Those old enough to remember the pre-recession economy, circa 2007, will certainly recall how utterly bananas the housing market was in Northeast Florida at the time. From the beaches to the Southside to Riverside to San Marco, inventory was low, demand was high, flipping homes was all the rage, and prices soared.

Sound familiar?

Yes, the Northeast Florida housing market has come roaring back. While by most indications the trend appears reflective of a strong economy (and not an inflated market, or some financial instrument Hocus Pocus), it doesn’t change the fact that for first time home buyers from the Millennial generation, the prospects may seem daunting.

Never fear, professional surfer-turned Originator/Transaction Coordinator for Bank of England Mortgage’s Downing Team, Blake Jones says that despite current market conditions, purchasing a home remains one of the best investments a young person can make.

Being able to invest in your own home gives you the ability to have ownership in your community, take advantage of tax breaks, lock in a monthly payment, and update or make changes to your home the way you want it,” says Jones. “Most importantly, your investment appreciates every year. None of that applies when you rent. Not to mention [interest] rates will never be as low as they are today.”

Jones, a Millennial himself at 29-years young, enjoyed an illustrious career as a pro surfer that reached its apex when he scored the cover of Surfing Magazine in 2013. The Melbourne-native recently transitioned from a life finding the green room, to one in which he helps folks purchase one, two, and three bedroom homes.

Jones stopped by to offer advice on how Millennials can position themselves to own their first home.
Photo: Wesley Parsons

Jones on the cover of Surfing in 2013.

We invited Jones into the Void Magazine office where he offered his advice for first time home buyers preparing to dip their toes in what is currently a boiling hot housing market.

First of all, how’d you transition from a career in surfing to one in mortgages?

Well, that’s a great story [laughs]. When I exited the professional standpoint, or surfing for a living, I became a field service rep for Smith Optics, with a large sales territory (Florida, Georgia and Alabama). I really enjoyed still being in the extreme sports industry and I’ve always enjoyed sales. However, after a year and a half with Smith, my wife surprised me with the exciting news that we were expecting! Just like any couple, we couldn’t contain our excitement and told a few close friends. One of those friends asked if I would be interested in taking a position at Bank of England Mortgage because he thought I would be a great fit and a huge asset to their team. Although the industry was foreign to me, I knew a little bit, because Gabi and I were actively looking for a home to purchase and had already gone through the qualifying process ourselves. As he explained more about the industry and the true value of being able to help others reach the American dream of owning their own home, it really intrigued me.

What’s a typical day like in your role? Do you save time for surf, here and there?

I do try to get in the water as much as possible. At BOE there is a nice work-life balance. A typical day would be working on my current files and communicating with our borrowers to help answer their questions and to give them a thorough explanation as to where we are in the process to help ease their mind. I communicate with the real estate agents on both the buyer and seller side so they know the transparency of each file. Constantly updating all parties on the files on the completion of each milestone all the way to closing. Here at BOE we have an advantage that most of our competitors donot: We have our Processors, Underwriters, Closers all in house, This brings a ton a value to our process and helps with our speed as we are able to close 50% faster than the national average.

Are there any similarities between surfing and your current job?

Actually, there are a lot of subtle similarities. For instance, no one wave breaks the same and no client is the same. It’s very important to understand the client’s needs in order to provide the mortgage product that gives them the best financial outcome. Also, when surfing different waves, they may require differently shaped or sized boards, which can be similar to our mortgage products. Different products apply to different scenarios. However, to put it simply, surfing requires a lot of adaptation to conform to what the wave offers us – almost like putting a puzzle together in a split second, defining what tricks I can do with the section I’m given. This holds true in the mortgage industry. As I mentioned before, no client is the same and the financial rules change all the time, so I put together the best mortgage product I can with the information given.

While Jones knows how to find the green room, he also knows a good view when he sees one. Photo: Jimmicane Wilson

What’s unique about the home buying market locally right now?

The housing in Jacksonville is very unique because it’s the largest city in the United States by area. This has given Jacksonville the ability to provide continual growth in multiple different industry sectors, including housing – new businesses entering the market, expansions on existing businesses, people transplanting to Jacksonville for new work or school opportunities, etc. It also offers different scenic opportunities with its historic districts and waterfront. Whether you’re an avid boater on the St. Johns River/Intracoastal Waterway or living at the beach, it really gives you everything a city can offer.

However, this drives the demand in the housing sector, making it a competitive market for buyers. In today’s market, we are seeing a high demand for purchasing and there is low inventory which is leading to multiple offers on homes as soon as they hit the market. That is why it’s important to get qualified before searching for a home, in order to secure your offer when you do find your dream home.

“There are a lot of subtle similarities between surfing and mortgages. For instance, no one wave breaks the same and no client is the same. It’s very important to understand the client’s needs in order to provide the mortgage product that gives them the best financial outcome.” Photo: Wesley Parsons

What are a few important things for young people looking for their first home to keep in mind? What should they have in order before trying to secure a mortgage? For people who aren’t quite ready, what should they do to prepare?

Get qualified in order to know your purchasing power, as well as your estimated monthly payment. That is the best piece of advice I can give. The last thing you want to do is start looking at homes and fall in love with something, only to find out your monthly payment would be way higher than you want it. You have to keep your quality of life in mind—vacations, nights out, etc. By going through the qualification process, we can let you know what price range you should look at based on where you want your monthly payment, so you can avoid looking into homes that are beyond your means.

Next, have some liquid capital for closing costs and down payment. However, there are down payment assistance products that first-time home buyers can qualify for here in the Jacksonville market.

Lastly, make sure your credit is in line. A lot of people fresh out of college have student loans, credit card debts and so forth. It is always good to make sure those are paid on time, as missed payments or late payments can affect your credit. Job history is big as well. Having a stable two-year job history is big, especially for people who are heavily commission-based in their income.