Few occupations have escaped Chester A. Bishop. From the carefree 1980s to the belt-tightening ‘90s, Bishop has dabbled in paramedic and paralegal studies, operated a forklift, and worked at a flea market. He even pulled a paycheck at the Key Biscayne dog track.
“I put the dogs in the box before the races,” said Bishop, chuckling at his colorful resume of first jobs.
Bishop, 44, founder and owner of Surealty Title Inc., considers himself a “typical Jamaican,” referring to the common thought that ambitious Caribbean Americans rarely hold down fewer than three jobs.
His professional tenacity has paid off. Surealty is one of South Florida’s oldest black-owned title companies, serving a clientele that is 60 percent black. Even as the country’s largest housing lenders, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, undergo a federal bailout, Bishop’s title company maintains economic buoyancy.
Bishop credits a strong standing in South Florida, strong partnerships with established banks and strong community service. The small company has managed to handle titles totaling from $80 to $100 million in closing loan costs each year.
“With the market the way it is, we just have to make adjustments like everyone else,” said Bishop, who has had to pare his staff of 20 almost in half.”
Title company representatives represent banks giving out loans, check out whether a house has a lien, and determine whether the owner has any red flags that would make buying a house a future headache, among other things, said Bishop.
Bishop, who pays close attention to the changing winds in the housing and lending industry, said patience and resiliency are also key for people in the business and for home-buying hopefuls.
“I think things will get better by the end of 2009,” said Bishop. “The government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which will bring the rates down and give investors confidence. That, in turn, will lower interest rates and allow consumers to buy more houses for the same money.”
A stable economy is sure to follow, said Bishop, adding that interest rates would have to drop from the current 6.5 percent to about 5 percent for first-time home buyers to feel comfortable re-entering the market.
In the meantime, those interested in becoming home owners need to learn about the hurdles and helpful information available to them at no cost.
“We do a lot of community work, volunteering staff within the community to help the nonprofit educate first-time home buyers,” said Bishop, who purchased his first home –– a three-bedroom, two-bath in Hollywood when he was 21. The house, which he has since sold, cost $51,000 at the time.
There is no returning to those kinds of prices, said Bishop, but he easily offers the best buys in the South Florida area.
“The best time to buy is right now,” said Bishop. “I won’t name cities, but the southwest portion of Broward County has houses that have dropped 40 percent in price from where they were two years ago.”
Bishop grew up in Spanish Town, Jamaica, where his grandfather was the tax collector and his grandmother was the postmaster. He said he was raised with a sense of the power of ownership.
Surealty offers free workshops to non-profit organizations upon request, Bishop said, adding that he considers the workshops integral extensions of his company because he believes the community is as strong as its people.
Surealty has received several awards for its ongoing community service, including the Hot 105 Community Service Award.
The 12-year-old firm regularly offers free workshops for first-time homebuyers. The courses have prepped hundreds of men and women to take steps many didn’t believe would be possible.
“I remember working with a black man about 60 years old who never owned a house in his life. When he finally got the keys to his first house, he cried. He never thought he would own a house,” said Bishop. “It gives you a lot of satisfaction to know you’re helping the community.”
Bishop and his wife, Suzanne, live in Plantation and have a 23-year-old son.
For more information on Surealty’s first-time home buying seminars, call 954-680-5959 or e-mail Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those entering the home buying market can find grant information at www.Mortga-gegrants.com.