Rookie Superstar – Paul Cargal

Favorite Book:
“How to Master Your Time,” by Brian Tracy

“My first loan couldn’t have been more than $200,000,” recalls Paul Cargal, 26-year-old loan officer/mortgage consultant with Metro Broker’s Financial, Atlanta, Ga., “But completing it was definitely nerve wracking because I wanted to make sure every little thing was done perfectly. I knew my performance would leave an important first impression.” A perfectionist by nature, Cargal sets lofty aspirations and says his main goal for his second year was to increase business by “providing one of the highest levels of service known in the industry.”

His ambition has certainly paid off in his second year, Cargal’s personal loan volume reached $27,000,000 with 210 closed loans. “He is one of our star originators and is very dedicated to his customers and to constantly finding ways to work smarter and help more people get into a home of their own,” remarked Judy Jones, vice president of Metro Brokers Financial.

Growing up in what he calls a “real estate family,” Cargal has always been interested in the industry but admits he wasn’t sure if he would ever make a career out of it. However, after graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in Business Management, Cargal landed a job as a pricing coordinator in the Secondary Marketing department at Banc Mortgage. The experience was invaluable to Cargal as a new originator and taught him a great deal about different product options and pricing out loans. “I ended up liking the mortgage business so much that I decided I wanted to try to become a loan officer myself,” says Cargal.

The opportunity came when Cargal’s father, a local real estate agent, introduced him to Lloyd Carver of Metro Broker’s Financial, one of the most successful loan officers in his state. The meeting evolved into a fruitful relationship as Cargal trained for eight months as his junior loan officer. “It’s important to have a mentor and I learned a lot from him [Carver],” said Cargal. “He taught me what programs to place borrowers in, how to market myself to agents and lend loans by beating other lender’s prices.”

Of his rookie year Cargal reflects back and says, “There is not one most memorable loan that I can remember in my rookie year. Anytime I can obtain a loan for a buyer who was previously denied a loan by other lenders is memorable. Meeting any buyer’s need for a loan is also memorable.” Today, the breakdown of his business consists of approximately 40 percent new construction, 40 percent re-sales, 15 percent investor and five percent refinances. However, Cargal is quick to mention that he does not market himself to any one group of customers. “My specialty is whatever matches my customer’s portfolio, whether that is an FHA/VA, Jumbo, First-Time Homebuyer, Sub-prime, C/P or investor loan,” he remarked.

Since his training with Carver, Cargal has gone on to originate for three of Metro Broker’s offices in Georgia—located in the cities of Buckhead, Stockbridge and Peachtree City. “It was difficult at first to manage my time between all three offices,” admits Cargal, “since I obviously can’t be in all three locations at once. But once I got all of the agents on a routine, letting them know what days I would be in each office and making myself readily available on the phone, it became a lot easier.”

Along with spreading his time evenly between three offices throughout his typical 50-hour work week, Cargal also helped his business grow by implementing a few of his own marketing strategies, the first of which includes speaking in front of agent caravan meetings. “I’ll speak about different loan programs at these events,” said Cargal. At the meetings Cargal also hands out V.I.P. gift certificates for a free appraisal or to Home Depot and says he garners a good response from this. Besides public speaking, Cargal also kept his name visible throughout his second year as an originator by sending out fliers for new listings/re-sales and calling agents/builders to see if there was anything he could do for them. “I currently also send out annual mailers to my past clients and letters with pre-qualification forms attached to them. Out of 200 solicitations I receive anywhere from two to three responses.”  

Cargal credits his success to hard work, persistence, having a great processor and assistant and most importantly, the agents that put their trust in Cargal by giving him the opportunity to do business with them. He leaves the following advice for new originators. “Probably the most important thing I learned is better methods for moving loans through the loan process, for faster closings without delays,” commented Cargal. “These methods include quickly returning calls and getting pre-approvals as fast as possible to ensure nothing goes wrong.”

Rookie Superstar – Ginny Phillips

Favorite Quote
“I think I can, I think I can…” The Little Engine That Could

Advice to New Originators
“Book Yourself Solid,” Michael Port

With her husband already in the loan origination business, Ginny Phillips carefully weighed the industry’s pros and cons before leaving her prior post as director of research and communications with Langley Federal Credit Union in Virginia, where she was responsible for writing newsletter articles and designing marketing campaigns, as well as researching the various customer and program products. As Phillips commented, “My previous experience at Langley has been a big advantage. It has given me the ability to look at my production as a business and market it based on what differentiates me from other lenders. My last job focused on how to get customers to purchase new products, deepening their banking relationship and therefore making them more profitable.” Before stepping into origination, her husband’s boss at BF Saul Mortgage granted her an interview, openly discussing both the pluses and minuses of the business. Even though he ended up offering Phillips a job, it took her an additional six months before she was ready to “jump into the world of 100 percent commissions.”

After BF Saul Mortgage’s three-week intense instruction program followed by one-on-one training with a senior loan officer, which she remembers as the best part of her preparation, Phillips was still a little nervous embarking on her new career. “My first loan was a $60,000 condo and I fretted from contract to closing,” she said. “I’d been working on marketing to a few condo associations and this one was my first call back.”

However, her training coupled with hard work and a steadfast attitude proved to be a successful combination, helping Phillips, 33, to close 82 loans. In 2005 she began to implement new ways to generate business. “Every loan my rookie year was like turning on the light for the first time,” she said. “Each had its own twists and turns. Some were more difficult than others, however I learned something from each deal—what to do and what not to do in certain situations. It took a long time for me to feel confident in my ability to solve problems. Having the experience under your belt is a powerful tool when it comes to problem solving and I’ve learned a lot of creative ways to make deals work.”

Early on, Phillips decided to focus the majority of her efforts on real estate agents. “In our area, real estate agents have a tremendous amount of influence over where their buyer shops for financing,” remarked Phillips. “After identifying what I felt differentiated my company from the competition, I simply picked up the phone and started calling agents for a 10 minute face-to-face. After the meeting, I would always follow up by e-mail, then by phone and finally by mail. If I hadn’t heard from the agent within that time period, I gave them another call and asked them to lunch—repeating the process. But the one thing I think is paramount to success in this business is returning phone calls. It sounds pretty basic; however that was the number one complaint from agents in reference to other companies.” Further marketing efforts during Phillips’ first year included developing a campaign geared towards a few condominium associations in her community—sending mailers and making extra phone calls.

She also admits that being surrounded by mentors has also greatly impacted her success. “My husband William has been very supportive of the hours, phone calls and juggling and care of our daughter Jordan,” she said. “In the beginning I worked a lot. Now I have a little more control of my time. I would say that I work nine-hour days Monday through Friday. I enjoy coming in early to organize my day before the phone begins to ring.”

Another mentor, Jim Fiocca, assistant vice president and fellow loan officer has also proven to be an invaluable resource for Phillips’ trickier deals. “He took a lot of time to answer countless questions and assist in finding solutions to obstacles,” said Phillips. “And Tim Blowe, the vice president/branch manger has also been great at giving me encouragement.”

The camaraderie and trust of her support staff—in-house processor, underwriter and closer has also helped Phillips gain success. “Our office is unique in that we really support each other,” she commented. “In fact, I just made our company’s Rookie of the Year and Chairman’s club and my processor and underwriter are heading up to Maryland to attend the awards banquet to cheer me on.”

The overall breakdown of her business is 98 percent purchase units and two percent refinances; Phillips says she enjoys working with VA buyers the most. “We are surrounded by every branch of the military, which I’ve found is a truly loyal and tight-knit customer base,” she said.

Having surpassing her end-of-year goal by more than $11 million dollars, Phillips says the biggest lesson she learned was that she has the power to set expectations, both of the buyer and the agent involved. “Expectations can make or break you,” she said. “I’ve also learned that internal customer service can get you as far, if not farther, than external customer service. In other words, value those that support you. They are your competitive advantage, treat them as such.”

Phillips leaves the following advice for new originators, “Continuously follow-up with agents and past clients. Keeping my name in front of those who can positively impact my business has been priceless. The secret to my success has definitely been self-motivation, fantastic support and the drive to succeed.”

Rookie Superstar – Lydia Gajeski

Advice to New Originators
“Gain as much knowledge as you can—other people will perceive that and you can build trust upon it.”

In 2000, at age 19, Lydia Gajeski returned home to Green Bay, Wisc. Homesick after pursuing pre-med studies and trying to make ends meet as a single mom in Las Vegas, Nev., she was ready to take on any promising opportunity that came her way. So when a friend of her mother’s needed a part-time loan processor, Gajeski hoped it could potentially be just the break she was looking for. “I love math, so that seemed a good fit,” she said, “and it was a small mortgage company and a great place to get my feet wet.”

Gajeski, one other processor and an originator handled all the business for Oasis Mortgage, a local manufactured housing company’s finance arm. “We only did 50 to 75 loans a year, but it was an introduction to the business, and eventually landed me a job as a loan officer assistant at another company,” she said, “which is where I received most of my training.” Gajeski began as an assistant during the refi boom in 2002 and quickly started taking applications, running credit and calling clients, and eventually “basically doing the LO’s job, who was always out hunting and fishing. I didn’t know much at the time about the different jobs, I just did it all,” said Gajeski, 25. “I was a single mom raising two daughters and all I knew was no matter what, you got the job done—just like coming up with money for your own mortgage payment.”

The hard work and trial-by-fire introduction to originating paid off a couple years later when a local originator approached Gajeski about joining his start-up company, Patriot Mortgage Services, and becoming an originator on her own. “I was hesitant to switch to a commission-only salary, but I knew then where the money was being made,” she said, “and I knew it was time to make more money for me and my family.”

Many of the clients from her previous company followed. “The company was actually on its way out of business, so the timing worked out well for me,” said Gajeski. “People came looking for me because I was the one they had developed a relationship with. Starting out with clients was helpful—I had no idea how to go out and get new ones.”

Additionally, it helped that Patriot Mortgage made a big entrance when they joined the Green Bay marketplace. “We advertised all over the place—newspaper, TV, radio ads, and real estate guides,” said Gajeski. “We also sponsored the Brett Favre Annual Softball event here and got involved with the local Chamber of Commerce.” Gajeski placed her own ads in the phone book and on shopping carts at area grocery stores—but she focused mainly on developing business in the niche she knew—manufactured housing.

“Manufactured homes require different types of loan products,” said Gajeski. “The key part is being able to get construction lenders to trust that you know what you are doing, and that you are going to be on board with the right builders—they are sometimes hesitant because there can be a lot of problem areas.” Having established relationships with several lenders, Gajeski was able to create four or five accounts with manufactured housing producers in the Green Bay area.

Between these business partnerships and the four real estate agents she works with, Gajeski keeps busy working nearly 60 hours a week. “I usually work at least one weekend day a week, which I spend visiting the offices of my manufactured homes’ accounts,” she said. Her husband (Gajeski was married in 2004) stays home with the children so that she can maintain her thriving career. “We make compromises,” she said, “and he’s incredibly supportive of me.”

Gajeski also relies on a little help from her Mom, although there’s a paycheck involved. “I have one processor, who is amazing, and my mother works as my assistant,” said Gajeski. “It is great—I am a very ‘get to the point’ kind of person, and my mom relates well to people on a personal level—we make the perfect team.”

In 2005, Gajeski closed over $18 million on 128 loans, and she credits her first-year success with her knowledge of the entire loan process. “It has been extremely helpful for me to know the business from the processor’s perspective,” she said. “I don’t have to wait around if someone isn’t available—I can step in and order title or appraisal or call the underwriter—there’s no waiting around for someone on my team to come back.”

With an ambitious goal to more than double her 2005 volume this year, Gajeski is making an effort to be ever-present in the field and keeping in touch with customers in her database. “I am making a lot of phone calls to make sure people remember me,” she said. “I’m also hosting events for many of my business partners and focusing on keeping those relationships strong.”

Having a specialized niche in manufactured housing may prove the most fortunate move yet for Gajeski. “I am seeing a lot of Realtors and originators drop out of the profession these days,” she said. “I am lucky to be able to rely on the trust my business partners have in my knowledge of the products and players involved. I have also learned to be very versatile with any kind of credit that comes in the door.”

Although Gajeski vows to return to pre-med after she retires from originating, right now she is exactly where she wants to be. “I am 100 percent satisfied with my career. I couldn’t have imagined that I would be doing this well,” she said. “I remember growing up and my mom struggling a lot and I never wanted to feel that way with my children. I am so fortunate to be where I am now.”

–Gretchen Lees

Rookie Superstar – Kristi Hardy

Advice to New Originators:
“Don’t give up. Market at least three times a week and be relentless.”

By age 28, Kristi Hardy was one of nine female area managers in the country for Enterprise Rent A Car. She had gained experience as in car sales, worked as a finance manager, then branch manager, and as area manager, was eventually running the most profitable branch out of 300 dealerships. But there was only one problem: she was exhausted.

“I felt like I had worked myself to death at that point,” said Hardy, 36. “I was ready for a break.” Since she had always dreamed of traveling the world, the timing seemed right for her to take a break and embark on an adventure. Hardy traveled for six years, visiting over 40 countries throughout Central and South America, across Europe, Russia, Greece, and beyond. During the last two years, she met her future husband and eventually decided to settle down with him Northern Virginia. “At that point it was time for me to go back to work because we wanted to buy a house I was also ready to put some structure back into my life,” said Hardy.

She called the regional director of CTX Mortgage when she saw their ad in the paper and was told that they only hired LOs with two years of experience, but that she could start as an assistant. “I’m not really the assistant type,” she recalls saying. “So he told me I could pay my own way at Xinnix Mortgage Academy and they would reimburse me when I met their production goals.” Convinced that originating was going to combine all her strengths of financial consulting, marketing and working with people, Hardy decided it was worth the $15,000 investment.

After six years of time away from the professional world, the six-week mortgage “boot camp” at Xinnix was a bit of a rude awakening. “Just using my brain again that way was extremely challenging,” said Hardy. “I learned so much—from guidelines, to how to take a prequal and everything about the overall loan process. It was also great preparation for working long hours again.”

As part of the program, Hardy was required to create a contact database of everyone in her life she could inform of her new career—”basically anyone I had access to.” When she officially started with CTX, the database proved to be effective when it generated her first loan from a family member.

“I started originating without any leads or much guidance beyond what I had gained from Xinnix,” said Hardy. “I was confident in being a certified loan officer from a mortgage academy and felt that that was a unique selling point.”

She began to implement ways of developing business partners in the community, including giving presentations to local real estate offices. When visiting an office for her own personal home search, she and an agent had a casual conversation and somehow got to discussing shoes and discovered a mutual affinity for footwear. “We seemed to get along really well, so I decided this was a perfect opportunity to create a whole campaign around it,” said Hardy. “I took a picture of the shoes I was wearing that day and sent it as a postcard with no name. Then I sent another shot of a shoe going through a door with the note ‘How am I doing at getting my foot in the door?’ Finally, I took a picture of my foot in a my husband’s big slipper on and wrote ‘Mamma needs a new pair of shoes,’ and included my business card.” Before Hardy could follow up with him, the agent had stopped by to leave his card. “He said he was very happy with his current LO, but that I had earned a meeting with his team. I told him that I was just as creative with my financing as I was with my marketing.”

Hardy hit it off with the agent’s business partner and she had officially created one of the most essential relationships of her new career. “I began earning their trust with the way I do business and was so fortunate to have referrals coming in from one of the top agents in the area,” she said.

In other efforts to make herself known in the community, Hardy joined the Chamber of Commerce, some key Realtor Associations and lead-share groups that were limited to one per profession. “These organizations allowed me to socialize and get to know people,” she said. “And the networking groups especially allowed for me to bounce ideas off of other professionals—it wasn’t just about asking for business.”

Hardy found her years of sales and management experience invaluable as she began to grow her originating business. “I was able to feel really confident in my abilities to sell,” she said. “I also had the advantage of knowing that hard work really can get you the results you want—especially in a commission job.”

For the first eight months of her rookie “season,” Hardy worked at least 60 hours a week, and then scaled back the remainder of the year to about 45. “I never really worked weekends, but I stressed that I was always ‘reliable and available.’ If I had to take a call on a weekend, it was usually about 10 minutes of my time.” The time proved worth the investment, as she closed 112 loans for nearly $26 million in volume. Hardy also generated enough business in her first three months gain reimbursement from CTX for the money she invested in Xinnix.

Hardy plans to add two new personal mailings to her already proactive marketing plan. “I send out monthly postcards or newsletters, weekly market updates, or any tips I may find helpful, and I call Realtors or e-mail them at least once a week, just to check in,” she said. “I usually make a point to visit them once a month as well.”

Currently seven-and-a-half months pregnant, Hardy has built up a team to help maintain her business when she is on maternity leave. “I’ve had an assistant since about eight months into the business, but I added a junior LO in February to help handle my pipeline while I am out,” she said. She is certainly not letting the pregnancy slow her business down and is maintaining ambitious growth plans. “I am going back to the basics,” said Hardy. “We are going to focus on targeting relationships with top-producing Realtors and I plan to cultivate two builder relationships.”

–Gretchen Lees

Rookie Superstar – THOMAS FERRARA

Advice to New Originators:
“Always take care of your processing staff. Do everything you can to make their jobs easier.”

When Thomas Ferrara was pursuing his MBA (with an emphasis in finance) from Niagara University in upstate New York, he began considering what exactly he was going to do when he completed the year-long degree program. Ferrara had already gained sales experience while working in his father’s bakery supply business in upstate New York; he had an undergraduate degree in business administration, with an emphasis on marketing; and he was eager to find a career that would allow him to draw from all of these life- and university-learned experiences.

A friend of Ferrara’s suggested he look into mortgage originating—and so he did, securing a job as a part-time loan opener for Devere Capital Corporation in nearby Buffalo, N.Y., while completing his master’s degree.

Ferrara, 24, was drawn to the challenge and the opportunities the industry offered, and so he and the president developed a business plan for him. “First, I would spend a few months in loan opening, then move to processing, then go to closing, and finally end up originating,” recalled Ferrara of his career development path. “Unfortunately, that plan got shaken up when an originator in the Syracuse office suddenly left the organization.” Since that was where he eventually wanted to end up, Ferrara decided it was a chance he couldn’t pass up and made the move.

Devere Capital is the in-house lender for a local real estate company, and Ferrara’s position was to be the sole originator within the Syracuse-based office. With eight months under his belt as a loan opener, he was familiar with the intricacies of a loan file, but not entirely prepared for originating. “For one week, my boss drove to the Syracuse office with me and was there to help me get settled,” said Ferrara. “After that, it was trial by fire—and a lot of phone calls and hard work.”

To familiarize himself with products from different lenders, Ferrara researched online and called “scenario help desks” that many lenders offer to help develop his sense of a borrower profile and the appropriate loan products. “I also read some underwriting books with guidelines and constantly called the underwriters and processors in our headquarters with questions,” he said. “Since I had worked with them when I was an opener, it was easier for me to know their expectations and it was also helpful that I knew them as people, too.”

Ferrara’s first loan was a call-in from a couple who were desperate to buy a house that already had three offers on it. “I was nervous—and very thankful that the conversation was on the telephone because it bought me some time to do research,” he said. “It was a super-rush and it required a lot of hand holding. Needless to say, I was happy that it closed successfully.”

Ferrara discovered early on that being an in-house lender for a real estate company doesn’t by any means guarantee built-in business. “There had definitely been some burned bridges in the relationship,” he said. “Some agents who weren’t exactly happy with previous experiences seemed set on not using me. I realized I had to sell myself every single day; whether that was to earn business for the first time, or win it back, or simply maintain it.”

He took the approach of making no assumptions and was an available presence in the office every day. “I spent time walking around the office, getting to know people,” said Ferrara. “I discovered what people were good at, such as cold calls, and would ask them to help me. This allowed me to begin developing relationships with the agents in the office.” When it came down to earning their business, he was additionally able to rely on Devere’s “low-rate guarantee,” which allowed him to match or beat what competitors were offering.

To further show his support for the Realtors, he attended weekly broker’s tours and prepared open house packages for them, which included educational pieces or fliers listing payment options for the property. He was also available 24-hours a day by cell phone—although this is something he says sort of happened by default. “Many times I was working at least 60 hours a week in the office and my cell phone just kept extending those hours,” said Ferrara of his rookie year. “I did have to set some limits with agents finally and tell them to call before or after certain hours.”

He currently uses a contact management system to send e-mails to current, past and potential customers, and Realtors. The e-mails consist of market or rate updates, holiday greetings or reminders of important events like daylight savings time. “I plan this year to also incorporate a monthly postcard mailing program,” said Ferrara.

In his last rookie year, Ferrara closed 179 loans for a total volume of nearly $19 million. Ninety-five percent of his business was purchase-based on conventional loans, although he worked a substantial amount with FHA loans as well. “It wasn’t all smooth sailing though,” said Ferrara. “Early on it seemed there was a nightmare scenario once a month: something wasn’t fully disclosed about the house or I forgot to ask the right questions. You just have to be ready to take the punches and roll with them. I wasn’t willing to ever take no for an answer.”

Ferrara considers being an in-house lender something of a double-edged sword. On one hand (when everything is going well), there are agents who you can personally build up trust with, and on the other, if issues arise, “they are right there at your door and there is no place to go,” he said. “It forces you to do a better job because there is a higher degree of accountability.”

His main focus in his second full year of originating is to “capture every deal that comes through the office,” he said. “I also want to continue to learn how to handle myself in tough situations and be able to get every loan the first time.”

–Gretchen Lees

Rookie SuperStar – Alec Hanson

Advice to New Originators
“Go after the top agents. Why start anywhere else?  Don’t be afraid of being rejected.” 

During his junior year at UC Berkley in Northern California, Alec Hanson realized the direction of his rapidly approaching leap into the “real world” was undefined.  “I had no true ambition at that point to follow a certain occupation,” said Hanson, who was studying Business Management and Urban Development.  He took a one-day a week job at the Countrywide Home Loans’ office in nearby downtown Oakland to determine if what he really wanted to do was follow in his father’s footsteps; Hanson’s father, Dan is a 30-veteran of the mortgage industry.  While he admits he was merely just a “go-for” then, it gave him a sense of the business and a desire to learn more.

Over the summer, he began working at a housing tract, which required taking applications from potential buyers and helped improve his abilities in working directly with people—and solidified that he wanted to pursue a career in mortgages.  “It was unexpected,” said Hanson, “but I took to it and saw that as an originator, I could take on a consultant role and really help people.”

After graduating, Hanson moved back to his native Southern California and took a job as a production assistant with one of the local Countrywide branches.  He worked under branch manager and mentor Kevin Budde and eventually began sitting in on client phone calls and absorbing successful sales strategies, of which he concedes, he was very much in need.  “College did nothing to prepare me for any sales-based job,” said Hanson.  “We focused almost entirely on theory, which with a business degree doesn’t make sense—everything you do involves selling something, even if it’s just yourself.”

He did learn something in college though—how to study.  “I made it a point to research and learn every product and understand how each one worked, including the basic guidelines,” he said.  “There are so many, so I did try to keep my focus on A-paper products.  I knew I didn’t want to be the type of originator who relied on making one product fit for every customer.”

When Hanson officially began originating in the Newport Beach branch, he “did what every rookie loan officer does, I mailed out marketing pieces like crazy and didn’t receive any responses,” he said.  Although perhaps not like every rookie originator, he made an effort to be creative, sending out $5 bills asking for five minutes of a Realtor’s time or foam stress balls printed with his name and number.  “But in the end,” said Hanson, “I got off my seat and went out into the marketplace and began to form relationships.”

Despite an aversion to “face time,” he started devoting three or four days a week to meeting people out in the field.  “It really got me out of my ‘comfort zone,'” he said.  “Cold walk-ins are so hard—it’s not like a phone that you can hang up, you can’t just run away.  I think sometimes my manager made me visit these offices just to feel the pain of rejection,” he continued.  It forced him to figure out an alternate way of approaching Realtors.  “I began researching agents online and familiarizing myself with them,” Hanson said.  “I would read the ‘about me’ section and visit open houses or the broker previews knowing something about the agent.  I started bringing food and financial fliers.  I realized it had to be about me trying to help them sell the house.”

In the beginning, he hired an assistant and took on the financial risk as an added incentive to jump-start his motivation.  He also began drawing from all the “mavens” in his life and creating the image of himself as the “loan guy” within his social groups.  “I wanted everyone in my life to be my advocate,” said Hanson.  “It took time to build trust, but it is essential to rely on ‘connectors’ in your life to put you in front of other people.”  To expand his social network, Hanson joined the Newport Association of Realtors, attended local meetings, and assisted with sponsoring and organizing events, a decision, he said, made approaching other agents much easier.

To keep in touch with clients in his database, Hanson sends quarterly newsletters about property values and other information relevant to their homes or the community.  He also continues to mail to many of the top Realtors in the area, but has found that to be relatively ineffective in creating relationships.  Instead, he focuses on being conscientious of other people’s time and establishing a connection at the right time.  “If I am visiting an agent in their office, I don’t stop another Realtor in the hallway and try to solicit their business,” he said.  “I don’t like being unexpectedly distracted, so I try to take it from my perspective.”

Hanson emphasizes his specialty of accommodation.  “I work in an affluent coastal market and many of these buyers come in with all cash and it’s likely they’re buying their third or tenth property,” he said.  “I have to specialize in accommodating every loan that comes in, which includes being extremely well versed in most of our products and being able to handle large loans, small loans, and equity lines.”  He also makes himself available at all times, specifically the times when Realtors and homebuyers are ready to do business—on nights and weekends.  “I answer my phone at all times, but I do it with boundaries,” said Hanson.  “I will take a call even if I’m in the middle of something and make sure to tell them we will reconnect tomorrow.  I think the most important thing is that they don’t get my voicemail.”

At 24, he takes his appearance and presentation seriously so that other people will, too.  “I am very cautious of my knowledge and appearance; I am almost always in a suit and tie,” Hanson said.  “I don’t look like a veteran of the industry, so someone might be quick to judge me.  If I present myself well and I have the knowledge of a product that’s a better fit for someone, my age won’t even become an issue.”

With aspirations of closing $200 million in his second year, Hanson believes the secret to success is clear: “Hard work, integrity, and accountability,” he said.  “This is a business who tests who you are.  Surround yourself with support, learn your products, and dedicate 100 percent—being an originator gives you a chance to see what you can create.”

                                                    –Gretchen Lees

Rookie SuperStar – Rick Richter

Rick Richter began his college career at the University of Montana as a pre-med student. After two years and a summer stint in an emergency room that left him with second thoughts, he decided to change to a communications major, with an emphasis in business—a choice that laid the foundation for his future career in mortgages. “I wanted to work in a profession where I could make a difference in people’s lives,” said Richter, “but at the end of the day it became clear that I had a mind better suited for business and finance than medicine.”

After graduating from college Richter, 29, worked with MBNA America as a customer retention specialist. In preparation for this job, he received extensive training on everything from risk, to fraud, credit/lending, and management. “It gave me a well-balanced view of the banking industry, which helped me forge relationships with account executives and the management staff at numerous lenders,” he said. “The fact that I know how these large banks work has helped me get challenging loans done in a painless manner.”

He also credits this job with teaching him how to communicate well with customers over the phone. While Richter admits to always feeling at ease talking with people, dealing with customer retention, which at MBNA involved persuading customers trying to cancel their credit card to stay, was especially helpful in learning how “translate over the phone that each person was the most valued one to us.”

When MBNA started a mortgage branch, Richter began researching different types of lending. He also was looking into buying his first home. Those two events led to increased interest in “the single largest investment any person makes in their lifetime.” He applied to five mortgage companies in Ann Arbor, Mich., his hometown that he was ready to return to, and found the best fit with Gold Star Mortgage. “They were family-oriented, they worked hard, and I liked the overall company philosophy,” said Richter.

He immediately began shadowing the established LOs with the company, including company president Dan Milstein, and also being trained on Gold Star’s LOS, Calyx Point. With this training and a familiarity with the products, Richter found the transition to a more sales-based position relatively easy. “It’s really a ‘soft sell’ if you have good products,” he said. “If you tell someone you are going to save them money, their response is usually, ‘Why not?’”

When he was ready, Richter sent out a broadcast e-mail to introduce his mortgage career and make himself available to evaluate current loans or help with a new one. “I sent this to family members—and I have a huge family—and college roommates, Realtors, nearly everyone I know,” he said. “My first loans and refinances ended up being for family members. They were patient enough to bear with me through the learning curve.”

Early on, a referral from a business associate delivered a property manager niche right to him. The call came from a manager of five properties who was concerned about overpaying on his mortgages. “I evaluated his loans and got them all down half a percent, saving him $ 5,000 a month,” said Richter. “Then he began referring me to a lot of other people who were looking to buy properties, fix them up, and rent them out. It was that easy. Plus, being in a town with two colleges, there are thousands of student rentals.” The niche helped put Richter on his way to a rookie year volume of $53,640,776 on 276 loans, 68 percent of which was generated through purchase business.

Richter additionally invests a lot of effort into establishing and enhancing relationships with Realtors. “I spend probably 10 hours a week speaking with and nurturing budding relationships with Realtors,” he said. “I let them know that I am available 24 hours a day and will come in on the weekend to make sure their deals get done correctly. It only takes a few loans that are cleared to close within 24 hours to get them to work solely with you.” To initiate Realtor relationships, Richter sends out pamphlets to nearly 50 real estate offices with information that caters to their market. The information is determined by the part of town they predominantly work in and the corresponding demographic. “If the area in which they work attracts mostly first-time homebuyers, I will send something about 100 percent financing. If it’s a wealthy neighborhood that typically attracts self-employed or retired borrowers, I will include information about stated income products.” Richter’s marketing intern, who is pursuing a marketing degree at nearby University of Michigan, prepares many of these materials.

He credits the solid company infrastructure at Gold Star with much of his success. “We have our processors, underwriters, marketing employees all right here. If needed, we can manage 24-hour turnaround, and on average we have a 10-day process,” he said. “It is also set up in a such a way that the right people are able to focus on the right job.”

Richter focuses on keeping loans rather than making the highest profit, another part of the company philosophy. “I have learned that if you give them the lowest rate, you generally will get their loan,” he said. “I may lose out on profitability for the first couple of years, but I will get the loan and keep the customer.”

The family-oriented atmosphere at the company rings especially true for Richter; his wife of nearly a year-and-a-half, Kim, is his lead processor. “We complement each other well. Her forte is detail—she makes sure every i is dotted, every t is crossed—and mine is finance,” he said. “I am good at analyzing someone’s whole portfolio and making numbers work for them.”

Richter, who works 55 to 70 hours a week, has been promoted faster than anyone in the company’s history, and now holds the title of vice president. Outside of work, he plays golf, works on his own investment properties, including one he and his wife are building, and socializes with people to network and talk business.

“I love it,” said Richter, of his originating career. “I couldn’t be happier. I honestly feel I’m living the American dream.”

–Gretchen Lees

Rookie SuperStar – Ryan Eberhardt

Advice to new originators:
“Don’t look at your clients’ faces and see nothing but dollar signs. Instead consider that they are real people with real problems that you have the opportunity to solve.”

Like most kids watching their parents work, Ryan Eberhardt remembers seeing his dad’s work as a loan originator as stressful and not a lot of fun. So he pursued his dream of becoming a professional baseball player and took a scholarship offered to him by Valparaiso University in Indiana. When an injury sidelined him for good and other interests in forming a construction business didn’t work out, he decided to reconsider originating.

“I realized I didn’t want to be out in the zero degree Indiana winter pounding nails on a roof all my life,” recalls Eberhardt, 24, about his decision to give mortgage originating a try.

He joined Charter Funding in Valparaiso, Ind., but after a month, Eberhardt felt he was unprepared and lacked the product knowledge to be the type of originator he wanted to be. With a minor in business in college, he had some financial background, but felt he needed more specific skills. Eberhardt made the decision to enroll in a six-week mortgage program at the Xinnix Mortgage Academy in Atlanta, Ga.

With its coverage of rates, programs, guidelines, and customer service, Eberhardt considers the experience at Xinnix to be “instrumental in my education—it really helped me understand the mortgage industry.”

The formula seemed to work for him. After completing the training program, he returned to Charter Funding, and closed over $16 million on 125 loans during his 2004 rookie year. Eberhardt credits partly the lessons he learned in baseball with his beginning success. “If you fall on your face, you’ve just got to get back in,” he said. “Not everyone is going to like you—it took me six months before one of the Realtors I now work with would even sit down and talk with me.”

Eberhardt, who now works with seven to eight Realtors made initial efforts to gain their business by making office visits to introduce himself. He would then make phone calls on Fridays to wish them a great weekend and on Mondays to “make myself available to any business that had come up.”

One of his main Realtor contacts was generated from being in the right place at the right time—and offering a high level of customer service to all parties involved in a transaction. “I secured business with the number two agent in Porter County (Indiana) by being the originator on the listing side,” said Eberhardt. “I did such a good job keeping them updated they thought they might as well give me a chance.”

Eberhardt focuses his customer service on understanding their entire financial picture. “I spend at least the first 10 minutes analyzing their goals. Then as they’re talking, I’m running programs through my head and I end up with at least three programs for them to consider.”

Beyond merely suggesting products, Eberhardt’s goal is to be more of an educator than an originator. “My gauge is asking them if they feel confident enough to explain the product to a friend,” he said. “If a client walks out of here not understanding the product, I’m not going to get future business.”

Another goal is to maintain an active presence in his customer’s and client’s minds by sending holiday cards and small gifts. “I send homemade holiday gift baskets to my business partners with candles, hot chocolate, and my business cards. I received thank you calls from nearly every person. People really appreciate something you put effort into.” He also calls customers on their birthday and sends out a variety of other holiday cards.

Eberhardt actively works his database with mortgage mailings as well, including quarterly mailings and yearly reviews. Additionally, he plans to begin distributing an annual survey with a list of questions regarding his own work. “I’m looking for constructive criticism. I want to ask ‘What can I do better to make me more a part of your team?'” He also added that such surveys would allow him to customize communication with his business partners. “I want to have a plan tailored to each partner’s personality.”

During his rookie year, Eberhardt worked 10 to 12 hour days and when he wasn’t with clients, spent the time “implementing ideas, creating new marketing ideas to build business, and learning more about products.” The time was invested at a crucial point in his career, although the hours haven’t changed much this year, due to a goal of distinguishing himself in the mortgage business. “There are millions of people out there,” he said. “If I can combine my product knowledge with my marketing ideas, and be considerate and thoughtful with people, I can be successful—this business is all about customer relationships.”

Eberhardt does not yet have an assistant, but has plans to get one soon when his business plan is more in full swing and he’s comfortable with delegating certain parts of the job. “I have too many ideas going right now, and I believe in being 100 percent in person with my clients right now.”
Eberhardt has learned one thing the hard way—never over-promise. “I missed something in the guidelines with one loan and it led to so much stress,” he said. “If you can’t do it, don’t say you can. Now I know to under-promise and over-deliver.”

For this year, Eberhardt is focusing on time management, especially considering that during his first year he feels that there was some time wasted. To help get him on track with this goal, he plans on taking continuing education courses from Xinnix and eventually getting a mortgage coach. He also is enthusiastic about his company getting an in-house media center. “Right now, I send out all of my own marketing materials, including hand signing and stamping everything.”

For relaxation, Eberhardt spends time hunting and fishing. “It’s very relaxing to get out. In this business you need to get away sometimes.” He also still plays baseball, but said he is “thankful to have a career as an originator. I am excited to see where this is going to take me.”

–Gretchen Lees

Rookie SuperStar – Shaul Betesh

Number of Loans

Tina Blakeman, senior vice president

Favorite Book:
“Everything is Illuminated,” By Jonathan Safran Foer

Favorite Quote:
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

After growing up on Long Island in New York, Shaul Betesh decided to stay close to home for college and went to an upstate New York school, Binghamton University. However, when he discovered that it offered little variation from the rest of his school environments while growing up, he decided to venture to the “complete opposite of what I was used to”—Southern California.

Betesh, 24, credits the experience away from his native state for allowing him to “develop into myself,” but says New York is where he belongs. After studying economics and psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Betesh moved back east, and in preparation for law school, began working as a real estate paralegal with his brother.

As a paralegal for a real estate attorney, Betesh worked on many closings with GuardHill Financial, a financing company out of New York, NY. During the refi-boom GuardHill offered Betesh a job as an opener and his career in the mortgage industry had begun.

After gradually taking on different jobs over the course of a year (eventually opening, processing, and closing loans), Betesh was given the opportunity to try originating. Since he had been working on numerous loans for the senior vice president of the company, Tina Blakeman, Betesh had a lot of practice talking to and dealing with customers. “I love talking to people,” he said, and mentioned that as part of the reason he found the chance to originate on his own appealing. The other part—”I’m fairly controlling,” he said, laughing. “For the first six months I was still opening and processing for myself.” Since he started reading rate sheets and guidelines when processing, his loan and product knowledge was well established by the time he began originating.

Working with Blakeman during the beginning of his career made the transition easier for Betesh. He would sit in on loan applications and attend real estate broker functions with her and attributes a lot of his success to her mentorship. “I look young so it made me more comfortable having her with me,” he said. “It was key to have that alignment with her.”

With a rookie year volume of over $50 million on 160 loans, Betesh said he worked about 60 hours a week during his first year and took the ambitious attitude of “I need to know everything” when approaching his originating career. He didn’t take the easy refi-route during 2004, instead generating 75 percent of his business from purchases because he knew that would lead to a more solid business foundation.

A key source of business during 2004 was generated through a partnership he established with the owner of five co-ops in Manhattan. “I knew someone who was having a difficult time getting financing on the buildings due to the high sponsor concentration,” said Betesh. “So I did a lot of research and gathered information for him and helped get the buildings approved. Then once they were, all the people interested in purchasing units were directed to me.”

His most memorable loan, however, was working with a couple on the purchase of a loft in SoHo. Betesh hosted an open house in the loft, complete with a “well-presented” spread of food, and met an artist who was interested in the space. After later meeting with her husband, who was a managing director for an investment firm, the couple worked with Betesh on buying the property. “We became good friends and their business led me to so many other sources,” he said.

“Nothing is more important than understanding people,” said Betesh, “which is why I studied psychology in college—it can be applied to everything in your daily life.” This skill helps particularly in dealing with the diverse set of clients the New York market offers. “I have worked with actors, theatre producers, electricians who work on Broadway sets, investment bankers, and freelance writers, among others. I have enjoyed dealing with so many different types of people.”

In addition to sponsoring open houses for real estate brokers, providing sandwiches and fruit for the daytime and sushi for the evening, Betesh attends most of his borrowers’ closings. He also gives a closing gift card to a home store, such as Crate & Barrel. “I send holiday cards for bigger holidays such as Christmas and Chanukah, and I include Zagat dining guides for my business partners and customers,” he said.

Betesh’s goal for his second year is simple: “More loans.” He plans on focusing more on new construction buildings and “really going after the real estate community.” With the high cost property values in New York City, Betesh will continue to stay in front of his clients, and generate “luxury mortgages” (the company’s specialty) to grow his production. Part of this plan will include a new, full-service Web site he and Blakeman will offer their clients, and distribution of HELOC mailers reminding people of the increasing prime rate.

“It has been one of the greatest experiences in my life,” said Betesh about originating. Outside of work he plays soccer twice a week and spends time going to the theatre, visiting museums, and attending other open houses “to see other apartments that are on the market, as well as potential clients new homes.” As to whether he’ll consider going to law school again later in his life—”I suppose it all depends on where the market goes. I’m very happy with where I am.”

–Gretchen Lees