The Real Deal New York

Trump mortgage — take two

September 15, 2007
By Jenna M. McKnight

First Meridian Mortgage, a Brooklyn-based residential lender, is taking on a new moniker, Trump Financial, in hopes of recruiting top talent and gaining greater exposure nationwide.

It certainly isn’t the first company to license the Trump brand. Real estate mogul Donald Trump has lent his name to skyscrapers, casinos, steaks, cologne, menswear, vodka, even bottled water. But here’s the twist: The name Trump Financial is remarkably similar to — and in the same business as — the short-lived Trump Mortgage, which folded about four months ago as management problems sank the company less than two years after its 2005 launch.

Some might see the name choice as a bad omen, but David Brecher, CEO of First Meridian Mortgage, sees it as an extraordinary opportunity.

“We feel it’s a very powerful name, with a tremendous amount of name recognition,” said Brecher, who acknowledged getting calls confusing his firm with the defunct company. “We’ve done very good in New York as far as establishing our reputation through real estate developers, marketing firms, lending institutions and clients. What the Trump name affords us is the ability to go outside our reach.”

Trump, in a phone interview, described the arrangement as “just a licensing deal” and said he will not be involved in operating Trump Financial. He is licensing his name to First Meridian because of its solid reputation and his positive dealings with the firm in the past, he said.

The company is well established, he said, unlike the defunct Trump Mortgage, which opened for business in November 2005 and gained fanfare following a launch party in April 2006 at the Trump Tower. (At the time, Donald Trump emphasized that Trump Mortgage, like the newly formed Trump Financial, was “merely a licensing arrangement.”)

The failed firm, headquartered in a Trump property on Wall Street, offered commercial and residential mortgages and was licensed in 15 states. It was run by E.J. Ridings, a Trump family acquaintance. Last December, Money magazine revealed that Ridings had exaggerated his credentials in a professional biography. Ridings’ bio claimed he had 15 years of financial industry experience, a claim later proved false.

“Trump Mortgage is different [from Trump Financial] in that the people were inexperienced,” Trump said. “We weren’t happy with them, and we terminated them based on the fact they were not doing what they said they were going to do.”

Brecher fielded a few calls from people thinking his firm is Trump Mortgage. The negative association concerns him, he said, but it’s only temporary.

“I could not think of another branding name that has as much clout as the Trump name,” Brecher said.

Brecher said he pitched the Trump Financial idea to the Trump Organization earlier this year after learning that Trump Mortgage was about to close because of poor performance. Brecher would not disclose how much his firm is paying to use the name.

Brecher said Trump Financial will be the preferred lender for Trump residential development projects, although Trump said he prefers to offer people several financing options. He cited Trump Soho, a 45-story hotel-condo building under construction on Spring Street. The sales office has received 2,800 applications for 500 units, Trump said.

“We’ll offer them First Meridian, which is Trump, or we’ll offer others,” he said. “I like to give a choice of three or four companies.”

First Meridian Mortgage, a spin-off of the commercial brokerage Meridian Capital, was founded in 1996 and today has 125 employees. It is the lender and broker for 110 Livingston and BellTel Lofts in Brooklyn and One Hudson Park in Edgewater, N.J.

The company will retain the First Meridian Mortgage name in areas where it is well known, such as Brooklyn, but will assume its new identity where its foothold is weaker.

Beyond New York, Brecher said his firm is licensed in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, California, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. It also has a license pending in Arizona.

Brecher expects the new name will help the firm attract high-caliber loan officers and will elevate its status among lending institutions and developers. Trump’s image likely will be used in advertisements and marketing materials.

“When people hear the Trump name, they immediately think of real estate, business, success and that it’s a winner,” he said. “We really feel it will help us unlock a lot of doors.”

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