Optimizing Your Search-Engine Success

In this article, I’m going to focus on how to maximize the visibility of this site once you have it up by implementing search engine optimization (SEO).  Simply put, SEO is a method of enhancing your Web site’s visibility in search engines. If a user types “reverse mortgage” in Google and you specialize in that product, where will you show up? You need to be at least in the top 30 or 40 sites to expect any success. The typical web surfer will not read past the first page and the most tenacious will probably not go past four or five screens.

The search engines use algorithms to rank the Web sites. The engines do not all use the same criteria, but there are similarities that you can focus on. There are only six or eight engines that your target audience will use. Google is number one and quickly becoming a generic term for web search. Yahoo, Look Smart, Alta Vista, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and MSN are other big ones. If you can get a high ranking with these, then you can expect volume traffic to your site.

So, what determines how the engines will rank your site? Keyword relevance is always an important factor. This means selecting words that people will most likely enter into search engines to find you. When doing this, bear in mind that they should not be too generic. If you use keywords like “mortgage banker,” the likelihood of being listed in the top 100 would be unlikely. But the phrase “mortgage banker specializing in reverse mortgage lending” is more specific and gives you a better chance of hitting the top 10.

While the search engines grab keywords from the body of Web sites with most emphasis given to the index or home page, the most weight is typically given to the title tag found in the HTML code of that page. The title tag does not have to match anything on the screen. In fact, it can be left blank, but this would be a big mistake. Title tags are not only important for scoring by the engines, but it is also likely that they will display this tag as the description to your site. So, it is also important for the wording in your title tag to entice the Web surfer to go to your site.

To see the HTML of a Web site, right click on the screen and select View Source. Using our example, it would look like this in the header section: <title> Mortgage banker specializing in reverse mortgage lending</title>. An easy and effective way to view a model of a top ranked site is to do your own search, guessing at the keywords your potential customer would use. See who comes out on top. Then go to their site see what is working for them.

Google also employs “stemming” technology. When it looks for words that match the search word, it also looks for similar terms. For example if the search is for “sub-prime lender,” Google could also look for variations of lender, like lend or lending. So, if you include the phrases “We lend…” or “…leader in sub-prime lending,” you might increase the odds that Google will find the match.

Keyword prominence is another factor in scoring. Prominence refers to where the keywords are located. The higher up on the page, or the closer to the start of your title tag, the better the score. There is a delicate balance between making your site attractive with images and also including enough text to get exposure for the keywords. There is even a game of “cat and mouse” between the Web designers and search engines. One trick to manipulate the system is to flood the top of the page with keywords, using the same font color as the background color. Usually nobody would see them, and they do not clutter up the screen. However, to combat this, the engines check for the color match and punish the “offender.”  A technique that does work is to have a splash page with nothing but text, and an “enter here” hyperlink. This generates keyword prominence on the index page and then you get to see the glitter when you link to the next screen.

Another important SEO criterion is links from other sites. When I did a Google search for “mortgage broker” the results totaled 7,980,000. Out of nearly ten million possible matches, NAMB was the number one result. Why? Google gives a lot of weight to links—and not simply the number of links, but how active the linked sites are. NAMB surely has links to 50 state mortgage broker sites as well as numerous affiliate sites. While most organizations do not have the luxury of that many built-in links, you can constantly pursue “link swapping” with other related companies. Therefore, it is important to have an area in your site where you can trade links with “trusted affiliates.”

What about the “sponsored links” that you see displayed in prominent positions on the search screens? These are commercial spots that are sold by the search engine companies. It is the way they make money. How well they work for you would depend on how much you are willing to spend. You can pay as little as a nickel a hit, but some companies have to pay several hundred dollars per hit to get the results they are looking for. Paying the big bucks for the top spot is not only expensive, but it’s possible for your competition to repetitively click on your sponsored link, making you spend extra money for nothing.

An important factor in search engine optimization is to make sure that the pages in your site are accessible to the search engines. While the home page is heavily weighted, the internal pages will likely contain potential keyword matches. If the internal pages are buried in multiple levels, the engines may not find them. A good way to ensure that they are accessible is to include a site map. This is a page in your Web site that lists all the links of all the pages within the site. It is also a tool for navigating through the site.

Although the search engines will eventually find you, it is best to submit your site to them. There are companies that will offer to do this for you. Avoid ads that offer to submit your site to 400 search engines for $39.95. The first thing wrong with this is that you do not want to list your site on 400 engines spread around the globe. Would you want to be listed in a search engine that specializes in European folk music or medical textbooks? Either way, save your money and do it yourself.  You can do this manually, by going into the sites and finding their “submit” button. Should you do this every day or week? No, it does not do any good and could even be viewed as spamming. The best time to submit your site to the engines is when you have changed or added something.

You can also buy software that not only submits for you, but it can also help analyze your pages and rate the relevance of your keywords. A good one is Web Position 4. Another one that looks interesting is Trend Metrix, which offers a free SEO analysis on their site.

There are many firms that offer to handle SEO for you. As is typical in life, you get what you pay for. If you are willing to pay thousands of dollars to enhance your web visibility, then you will probably get results. On the other hand, it is fun to learn a new skill and save money at the same time. There are many ways to trim down the budget. DcDAR, Internet Marketing Consultants offers a free SEO tool kit that includes keyword analysis and position tracking.

There are several books that cover this subject. “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies” by Peter Kent has to be a good reference. Another interesting title is “Don’t Get Banned by the Search Engines!” by David Leonhardt. His claim is that Google is getting tough on search engine cheaters, and that some could get banned because web site owners may not even know they’re doing anything wrong.

Another totally free way to expand on your expertise is to visit SEO Web sites. One is Sitepronews.com This is a Web site that hosts free articles and has links to related sites. Another source of information is SEO Inc.

Whether you employ a web master or manage your own site, understanding SEO becomes increasingly important in a world where more business and communication is done on the Internet. SEO could get you exposure to hundreds or even thousands of extra potential customers.

By Thor Skonnord

Software Review – WorkCenter by vForms

I have been waiting for a product that achieves the contact management power of ACT! and integrates this information with the Loan Origination System I use, Calyx Point. vForms of Redmond Washington has released a very impressive product that promises some real progress in this direction.

Overview
WorkCenter provides an integrated panel that allows the user to efficiently manage their contacts, from such basic capabilities as database management, scheduling, and alarming, up to more advanced features such as generating reports and merge letters. It also enables users to integrate this information on an ongoing basis with Calyx Point, eliminating the common problem faced by those of us who have long struggled with separate databases for each.

A list of contacts appears in the left hand side, and Tabs appear in the right hand side for Contacts, Schedule, Reports, Library, and Web Center. The tab for Action Plans is also ready for the next sub-release of WorkCenter, when customizable marketing campaigns will be available. The left-hand side features panes for Contacts, Reports, and Webs and Wizards. Some functions such as the Reports feature may be accessed in the left-hand pane, or from the tab on the right hand side.

WorkCenter offers a true relational database structure. Multiple sources of data can be linked together and managed within one interface, and an Import Wizard allows the user to easily bring in leads lists in a variety of formats, including text, Excel, XML, and Access. A Microsoft Outlook plug in is provided to integrate WorkCenter with Outlook e-mail, as well as to easily allow the exchange of Outlook contact information with WorkCenter. WorkCenter also allows data export to the very fine Agosoft Loan Analyzer and Comparator (previously reviewed in M.O.M.), as well as Mortgage Coach. Data exchange with FNMA 3.2 format is coming in the next version.

Contacts and Scheduling
WorkCenter provides a panel that is roughly similar to Microsoft Outlook. A list of contacts appears in the left-hand panel, and each record is highlighted within a panel in the right-hand side. I was amazed at how intuitive the interface was, after having learned the ACT techniques of using key combinations or the menu commands. In WorkCenter, you only need to type in the first few letters of the person’s last name to see the record highlighted on the left. A simple click will bring this record up in the right-hand side to review particular information.

Once you have opened up the record, you may use the system like any other contact management system. It is a matter of either a right hand mouse click to schedule an appointment, call, breakfast, drinks after work, and so on, or the contact may be dragged onto a calendar where the user can then highlight the date and time the activity is desired. This drag and drop capability is much easier to use than the scheduling capability within ACT!.

Alarms will appear on a regular schedule, consistent with what the user has decided they want to appear during setup of the program. Unlike ACT!, the alarms do not block your view of the contact information screen, but are located in the lower right corner, visible but not disruptive. Key activities may be scheduled by clicking icons on the top, for calls, appointments, and others. Any user of Outlook or ACT! should have no problems adapting to this basic layout in a few minutes.

A feature called Contacts List Manager provides the equivalent of Grouping in ACT!, but is more versatile and powerful. Dragging and dropping allows contacts to be added to a list, and a rule may be developed and employed if desired, to automatically bring contacts into a selected list. An optional do not call list module allows the user engaged in telemarketing to be notified when contacts were accessed that should not be called. This do not call list capability can be subscribed to by area code, and maintained by the main servers at vForms headquarters in Redmond, WA.

Data Synchronization
vForms has already established itself in the market as an efficient data transfer and merging tool with various Loan Origination Systems, and the vSync feature has been heavily used by mortgage professionals. I expected a powerful and relatively seamless exchange of data with Point, and I was not disappointed. As had been the case with vSync, this process appears to be genuinely robust in its operation.

Once you have designated the folder or folders in Point that you want synchronized, you simply have to create a new file in Point, and upon the next synchronization with WorkCenter, the new files would automatically appear in WorkCenter. If you elect to synchronize the files regularly, you will find that not only are all the new files added but also the existing files in WorkCenter will receive the most current updated information from Point.

If data folder management is done correctly within Point (files are moved to the appropriate archive folder upon closing), the system will automatically break the link between Point and WorkCenter once a loan is completed. All subsequent contact management activity would be performed within WorkCenter. I do recognize that two-way synchronization would be desirable, and I have been assured this will be added in an early sub-release, including customizable scheduling and field triggers.

Mail Merging
A simple mail merge is achievable by simply clicking on a library item from within the Library tab, located along the top. Double clicking a letter will allow the user to generate a mail merge letter or e-mail on the fly. This has always been the strong point of ACT over other contact management systems, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was even easier in WorkCenter. I simply moved from the contact list on the left to the Library tab of letters on the right. Upon double clicking the desired marketing letter, it appeared within several seconds, within its own Word compatible word processor.

It was a simple matter to select the mail merge dropdown list, and merge data from the Contact list, or from Loans, or directly from Point. While key contact information is available from the Contacts tab, you may always elect to merge data directly from the loan file itself when loan specific information is desired. Inserting mail merge fields was essentially either a drag-and-drop operation, or the selection of the appropriate location in the marketing document followed by double clicking of the mail merge field.

I tried to bring in a document from Microsoft Word, and discovered that a number of formats were supported. I simply dragged the document from my desktop and dropped it into the Library window on the portion of the list of documents that I wanted it to appear. It was very easy to edit existing documents by inserting a graphic or logo if desired.

Reporting on Your Activity
WorkCenter features a report generator that summarizes your contact activity. This report generator allows one to run reports on activity within the loan origination system, the contacts section of WorkCenter, or both at the same time. If I want to easily answer such questions as “Active Loans” or All Loans Cancelled,” I may select the desired report from the left hand list of reports once I have selected the Reports tab on the right or bottom left. Almost immediately, the list of associated contacts will appear on the right side, along with any documents or letters associated with that status, all available in the date sequence the associated question was made. A heavy degree of customization is also available in this part of WorkCenter, but the built-in reports are very adequate to answer the major questions that you might want to ask about your office origination and marketing activities.

Conclusion
WorkCenter will offer automated marketing campaigns in the next sub-release of the existing product, once sufficient feedback has been gained to allow the developers to accurately forecast how these campaigns should be structured. Online automated updating is a key feature of WorkCenter, and these updates will be performed automatically as they become available.

This is a very impressive first generation product, from an acknowledged industry leader in data exchange and synchronization. Among other advantages, it is demonstrably faster in operation than the latest versions of ACT!. It is an admittedly complex product, with an array of features that I have only touched upon. Even for long term ACT! fanatics such as myself, the existing features and long-term potential are a real temptation to make a switch.

If you will devote the time to setup and learn a sophisticated package such as WorkCenter, the rewards will be considerable in improved follow-up with your referral customers, as well as more effective management of your loans while they are in process.

By Stephen Breden

Technology Presents for 2017

As this is being written, we are just a few days before Christmas 2016. What new technology did you find in your Christmas stocking? Technology tools that will help you build a stronger business this year? There is certainly no lack of options to choose from, although for some of them, you’d need an extra large stocking. Following are a few of the tools and products that will help you get the most out of your business this year.

A Wireless Network—While this technology is still developing, the convenience of anywhere access within your office is tough to beat. Work at your desk, carry the laptop to the conference room to work with clients, or conduct training. No difference in how you use your machine.

You can connect to other systems within your office. You can add a video projector for marketing presentations. You can add a music system to provide background music throughout your office from a PC server. The list of options continues to grow as new tools enter the marketplace.

As wireless systems proliferate to more hotels, airports, coffee shops, libraries, and so on, you gain the ability to work from more venues, thus gaining even more opportunities to expand your business.

A Digital Camera—These tools are extremely helpful when creating marketing materials, such as open house fliers, marketing comparison enhancements, post-closing communications, such as just moved photo cards. You can enhance your client records with photos and use the camera to help promote consumer-direct events.

You don’t need to be on the “bleeding edge” with this. While camera resolution is important, four mega-pixels or more will be adequate for enlargements up to 16 by 20 inches, a size you will only rarely use.

The important features are that the camera is easy to use, small enough so you will actually carry it with you, and have a built in flash, and a basic zoom lens to handle various size compositions without excessive running back and forth to frame the shot.

While you don’t need to buy film or pay for processing to see your results, you will find that an extra data card or two will come in handy. Also, consider the battery life for the unit. Mine uses rechargeable (15 minutes to full charge) batteries so two sets are sufficient.

A Digital Scanner—Scanning technology has come down in price to about $500 for a functional unit with automatic paper feeders good enough to handle loan paperwork. By creating a file image, you can distribute the data throughout your office while leaving the paper securely stored in your file cabinets.

All the work can be done with the image file. Organize with specific lender stacking orders. Scan support data for other documentation, eliminate lost file items, and keep client records separated for easy recall. Scan tax returns, bankruptcy documents, and divorce paperwork and you will not have to ask for that data again for that client (other than taxes each year).

You can copy the scanned data along with your LOS loan data records onto a CD or, if you need more room, use a DVD for long-term storage. Much smaller to store than boxes upon boxes of old files. In most states, if you copy your final loan files to image form on non-changeable media, you will not need to retain the paper files. Check with your local regulator for the law in your location.

External System Hard Drive Back-up—Lose your data files, lose your business. The importance of routine daily back-up can’t be overstressed. But it is not enough to simply back-up to tape or other media unless you remove a copy from the premises for safekeeping.

The fastest way to back-up today’s larger hard drives is to copy everything to another hard drive. External drives with capacities of 360 GB are readily available for under $300. Using high-speed USB connections, the file transfer rates are reasonable for most offices. If your company is bigger than that, you will likely have an IT staff to administer this process for you. However, for a small broker, a one-click hard drive back-up is very welcome.

Many mortgage companies miss doing this critical step and seem to get away with it just fine—as long as nothing happens. But hard drives are mechanical equipment with delicate parts spinning at high speeds. If something happens, it is often very bad indeed. With current back-ups available, restoring your business is just a matter of installing a replacement drive and restoring your data. Without a back-up, restoration is only possible by hand entering all the original data again—if you have it all available.

Portable GPS Navigator—Are you lost? Late for an appointment and find the road you know blocked with traffic? If your current car does not have a built in navigation system, one of these little devices can save the day. GPS is a satellite-based system that is accurate to within a few feet.

You get voice notification of turn-by-turn directions to get anywhere you need to be. This is much safer than reading a map or even printed turn-by-turn directions you printed. If you work in a large metropolitan area, these devices can be lifesavers in a literal sense as they let you focus your attention on the external scene around your car, not the fine print on a map. If you make a mistake and take a wrong turn, the system will reanalyze your position and create an alternative route on the fly.

Color Laser Printer—Nothing says it like color. When you print marketing materials, whether from your LOS system or other software, the difference of appropriate color is dramatic. Color helps you focus the borrower’s attention on what they need to see. Color can provide an accurate replacement for otherwise expensive letterhead to further enhance your company image.

Color printing technology was initially limited to either using an inkjet printer, or to very wealthy folks who could spring for a $20,000 piece of hardware. But now, color laser printers are available for under $1,000 with good speed and excellent color representation. You can use these for photo reproduction in property brochures that make standard open house fliers seem almost primitive.

The Apple I-Pod—This leader of the pack product is not just for storing music, but the current model allows you to store photos as well. Photos of happy clients and homes sold that you financed. The list goes on to the extent of your imagination. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket and it is easy to carry with you for instant use. Of course, you may wish to retain a little space in the device memory for suitable music to enhance your ability to recharge your personal batteries during some down time.

Do you really need everything on this list for the way you work? Perhaps you already have similar tools that work well for you. If those tools are more than a couple of years old, you will be impressed with the improvements in the current models. In technology, every year produces better products for less money. There are also bragging rights to the latest technology tools that some people enjoy.

Proof of concept is how any technology tool will help you become more efficient at your primary task—creating and closing quality loans. The items on this list will help you do that for 2017.

Software Review – Product Spotlight

Product Spotlight

MorSystems has introduced the third version of the Borroware® client loan application system. Borroware allows originators to provide their clients a choice of application options. The pre-approval requires just enough information necessary for a loan originator to run a credit check and pre-approve a client. When the client is ready to complete the full application (online or downloadable), the information from the pre-approval is already in the application. When the originator receives the file, they save and import it to their loan origination system. Borroware is branded to each loan originator through the MorSystems Web site.

Rate Consolidator software (from Arieysoft, LLC) provides loan originators with a sole source for lender rate sheets. Rate sheets are pre-sorted and organized, with the latest interest rates available. Rate Consolidator includes a tool bar customized so that users are able to view their lenders’ information.

Ellie Mae’s Encompass 2.0 includes several new features including a loan template that enables users to pre-populate fields with common data such as loan program, forms lists, and closing costs. A custom milestones feature is aimed at enhancing business manageability by allowing users to tailor/adapt milestones to their individual business flow. Version 2.0 also includes a new integrated calendar and scheduler and an expanded contact manager.

Palisades Technology Partners’ version 4.0 of the Impact Software Suite includes independent XML services, including good faith estimate fees calculation service, loan pricing service, lending compliance service, and mortgage loan calculations service. The Impact Mortgage Suite provides support for customers’ existing enterprise workflow tools, in addition to an out-of-the-box document delivering system featuring mapping, auto-selecting and online previewing functions, and remote printing and sending of standard and custom documents.

BilingualUniversity.com offers training for bilingual Spanish-speaking loan originators. The Web site was developed as a partnership of Bilingual Scout and Mortgage-Education.com. BilingualUniversity.com will be a key part of MiCasaPrestamos.com, a Web site for Spanish-speaking homebuyers. MiCasaPrestamos.com displays mortgage companies that employ Spanish-speaking loan officers, along with information on purchasing a home, down payment assistance, and other homebuyer information.

Getting Back to the Basics

We tend to think of the latest and greatest, and the cutting edge, when we think of technology. There are some very minor, seemingly unimportant annoyances in our offices that really cost us time and productivity, which we can cure with very simple technology fixes. Even more importantly, they are issues related to our misapplication of technology.

The Wayward Mouse
Nothing infuriates me more than to sit down at a computer to work and find that the mouse acts erratically, as if it had a mind of its own, or as if I were trying to operate it through a layer of slow moving molasses. What is more amazing is the number of computer users who put up with this kind of behavior, knowing that things are not working quite right, and yet not taking the time or trouble to correct it.

I am referring to the universal tendency for a computer mouse that uses a mechanical ball to pick up debris and oil from your own hands, and transfer this to the internal rollers to the point it gums up their ability to smoothly move the mouse ball with any degree of precision. The mouse will still operate, but is visibly difficult to run smoothly, and will frequently catch and hang up as the ball attempts to run across the hopelessly clogged rollers.

For the most part, what you should do is throw every mechanical mouse in the office into the garbage and run down and pick up a good inexpensive optical mouse that will never require cleaning, and will always operate more smoothly. These can be obtained for $20 to $30 dollars, and are much more satisfying for a heavy computer user than the older mechanical ball style mouse.

If you are unable to replace the errant mouse, simply remove the ball from the bottom of the mouse by twisting the visible plastic panel that contains the ball. Then use the end of a paper clip to carefully chip away at the visible band of collected goo that has clogged the rollers, and that will look and act like hardened cement. It will come free if you are careful and persistent, providing another two or three months before the next cleaning.

Shaking Monitor Display Syndrome
Many Windows users operate a monitor that has never been properly adjusted for correct display of the information offered by the programs in use. Several factors need to be considered.

Most importantly, there is an adjustment called video refresh rate that will dramatically affect your long-term visual fatigue from using a monitor. If this number is set too low, such as 60 Hz (cycles per second), the picture will have an obvious flicker that will cause serious eye fatigue and thoroughly irritate any heavy user of that computer. I have seen processors use machines for months with this problem and never complain, and act shocked when I readjust their monitor for a more pleasing, non-flickering refresh rate.

Simply right click the mouse on the Windows desktop, and left click on properties. Then click on Settings, and Advanced, and Adapter tabs. Finally, click on List All Modes. Set the monitor for a resolution of at least 800 by 600, with 16 bit or higher color depth. Make sure that the final number is set for at least 70 Hz if you are using a conventional monitor. If you are using an LCD monitor, the normal default of 60 Hz is acceptable since the flicker is not noticeable on the persistent display characteristics of an LCD monitor. Try doing this with a conventional monitor and it will really improve your comfort factor with the monitor.

Memory Starved Processor
It is truly amazing how many company owners will hire a number of expensive employees, and then provide them with the latest computers with deficient memory configurations, just so they can save a few dollars when the acquire their equipment. For example, a minimally specified Windows XP based desktop computer will frequently be supplied with 256 (or even 128) Mbyte of silicon based Random Access Memory. With this memory-starved configuration, the operating system will barely load into the available memory without having to swap to the hard drive. When additional work is brought up on the machine, such as using Outlook and Word, the machine will consistently have to use the hard drive (much slower) than the lightning fast results that you get by having enough memory to allow normal operation without disk swapping.

This computer user may spend an additional 10 to 20 minutes per day waiting for programs to load on the computer, or in switching from one application to another. Over a year, this can result in a real productivity hit against an employee, not to mention their ongoing frustration and resentment about working with such an unsatisfying work implement. The answer? Never specify any modern computer, either at home or the office, unless it has 512Mbyte of RAM. Real power users should have 1 Gbtye of RAM. It currently costs less than $100 for 512 Byte of RAM (I run a Dell Latitude, with 1 Gbyte of RAM, and a correctly configured optical mouse and LCD display). If machines have less than 512 MBtye of RAM, then either upgrade them or replace them with an entirely new machine. While you are at it, always go for more RAM over a slightly faster yet significantly more expensive microprocessor. The faster microprocessor gets all the marketing hype, but the RAM does the real job in speeding up overall business productivity.

Preventing Installation Blues
Hardly a week goes by that one of my associates doesn’t call me upset because they have installed a new program, and now their computer runs like a sick animal. Having been through this a few times, I understand the frustration completely. For this reason, I actually run two computers at home. Computer one is my main work computer, and the only things on are my copy of Winfax Pro, so I can see my faxes remotely when I am out of town, and minimal installations of Microsoft Office and my basic installation of Calyx Point in case I need a quick back-up installation for my online classes. Computer two is where all the multimedia “toys” are. If I inadvertently install something on Computer two that doesn’t work right, I don’t spend a week trying to get it back to normal so I can at least get my important work done. My really important programs are installed on my Dell laptop, which I try to avoid installing frivolous programs into.

Actually there is a simpler solution that will bail you out, especially if you don’t like having six computers around. The answer is to always install a program after you have created a Windows Restore Point from within the help utilities accessible from the Start button. By creating a restore point, and then installing your latest programs, you can always roll back the computer to exactly where you were before installing the errant application. This will allow you to experiment without endangering your valuable workstation for serious work, in case you need to simply get the machine back to exactly where it was before you started with the new application. If you are unsure of how to do this, simply click on Start, Help and Support, and then Undo Changes to Your System With System Restore. This feature is easily the most valuable feature provided with Windows XP, and one you should use whenever the urge hits you to start “adding” to an already perfectly functional computer.

These are some of my favorite hints to save you time and irritation. Above all, we need to remember that the correct use of technology does not necessarily require always spending a lot of money, time, and acquiring a highly visible new toy or technique. We may be overlooking some of the most common irritants with some of the easiest repairs, such as the ones I have mentioned. I am sure you will find other simple, yet valuable things that you can also use to improve your productivity and lower your frustration level.

By Stephen Breden

Product Profiles

Products and services of interest to originators, lenders, and others.

Entyre has released version 2.0 of eMortgageX4™, featuring new X4 e-Collaboration Engine capabilities. The Engine was designed to provide lenders with the ability to “easily customize” the communication process between all parties in the closing process. According to Entyre, users can reduce their closing and post-closing costs by delivering enhanced, “more accurate, and compliant closing documents.” It uses an “advanced,” open architecture platform and SOAP/XML transfer protocol. X4 enables brokers, closing agents, and consumers to collaborate electronically and to confirm and enforce data accuracy and compliance.

GainClients, Inc. has introduced a new automated template-based Web site service to real estate and mortgage professionals. The GainClients Web site system allows users to incorporate the Internet into their total marketing package and extend their personal/corporate brand on to the Web. Homebuyers can educate themselves with the purchasing process, preview and “short list” the choices they want to consider, and communicate with agents. GainClients gives users the ability to manage their own Web site with automated functions and features.

Office Capture, a paper-to-electronic document program developed for low-volume document conversion and management environments, has been released by DocuLex. DocuLex Office Capture enables document scanning, content indexing, image quality control, optical character recognition (OCR) conversion, image coding and endorsing, electronic document conversion (PDF image + text, TIFF, or JPG formatting), and printing, including export capabilities. Office Capture is a Windows-based, open-system format, and according to DocuLex, is “easy to operate for document imaging beginners while flexible for experienced users.”  

Sysdome, Inc. has unveiled the Sysdome Broker Score® program to “advance industry standards and support professionalism” among broker originators via a national registry.  Based upon its scoring logic algorithms, Sysdome will rate individual brokers with a “score” to be shared with both the broker and Sysdome’s lender customers. Sysdome assigns an identifying number associated with individual originators, and stores their Broker Score findings in a proprietary relational database.  Key broker/originator data reviewed by the Broker Score program includes: state licensing agency status check, derogatory state licensing information search, and OFAC compliance review in accordance with the U.S. Patriot Act. Through an annual subscription service, brokers can monitor their lender-accessible score, as well as their employees’ scores; have the opportunity to explain irregularities; and dispute incorrect information through verifiable documentation. 

MBA Technology Report

I just returned from the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) National Technology in Mortgage Banking Conference. This year’s conference certainly lived up to its reputation of being a looking glass into our future. One of the more compelling trends, which I expect to continue to gain momentum, is the ability for wholesale Web sites to pre-qualify a borrower for you. IndyMac released their QuickPricer(sm) feature available from their e-MITS® Web site. The idea is to allow the wholesalers to qualify your borrower rather than you doing it based upon a difficult set of qualifying criteria such as ratio’s, assets and others. Within seconds, you can quote your customer several rate and point combinations and even offer pricing on different products. More importantly, you are in essence getting a pre-approval as the borrower is actually being underwritten. Ultimately, you’ll take a loan application and go through this process with your top three or four wholesalers that would likely want the loan at hand. You’ll instantly be able to provide highly accurate pricing to your customer and not have to worry that you didn’t read a complicated rate sheet properly. Of course, the data all flows from your loan origination system (LOS) so it literally requires just a few clicks. There are a couple of other wholesalers that have adopted this feature. Soon, mortgage brokers will prefer to work with these lenders and shun those that don’t offer such a terrific tool.
The exhibit hall had quite a few new companies from a couple of new categories. In years past, we saw waves of new start-ups setup booths for each new wave of technology. In the mid-90s we saw many video conferencing vendors. Just prior, we saw new Windows-based LOS vendors. All of these start-ups are out of business as video conferencing never caught on and the entrenched LOS vendors came out with their own windows products, which won over the industry. This year, I saw many vendors offering electronic signature and digitized document solutions. While I do believe such technology will catch on, we are probably several years away from widespread adoption. It is great that we have these companies trying to plow new waters as it helps educate the industry and can push things along. I think digital signatures will become widespread for the up-front disclosure packages but it will be a long time before we see them at the closing table.
One of the hot topics being discussed around the aisles was the transaction platforms. They are all experiencing strong growth and it’s clear that this year, “they have arrived.” They are showing widespread usage by the industry. Some have been in development for years, but sometimes that’s how long it takes from the point a technology is available to the point that it gains widespread acceptance in the industry. One of the panel sessions was called “Transaction Platform Shootout” and it consisted of myself representing Ellie Mae and representatives from RealEC, eMagic and Ocwen Technology. The overriding message was that each platform has different strengths and weaknesses and more importantly, there are times that you may want to use more than one. In fact, for vendors, they should be on at least two of these industry portals. Most of the discussions centered around how successful each was and who would win the various categories these portals play in.

While I only saw one vendor that was promoting their hosting solutions for loan origination systems (LOSs), it was clear that they had some traction with over 160 mortgage companies. Their solutions allow a multi-branch operation to access their LOS over the Internet. This allows all data to be centralized and accessible from anywhere. I believe they are generally more expensive but for some companies they can be a good solution. Over time, I think these solutions will generally remain at a small percentage of the marketplace, but it is a solution every multi-branch operation should look at.
There was also a vendor promoting its solutions for recording offices—perhaps the last segment of our industry that will ever become automated. It’s great to see a firm pushing into this area,we need to get these government ran offices up to speed. Once they are automated, the entire industry can become more efficient. Even this software vendor admits it will be years before a decent percentage of these offices have adopted electronic documents but they have installed their solutions in many offices so far. Some, like those in Orange County, Calif., are quite large.
Each year this premier technology conference brings new and exciting solutions. This year was more exciting than most and we can look forward to more efficient times ahead.

By Scott Cooley

InterActive vForms

While I was recently demonstrating the virtues of creating Adobe PDF files for purposes of e-mailing original loan documents to a client, he proudly mentioned that he had a program called InterActive vForms that did this and much more. After using the product myself, I am happy to say that it goes a huge step beyond the simple creation of these files, and at only slightly more in cost than the regular Adobe Acrobat Distiller that I have been using.
The main panel of vForms contains buttons that provide various data-linking capabilities, depending on the specific programs that you choose to integrate it with. During the installation process, you may choose to merge data into the program from a variety of sources, including any of several popular loan origination systems or contact managers. I set my copy up to integrate Point for Windows and ACT!—a common enough requirement for loan originators.
The product easily allowed me to take any of my borrowers, prospects, or contacts inside of ACT! and merge the desired data into the built-in marketing fliers and letters in vForms. A simple drag-and-drop technique allowed me to easily select the desired data, in a way far different from data manipulation with other products.
My single complaint was in regard to the time required to bring up my voluminous ACT! database to extract data from one user. In cases like this, I would recommend using vForms on a computer with ample memory and processor resources, to keep things from becoming bogged down.
The vForms Printer allows you to e-mail any completed document from your loan origination system (LOS), including the Good Faith Estimate, TIL, 1003, and other documents and disclosures. In this regard, vForms functions like Adobe Acrobat in its ability to generate PDF files that may be easily e-mailed.
In addition, vForms comes with an extensive library of interactive forms, including the 1003 and many disclosures that may be “interactively” reviewed and completed by the receiver of the e-mail. The only software required by the borrower is a copy of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available on the vast majority of all computers in use today and can be downloaded free if not already installed. A Preview option enables users to view forms at different zoom levels prior to opening them for editing.
The rich text format (RTF) program, a standard available on all Windows PCs, allows you to create custom letters and e-mail messages that can be automatically populated with the data from the LOS or contact management software. The user has only to click on a borrower or contact from within the left-hand pane of the main panel of the program, and then select the preprogrammed RTF form and print or e-mail it.
The product provides several graphic capabilities, including custom placement of your company logo in the Forms Library. If users want to custom place their own pictures or a picture of a specific home from an Internet site, vForms requires these pictures to be saved in a .jpg file format to be viewed and printed in the fliers. It is easy to obtain pictures of individual real estate agents and their listings from publicly available Web sites, and these pictures may be easily placed in the vForms Library to add impact and to customize them for those receiving the marketing documents. If a digital camera is used to obtain these pictures, they may also be easily transferred from the camera for placement within the fliers.
vForms provides a valuable bundle of features to allow more efficient extraction of data as available to the loan officer, and to allow the merging of this data automatically into forms and disclosures. It enables you to e-mail these forms and provides the borrower with the ability to complete and edit them. Finally, the product provides a powerful print preview function in conjunction with its basic ability to generate PDF files for e-mailing. vForms is well worth its nominal cost, considering the variety of things that it does.

By Stephen Breden

The Mortgage Office

Most mortgage companies have settled on one of several loan origination systems (LOS) for their loan origination and processing needs. While most of these products are specific to the area of loan origination and processing, I have been looking at a product that is a bundle of services for the mortgage office, including a number of functions.

Installation of The Mortgage Office takes a few minutes and a call to the tech support department to obtain a key that is associated with your specific computer ID. This factor makes it nearly impossible for anyone to “‘borrow”‘ your software and set up their business on it, a problem I have seen with other systems that were not copy protected.

Opening the demo version that I was provided with allowed me to access the files of a mythical company called World Mortgage Company, and I entered a user name and password to enter the main database. A clearly marked menu at the top contained the standard set of Windows icons, as well as some that are proprietary to The Mortgage Office. Under Modules, I noted that the system provided the following sets of functions: Loan Origination, Loan Servicing, Trust Accounting, Partnership Servicing, Collateralized Mortgage Obligation, DRE Annual Reporting, ACH Express, Financial Calculator, and Credit Reporting. While it was clear that the system could be used by any mortgage broker, it may be of most interest to a California based broker doing private trust deed investments and note sales—so-called “hard money lending” (the area in which I started in the mortgage business back in 1989).

The Loan Origination module contains a number of features that can be selected from a menu structure. Open and Pending Originations and Note Sales appear to be the modules you would routinely use. After clicking on the Open Originations button, a spreadsheet appears with a line for each transaction in the database. Clicking on the particular line allows the user to select that transaction for further processing. This new menu has icons at the left-hand side for General Information, Borrowers, Funding, Properties, Terms, and a number of other items. The program is structured so that any or all of these windows can be left up at the same time to allow the user to switch easily to the desired section, rather then moving in and out of the existing window, as is very common with many programs. One is essentially “drilling down” into the program to get to the level of detail desired within a particular transaction.

A Financial Calculator module allows for a number of sophisticated results to be obtained, including Amortization Schedule, Negotiate Loan, Calculate APR, Fully Amortized, Interest, Calculate Yield, Balloon Payment, Current, Balance, and several others. Negotiate Loan covers all the details of a transaction, including terms, payoffs, yields, and commissions to be factored together. These items are all on one screen, in a manner commonly done with financial calculators to obtain yield or purchase price, as an example.

Other modules are available to allow for Loan Servicing, including payment and check disbursement, which can be a major headache to any private money lender trying to manage multiple trust deed investments and funds on both the investor and borrower side.

Maybe of most interest to me was the heavy focus on marketing, reporting, and preparation of required forms and disclosures in the program. As I well know from personal experience, it is absolutely essential to correctly disclose in these types of transactions for Department of Real Estate (DRE) compliance, and to provide the necessary reporting and trust accounting to meet DRE requirements. This program is obviously a real help to the private money lender doing business in California, and who finds other LOS systems inadequate for these types of requirements.
Additional features include its ability to operate with multiple companies, allowing the user to keep separate databases. The built-in security used in The Mortgage Office protects data with a system of passwords. Access can be restricted down to the user level, and can even allow for limited access on the basis of a particular workstation or time of day.

The Mortgage Office can be purchased in any of several configurations, depending on your specific requirements. I think any broker considering such a product should call the sales and marketing department at Applied Business Software for a specific quote centered on their particular private money lending operation and its requirements.

By Stephen Breden