city of Pasadena, Countrywide Funding Corp. is looking for 200 loan professionals -- processors, underwriters, account executives and others with financial industry experience.
And at BankAmerica Corp., where a hiring freeze is in place, officials are juggling the present staff to handle the crunch. "We've transferred people from our consumer loan center and we've hired some temporary workers," said spokesman Tom Chapman.
The Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington said that the rush to refinance should generate about $400 billion in loans this year, about 45 percent of all mortgage lending. In 1991, refinancing accounted for an estimated $162 billion, about 30 percent, of mortgage loans.
"The lower interest rates are really having an effect now. And while most of the increase in dollar volume can be attributed to refinancing activity, we're seeing increases in other parts of the lending market too," said Donald L. Cohn, chief executive of Dataquick Information Systems in La Jolla, Calif.
While lending institutions acknowledge being swamped with refinancing requests, some say they're reluctant to add employees.
"We don't know how long the rush is going to last, so we're trying to handle it with current staff," said Mary Twigg, a spokeswoman for Home Savings of America.
But she said that current employees are working more hours and they have added a few employees because of the flood of applications. Some employees even work Saturday and Sundays to handle the load.
ARCS Mortgage Co. -- based in the Los Angeles-area city of Calabasas -- just set up a telemarketing office on the East Coast to handle mortgage refinancing calls from its 10 branches located there, said Ira Cohen, a senior vice president.
If the East Coast office functions well, ARCS will consider setting up a West Coast refinancing telemarketing center to handle incoming calls, Mr. Cohen said.
Lenders say their appraisers also are being deluged because of refinancing activity and many institutions are farming out part of the appraisal work to overloaded independent contractors.
Michael E. Hartman, vice president of Western Federal Savings & Loan Association in the Los Angeles-area community of Marina del Rey, said appraisals that normally would take two weeks to complete are now taking four to six weeks.
"It's a bottleneck now," Mr. Hartman said.