Will Better.com's '1,000 jobs' actually appear?

Plus: Heafner certification suspended; Toys & Co. calls it quits at Cotswold; Facebook meme-sharing draws N.C. lawsuit

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Upstart online mortgage company has big expansion plans and powerful backers, but there are challenges, too

The announcement this week that Better Mortgage (Better.com) plans to hire 1,000 workers in Charlotte in the next five years sounds like big, welcome news.

It comes after a string of huge job announcements for Charlotte — 2,000 from Lowe’s in South End; 1,200 from AvidXchange at the Music Factory; 2,000 from Truist uptown.

But when you compare Better’s background with that of the other companies that have recently announced lots of jobs in Charlotte, well, you might see that there’s reason to be a liiiiittle more skeptical. Here’s why:

  • It is a young company, founded only three years ago. It has just 20-30 people working in Charlotte. The company has only 700 employees nationwide. It’s a startup. Startups sometimes flame out.

  • It is not building its own office. Rather, it’s moving into a WeWork space in South End.

  • It is not taking tax incentives. When companies accept state or local tax incentives — which are common with job announcements of this size — they commit to a certain level of investment and job creation. Better is not doing that.

It’s also entering a highly competitive field. Better allows potential home buyers to gain approval for home loans quickly and avoid the hassles of endless paperwork. As the New York Times described it: “The company says its new product will allow borrowers to be fully approved for a purchase or refinance loan in as little as eight minutes, simply by plugging in some personal details on their computers, tablets or smartphones.”

Oh wait — that quote wasn’t about Better. It was about Quicken Loans’ Rocket Mortgage … in 2015. The two have the same business model, only Rocket Mortgage has a huge head start and is part of the nation’s largest mortgage lender. Quicken surpassed Wells Fargo as the country’s biggest mortgage lender last year.

Technology for all: Rocket Mortgage and Better Mortgage like to portray traditional lenders as stuck in the past, but that’s not quite true. “Even local companies are all using new technologies that are making the whole system faster,” says Rocke Andrews, a mortgage broker in Tucson, Ariz., and incoming president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. A few years ago, loans would take 30 days to process. Now, they normally take about 10 to 14, he tells the Ledger — because the whole industry is adopting new time-saving technologies.

In addition, real-estate agents don’t care much for online lenders. They prefer to have local humans to yell at to hurry up to get deals done. They don’t have that ability with faceless online loan platforms.

Reasons for optimism: Of course, there are plenty of reasons to think Better will succeed in Charlotte, too. Mainly, that’s because it has big and powerful backers, including Ally Bank and Goldman Sachs. And raising $254M in funding can pay for a lot of employees and develop a lot easy-to-use financial apps — or perhaps weather an economic downturn.

It’s great for Charlotte to have another start-up in town because it helps develop the city’s entrepreneurial culture. And it’s nice to see Charlotte become known as a financial technology center. But adding 1,000 jobs here from a base of 30, out of a WeWork office, in a competitive industry in which the market leader is doing mostly the same thing? Let’s not pop the corks on the champagne just yet.

Game over for Cotswold Toys & Co.

Toys & Co., one of Charlotte’s best-known independent toy stores, closed this week at Cotswold mall.

Toy retailers such as Toys & Co. have had a lot of their business migrate to the internet and to superstores.

By Tuesday afternoon, the store’s merchandise had been cleaned out more thoroughly than Whoville on Christmas Eve. A sign on the door Tuesday read:

Unfortunately, circumstances are such that we are Closed. Thanks to all of our customers for your support over the last 12 years. Our last day open was Sunday, September 15th. We hope you will continue to shop with us at our Friendly Center, Greensboro & at www.ToysAndCo.com. — Your Friends at Toys & Co.

A Ledger reader who was at the store last weekend wrote: “I was shocked at how bare the shelves were.”

In an email to customers last month, the store said it was looking for a buyer.

Heafner’s financial-planning certification is suspended

Former Charlotte financial adviser Jim Heafner has had his Certified Financial Planner certification suspended following allegations that he sold securities that were not approved by a brokerage firm he was working with, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.

Heafner, who made frequent appearances on Charlotte TV and radio stations, encouraged some of his clients to invest in a Florida company called 1 Global Capital, which later filed for bankruptcy protection. The Securities and Exchange Commission has accused 1 Global of raising $300M from 3,400 investors but channeling millions to its CEO’s personal expenses. In an interview with the Ledger this month, Heafner said he thought 1 Global looked like a solid investment and that investors will probably recover around half of their losses through the bankruptcy proceedings. He said he lost money in the investment, too.

The interim suspension by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards means that Heafner cannot identify himself as a Certified Financial Planner. In a statement to the Ledger on Tuesday, Heafner said he did not challenge the sanctions from the board or related sanctions this summer from the organization that regulates brokerages because he is retired.

“Because of their questions about 1 Global, the CFP board has temporarily suspended my right to use the designation,” he wrote. “Again, because I am retired, I am not contesting this.”

Bad puns a-plenty in Facebook meme copyright suit

A Charlotte lawyer is helping sue a small Raleigh company for reposting a meme on Facebook without attributing the source of the photo.

In a federal case filed in Raleigh in June, Charlotte lawyer Seth Hudson of Clements Bernard Walker in Charlotte and Richard Liebowitz of New York filed suit on behalf of California resident Matthew Bradley. They claimed that Analytical Grammar, a veteran-owned company based in Raleigh that sells grammar books, infringed on Bradley’s copyright by reposting a meme from Facebook onto Analytical Grammar’s Facebook page in December 2017.

The meme in question is a photo of five carpentry levels each marked with tape with the word “wrong” on them. It is captioned: “This is wrong on so many levels.”

Pun fun not so funny: A Raleigh company is being sued for copyright infringement after posting a meme on Facebook without attribution. (Photo from court filings, which are 100% legally allowed to be republished.)

In response to the suit, Analytical Grammar’s lawyers from Parker Poe’s Raleigh office wrote:

Bradley’s lawsuit is wrong on so many levels. He levels claims against Analytical for sharing his joke. He does his level best to take Analytical down a level. But his claims are not on the level. Analytical raises these counterclaims to level the field.

The company has launched a GoFundMe account to pay legal bills. Hudson did not return a phone call Tuesday. The other plaintiff’s lawyer, Liebowitz, was profiled by Slate last year and described as a “copyright enforcer” and a “walking lawsuit factory.”

In brief

  • Healthy Atrium earnings: Atrium Health said its total net enterprise income in the first half of 2019 was $764M, far surpassing the $238M budgeted largely because of investment gains. Operating revenue was $5.3B, 1% more than budgeted. Speaking at Atrium’s quarterly board meeting, CEO Gene Woods said the health giant’s partnership with Wake Forest University is “on track” with plans to “decide on how our partnerships will come together” by the end of the year. (Business NC)

  • Not in Novant’s city: Novant Health has filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against a Charlotte company called Novant City Corp., a software consulting firm headquartered at 101 N. Tryon St. Novant Health says the name “Novant City” confuses customers, and it would like the company to stop using the name.

  • New marina: The McLean development in Belmont plans to add a commercial marina next year on Lake Wylie. Known as Morningstar Marinas at McLean, it will have “300 dry slips, 35 wet slips, a waterfront event lawn, ship’s store and more.” It’s at the N.C./S.C. state line at the Highway 279 — and it will include a waterfront restaurant, the developer said.

  • Recovery high school opens: Emerald School of Excellence, a private high school aimed at students with a history of substance abuse, opened last month at Memorial United Methodist Church on Central Avenue in east Charlotte. It costs $1,000 a month but offers scholarships. (NC Health News)

This week in podcasting

A round-up of interesting moments in recent Charlotte podcasts

  • Parental fibs: Dr. Rachael Fournet, a pediatrician with Novant Health, talks about several things she’d like parents to stop doing. At the top of the list is lying to her: “One of the biggest things that I would recommend parents not do is lie to your pediatrician. … Usually [they stretch the truth about] the things they know the pediatrician will not approve of. … Sometimes, they’ll sleep with the baby in their bed, or they’ll sleep with the baby on their chest in the recliner. Then when you come to the pediatrician, I’ll ask, ‘OK, tell me about sleep — not only how often are they waking up at night, but where are they sleeping?’ And I’ll see the parents look side-to-side at each other and say, ‘In the crib.’ And I’ll say, ‘Guys, what’s really happening in your home?’” (Novant Health Healthy Headlines, Sept. 11, 12 minutes)

  • Mentally taxing: In an eye-opening discussion of how CMPD helps officers improve their mental well-being, Capt. Brad Koch talks about the toll his job took on him and his family: “I spent about five years in homicide. … As much death and bad things that I saw that shouldn’t happen to people, I ended up taking a lot of that home with me. It was really hard on my family. My wife at the time would call me … this is probably 2003, 2004. She called me because my daughter took her first steps. I wasn’t there. I was working. She called and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, because she’s alive, right?’ It was just such a snarky response. I was actually at a homicide scene. It’s tough. It’s tough to think back. I wish I was a better dad. I wish I was a better husband. I went and saw a counselor. … That really helped me.” (CMPD CopCast, City of Charlotte, Sept. 11, 34 minutes)

  • Old stuff: Historian Dan Morrill talks with the hosts about why preserving parts of Charlotte’s history is important: “What’s the cruelest disease you can have? It’s Alzheimer’s, because it takes away your memory. History is not the past. It’s human beings thinking about the past. The reality is any community that has a sense of cultural continuity, like layers on a cake, is much more interesting, much more viable. It’s great to have new stuff. New stuff is wonderful. But it’s also important to have this sense of continuity.” (Charlotte Podcast, Sept. 17, 37 minutes)

Cheap getaways from CLT

  • Charlotte to Newark, $70 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates September-December.

  • Charlotte to Baltimore, $70 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates September-December.

  • Charlotte to Boston, $116 round-trip on American (nonstop), various dates September-December.

  • Charlotte to Fort Lauderdale, $66 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates in September-November.

  • Charlotte to San Juan, Puerto Rico, $173 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Oct. 5-12.

  • Charlotte to Orlando, $55 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Oct. 19-21.

  • Charlotte to Denver, $90 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), various dates in October-November.

  • Charlotte to San Jose, Costa Rica, $219 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), various dates October-November.

  • Charlotte to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, $219 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), various dates October-November.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

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The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.