Willy Walker, chairman and CEO of what the Mortgage Bankers Association ranked 2012’s 10th largest commercial real estate lender and third largest multifamily lender, has yet to shy away from a race in his professional and personal lives. With heightened competition for multifamily among other areas of commercial real estate lending and continued talk of winding down the GSEs, that determination may prove helpful going forward.
“When you compete with Wells Fargo and CBRE and PNC and Goldman Sachs and several other major players every single day, the competitive landscape can’t get any more competitive,” the 46-year-old executive told Mortgage Observer in his corner office in Bethesda, Md. “But there’s nothing out there right now that says to me we’re not going to be able to continue to grow and continue to be a very significant player in this space.”
Walker & Dunlop, the No. 1 Fannie Mae DUS lender and the No. 5 Freddie Mac seller-servicer, according to 2012 agency and MBA rankings, relies heavily on both of the GSEs, which have seen their market shares decline. Fannie’s estimated mortgage holdings in 2013 will amount to $590.49 billion, down 10 percent from $656.1 billion in 2012 and 18.2 percent from $722.16 billion in 2011, according to government records.
Mr. Walker, who took the business co-founded by his grandfather in 1937 public in December 2010, has spent a significant amount of his time on Capitol Hill this year talking to congressional leaders about the importance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Those conversations have come at a vital time—a little over a year after Walker & Dunlop beefed up its multifamily platform with its $234 million acquisition of CWCapital, the country’s second-largest special servicer. The acquisition was agreed to in June 2012 and completed the following September—with the purchase price consisting of $80 million in cash and the issuance of $154 million in stock. As a result, Walker & Dunlop, which has more than 400 employees, became one of the largest commercial real estate lenders in the country, albeit one with bolstered ties to agencies that may be disappearing.
“We’ve been very involved in the political dialogue as it relates to the future of Fannie and Freddie,” said the D.C. native, who in 2007 became the third generation of Walkers to run the commercial mortgage company. “They know we’re out there working on their behalf.”
On Oct. 9, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on the reform of Fannie and Freddie, focusing on their multifamily operations. Witnesses at the hearing heavily leaned in favor of housing finance reform legislation that would ensure that the federal government continues to play a role in multifamily financing.
Mr. Walker and his team worked on several fronts prior to the hearing, such as informing senators and their staffs of Fannie’s and Freddie’s multifamily business models and the agencies’ affordable housing provisions.
The CEO, who noted that his involvement on Capitol Hill started long before Fannie and Freddie went into conservatorship, has become an increasingly vocal proponent of the agencies as their futures have become more uncertain.
Jeffery Hayward, Fannie Mae’s head of multifamily, referred to the dynamic between the agency and Walker & Dunlop as a “a partnership” that equally affects both parties. “Willy depends on us, and we depend on him,” Mr. Hayward, who oversees the agency’s $200 billion multifamily portfolio, told Mortgage Observer. “That is what the DUS program is about.”
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