Since 2016, Steven Ujvary has served as senior vice president in the acquisitions group at Starwood Capital Group. In this role, he is responsible for residential mortgage debt strategies with a focus on non-agency whole loans. Before joining Starwood, Ujvary served as managing director for the Macquarie Group. He started his career as an analyst with Merrill Lynch.
Q. Can you describe your background and what led you to your current position with Starwood Capital?
A. I was born and raised in Wyoming and came to Georgetown in 2001 to study government and public policy. Even though I did not study finance, I was interested in the industry and, thanks to a bullish market, got a job as an analyst at Bank of America when I graduated in 2004.The following year, I moved into a mortgage securitization role, which I held until the financial crisis began. Suddenly, banks were filing for bankruptcy, housing prices were falling, and a lot of the people I worked with were losing their jobs. After Bank of America merged with Merrill Lynch in 2008, I was placed on a relatively small team that managed distressed assets that were the focus of much of the financial world.In 2011, after the market began to recover, I went to the Macquarie Group where I worked with a principal trading team that looked at structured credit and mortgages to target distressed assets. After the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau introduced regulation in 2014 that essentially rewrote the rules of the mortgage industry, I started a business within Macquarie to invest in newly originated non-agency residential mortgage assets.After five years with Macquarie, I came to Starwood Capital in 2016 to run their residential lending platform. My time with Starwood has been extremely exciting professionally because they are a world-class real estate-focused investment firm with a significant opportunity to scale an investment strategy in the residential housing market.
Q. What do you most enjoy about your current position with Starwood?
A. Barry Sternlicht, chairman and CEO, Starwood Capital Group, and our other senior professionals have built Starwood into one of the leading private real estate investment firms in the world. Starwood has real estate in its DNA. I have not been a part of a company like that before. Because of the expertise and reach of the firm, we can creatively pursue acquisition opportunities for our investors every day without any significant restriction on size or scale.
Q. What do you see as the future of Starwood and the residential real estate sector?
A. After the financial crisis, the only lenders providing residential mortgage credit to buyers were government agencies. In order for almost any potential homeowner to qualify for a loan, they had to meet the specific criteria for loans that are sold to a government-sponsored enterprise, such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae.The housing market and economy have witnessed a healthy recovery. There are now many high-quality borrowers who could own homes but are renting instead. Credit availability in the residential lending market is still very tight, however, and there are significant barriers to owning a home, although many of these people have credit profiles that would easily qualify them for a mortgage. This creates a significant opportunity for Starwood to provide loan programs to high-quality borrowers who otherwise don’t qualify for mortgages sold to government-sponsored enterprises. In this way, we can help them return to the residential market as homeowners.
Q. Why did you choose to get involved with the Steers Center?
A. The Steers Center offers Georgetown students a unique opportunity to gain direct exposure to the real estate industry. Much of that exposure comes in the four quadrants of the commercial real estate industry—public equity, private equity, private debt, and public debt. Matthew Cypher, director, Steers Center, saw an opportunity for me to expand their focus by offering my expertise in residential real estate mortgage market. Considering the residential housing market is the largest investable asset class in the United States, I have been excited to help the center expand its focus into an important sector with high growth potential.
Q. As a Georgetown graduate, how do you see the work of the Steers Center fitting in with the Georgetown student experience?
A. I think Georgetown is perfectly situated to be a thought leader in the residential housing market because government and public policy are so important in the space. Hopefully the Steers Center will continue to lead conversations on how the government should carry out housing reform and help to grow the residential market. This is an important issue for people on both sides of the political divide.
Q. What advice do you have for students interested in real estate?
A. Stay flexible. Before the financial crisis, mortgage industry leaders had been operating the same way for a long time. After the crisis, the people who succeeded were the ones who saw new opportunities and attacked them in new ways. Always try to approach each role you have with an entrepreneurial attitude. If you have a good idea, take the initiative and chase it down.