As the home equity lending market heats up, experienced employees have become a hot commodity.

New companies and expanding old-timers are hiring personnel at all levels, including senior management and front line sales staff.

"It's unbelievable. All of a sudden, I'm incredibly busy on the home equity side," said Cathy Weiss, president of C. Weiss Associates, a recruiting firm in New York.

Last year at this time, 75% of her business was placing traditional mortgage personnel. This year, the ratios have reversed and placing home equity employees is three-quarters of her business.

The key to succeeding in the home equity business is experienced employees, experts say, and recruits from the traditional mortgage market just won't do.

"You have to unteach them everything they learned in traditional business, and reteach them," said an executive from a major finance company.

The strong demand has created a footloose mentality among senior and middle managers, observers say. High-level personnel are moving from job to job in search of the highest pay and best perks.

Newcomers to the subprime loan market are snapping up most of these transients. CWM Mortgage Holdings, an affiliate of Countrywide Credit Industries in Pasadena, Calif., has hired several employees with less than one year at their last job.

"A lot of these new companies are trying to pull the top people away (from competitors) and pay them whatever they want," Ms. Weiss added.

But established companies are bucking the trend.

"The seasoned people are not going to hire a job jumper," said Hugh Miller, president of Woodbury, N.Y.-based Delta Funding. "It's the new people getting in this industry who hire these job jumpers."

Mr. Miller said he spent about a year looking for the right people to fill two managerial positions.

Equicredit, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based subprime lending arm of Barnett Banks, is also searching for executives, said Alan Tuthill, vice president of wholesale and operations.

"It's a pretty hard recruit," he said. "Most of the really good people are already firmly entrenched somewhere else."

Subprime loan underwriters also are in hot demand. Salaries have increased across the board for the position, from an average of $25,000 two years ago to as high as $40,000 now. Underwriters with several years' experience command much higher salaries.

"Experienced underwriters are impossible to find," said Mr. Miller. His company has an in-house training program to satisfy their underwriter demand.

"Underwriting is the most critical position to recruit for," Mr. Tuthill added. In the past year, Equicredit has doubled its staff of loan underwriters, to 24.

Here, too, the usual mortgage employees won't do. Turning an A paper underwriter into a success in the subprime business requires a "brain transplant," Mr. Tuthill said.

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