For James O'Brien and others like him, this year's low interest rates have meant booming business, long nights at the office, and maybe even a new car.

Mr. O'Brien, 37, is one of PNC Mortgage Corp. of America's top originators. He is the area sales manager for its Southport, Conn., office.

Around the country, the work loads and paychecks of mortgage lenders have soared as homeowners have rushed to refinance their loans.

Communities like Southport and nearby Greenwich, where average home prices exceed $250,000, are lenders' dreams. "The cost of living is high" in Fairfield County, Mr. O'Brien said.

In buying a home, "$75,000 doesn't go anywhere around here."

Southport, Mr. O'Brien's hometown, is close enough to Manhattan to lure investment bankers with seven-figure incomes and 70-hour-a-week Wall Street jobs, but far enough away for them to let the dog out alone.

Residents who work in financial services are avid rate watchers who do not need to be told when to refinance. The towns are small enough to guarantee that good service generates business through word of mouth.

In 1993, the last time that interest rates dipped low enough to touch off a refinancing boom, originators like Mr. O'Brien were writing $45 million in loans a year.

This January he did $12.5 million.

"There are not enough hours in the day," he jokes.

At Mr. O'Brien's small office, set right next to the train station, a quick midmorning check of the voice mail reveals 20 messages. He skims through them.

"There's a refi ... and another ... and another," he says. "I did that guy's brother's loan-he must be calling to refinance."

Mr. O'Brien, who has lived in Southport since elementary school, is refinancing loans for people he grew up with, and fielding referrals from his brothers who live in the area.

His PNC office does not even advertise-it does not need to, he said.

The closest it comes is monthly postcards, sent to all former customers. This month's has a Halloween theme.

"It keeps our name in front of the customer," Mr. O'Brien said. And the cards work, he said.

Business is so good, in fact, that the PNC office can be selective, focusing first on the higher-end loans, which mean more profit.

Mr. O'Brien's favorite weapon is a laptop, through which he tracks all his customers and the interest rates they are paying.

"Look at this," he says, scrolling through a list. "Three hundred sixty- three names-and none of them are paying over 7.5%."

This month's momentary spike in rates is only going to help business, according to Mr. O'Brien's philosophy. "Volatility is the best thing for us," he said. "Otherwise, there's no incentive to (refinance) today."

The commuter-heavy population means that many Southport residents do not get home from work until late in the evening. Mr. O'Brien spends several nights a week making house calls, trucking loan papers to homeowners.

The schedule suits him fine. "I can go home first, eat dinner with the kids, and then go back out," he said. "I wouldn't want to work 100 hours a week and get calls all weekend," as many of his clients do.

Still, there's no doubt he's pressed for time. "I'm going to have to refinance my own house at some point-whenever I get a break here," he said.

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