Merced County Times Newspaper
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A Pathway To Home Ownership In The Local Market

Client needs come first for Merced loan officer 

Joe Stefani, branch manager of American Financial Network, at right, with loan processor Mitchell Miller, center, and assistant loan processor Tristen Pulido. 
Joe Stefani, branch manager of American Financial Network, at right, with loan processor Mitchell Miller, center, and assistant loan processor Tristen Pulido.

Finding the right loan for the home of your dreams doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out ordeal.

Just ask Joe Stefani — one of the hardest working professionals in the Merced-area housing market.

“I try to be available to my clients 24/7,” he says. “I will meet with them any time, any day of the week. If a truck driver has to leave town at 5 a.m., than I will set up a quick meeting at 4:30 a.m. That’s what I do because this whole process is about the home buyer — especially the first-time home buyer — and what’s best for them. After all, this is the largest purchase an individual or couple will make in their entire life.”

Stefani is the branch manager and top loan officer at American Financial Network (AFN) in Merced. His specialty is helping first-time home buyers, but he works with all kinds of buyers on conventional loans, FHA loans, VA loans and USDA loans. He also works to refinance mortgages so clients can obtain lower rates.

AFN is a mortgage bank, and Stefani’s team helps process loans from the beginning stages to the funding of the loan.

“We do it all in-house,” Stefani says. “Our team has been working together for several years. We work well together. And we pride ourselves on customer service and efficiency. Our goal is to make the home buying experience as smooth, as seamless and as less stressful as possible for the buyer.”

Stefani works directly with loan processor Mitchell Miller and assistant loan processor Tristen Pulido to meet the needs of clients and put them “on a path toward home ownership.”

“There is no consultation fee, no application fee,” Stefani says. “I don’t charge my clients a penny until we close their loan.”

First-time home buyers can walk in to their Merced office and start an interview process. Stefani will help fill out the application data in order to move on to “pre-approval.”

“Putting a home loan together is like putting a puzzle together,” he says. “We put all the pieces on the table and we start creating a financial picture.”

It’s entirely possible that an individual or a couple can be pre-approved in an hour, and that very same day be shopping for a home. Once the buyer goes into contract with the seller, Stefani’s team gets to work on the actual loan process. And these days, it can go quickly.

“We are closing loans right now is less than three weeks, or in as little as 15 days in some cases,” Stefani says.

New homeowners Ricky Garcia, 31, and Belen Hernandez, 29, were pleasantly surprised how fast everything went after they talked to Stefani about their home search in Merced.

“We had a house in mind,” Ricky Garcia told the Times. “We had toured it, and we wanted to make an offer on it. Our Realtor said that maybe our previous loan estimates weren’t as good as they could be, and he suggested we talk to Joe. We met that same day, and we got pre-approved for a better loan that same day. We put an offer on the home, but because of the current competition we didn’t end up getting that property. However, we kept working with Joe, and we soon made an offer on another home. Joe was very friendly, very knowledgeable, and very upfront on everything. Joe, Tristen, Mitchell and everybody were straightforward with us, and that made everything go well for us. They were easy to work with. And I could reach him at any time really. It seemed like they worked overtime. I even received a text response from Joe on Easter Sunday.”

Stefani says credit and income are among the biggest concerns for first-time home buyers due to rising home prices. Local buyers, he points out, are encountering stiff competition from Bay Area residents with deep pockets who are looking for a post-pandemic change of pace right here in the Central Valley.

“Usually,” he says, “credit is not the major issue. There are ways to pay down credit cards or other forms of debt. … And the next big concern among first-time buyers is the monthly payment. However, one thing to keep in mind is that the monthly payment on a house nowadays is comparable to what you pay in rent.”

The loan officer also thinks people try to “time the market” with the idea that they will wait for home prices to drop. “What I always tell people is that if you are in it for the long haul — and especially if you are a first-time home buyer — there is never a bad time to buy a home. I mean you are getting a 30-year fixed mortgage. There’s going to be highs and lows in the market. That said, real estate has always appreciated.


Joe Stefani was born and raised in Merced. He is the son of Bob and Bonnie Stefani. Longtime residents may remember that Bob was a real estate broker in town, and Bonnie was a real estate agent and mortgage banker.

So Joe definitely grew up in the business.

He graduated from Merced High School in the Class of 1988, and served the nation in the Marine Corps.

About 20 years ago, with the start of the new millennium, Stefani entered the lending business for himself and returned to the Merced area to serve the community.

“It’s something that I love to do,” he says. “I know it sounds cliche, but I enjoy helping people more than the commissions I make doing it. This is one of the most rewarding jobs a person can have — helping people buy homes.” By 2006, he was a partner in three net branches in Atwater, Merced and Chowchilla.

Stefani got his start as a loan officer for House Smart Home Loans under the mentorship of Rick Seymour and Ernesto Cortez. Then he worked his way up and became a partner in a net branch, otherwise known as a corporate branch office for a major mortgage company. By 2006, Stefani was a partner in three net branches of the Mason-McDuffie Mortgage Corporation in Atwater, Merced and Chowchilla.

During the economic downturn that started in 2008, Stefani helped promote federally insured renovation loans to help spark a tough real estate market in the Merced area. With so many of the available homes in the Merced market at the time — either bank-owned or being marketed as a short-sale — the renovation loans, or 203k loans, provided the capital for necessary repairs and improvements that could be folded into a first mortgage.

In 2018, Stefani joined American Financial Network as a branch manager, and today AFN has branch offices in Atwater and Merced.

Stefani is also the father of two young men — Justin and Hunter — who live in Merced, and he’s the brother of Mary Camper, a local Realtor and president of the Merced County Association of Realtors.


Joe Stefani and American Financial Network can be reached at 3337 G Street, Suite C, in the El Portal Plaza, Merced. The office can be found right across from Jantz Restaurant and next to Central Valley Community Bank. Call (209) 580-4464 or Joe’s cell at (209) 564-8641. Email: [email protected]


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