The Power of Peer Networking

One of my favorite quotes is, “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you,” stated by tennis legend, Althea Gibson.

I have been tremendously blessed during my 15 years in this crazy business.  I’d be fooling myself if I thought that I did it on my own.  I have benefited from so many people who have been willing to guide, advise, and encourage me.  I have found that this is an industry where people are willing to share their strategies and systems.  This is especially true in large companies, where formal mentoring programs might exist, as well as among peers across the country.  I have also realized that it is up to me to give back to the industry that has given so much to me.

Three areas of peer networking that I’ve had the benefit of being a part of are meeting annually with five top-producing loan officers in my company, going to a site visit of a top producer, and hosting my own site visits.

The first peer networking that I was involved in was an informal “meeting of the minds” brainstorm session with five top-producing loan officers in our company.  I put the group together with certain criteria in mind.  First of all, I had to like them as individuals, but it was also important to me that they shared the desire to learn and improve, and the willingness to share what they had learned.  Although three of us actually compete in the same market, it was important to me to be learning from people who shared similar values and goals.  We each have our areas of expertise and bring new ideas to the group.  We now gather once a year for an entire day in a “neutral” location.  In the morning we each share what worked and didn’t work for us the previous year.  We distribute all of our marketing materials, scripts, letters, resources, list of books read, etc. so that we each can benefit from each other’s experiences.  Everyone leaves with plenty of handouts and practical applications to take with them.  Our assistants are part of this discussion, too.  After lunch, our assistants meet together and discuss the nuances of what their roles and responsibilities are, and the loan officers talk about how they delegate and utilize their assistants.  We wrap up the day with a recap and a game plan for what we are going to do with the information we have assimilated.  We then hold each other accountable for implementation.

Probably the most impactful peer event that I have participated in was a site visit to the office of another top producer who I looked up to.  I have always been an implementer.  I look around and see what other successful people are doing and try to apply those ideas to my own business.  I’ve become what I term an “information junkie.” I have the need to read about, try out, and see anything that may positively impact my mortgage practice.  Having plateaued at $100 million in production for several years, I began to wonder what I needed to do to break out and continue to grow.  I soon realized that there were $200 and $300 million producers, and that maybe I could learn something from them!  There are successful people who have been where I am trying to go.  Successful people leave clues, and I knew I would do well to pick up on them.

There are several people hosting one-day site visits, willing to share their wealth of great ideas with you.  Each person has their own strength, so choose someone with an area of expertise that you wish to grow in.  There are visits focusing on technology, systems, marketing, client care, attracting referral partners, etc.  You can expect to see copies of marketing materials, sample letters, and e-mail templates, and learn about resources that others are using.  It seems that people are more than willing to share their ideas with others who are attempting to grow their businesses.

The first site visit I did was to the office of Steven Marshall at Bellevue Mutual.  I had heard him speak several times and knew of his reputation for his Clients for Life program.  Getting to his office and seeing it first hand, learning the systems needed to attain clients for life, and meeting the staff that made it all happen was invaluable.  I attended this site visit with my marketing director, and we came back completely energized with a fresh understanding and knowledge of how we could duplicate the system in our own practice.  I think there is a lot of value is seeing something personally, rather that hearing or reading about it. Sometimes it is beneficial to see how another originator approaches their business and interacts with clients.  For me, it has been as simple as seeing an office layout, tools in use, or a form letter that I have been able to immediately implement when I returned to the office.

A site visit is typically a full-day visit to a top producer’s office.  During the day you will see their office layout, meet their team and see how they work, hear their philosophy and strategy, see their systems and marketing plans, and leave with material to take home that you can implement in your office. The successful site visit facilitator will show you what has worked for them, not tell you what to do.  It is up to you to adapt what you see to your practice and your market.  Just spending a day with a $200 million producer gave me a new outlook on how I approached my business and multiple ideas for implementation—it was more than worth the time invested and the cost of the visit and travel. If you want to reach the next level in your business, surround yourself with people who are already there!  I truly believe that the only difference between the SuperStars and average producers is the willingness and ability to implement what they know.  There is a wealth of information out there, just waiting to be discovered and implemented.

The third peer event I’ve gotten involved in is hosting my own site visits.  After years of fielding questions from new or aspiring loan officers, I took the first step and approached the management of our company to do an afternoon session on implementation and best practices for about 200 loan officers from within the company.  This was very well received, and gave me the chance to improve my presentation and speaking skills.  I have also had the opportunity to speak and meet a lot of people at industry conferences.

People inside and outside my company began to ask to come to my office and see how I do business.  This was flattering and challenging at the same time.  The first thing I had to do was create an agenda and content to make sure attendees would get the most value for their time and money. When someone comes to my site visit they will have a complete overview of my practice and its systems, and receive valuable content.  Our focus is one of first impressions and marketing.  It is not a platform for me to tell people how to conduct their business, but rather to share what has been successful to me.  I see this as my chance to give back to the mortgage industry, to help someone else break through to higher levels of production.

If you decide to host a site visit, keep a few things in mind. Budget your costs, including catering, binders, CDs, materials, and follow-up gifts. When calculating the price for visiting originators, be sure to integrate these costs, and remember to include your time. Site visits generally run between $1,200 and $2,000 per person—try to make it a reasonable price that will still cover your investments. Plan your day carefully so that participants will get the most information possible out of the visit.

I think you will find a lot of value and benefit when you begin talking to and sharing ideas with your peers.  It is very rewarding to mentor a peer, and also very rewarding to receive the benefits of having a mentor.  There is an abundance of great ideas available for implementation.  One is never at the point where they can’t continue to improve.  This industry has so much to offer, why not get involved?

Networking Tips

Peer networking can be rewarding, meaningful, and profitable—no matter which side of the desk you’re on. Consider these four steps when you’re ready to reach out and start networking:

  • Start by meeting with mortgage originators at your own company—this can be anywhere from one or twice per month to annual gatherings. Share ideas, resources, marketing materials, tips… anything that might benefit another originator.
  • Attend a site visit at a top producer’s office. Costs range from about $1,200 to $5,000 (depending on the host and timeframe) plus any transportation, lodging, etc., which are not usually included. Contact the site host to make sure the visit is what you’re looking for. You should expect to leave with direction on team strategies, marketing tactics, office management, and technological implementations, among others.
  • Form your own network of successful originators—those you know and others you’ve met at conferences, site visits, and education seminars. Hold monthly conference-call meetings, and an annual face-to-face meeting to communicate ideas and support.
  • When you get to a point where you want to hold your own site visits for other originators, make sure to plan everything thoroughly. Create an agenda with specific topics and activities, while still responding to the attendees’ questions. They should leave your office feeling like you’ve answered all of their questions and given them new direction for their own businesses.

By David Kuiper

Developing the VA Niche

I’ve long been a proponent of VA lending, but have recently realized that these loans are better than ever. For example, recent changes have increased loan ceilings to match Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. VA has also rolled out a three-year ARM with attractive parameters. I’d like to encourage originators looking for another profitable niche to consider VA loans.

As a point of clarification–what I am calling a VA loan is actually a VA Guaranteed Loan. The Veteran’s Administration does not loan money to veterans, but rather, they guarantee the loan to the lender that replaces the need for mortgage insurance on a no-down loan. They call the amount of the guarantee “entitlement.” This amount has grown over the years. When I started originating VA loans about 30 years ago, it was $4,000 and the rule was that you could borrow up to four times the entitlement. As home prices rise, Congress approves increased entitlements and today it is $60,000. For many years, the 25 percent guarantee rule capped VA loans at $240,000, but “VA Jumbos” changed that. The new deal is that a veteran can put down 25 percent of the amount over $240,000 and go all the way up to a $333,700 loan amount.

Key Benefits
With all of the 100 percent financing programs available today, why is a VA loan such a big deal? There are several reasons. The biggest one is that VA does not charge a monthly mortgage insurance premium. Instead, they collect a one time “funding fee” that can be financed. The amount is 2.2 percent for regular military Vets and 2.4 percent for reservists with no down. With 5 percent or 10 percent down, the fees drop to about 1.5 percent, based on regular versus reserve status. For veterans using their entitlement a second time, it is 3.3 percent. If your vet client is 10 percent or more disabled, the funding fee is zero. Either way, if you calculate the monthly cost of financing this fee, it is always less than a monthly MI premium. I did an example for a $225,000 sale at 6 percent and the trade-off was $30 per month instead of $180 per month.

You may be thinking: Why not get an “interest only” second instead? That is actually not a bad idea and in theory the overall payment could come out about the same. But let’s face reality. The investor that is putting up the money for the second is taking the same risk that the mortgage insurance companies get paid for. You know they are not doing this for free and the lower your buyer’s credit scores are, the higher the yield. Plus, below a certain level, the 100 percent CLTV will not even be available.

This also brings us to another reason to include VA loans in your portfolio—they are relatively easy to qualify for. When the LTV on a conventional loan approaches 100 percent, guidelines become more stringent and the loan gets more expensive. On the other hand, VA loans have one fixed-rate and it doesn’t matter how squeaky clean the package is. If you get an acceptance, you get that rate. There is no tightening of the guidelines for a high LTV because VA loans are zero down by nature.

Another factor that can sometimes work to your advantage is the unique “residual income” approach to qualifying. Rather than using pure income- to-debt ratios, VA underwriting guidelines calculate how much money a family will have to live on after making their house payment and paying other bills. This calculation includes federal and state withholding, and estimated maintenance and utility costs. The residual income is compared to the required amount based on family size and is adjusted for various areas in the country. All of this really makes sense because a single person or even a married couple with no dependents could allot more of their income to a house payment. If you don’t want to do all these calculations, then just run it through Desktop Underwriting and see if you get an approval.

Another way to enhance your buyer’s buying power is with the new ARM program. Because the rate is fixed for the first three, five, seven, or 10 years, the borrower qualifies at the start rate. After the fixed period, the maximum rate increase is only 1 percent per year with a 5 percent life cap so it is probably the most stable ARM product available.

Marketing Approaches
There are many ways to generate VA business. The easiest and best is to get invited on to a military base and make a presentation to an entire battalion (Army) or squadron (Navy). Another option is to meet with reserve units during their weekend drills. Here’s an effective opening question for a commanding officer: “How do you feel about promoting the education of your men and women related to their VA benefits?” Naturally, he is going to say that he is in favor of such education, and as soon has he does, you can close with the “when and where” question (“When and where can we arrange to make a presentation…”)

Here is a tip when pursuing business with reservists. They typically drill one weekend a month and two weeks each year. As are frequently looking for fun things to do. There is always a full-time officer who administrates the unit and the reserve unit also has a commanding officer who is a civilian when not drilling. If you don’t make contact with the regular officer, try the other one. If you are having trouble finding the reserve units, try a web search. I experimented with a few key words like “reserve,” “Navy,” and the name of a location of a military base, and found out that a lot of reserve units have their own Web site. Most included options for contacting administration and one even had an advertising option. You don’t have to restrict yourself military publications. Ads in a local newspaper in an area where there is a large military base will work. Don’t forget the basic concept. A VA home loan guarantee is a benefit. Human nature is to take advantage of something that you have earned.

Other marketing strategies could include: distributing brochures to Veterans of Foreign Wards (VFW) halls, visiting recruiting offices to meet with the officers in charge (who could be great referral sources), and tailoring a postcard campaign to veterans. Don’t forget to visit the VA Web site: www.va.gov.

Other Considerations
It’s essential to find out what type of vet program your state offers. For instance, California has the Cal-Vet program, which is an alternative to the VA guaranteed loan. On the other hand, some state agencies supplement the VA loan. In Texas, the state provides a second mortgage program that not only piggy-backs the VA loan to higher loan ceilings, but can also be used for down payment and closing costs. I suggest you do a Web search using veteran’s organizations. I tested it and not only got hundreds of hits, but it also showed me several sites that list and link to dozens of organizations.

Regardless of where you pick up your veteran clients, something that you should always do is to offer to process their VA loan for them. This is extremely simple and they can do it themselves, but if you take the lead, you can tie them in as future clients. Make sure that you have a ready supply of VA Form 26-1880s. This is a request for a certificate of eligibility. Help them fill it out and send it to your local VA eligibility office with a copy of the Veteran’s DD-214, which is the document showing release from active duty. (Make sure you get the one with their service dates and not the one with the big eagle on it.) VA also has the ACE system (automatic certificate of eligibility) processed online in seconds, available to most lenders. There is an option to have the form returned to the lender, which is perfect. Then you can keep it on file and they will surely come back to you when they find a home.

Of course, one of the things that you should understand if you are going offer VA loans is to determine who is eligible. This is a little tricky because they keep changing the requirements. Before 1980, the requirement is 181 days of active duty. Now regular military requires two years and reservists have to be in for six years. Beyond this, there are dozens of exceptions. The VA Web site is a good source for more information on this. You can also order a copy of the VA Handbook that lists everything there is to know about VA loan guidelines.

Becoming a VA loan expert requires some learning, but it will surely be worth the effort. It has certainly been a good source of business for me.

By Thor Skonnord

Your Purchase Business Marketing Calendar

There are a variety of marketing activities that originators can develop to expand their purchase business. Some are a bit more involved, while many others are easy to implement. The key is to develop an ongoing schedule that you can follow throughout the year. Here is a sample of a purchase strategy calendar that you can adapt to your own specific markets and interests.

January

  • If you don’t already have one, develop a formal marketing plan that will detail your loan/income goals, key niches, marketing strategies, and monitoring steps.
  • Update your database system to ensure you’re ready to begin automatically distributing letters, postcards, and e-mails.
  • Send recently closed customers a letter with copy of their HUD-1 statement. (Don’t forget to ask for referrals.)
  • Mail a New Year’s card to customers, prospects, and your referral partners.**
  • Prepare a quarterly (or monthly/bi-monthly) newsletter for past customers and/prospects.

February

  • Send a Valentine’s Day or Groundhog Day card.
  • Establish contacts with a few top builders in your market. Suggest that you have quarterly (or monthly) review meetings to discuss areas of mutual interest.
  • Send customers an e-mail/mail regarding winter home care.
  • Develop a system to hold on to more of your pre-approved prospects. For instance, e-mail/mail them a weekly update/reminder for a month and then once a month thereafter.
  • Send a letter of introduction/special program offer to a list of new prospects. You can obtain these leads from a list service, title company, or other source.

March

  • Send a St. Patrick’s Day or “Welcome to the first day of spring” card.
  • Distribute a Spring Break coupon, offering discounts on miniature golf, arcade or other activity to do with children on vacation.
  • Host (or coordinate) a Realtor-originator briefing luncheon, where you can discuss areas of common interest with key agents.
  • Form referral relationships with a new attorney, CPA, accountant, or financial planner.
  • Offer to write an article on “How to Finance Your First Home” (or other appropriate topic) for your local newspaper. This can be a great way for new prospects to learn about your expertise.

April

  • Conduct a seminar for custom home customers. Invite lot owners and others in your database who have expressed an interest in building their “dream home.” Invite builders, attorneys, and others to join you.
  • Prepare a loan program/refinance flier to be inserted in your local newspaper’s zoned editions.
  • Send your customers and prospects a reminder about the daylight savings time change.
  • Start marketing to a different niche audience (move-up buyers, second-home buyers, parents of college students, seniors).
  • Distribute your quarterly newsletter.

May

  • Send a May Day card.
  • Initiate a for-sale-by owner (FSBO) campaign. Offer to provide sellers with a flier that includes a photo of their house, property features, and a matrix of different loan types.
  • Blanket an upscale apartment complex with targeted letters for first-time homebuyers.
  • Advertise on the outside of a truck or bus.
  • Co-host a Cinco de Mayo party with your primary builder.

June

  • Use your Web site to help pre-qual buyers and to highlight special areas of expertise. Display your Web site on all marketing materials: brochure, business card, letterhead, fliers, and ads.
  • Create a Father’s Day special. Offer a special discount to all new fathers (during the last six months/year).
  • Co-host a first-time buyer seminar with a builder, attorney, and/or other partner. Pre-qualify the attendees on site and then follow-up immediately following the seminar.
  • Participate in a Realtor caravan by visiting open houses and sponsoring the refreshments. Take cookies in colorful bags that are imprinted with your company name and contact information.
  • Send customers a postcard that thanks them for their support and asks for referrals.

July

  • Host a 4th of July picnic lunch in your office or at a nearby park.
  • Update your database by sending everyone a one-page form asking for e-mail and other pertinent details. As an incentive, state that you’ll place their name in a drawing for a TV giveaway, if they return the form within a designated time.
  • Run an ad in a homes-for-sale type magazine.
  • Send your quarterly newsletter.
  • Send a gift basket, or other appropriate closing gift, to the customer’s office. His/her co-workers will see it and ask how they can become one of your customers.

August

  • Hold meetings with corporate human resource directors to discuss how you can help their employees. See if you can include an informational flier in the employees’ paychecks.
  • Advertise on a top real estate agent’s or builder’s virtual home tour. House hunters who tour properties that the agent is handling will see your banner ad.
  • Sponsor a booth at a community fair and participate in other activities just to get out and meet your neighbors and hand out business cards.
  • Invite customers, agents, builders, and others to a summer barbecue.
  • Join a networking group such as Business Network International (BNI) or Le Tip.

September

  • Participate in a radio station promotion during a college or professional football game (or at a builder open house). The station will set up its broadcast booth outside the stadium and allow you (as sponsor/co-sponsor) to speak to the crowd, and subsequently obtain names of people signing up for homeownership information.
  • Test an innovative marketing strategy, such as advertising on a football/baseball game scoreboard, billboard, or movie screen.
  • Arrange to have an ice cream truck stop in front of a key Realtor office. Have your company name/logo printed on the ice cream wrappers.
  • Hold a weekend closing event that will generate immediate refinance applications as well as ongoing follow-up queries. Advertise the details and organize a team of lender, title company reps, and appraisers to support your originators.
  • Provide agents with a guaranteed approval certificate that they can give to sellers, ensuring that their house will sell as promised. (Suggests to agents that their sales agreements highlight you as the recommended originator. This will enable you to get up-front with even more borrowers.)

October

  • Plan an Oktoberfest promotion, which could include office decorations, and an afternoon reception.
  • Distribute a daylight savings time reminder to customers and prospects.
  • Develop and distribute your quarterly newsletter.
  • Attend a fall home show to highlight your value-added service. Bridal shows are another good source of potential customers.
  • Be sure to attract sellers, as well as buyers. For example, when you receive a purchase agreement on a loan in process, send the seller a letter of introduction, along with your bio information and a coupon for $100 off their closing costs. Offer to help them with their new home loan.

November

  • Send a Thanksgiving card to past customers (Ask for referrals.) and others.
  • Give turkeys to builders, lender reps, and/or customers.
  • Promote a special Veterans Day discount on closing costs for all VA customers.
  • Create and distribute a free report (“15 Ways to Save More Money When Purchasing Your Next Home”). You can offer this through your ads, newspaper articles (“Call xxxx, for a free report…”), 800-number, Web site, and other marketing vehicles.
  • Ask your doctor or dentist if you can send a flier to everyone in their database. Include an offer to pay $200 towards the patient’s account after they close a purchase or refi transaction with you.

December

  • Hold a holiday celebration for your key vendor partners.
  • Send donations to charities on behalf of your customers, and then send them a card to acknowledge the gift.
  • Develop a special toy drive with your major Realtor and builder. You’ll be doing something worthwhile, as well as generating visibility and enhancing your referral partner relationships.
  • Mail a year-end “thank you” letter to all of your borrowers who chose you as their originator/lender this year.
  • Create a joint marketing effort with two of your strategic partners (CPA, financial planner, Realtor). You might develop a cost effective newsletter that would focus on year-end/new year tips and send it to your combined databases.

Open Doors by Attending Closings

Are you looking for unique ways to interact, network, and gain visibility with referral sources? Do you desire to become the “trusted advisor” for every client you serve? Is your ultimate goal to have 100 percent of your business generated by referrals from loyal past and current clients? One of the most effective ways to achieve these goals is to attend your loan closings. Many originators don’t think they have the time to attend closings or believe that their presence isn’t that important. That’s simply not the case.

When you commit the time and employ the following strategies, attending loan closings can reap huge rewards. Think about it: you have the Realtors, seller, attorney/title representative, and your clients in one room. When the closing goes well, you are there to be the “hero” and take credit for creating a smooth process, accurate documents, and satisfied customers. If something goes wrong, you can help fix it. Either way, you show that you are committed to providing a level of service far above your competitors. You make a positive, professional impression on everyone in the room.

First, remember that successful closings actually start with the initial application process. Your consultative professionalism, which ends the loan process with a smooth closing, begins the first time you communicate with the client. You must guide clients through all critical phases of the loan process. And you must help them see that you are their financial expert. How do you do this? By educating every client about some of the ins and outs of his or her mortgage loan. For example, demonstrate how making annual or quarterly principal payments can reduce their loan term and interest costs. Or show them the process to follow to have the mortgage insurance removed from their loan. Or, explain how they might use home equity to invest in a child’s college education or their own retirement. When you take the time to add value, your clients will trust you, tell everyone they know about you, and come back to you again and again for financial assistance.

The two-week period prior to closing can be an anxious time for your clients. Eliminate the anxiety by doing final reviews with your loan support team to make sure loans close on time and priced as expected. Then call or visit your clients to walk through the final steps, such as establishing a firm closing time and place and reviewing final closing costs.

Contact your client to remind them of the closing date and other critical information associated with their new loan. If appropriate, offer to pick them up and “chauffeur” them to the closing. Purchase a small, inexpensive gift (remember RESPA rules) for your client. Potential items include gift baskets filled with things to enjoy after a long day of unpacking boxes, gift certificates redeemable for car washes, carpet cleaning, lawn services, or just a meal at a nice local restaurant.

Arrive at the attorney’s or Realtor’s office 10 to 15 minutes early. This allows you time to meet the other agents, the paralegal, and the title representative and review the closing package. By doing this, you build rapport with those in the office who handle the closing packages. You might also catch errors in closing documents or discrepancies in loan closing figures.

Greet your clients when they arrive and build excitement around this major life event. Ask for any last-minute questions they have and talk about their plans to move. Give them the gift you brought, unless you would like to save it until after the closing.

When the closing is complete, celebrate with champagne (or cider) and a cake that has a picture of the house on it. Most bakeries are able to do this using your color photo or a copy. Encourage your clients to fill out the survey they will receive. Also, ask them, “Who do you know right now that could benefit from my services?” (Hopefully you’ve been asking this question all the way through the loan process.) I almost guarantee you’ll get positive feedback about your service, and you’ll probably get a few referrals of their friends, business associates, and others.

Following the closing, have a photo taken of your customer and you, preferably in front of their new home, if appropriate. Use this photo in a testimonial photo album to show future customers the high-quality service you have provided in the past. Also include positive written comments customers provide on surveys and letters as further proof of your sales efforts.

Attending loan closings may seem unnecessary, especially when you’re extremely busy. But customers will appreciate your presence and you’ll benefit from the ongoing referrals.

Satisfied Customers Are Not Enough

Follow these steps and you will surpass your borrowers’ expectations.

As a consumer, you are a customer. In the course of a normal week you might buy gas, shop for groceries, sign up for a new cellular phone service, or purchase a sandwich at a deli. At each buying event, you become one of three types of customers: dissatisfied, satisfied, or extremely satisfied. The experience you have determines whether you will return again and/or recommend that company to others.

As a mortgage originator, you have customers. In the course of a normal week you might deal with a rate shopper, pre-qualify a prospect, take a loan application, make a sales call, or attend a closing. At each encounter, you create customers who are either dissatisfied with you, satisfied with you, or extremely satisfied with you. Your entire business and livelihood depends on what type of customers you create.

It is obvious that none of us want dissatisfied customers. We know that dissatisfied customers either don’t buy from us, or if they do, don’t come back. We also know that dissatisfied customers talk, and if they have a negative experience with us or with our company, what they say can damage both our reputation and our business. A recent consumer research study showed that 92 percent of customers who say they were dissatisfied with a company or buying experience will never be heard from again.

Most companies, and for that matter most mortgage loan originators, shoot for “satisfied” customers. They feel that if they can get a borrower from application through closing with a minimum amount of problems, life is good. If the post-closing customer survey is returned with the word “satisfied” circled, they feel they have done their job. The fact is they have failed. Statistics say that two out of every three consumers who say they were just “satisfied” with a company will never return. In the customer’s mind, they expected to be satisfied. You have done nothing special or memorable. All you have done is met their expectations, and you’ll never see two out of three of these borrowers again.

So what does it take to get a customer back for their next refinance or purchase loan? What is required to secure an endorsement to their family or friends? Nothing less than extremely satisfied customers. The vast majority of people will not return or refer companies where they did not experience an extremely satisfied buying event. Research shows that of consumers who rate their reaction to a company as “extremely satisfied” 85 percent will return again or recommend at least one other person who will buy from you. Think about yourself as a customer. What restaurants do you recommend to a friend? One that you feel okay about or one where you had a great dining experience and know they will too? Do you return to hotels or vacation resorts where you would say you had a “good” experience or a “great” experience? We are all customers in one way or another, and we frequent and recommend services and companies where we are more than satisfied with what we get.

Many years ago I remember working with a sizable group of young loan originator recruits at an office of a large mortgage company. I told them that their mission was to get to the point in their careers where they would never have to prospect for business again. The four step plan was to:

  1. Build a strong base of great referral clients (Realtors, builders, and others.)
  2. Provide an incredibly positive experience with every borrower.
  3. Ask every borrower for referrals.
  4. Keep in touch with borrowers down the road so they would remember them, come back, and refer their friends.

Correctly followed, this plan would ensure that in three to five years, these originators would have built such a loyal following of customers that they would be done prospecting for life. No more sales calls, no more donut deliveries to real estate offices. In five years, they would have an army of extremely satisfied customers that sold for them. Like a pyramid scheme, this base of customers would potentially double every year. Unfortunately, most of these loan officers didn’t follow the plan. They chased down deals, got them processed and closed, refrained from doing anything special, and created “satisfied” customers. Most of them are long gone by now. Those still in business today most likely continue to beat the street every day looking for their next deal.

One originator took the plan to heart. He bought into the “wow factor” of customer service. He tried to make each borrower experience special. He made personal follow-up phone calls. He sent out handwritten thank-you cards. He showed up at closings with gift baskets. He so impressed every borrower that within just a few years he had hundreds of people out selling for him. The last time I saw him, about three years ago, he was still in the business, as one of his company’s top producers, and making a fortune. He told me he doesn’t prospect much anymore. He doesn’t have to.

So if we know that 85 percent of extremely satisfied customers will be a continual stream of referrals, loans and income, why doesn’t every originator try to create them? The answer may be one or more of the following:

  1. I don’t have time.
  2. I think it’s unnecessary.
  3. I don’t know how.

Let’s tackle these one at a time.
I don’t have time. The fact is you do have the time. As Steven Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” states: “We always will find the time to do the things we feel are important.” Chances are you work 40 to 60 hours a week. You have plenty of time for a personal follow-up call (one minute) or to write a thank you note (two minutes) or stop by a closing (30 minutes). You choose not to do these things because (and this may sting a little) you don’t think these things are important. Some originators are so busy chasing down loans and putting out fires, great customer service takes a back seat to their busy work. The fact is you don’t have time not to provide great service! Perhaps if more of your customers were “extremely satisfied” you wouldn’t have to be out prospecting so much, giving you the time to take great care of all the referrals they are sending you.

I think it’s unnecessary. Some loan originators think they are above giving great service. They feel the customer owes them, not the other way around. The concepts of a personal phone call to a new buyer asking how they are enjoying their new house or a Christmas card to the family are for someone else. That’s too bad, because these originators are missing the point. As a test, think about when you are a customer. Think about a time someone went out of his or her way to ensure you had a great buying experience. How did you react? Did you think it was corny, silly or unnecessary? No! Did you feel it was unprofessional? Certainly not! You loved it. That’s how your customers would feel if you started providing them with an extremely satisfying experience too.

I don’t know how. Perhaps you are into great customer service but are unsure of what you can do to create the “wow factor.” First, remember that the wow factor isn’t created with one big thing, but often a multiple of little things. A great experience at a restaurant is the product of an attentive valet, a welcoming hostess, a knowledgeable and helpful waiter, a clean dining environment, and a wonderful chef. To create a similar great experience in your business, ask yourself: “If I was a borrower, what would really impress me? What would a loan officer or mortgage lender do that would make me one of their raving fans?” Draft a list of what you would like to experience, and that’s probably what your customers want as well. Once you have your “total customer experience” mapped out, integrate those actions and little touches into your system. For example:

  • Thank you for applying card goes out 24 hours after application
  • Personal welcome call from the loan processor is made in 48 hours
  • Gift basket sent to place of employment on day of approval
  • Congratulations card mailed one day after closing
  • Magazine gift subscription started 30 days later

Everything is easier, even customer service, when you have it built into a system.
Think about how many borrowers you will help this year. Perhaps it will be 50, 100, or more. What if everyone, because of their fantastic experience, sent at least one friend to you next year? Theoretically, you could double your volume without any more prospecting. You might even have more business than you could handle. What a wonderful problem that would be.

By Douglas Smith

Originators Search for New Lead Sources

Loan originators discuss various strategies they use to develop new leads.

Many loan originators insist on developing a referral-only business rather than seeking leads from unknown prospects, some of whom will undoubtedly be unwanted rate shoppers. These originators believe that ongoing referrals from loyal Realtors, builders, and past customers are the best source of business and they tend to avoid new lead generation strategies. However, numerous other originators look for diverse opportunities to obtain new leads to supplement their other marketing techniques. Of course, they are aware of the challenge involved. Unlike referrals, which are based on established relationships, leads are often just names obtained from a seminar registration list, newspaper advertising, Web site, or other source. In most instances, originators still need to sell these prospects on doing business with them. But the successful ones are able to convert these often cold leads into closed loans and long-term customers.

Following is a selection of lead generation strategies that top producing originators have found to be effective:

Lead Lists
One of the fastest ways to obtain potential leads is to acquire them from a list supplier or compile your own new prospect database from various sources. Jeff Lazerson, president of Portfolio Mortgage Corp. in Lake Forest, Calif. and author of “How to Make a Fortune in Loans Without Leaving Your Desk,” has purchased a number of lists for his marketing letter campaigns, which complement his other origination sources. “If I’m busy with referrals and other activities, I most likely won’t purchase a list,” he said. “When things slow down, it’s often more appropriate.”

Lazerson noted that based on his experience, a mailing of 1,000 pieces should result in an initial response rate of seven to 10 prospects. “When you consider how inexpensive direct mail is, this can be very successful,” he said.

Lazerson stressed the importance of data integrity. “One key to ensure success is making sure that the list you acquire is reaching the right target audience,” he said. “You need to ask for the list company’s references and be comfortable with what they promise you.”

Sharon McCormick, an originator with Prime Lending in Dallas, Texas found a unique way to form a new database. When she first began originating, McCormick used a reverse phone directory to create a list of refinance prospects. The directory indicated when homeowners obtained their telephone line, which told her when they moved in and the approximate interest rate. “I pinpointed some of the largest houses in the area and found their phone numbers and then began calling prospective refi customers,” said McCormick. “I made as many calls that were necessary to get some loans and I had a good response.”

McCormick noted that this strategy might not be as effective today because many homeowners have phones with caller identification, and they screen out calls from salespeople. “But even though this might not work as well now, it does demonstrate how you can do something different to stand out,” she said.

Brochures
It’s easy to overlook the most basic lead generation tools, including fliers and personal brochures distributed at various locations. Sue Woodard, an originator with Hometown Mortgage in Maple Grove, Minn., uses her brochure to reach new clients and past customers as well as prospects. Her brochure is distinctive because it opens like a greeting card and has the following phrase: “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”

Woodard and her staff distribute the brochure wherever possible. “I use my brochure as a business card and hand it out at events, Realtor meetings, and other gatherings,” she said. “A personal brochure has more impact than a business card and is more likely to remain on someone’s desk or in a resource file longer than a card,” she said. Woodard cited a recent instance where her assistant was at a restaurant when the waitress overheard him speaking about the mortgage business. The assistant handed the waitress one of Woodard’s brochures and they started to discuss the potential of homeownership. “By the time dinner was over she was ready to meet with us and she’ll soon be a customer,” Woodard noted.

Adam Slade’s brochure includes company and personal background information, along with a pre-approval form for customers to complete. Slade, president of U.S. Mortgage Network in Wexford, Pa., provides the brochure to Realtors, builders, financial planners, and others. “We often get calls from people wanting to know something about us, and the brochure takes care of that. It’s a great lead generation tool.”

Advertising
Advertising is an effective strategy for increasing company/originator visibility as well as producing immediate leads. Byron Webb, president of Webb Mortgage in Boca Raton, Fla., has advertised in as many as 50 newspapers throughout his state. The ads include his 800 number, which is popular with prospects who have been shopping rates, regardless of their distance from his office. He also advertises in his local daily newspaper, including an ad in the business section that draws more affluent readers. Webb’s ads will often feature a special offer, such as a coupon for $200 off closing costs. He also has his name and company logo imprinted on the plastic bags that cover the newspapers. “That is really the best advertising I do. If someone doesn’t open up the paper, they won’t see your ad. But everyone sees my ad on the plastic bag.”

Webb is a strong advocate of advertising as a lead generator. “We’ve had great response from our advertising,” said Webb. “During a refinance period, approximately 40 percent of our new business came from new sources, as a result of this newspaper lead activity. During an average period, it will be about 25 percent of our business.”

Billboard advertising is a more unique ad strategy, one that Ed Naworol has employed for the last several years. Naworol, an originator with SunTrust Mortgage in Belair, Md., typically rotates four billboards in different parts of his market at a cost of $500 per board per month. The copy of one board reads, “Need a mortgage? Building, buying, or remodeling? Call Ed today…”

“It’s definitely one of my top lead generation sources,” he said. “This is great name recognition; thousands of people see the boards every day. This is something that very few originators have done.”

Naworol also advertises on local restaurant placemats. “I position my business card ad and photo toward the top or bottom right of the placemat and include a coupon for $100 off the customers’ closing costs.”

Dennis Duncan, manager/originator at JP Morgan Chase in Blacksburg, Va., has tried a different type of advertising—the ValuPak coupon book program. He has included a coupon for $100 off for refinancing, which he said has been quite effective. “Appearing in the book costs about $1,600, but it reaches 30,000 people,” he explained.

Renter-to-Owner Program
Several originators have tapped into the apartment renter market. They collect immediate leads of apartment residents ready to purchase, as well as future potential customers. For instance, Jim Bane initiated a co-op marketing strategy with a major builder in his Ft. Worth, Texas market. Bane, an originator with WR Starkey Mortgage, arranged to have door hangers placed on the outside of apartments. The headline reads “Why pay rent?” and the copy explains how the renter can save money by owning a home. “This is a great technique because you don’t have to secure a mailing list or pay postage,” he said. “We’ve received a few calls from this and others will hold on to the hangers until they’re ready to buy.”

Nancy Davis, originator/manager at Mortgage America, Inc., Melbourne Fla., has taken a slightly different approach. Davis identified apartment complexes of 100 to 300 residents and obtained their names and addresses from a title company. She sent three different mailings to encourage them to consider homeownership. Davis noted that her past mailings have resulted in an initial flurry of calls, with additional prospects contacting her a year or more later.

Special Events
Some originators hold a barbecue, holiday gathering, or even a weekend loan-closing event to attract prospects. Pam Eaves pointed out that her company’s weekend same-day refinance closing event in 2001 resulted in substantial initial business as well as an ongoing stream of leads. Eaves, an originator with First Reliance Mortgage in Salt Lake City, Utah explained that the company advertised on radio and newspaper ads that promised low interest rates and one-day closings. “We started getting calls the minute the radio ad went on the air,” she said. “On Saturday morning, we had people lined up at the door waiting. We closed about $2.5 million that weekend and figured we got maybe another $3 million in residual business, as a result of the advertising. I was recently doing loans for contacts we had made a year ago.”

Eaves suggested two critical keys for converting leads to customers. “Certainly the first thing is to promptly follow-up with the leads you obtain,” she said. “Then make sure that you stay in contact with them over a period of time, keeping track until they’re ready to do business with you.”

Seminars and Fairs
First-time borrower and other seminars offer another cost-effective way to attract a group of new contacts. Naworol conducts weekly seminars for custom home customers. He has a database of 5,000 lot owners and invites different groups to attend the seminars that he holds in surrounding counties. He estimated that approximately 50 percent of those who have attended his seminars during the last five years have become customers and many others are waiting to design their home or purchase a lot. “This is an unbelievable way to attract customers,” he said. “Those who attend see the seminar as a chance to get educated about the custom home process and they appreciate the one-stop shopping—because the seminars include myself, builders, attorney, Realtor, and an inspector.”

Joe Siau has made quarterly first-time homebuyer presentations to such groups as Consumer Credit Counseling Services and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). “We get 15 to 30 people at each session and then we’ll follow up with them (using a list of attendees),” said Siau, an originator with Chase Manhattan Mortgage in Roseville, Calif. “Over a year’s time, we convert about 10 percent of the attendees to solid leads.”

In addition, Siau has participated in local street fairs for Asian communities. He sets up a Chase Manhattan exhibit and then distributes promotional materials as he discusses homeownership opportunities with visitors. Siau averages three shows a year, with approximately 50 people stopping by each time. He estimated that slightly over 5 percent are converted to customers. “It may not sound like much at first, but it’s well worth the effort because they eventually make referrals to other borrowers, so the base grows.”

TV and Radio
Highlighting your message on radio and television is yet another method to gather prospect names. For example, Aaron Jernigan, an originator with The Bank in Springfield, Mo., has appeared on a local TV program to provide homebuying information. It has helped establish him as a mortgage expert in his market and he has obtained a number of inquiries from potential borrowers. “After each show, I would receive about five to 10 phone calls from people who had watched,” he said. “It has definitely provided good visibility.”

Jernigan noted that because he hasn’t yet started to track the leads, he doesn’t know how effective the TV appearances have been. However, he’s confident that the exposure has been worthwhile. “I know that we get calls after the shows and I’m sure we’re getting business as a result,” he added.

Kevin Ruby has been successful with a unique radio promotion. One of his choice builders has held remote radio promotions, having a radio station set up its broadcast booth at a weekend open house or other event. This allows Ruby a chance to speak to the crowd about his company and their loan programs and to collect names and phone numbers of those interested in obtaining a mortgage loan. “All I have to do is show up with my laptop and prequalification forms for a couple of hours,” said Ruby, executive vice president/originator with Community Mortgage, Cordova, Tenn. “I get leads from the people who attend the specific development and others from those who are looking elsewhere but stop by because they hear me on the radio and are interested in talking about a loan.”

Ruby believes the remote promotions are definitely worthwhile. “Generating leads from the radio remotes has accounted for about 10 percent of my annual business in the past, but it doesn’t take much time to make such valuable contacts. I reach new people with whom I wouldn’t have otherwise come in contact.”

Internet Connections
In recent years, more originators have turned to the Internet as a proven means of obtaining prospects. Even though many site visitors are rate shoppers, originators have found that an effective Web site that includes an application form can result in a steady stream of closed loans. For instance, Dave D’Aprile of Coast to Coast Mortgage in Austin, Texas, considers his Web site to be a significant lead producer. He noted that approximately 50 percent of the customers doing business with the firm have “touched” their Web site.

D’Aprile boasts a closing ratio of 25 to 30 percent of his online leads. He devotes a portion of his marketing budget to listings in various portal sites and advises originators to take a cautious approach with such advertising. “You’ve got to check cost versus return,” he noted. “You never know, in the first month you may not get anything.” D’Aprile suggested that originators check to see what other originators are already advertising on specific portal sites, track the results, and drop the sites that don’t work.

Slade has also benefited from his company’s Web site. He said that the site is good for generating basic visibility and borrower calls. “Initially, we advertised rates, but we no longer do so,” he said. “We’ve learned that the site is an excellent avenue for people to pre-qualify. We get five to 10 Web-based pre-quals a week and are able to convert close to 40 percent of those to completed loans.”

He noted that a key to his online success is highlighting the Web site address in his Sunday newspaper advertisements. The ads feature company information and interest rates and prominently display the Web address. “We usually get our Web-based applications on Mondays after people have read the Sunday paper,” he said.

More Lead Strategies
Here are some other lead generation techniques to try:

  • Advertise on the outside of a truck or bus. One originator stated that he’s received a number of calls from the ad he placed on a friend’s delivery truck.
  • Use a 24-hour hotline service, which includes a phone number on Realtors’ property signs, enabling borrowers to call for a pre-recorded guided tour and other information. You’ll develop a list of prospects to qualify.
  • Ask the human resources director at local companies if you can insert an informational flier into their employee paychecks.
  • Prepare a refinance (or other) flier to be inserted in your city newspaper’s zoned editions.
  • Make sure your Web site is listed with all appropriate search engines.
  • Exhibit at a bridal, home, or other consumer show. You can hold a drawing for a TV and get the phone numbers of the attendees. Later, you can follow up with these prospects.
  • Distribute fliers and other information at Realtor caravans and builder open houses. One originator created a small house-shaped pop-up display to hold his business cards.
  • Advertise your services on movie screens.

There’s no question that referrals are the lifeblood of top producing loan originators’ business. However, it’s wise to keep an open mind concerning lead generation strategies. As the originators in this article have emphasized, new leads can be a positive addition to your pipeline, especially during those periods when refinance business disappears.

By David L. Robinson

Surviving the End of Refinance Periods

The refinance period is over, how is your business going to survive? You should pose this question to yourself now if you haven’t already. Not because there aren’t plenty of refinances in our environment, but rather because the time to plan is in advance of the event and not after it has already happened. Many loan originators get caught on their heels and have a very difficult time rapidly transitioning into new markets. About two and a half years ago loan officers didn’t position themselves accordingly through database management and customer retention to take advantage of this refinance boom. Only the originators who had planned ahead were able to jump on the opportunity and fill their pipeline immediately once refinance mania hit. The planning that needs to be done now entails positioning yourself to take advantage of a market that is without refinances.

Simply pose this question to yourself…what if interest rates went up one full percent over the next 60 to 90 days? What would happen to your existing pipeline? How many of the loans that are in that pipeline would be wiped out if in fact rates were at 7.5 percent? How are you going to compensate for that falloff in your pipeline to make sure that you can continue to maintain the lifestyle that you have become accustomed to over the last 24 to 36 months? Make no mistake about it: there will be business available when refinances go away. It’s just that the business will be wearing a different face and you will need to identify it quicker than your competitors.

The purchase business will always be important in a non-refinance boom. The typical sources of purchase business are real estate agents, financial planners, CPAs and other types of affinity partners. Many loan officers have been successful in dealing with the Internet and leads that are created for potential buyers through that venue. Others have flourished in constructing a very efficient for-sale-by-owner campaign. Whatever plan you choose to put into place, you will need to get very specific in your plan of attack.

Let’s first examine a campaign to develop affinity partner relationships with accountants, financial planners and real estate agents. The most effective way to develop a relationship with these types of sources is to have a compelling unique selling proposition (USP) which is why someone would want to do business with you. You need to understand that your unique selling proposition is and always will be in direct accordance with how you feel about yourself The higher the level of confidence you have in yourself, the more profound your USP will be. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you start to build your confidence and one of the best ways to do this is to make sure that you are a master of your craft. You must understand the nuances of being a great loan officer, embrace and become an expert on the essential components of lending, know your guidelines and start studying them now if you have not already, and make sure that you know how to put together every single type of a loan that could be run across your desk whether it be subprime paper through “A” paper, first time homebuyer and super jumbo loans.

Jane Floyd, an originator at Diversified Home Mortgage, Tampa, Fla. said that her unique selling proposition with real estate agents, accountants and financial planners is the fact that she will get any loan done and will never commit to doing a loan that she cannot do. She knows exactly what it takes to make loans happen but there’s more to it that we need to understand that something more profound occurs here. The more that you know about your trade, the more confident that you are going to be in yourself. A unique selling proposition is all about selling your product. What is it that makes you unique?

Remember, there is an inverse to this USP. Why would the referral source want to put their trusted client in your hands? Why if they are a real estate agent would they want to put their paycheck in your hands? The reason is because they have faith in you because they know that you are the best person for the job. You need to be able to look across the desk at any of these people and tell them exactly that—that they can trust you and that you are the best person to handle that loan.

The action plan is simply this: Make sure that you are blocking out two hours of time each week for the next 90 days to study this business of which you are apart. Remember that you are in the money business and that the more you know about money, the more you are able to help people, the more they are able to trust you, the better off you will be.

If you want to launch a campaign that exposes you to leads of potential purchasers through some type of direct marketing vehicle such as the Internet or the purchase of leads from other sources, you need to be well scripted. Nine times out of 10 that someone engages in dialogue with you for the first time it’s done verbally with no visual aid whatsoever. They have nothing else to judge you by in making their decision as to whom they want to work with other than the words that come out of your mouth. It is critically important that our presentation skills are at a high level. Many loan officers fail to evolve in their presentation skills and therefore don’t put themselves into a position to where they can take advantage of a down market.

Remember, in a down market your conversion ratio from lead to close loan is critical. In addition to that, it is very important that you start to bring more values to these relationships. In a non-refinance market, if you are doing fewer loans, you will need to have bigger margins to make up for that downfall.

The only way that you are going to be able to justify making more money per loan is if you truly take the time to be a financial consultant that specializes in mortgages, that brings more value to that client and saves them more money than they would be able to save if they were to work with someone else. Make sure that you are putting yourself in a position to where you have all the tools necessary to be a financial consultant that specializes in mortgages. Tap into the wealth of resources that are offered within your industry that will expose you to these opportunities. There are many products available in the marketplace that can help you be a better-trusted advisor.

If it is a for sale by owner (FSBO) campaign that you want to launch, keep in mind some very important points. Your target market in this case is an individual who is trying to save money or they wouldn’t be trying to sell their home on their own. Their perception is that they don’t need a real estate agent or anyone else to give them advice especially if it is going to cost them anything. It is for this reason that your campaign must expose them to their lack of knowledge. You need to pose questions in your marketing material to make them realize that this isn’t as easy a process as they thought it would be and you need to offer a significant amount of value that will cause them to look at you as a viable resource that they should be utilizing.

One of the things that I have offered in my FSBO campaign is access to escrow officers and title companies for the purposes of selling their home. Listing brochures and sign boxes that you can put on their front lawn, and call captures 800 services also work very effectively. These should all be apart of your marketing package when trying to forge a relationship with a seller who is trying to sell on their own.

In addition, you should make sure that you impress upon them the importance of your pre-qualifying every single buyer that comes through their home. It is from this exposure to potential buyers that you can then turn around and align them with real estate agents. This referring of potential buyers to real estate agents could be greatly helpful in forging relationships with new Realtors; ones that you will need in this down market.

Remember, the time is now to think one step ahead. If you are conducting your business without one eye on the future, when the future gets here, you won’t be ready for it.

By Tim Braheem

Market Makeover – Getting Customers

Editor’s Note: This month, a novice originator seeks guidance on increasing his customer base and earning his first paycheck. Our contributors are Vicky Frontiere of United Capital Mortgage and Michael Brown of Atlantic National Mortgage.

I’m a junior loan officer who has having difficulty getting customers. I have
gone to open houses, mailed fliers, and handed out my cards to everyone
I meet. How long does it normally take for someone to get their first
paycheck? I’m trying to be patient.

S.W.

VICKY FRONTIERE is a loan originator with United Capital Mortgage, Las Vegas, Nev.,

I am relatively new to this business myself, and I know it can seem almost impossible to get going. I have a strong belief in just showing up every day and learning all you can about your field prepares you for when the phone does start to ring, and it will happen if you just stick to it. It took me two months to get my first paycheck, but I’m sure it differs for everyone. Working for straight commission can be a scary thing but having no limit to.
How much I can actually generate each month is the exciting part.
In our office, we have “floor-time.” Three days a month it’s my turn to simply receive any calls that come into the office. It is a great way to get business, and I constantly tell the receptionist that I am available in case the loan officer whose turn it is doesn’t show up.
I have tried all the different things you have, like going to open houses, mailing fliers, and constantly handing out my cards. All are good ways of bringing in business. However, finding Realtors who will do business with you is the one key to getting a flow of constant business, and getting those big paychecks. There are thousands of Realtors out there and four or five is all you need. I know it can be difficult walking into real estate offices. Most have preferred lenders and getting past the receptionist seems next to impossible, so start out with some of the smaller offices that seem much more appreciative when you walk in carrying a box of doughnuts.
Make sure you let the agents know you are available by cell phone on weekends to pre-qualify their buyers. Realtors appreciate that since they advertise in the newspaper and get calls to show property most weekends. They want to know from a lender that the buyers do have some chance of receiving a loan before they waste their time. When I would find a Realtor who would talk to me, I would offer to split some advertising costs with them. This not only impresses the agent that you are serious about getting business, but shows other agents where to find you.
When my first loan was approved, I took the time to call the selling agent and relay the good news so she could tell her clients. That alone was an impressive move since it is not common to put anyone on the selling side in the loop. She ended up becoming my second Realtor because of that one phone call. When the final docs were drawn I brought them to the title company and stayed for the closing. I learned a lot just being there and it really impressed my clients.
I have a quarterly newsletter that I send to past clients and Realtors that seems to generate more business. Last year I even purchased a billboard for myself that has brought my name and face out to people daily.
When I finally got my first loan, I spent a lot of time with the processing department and learned all I could about processing and what I might have done wrong during the loan application. The loan officer puts the loan in motion, and if mistakes are made on the front end, the loan can go from bad to worse.
Knowledge is power—I can’t stress that enough. Every day I tried to learn more about the loan programs my company had to offer. I spent time with our underwriters and our closing department. Being a successful loan officer does not mean simply being able to bring in business. You have to know what to do with it once you get it and how to change directions if the loan is not meeting all criteria for a certain program. All this of course, while smiling to the client and appearing to be in total control.
At United Capital Mortgage our slogan is, “Where Service Makes The Difference!” I knew at my signing that those words were so true. I even went one step further. When the loan recorded, I found out the day my clients were moving in to their new home. I showed up that afternoon with two pizzas in my arms. The new homeowners were tired and hungry and once again, totally impressed with my service. I still get referrals from this couple and recently helped them to refinance their current mortgage.
I closed one loan my first month, two my second, three my third, and by the end of the year, United Capital Mortgage presented me with a “Rookie of the Year” award. Every day I continue to learn something new and my business still comes from five Realtors.

MICHAEL BROWN is an originator at Atlantic National Mortgage
What distinguishes me from my competition is my willingness to give 100 percent of myself to all my referral sources 24/7. My real estate brokers know that when they are trying to put a transaction together over the weekend or in the evenings they can reach me on my cell phone or home number and I will be there for them. They are confident that I know all the guidelines of all the products I offer. This stands out in their mind and forms the partnership that benefits both of us financially and creates strong friendships. Always be there for your referral sources.
Remember “patience is a virtue.” Everyone wants to make the big bucks now, However, it takes time. Building a pipeline of loans takes months, even years. Planting seeds is the most important thing you should be doing and it seems you are. Making friends and contacting everyone you know and letting them know what you do for a living is a basic idea, but a very important one. Most of my top referral sources started out as friends but over time, they became very vital lifelines to my success.
I try to include my contacts in my activities. My hobbies are golf, fishing, cooking, and most sports. Take them to play golf, tennis or go shopping with them find out what they like to do and share your common interests.
The problem with most new originators is they don’t ask for the business. You can’t assume that because you feed them lunch, the business will roll in. With a smile tell them you want them to send you all of their clients. Public open houses are another way to build relationships with Realtors. They are there all day bored and probably hungry.
Spend a Sunday afternoon with different brokers, find out what they like and pick up a sandwich for them. Hopefully you’ll be able to qualify all the people who walk through. Even if the Realtor doesn’t work with everyone who visits, you might be able to. It becomes very personal and you should be able to have a great conversation. When I do Realtor open houses, I will always say “I’m glad you enjoyed my company and thanks for coming, but please share your referrals.” I always ask them for business by letting them know to “put me on your list and give me a chance. I am great at what I do.”
I rarely hand out rate sheets, most Realtors throw them away without even looking at them. You have to give them things that catch their attention, do something different like, handing out your recipe for success. Include a brief comment, like “call me any time.. I’m always available.” Include a recipe for cookies or a cake, then deliver it with the baked goods to the top real estate and attorney’s offices in your area. By doing this, you’ll soon build a relationship with even the most difficult brokers.
Get involved with your community organizations. I give discounts to police, fire and EMT personnel. I waive the appraisal and credit fee. I have a flier up on the bulletin boards at most companies with the same discounts.
Once you get the client, don’t try to make a home run. It may be a great pay day at first, but you may one of the many with a bad reputation as a gouger. Make it fair for the client and for you. You worked very hard or your client expects you to get paid. Keep happy so they will always refer you.
You can expect to get paid in about two months on a purchase and in about 30 days on a refi.
Send them a thank-you card or gift, always go to your closings, and thank the Realtors for the client.
Make sure you keep in touch with your clients after they close. Follow up with them on one month, six month, and yearly intervals.
By doing all of these things, you will be able to build strong relationships and big money.

The Power of Networking

Networking is one of the most basic and effective origination strategies.

In our personal relationships with friends and family to business relationships, networking is essential to social involvement on any level. And certainly, the ability to network is an essential ingredient to success in mortgage origination.

In an issue of M.O.M., I wrote one of my very first articles dedicated to networking entitled, “Spheres of Influence.”   Networking, then and now, is still the heart and soul of the mortgage origination business.  It is a loan officer’s most important activity and one that must be done every day.  Meeting people will not result in immediate business, but will pay off in the long run and it is essential not to get too discouraged in the beginning.

Networking is an excellent way to build a “sphere of influence,” that is, a strong customer base.  These people must recognize you as an expert in mortgage finance.  They must think of you when they consider refinancing, building, buying a new home, second home, or investment property.  Because almost everyone is a potential customer, it is sometimes more important that your customers see you as their “friend in the business.”  A person they can trust and respect enough to refer their friends to you…your spheres of influence.

My Networking Story 
When I began selling real estate I was slightly older than 21.  My sphere of influence was minimal because no one I knew owned a home or could afford to buy one.  As a result, with the help of my sales manager, I developed a four-pronged marketing strategy designed to help me become my client’s “friend in the business.  My slogan at the bottom of my business card was “your friend in the business” and inside each card was a spot for three names, or referrals.   Just for the names, I offered a small gift or a free market analysis, and if the referral became a customer, perhaps listing or selling a home through me, I offered them a referral fee, clearly a RESPA violation at the time.

My plan was divided into four spheres of influence: personal contacts, potential customers, organizational opportunities and targeted referrals.  Today, I would probably add the Internet and a Customer-for-Life component.  Once the pact was agreed on, we developed a list for each category.  Here’s what mine would’ve looked like:

Personal

  • Spouse
  • Significant other
  • Friends
  • Acquaintances
  • Relatives
  • Co-workers
  • Church members
  • Country club affiliates

Potential

  • Appraisers
  • Architects
  • Attorneys
  • Bartenders
  • Beauticians
  • Builders
  • Board members
  • Chiropractors
  • CPAs
  • City or County managers
  • Counselors
  • Choir directors
  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Dermatologists
  • Escrow Agents
  • Electricians
  • Fashion Consultants
  • First-time buyers
  • House cleaners
  • Hair stylists
  • Insurance agents
  • Loan officers
  • Ministers
  • Managers
  • House Movers
  • Optometrists
  • Psychologists
  • Realtors
  • Supervisors
  • Superintendents
  • Small Business Owners
  • Teachers
  • Tax Preparers

Organizational Opportunites

A wise sales professional once said, “when choosing to belong, select only causes and groups you have passion for and want to give your time to!”
Attend the meetings regularly. Approach the organization as if it was your own business and let people know you are in the real estate loan business and want to help them achieve their dreams of owning a home.

There are a number of organizational opportunities, including:

  • Association of Professional Women
  • Fraternal: Masons or Rotary Clubs
  • Welcome Wagon (In fact, Homestore.com now owns the entire Welcome Wagon organization)
  • Social: country club, tennis club, athletic club, runners, Parent Teachers Association (PTA), Little League, high school and college boosters, alumni organizations
  • Fundraising: arts, symphony, church and synagogue, local colleges and universities
  • National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
  • Local Real Estate Board of Realtors, national and state associates

Target Accounts or Referral Sources

  • Previous customers
  • Surveys and focus groups

A referral is what networking is all about. It is a loan officer’s dream or recurring nightmare. A solid base of satisfied customers is our ultimate goal and this begins with one testimonial from a satisfied client. In fact, as my career marched forward, I had a notebook full of “thank you” cards and letters stuffed into a leather bound journal. I initiated each new application with a short presentation about my business and how important each person was to my career. I started each sales call with, “You will always be glad you took action with me today. I don’t believe you will find anyone who will work harder or more professionally to help you achieve your real estate dreams. I want you to think of me as ‘your friend in the business’. Friendships don’t come along everyday. I know that. That is why I have dedicated myself to earning my customer’s appreciation and respect. If I do that, I have earned a new friend. Does that make sense to you?”

Expand Your Network
In addition to supplying you with repeat business, satisfied customers are a wonderful source of new target accounts. Along these lines, with the new RESPA regulations allowing referral fees to both licensed and unlicensed individuals, you may want to offer standard referral fees to some “key” movers and shakers who have the potential of offering your name to lots of new people in the community you choose to serve. I did. In fact, when we started our brokerage business we discovered that the best source of new business came from our employees. Our “$250 Club” was the talk of the company for many of First Franklin’s early years. We developed a gold embossed “$250 Club” brochure offering a fee of $250 for any person referred to us who ultimately closed a loan at our firm. For example, for a new receptionist making less than $1,000 salary per month, this was huge. All the person had to do was fill out a card listing the potential customer’s name. We did the rest. Our experience found that this was the best way to expand our customer base. Why? Our employees and their friends and families already trusted us because their son or daughter already trusted us. Some of our early teammates earned upwards of $5,000 per year simply offering names. Inside our “250 Club” brochure we used the acronym: “REFERRALS”:

  • Repeat business
  • Employees
  • Friends
  • Earn their business
  • Relationship
  • Respect
  • Affinity
  • Last impressions last
  • Selling the invisible

This was an awesome program.  Also inside the booklet was a section called “Who Do You Know?”  In this section we simply asked them questions like:

  • Who sold you your pool?
  • Who sells you gas, tires or fixes your car?
  • Who delivers to your home?
  • Who sold you your appliances?
  • Who was your best man or maid of honor?
  • Who teaches your children?
  • Who took your family’s latest photos?
  • Who painted your home?
  • Who is your interior designer?
  • Who is your house cleaner?
  • Who watches your children?
  • Who leads your church? School? Lions Club? Kiwanis?
  • Who is expecting a new baby?
  • Who bought a new home?
  • Who owns your local Kinkos?
  • Who is on your school board?
  • Who is your family doctor? Dentist? Optometrist? Druggist?
  • Who is your lawyer? Insurance agent? CPA?
  • Who runs you local deli? Bakery? Bagel or Coffee shop?
  • Who arranges your local theatre?
  • Who appraises real estate?
  • Who sells real estate?
  • Who sells you shoes?
  • Who is your best luncheon friend?
  • Who serves you lunch?
  • Who styles your hair?
  • Who heads your bank?
  • Who does your dry cleaning?
  • Who is your florist?

The list goes on and on. Word-of-mouth, friends and relatives, belonging to organizations, and referrals, all serve to create a growing networking customer base of “friends in the business.”
If you think more broadly and deeply about networking yourself, you will figure out dozens of better ways to contact potential customers and grow your business.

A Final Thought
I recently was left speechless after I told a mortgage broker, “The first step to networking is making a good first impression. The second step is getting the service right. So find out if you have it right. Survey your clients…Ask.”
I wasn’t ready for her response. “I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I’m afraid to hear what they might think.”
A basic principle in life applies to surveying clients: even your best friends won’t tell you, but they will talk behind your back.

Make it so your new clients can talk behind your back, and that you can learn what they’re saying. Have your clients complete surveys. If you can, have them compiled by third parties. Your customers will appreciate it. They will see that you are trying to improve and it gives you another great reason to stay in contact with each of them.

  • It gives you an opportunity to sell something else or make a new offer
  • It keeps contact with your clients
  • It lets you learn from your mistakes
  • It helps you flag possible problems that can create new selling opportunities
  • It keeps you from coasting
  • It tells your customers what business you are in, and what folks are really buying.

Networking is really the oldest, simplest, and generally the most effective way to generate business. It is the best way to ensure your long term future in the lending industry.

By Bill Dallas