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Small Banks See Opportunity in Mortgages

Efforts to revive the depressed real estate market are creating opportunities for home buyers, homeowners and the banks that missed out on the fun during the last housing bubble.

Big banks are buried under an avalanche of paperwork, as homeowners have rushed to refinance at record low interest rates and first-time home buyers have tiptoed back into the market, lured by depressed home prices and an $8,000 tax credit.

These banks -- already spread thin after undergoing massive layoffs in the past 12 to 18 months -- also must work with scores of borrowers who are having trouble paying their existing mortgages, observers say.

Many small banks that traditionally did not do a lot of mortgage lending or that did not have large market share in their local markets are finding opportunity in the chaos. Robert Braswell, the CEO of Carolina Bank Holdings (CLBH - Get Report), a community bank in Greensboro, N.C., says that larger rival banks "are not even answering the phone or returning a phone call."

"We're getting a lot of additional opportunities ... and so consequently we in turn are able to provide that service," Braswell says, adding that purchase loans are taking priority.

US Bancorp (USB - Get Report) originated $13.5 billion loans in the first quarter and had applications in for roughly $25 billion worth of loans, according to a recent presentation.

CEO Richard Davis said in the presentation that the majority of loans are refinances, with a large portion from more stressed credits. The company is also spending a "great deal of energy" on reducing loan rates, reducing principal amounts and keeping loans from defaulting, he said.

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