Rookie SuperStar of the Month – Debbie Zermeno

Rookie SuperStar
Debbie Zermeno
Newport Beach, Calif.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

Number of Loans

Mary Vachon-Cobb, mother and originator
Steve Glass, Branch Manager

Advice to New Originators:
“Make a business plan. If you don’t have a plan to follow, you will never get to where you want to be.”

“You could almost say I was genetically engineered to do this,” says Debbie Zermeno.

Zermeno, an originator with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Newport Beach, Calif., closed over $68 million on 248 loans in her rookie year. She attributes her first year success to a few things—namely growing up in the business. With her mother, Mary Vachon (also with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and a M.O.M. top 200 originator), and stepfather both in the real estate business, Zermeno was exposed early to the intricacies of the housing industry. “I gained a lot of knowledge working with my mom during the summers,” says Zermeno. “I learned how to close transactions, I knew about such things as closing costs, FHA, and title reports when I was 17.”

Zermeno took the real estate exam and was a licensed agent as soon as she turned 18. Originally, she intended to work part-time as a Realtor and put herself through college. When it became more of a full-time career than planned, she decided to move with her husband to Chicago and pursue a degree in business management. After giving birth to a son two years later, Zermeno decided that it was time to get back into the industry—but this time as an originator.

“I love it,” she says; now well into her second year in the mortgage business. “It offers much more of a scheduled day, you can leave the office without any worries, and I enjoy working with first time homebuyers—they are absolutely grateful.”

Four years of experience as a Realtor has allowed Zermeno to take advantage of the contacts and friends she made before becoming an originator. “A lot of Realtors knew me from when I was an agent,” she says. “It helps that I have already been in the business; since they knew me from before, they feel comfortable referring clients.”

Zermeno’s first loan came when a Realtor who was in near desperation to get a loan closed, called with a plea for help. Zermeno had him bring in the entire package, and with assistance from her manager, priced out the loan and managed a five-day close. Such success did not always come so easily during her first year. “You fall on your face so many times,” she says matter-of-factly. “Especially when I moved up from the $500-600,000 range to a million-plus—the guidelines change and you realize you can’t do as many things that you thought you could.”

In the area of marketing, Zermeno sends out customized payment comparison letters that display the difference in monthly payments a new loan program could offer. These letters are sent to a specific-zone that she primarily markets to, and the lists of names and addresses are obtained from the title company. Additionally, Zermeno distributes fliers to renters with a similar rate comparison breakdown. These letters target potential first time homebuyers who may not realize homeownership is achievable. All marketing materials are designed, posted, and sent out by an outside firm (based on Company approval). “This is a great thing for us,” says Zermeno. “Otherwise, I may never have the time to send anything out!”

When it comes to Realtors, the marketing materials sent out encourage a constant flow of communication. “We send out a ‘Pick of the Pros’ postcard during NFL season, that Realtors have to send back in with their winning selections,” she says. The entrant whose pick is closest to the outcome wins a small prize. “Another is our ‘Let’s Get Cooking’ Campaign, which asks questions about cooking and recipes.” Such interactive materials create enthusiasm and involvement from her Realtor contacts, and include her personal contact information for their convenience.

Zermeno maintains that it is essential to be consistent and persistent with all mailings. “Always include your name and the same picture—the more people see your face, the more real and the more familiar you become to them.”

Even though she now originates out of a different area, Zermeno maintains consistent business from her previous Realtor connections. The distance doesn’t create a problem as she does about 90 percent of her business over the phone, and distributes an 800 number for those out of the immediate area.

Generating 45 percent of her business through purchases should allow for Zermeno to carry success over into her second year. However, she is not going to settle for just any success. “I definitely plan to surpass what I closed last year, my goal is to reach $100 million this year.” Zermeno plans to accomplish this by following the business plan she set at the beginning of the year. “I am marketing to my past and current clients at least once every month,” she says. These mailings are more informal reminders and a means to simply maintain visibility with her clients. Items include such things as Los Angeles Lakers’ and Dodgers’ schedules, which have her contact information for easy reference.

Zermeno relies on two very experienced originators for advice when she needs it—her mom and her branch manager. “I can come to my mom with any questions,” she says. “And my manager is available any time of the day—he puts his gloves on and gets right into the middle of it.”

But what’s most important to Zermemo in the workplace is her team. “A strong team makes all the difference in the world,” she says. “You can only produce more if you have a strong team. My production doubled when I got a reliable, knowledgeable assistant.” In the past she and her husband Juan Zermeno were Realtors together, now they’re still on the same team, as he works as a sales associate with her. “It’s great,” Zermeno says. “I am completely the salesperson, and he is very organized.” With a three-year old son, their respective skills also come in handy at home. “We have a great system at home, too,” she says. “Juan works part-time and I am disciplined about working 40-45 hours a week, which helps me to stay focused.”

–Gretchen Lees

Deb Klein

Deb Klein – GMAC Mortgage


Favorite Quote
“If you can dream it, then you can achieve it.
–Walt Disney

With several years under her belt as a successful Internet salesperson, Deb Klein decided it was time to reconsider her career path. With a demanding schedule and even more demanding sales quotas, Klein felt that her efforts weren’t rewarded enough on a personal level. “I wanted to control my own destiny,” she said. She ruled out financial planning because both her husband and mother work in the field and she wanted to do something different, but was drawn to similar careers. “I love analyzing numbers and working with finances.” After a conversation with her neighbor and friend who is in the mortgage business, Klein thought she may have found the perfect fit. “Originating seemed that it would offer me the flexibility I needed with three children, the income potential I was looking for, and it would allow me to make a difference in people’s lives.”

With personal ties to GM (several family members live in Michigan and either work or worked for the automobile arm), Klein, had always had a preference for the company. Coincidentally, her neighbor worked for the mortgage division of General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), and spoke well of her experience there. Klein interviewed with GMAC in Tempe, Ariz. and was soon after headed for a six-week mortgage-training program in Atlanta, Ga. (sponsored by the company). Upon her return, she received some additional training from the company regarding systems and product developments, but according to Klein, “training is never over; there are always things to learn and ways to do better.”

Initially, she made her new career known only to select people, including previous co-workers, neighbors and some of the agents in the Keller Williams office (with which GMAC has a joint-marketing agreement). Slightly trepidacious, Klein waited to promote her business high and wide until she had established confidence with the loan process and her support team, and was comfortable with the amount of business she could handle. “Looking back I should have had more confidence in the beginning,” said Klein, “but it was so new to me, and I was more afraid of making an error on a loan for someone in my immediate sphere of influence than anything else.” Her first loans came in from a few agents she had made an initial connection with and from floor calls. “The first 10 were painful—I was detail-oriented to a fault and was so nervous about something going wrong.” Nothing did, and Klein was on her way to a rookie year volume of over $14 million on 92 loans.

In the beginning, she also turned to her financial planner husband for some guidance and contacts in various areas of the professional world, but found that it was completely up to her to develop her own reputation as a skilled originator. “I was able to make contact with some builders and CPAs and present my services, but there were no givens when it came to generating loans from them,” said Klein. “I had to earn my way by a proven closing record and an ability to establish trust with them and their clients.”

Klein sends a rate-watch letter to her database, especially those who may be ready for a refinance, and also a quarterly newsletter, but remains skeptical of the success of mail pieces and other print marketing. “I think we are all so overwhelmed with mail that such things just tend to get lost in the shuffle,” she said. “I also placed an ad in the local paper during my first six months and I put my name on a four-color flier that was passed out at the grocery store—the first one generated one call and that was it,” said Klein. What she does believe in, however, is the value of a simple phone call. “I completely believe in the importance of ‘personal touch.’ I call clients on the year anniversary of their mortgage, on their birthday and if I notice that their loan may be worth refinancing,” she said. “These calls remind them of who you are and often generate in a refi on a second, or at the very least a referral to a friend.”

During her first year, Klein found the biggest challenge to be managing her pipeline. “There are so many peaks and valleys when it comes to this business,” she said. “Everything’s coming at you at one time and then all of sudden there’s a lapse and you want to relax, but really that is the time you should be up out of your seat and prospecting.”

With an Executive MBA from Arizona State University and having grown up “entrenched in [the] financial planning ‘speak,’ of her financial advisor mother, Klein considers educating clients one of her specialties. “I find that the more time you spend explaining how to increase their overall wealth, the more likely you are to develop a repeat client,” she said. “Client retention is about so much more than just quoting rate and term. Becoming a trusted advisor also creates more referrals in the end.”

Now well into her second year, Klein hopes to surpass her goal of $24 million in volume—and she’s sees the key to success as prospecting. “I have a tendency to be in the office too much, and I notice that getting out of the office and meeting with people literally makes the phone ring,” she said. “I have also learned that you cannot work with everybody. My goal is to target top agents and be smarter about who I work with. It is important to work with people whose value systems matches your own.”

To establish new contacts, Klein has begun reviewing purchase contracts for the listing agents and then targeting those she knows are top ranked in her area. “If I spot one of those agents, I make an extra effort to “wow” them during the transaction and then I ask for 15 minutes of their time once the loan closes” said Klein. “They usually have been so impressed with my diligent updates, they are open to meeting with me.”

Having established a balanced workweek and a manageable pipeline, Klein is now able to spend more time with her three children and husband. “I am so happy,” she said about the choice to pursue originating. “The best thing about this career—you create your own road to success.”

–Gretchen Lees

Brandon Nicely

Brandon Nicely

Number of Loans – 132

Mentors: His grandfather 

Favorite Book: “Killing the Sale,” by Todd Duncan

Second-Year Goal: “Generating nine more prospects from each borrower.”

At 23-years old and only a little more than a year removed from college, Brandon Nicely finds it difficult sometimes to conceal his age.  “People often ask me, ‘How old are you? Are you qualified?'” said the Blacksburg, Va. originator.  “I have to work harder to earn their trust.  I enjoy the task of trying to overcome the disadvantage.”
In his rookie year, Nicely proved successful in instilling confidence in his customers, generating nearly $15 million in loans on 132 units.
While a student at Radford University in Radford, Va., Nicely participated in a two-year internship at Atlantic Bay Mortgage.  He answered phones and eventually began processing loans for two of the company’s loan officers.  After receiving a degree in marketing, Nicely went to work at his brother’s new company, Alcova Mortgage.  He continued processing there, but within months advanced to an originator position.   “I had always wanted to go into sales and this was an opportunity I really looked forward to,” he said.  “I enjoyed the processing part of the business and was ready to take a shot at selling loans.”
Nicely, who first worked with Internet leads from his company, “had a little bit of call reluctance when I started,” he said, “but then I began educating myself and developing confidence.  I purchased the Mortgage Coach and Todd Duncan’s Mortgage Mastery and really focused on ways to gain some advantage over the more experienced people.”
To spread the word about his mortgage career, Nicely sent mail pieces and e-mails to family and friends to inform them of the services he could provide.  He also relied on prior connections, such as the one with the CEO of Geico—a friend of his grandfather’s, who helped pass along his mortgage services through word-of-mouth.  “It took a lot of hours and many calls,” said Nicely, who averages a 65-hour workweek, about the beginning of his originating career.  His first loan came as a referral from his father and was cancelled at the last minute by the borrower, who decided it wasn’t in his best interest at the time.

After that frustrating beginning, he began pursuing Realtor business with a software-generated e-mail campaign and with extensive face-to-face time.  “I would stop by at least once a week to say ‘I’m here if you ever need my services,'” said Nicely.  “If you don’t make yourself visible, they tend to forget about you.  I would try to offer them ways to help their business, such as stressing the importance of a pre-qual with their clients.”  Nicely also advertised in the local Homes Search magazine and offered in-office loan program seminars to specific Realtors.  His efforts paid off when an agent called with a rush-loan that he was able to close in seven days.  “She gave me a shot and I was able to win her over with a successful close,” he said.  “She then began referring me to other agents and that was my stepping stone.”

Nicely tried to distinguish himself by being accessible at all times to questions and calls and by emphasizing accuracy on his closing costs.  “I guarantee closing costs to be the same as the good faith estimate, or I pay the difference,” he said.

He also continues to strengthen his Realtor relationships by co-hosting sales speakers to come and speak to his agents and maintaining a continuous e-mail campaign that offers helpful market and product updates.

In addition to Realtor follow-up, Nicely recognizes the importance of making a positive first impression with borrows and maintaining diligent customer contact.  “I always attend my closings with a survey for them to complete and provide a gift booklet,” he said.  “The survey allows for them to provide me feedback on my level of service and the booklet offers them several gift options.  We pre-pay for the gifts and customers are able to make a selection from such things as a corkscrew, toolkits, clocks, and much more.  This way they can actually pick something they want.”   Once the loan is closed, Nicely follows up with e-mails to new homeowners, with pertinent topics like “how to increase the value of your home.”

Almost by default, Nicely has found a way to take advantage of his age—target those in his peer group.  “I find that first-time homebuyers are a little more comfortable with me because chances are they’re closer to my age,” he said. “They are also a lot easier to work with because trust is a huge factor [in this business] and they are looking for someone to walk them all the way through the process.”  To introduce them to the often-intimidating world of mortgages, Nicely prepares homebuying booklets that explain the process from start to finish.  He also sets customers on an e-mail or mail campaign that helps them see the home purchase as it occurs over the course of two to three months.  “My goal is to earn their trust and have them telling their friends how much help I was before they’ve even found a house.”

Nicely credits his processing experience with providing a solid understanding of how loans work.  “I believe every loan officer should process loans for a couple of months,” he said about time spent in the back shop.  “I learned about the various lender guidelines and I was able to build great relationships with attorneys, appraisers, and several other important people in the industry.”   Additionally, processing helped him realize the importance of taking a good application.  “A good application helps the processor and the originator get the loan approved a lot quicker and with much less stress.”

To further his mortgage education, Nicely reads sales and productivity books and downloads speeches from top industry speakers such as Tim Broadhurst, Tim Braheem, and Barry Habib.  He looks forward to using his second year to improve on time blocking and to focus on developing high-trust relationships with top agents, accountants, and financial planners.  “I am more excited now that I have ever been,” said Nicely.  “The sky’s the limit.”

                                                    –Gretchen Lees