Charles Sanders seizes opportunities to develop Urban Lending Solutions into a national competitor

Charles “Chuck” Sanders, CEO and founder of Urban Lending Solutions, isn’t afraid to take chances when he sees an opportunity.

After a brief career in the National Football League, Sanders needed a job and started doing marketing for Pittsburgh real estate entrepreneur Robert Murphy Jr.’s golf course and semi-pro basketball team.

One day Sanders asked Murphy, “How do you get the money to buy basketball teams and golf courses?”

“I’m in the mortgage business,” Murphy replied.

“And I said, ‘That’s the business I want to get into,’” Sanders says.

So, he learned the real estate business working in operations and sales at Murphy’s company, ValuAmerica, becoming a nationally recognized vendor, recruiter and provider of real estate information, technology, products and services.

In 2000, he took everything he had learned from working for Murphy and started his own mortgage services company.

His confidence and make-it-work attitude have helped him succeed. For example, a few years in, Sanders found out through his connections that a particular bank in Georgia needed title and abstract work. So, he packed up his car and went down there, hitting courthouse after courthouse, hiring people.

“I came back to the bank and said, ‘Hey, look. I can provide property reports all throughout Georgia. I’ve got an abstractor in every county.’ And they gave me an opportunity, and it was our first big deal that launched us,” Sanders says.

Today, Urban Lending is a national company that generated $220 million in revenue in 2013 and employs about 2,400 permanent and temporary employees.

It’s about more than money for Sanders though, who says he got the bug to be an entrepreneur and just went for it.

“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just your circumstances. I didn’t know what a mortgage was when I was in high school. I mean you know what a mortgage is, but I just needed a job and one thing lead to another. If you slow down every day and look around, you might see an opportunity.”

And it was that same ability to see opportunities that helped him take his company to the next level in the mid-2000s.


An educated guess for a new direction

At that time, nearly everyone was doing well with mortgage originations in the booming housing market. But large title companies started to do their own processing work. With great relationships with banks, this fierce competition from the title companies put the squeeze on middle companies like Urban Lending, which specialized in mortgage origination, Sanders says.

“It really forced us to say, ‘Hey, where are we going to go next for this company to survive?’” he says. “We had to change directions and go somewhere where they weren’t fishing.”

Sanders and his management team watched the market and took an educated guess that the housing portion was going to crash and there was going to be a lot of defaults. That lead Urban Lending to became one of the first companies to concentrate on loan modifications for banks.

“Nowadays, everybody hears about loan modifications,” Sanders says. “You hear it all the time — commercials, TV, people talk about it. But back in 2005/2006, it wasn’t a big product or a big service.”

You can’t be scared to change, to go where the business is, he says.

“Sometimes you’re making widgets, you’re making widgets, you’re making widgets — and you go, ‘You know what, we’re not winning here. So, we’d better figure out what to do with the tools we have,’” Sanders says.

“Sometimes you’ve got to take that bold move, and say, ‘You know what? While everybody is playing over here, we’re going to go play over there and be the best at that.’”