First Federal Bank continues expansion of its nationwide mortgage lending operations with deal to acquire Watson Mortgage Corp. and investments in digital solutions.

At Inman Connect Las Vegas, July 30-Aug. 1 2024, the noise and misinformation will be banished, all your big questions will be answered, and new business opportunities will be revealed. Join us.

Florida-based thrift First Federal Bank continues to expand its nationwide mortgage lending operations through acquisitions and technology investments, announcing a deal Thursday to acquire the mortgage division of a large Jacksonville-based real estate brokerage, Watson Realty Corp.

While terms of the deal to acquire Watson Mortgage Corp. were not disclosed, First Federal Bank said it will “continue to serve Watson’s mortgage customers throughout the entire Watson Realty footprint.”

More than 1,100 licensed real estate agents work out of 45 Watson Realty Corp. offices serving Florida markets including Jacksonville, Orlando and Daytona Beach.

Bill Watson

“We are pleased to have come to an agreement that permits our talented and dedicated team to continue providing mortgage solutions to our customers and serve our teams with valuable mortgage expertise,” Watson Realty Corp. Chairman Bill Watson said in a statement.

Watson Realty’s strategic plan for 2024 “includes a strong focus on helping customers secure homes, in a challenging rate environment,” he said.

Founded in 1994, Jacksonville, Florida-based Watson Mortgage Corp. is also licensed in Georgia and sponsors 17 mortgage loan originators, according to records maintained by the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry.

Lake City-based First Federal Bank said it anticipates keeping the “vast majority” of Watson Mortgage employees on the payroll and will transition the lender to the First Federal brand within a few months of closing.

Paul Ottendorf

“We look forward to welcoming the new employees and the Watson relationship to our residential lending team,” First Federal Bank executive Paul Ottendorf said in a statement.

Ottendorf, the president of First Federal’s residential lending division, said the deal will “enhance our retail lending capabilities and market share in the communities we serve.”

Last summer, First Federal Bank announced it had acquired the assets and employees of BNC National Bank’s mortgage division.

John Medina

“With the acquisition, First Federal gains a nationwide consumer direct mortgage platform and offers the benefits of community banking, customer service, and stability to the expanded customer base in new markets,” First Federal Bank President and CEO John Medina said in a statement at the time.

Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, BNC National Bank’s mortgage division posted a $4.25 million 2022 net loss and a $3.43 million 2023 net loss, according to the company’s most recent annual report to investors.

According to its most recent Community Reinvestment Act performance evaluation, First Federal Bank “significantly expanded” its mortgage lending capacity with the 2018 acquisition of Fernandina Beach, Florida-based CBC National Bank. First Federal Bank earned “high satisfactory” ratings on lending, investment and service tests in the June 2020 report.

Founded in 1962 as First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Live Oak, First Federal reorganized from a mutual savings and loan to a mutual bank in 2007 and had $3.86 billion in assets at the end of last year.

Today, First Federal Bank operates mortgage operations centers in Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Wisconsin, and partners with cloud-based banking platform Blend Labs Inc. to accept mortgage applications through its website.

“Since 2020, customers have increased their use of digital tools and First Federal continues to invest in providing cutting-edge digital solutions to customers, coupled with personal service,” the company said Thursday.

First Federal Bank originates mortgages nationwide, sponsoring 155 mortgage loan originators and also funding mortgages originated by mortgage brokers and correspondent lending partners, according to Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry records.

The bank acquired its wholesale lending division, QRL Financial Services, in 2011. In addition to funding loans originated by mortgage brokers, QRL Financial Services provides subservicing and appraisal compliance.

In its most recent annual report to investors, First Federal Bank reported that it originated $1.58 billion in mortgages in 2022 and funded an additional $1.7 billion in home loans through warehouse lines of credit provided to correspondent lending partners.

Get Inman’s Mortgage Brief Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. A weekly roundup of all the biggest news in the world of mortgages and closings delivered every Wednesday. Click here to subscribe.

Email Matt Carter

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription