Superstar of the month – Ed Currie

Primary Marketing: “Most of my business is generated from repeat and client referrals,” said Currie. “I send a monthly postcard, as well as an e-mailed newsletter that focuses on issues such as mortgage rates, mortgage rate outlook, credit and credit scores, financial planning, and tax planning issues.” His newsletter includes a contest that awards tickets to a sporting event or concert. “After a loan closes, I set up (through ACT!) a post-closing follow-up schedule that reminds me to touch base with clients at certain intervals.”

Most Effective Marketing:  “Weekly status updates, quick return phone calls, and easy access allow me to develop a relationship with clients that hopefully ensures me of their repeat business (or at least the first shot) and allows me to continually ask for referrals and communicate the importance of referrals.”

Niche: Corporate program developed with a local Realtor. “Our first account is a local hospital with 5,000 employees. We have monthly access to them through an employee newsletter they produce. We are also on-site every two months.”

Teamwork: Processor and assistant (whose time he shares with other LOs). “I originate the loans and take the apps, and my assistant will package it (for processing). She also does marketing and some client contact.” The majority of his loans are handled over the phone and via e-mail and regular mail. “For most of my clients, the convenience of doing it that way is more important than actually meeting.”

Key Ingredient for Success: “The ability to communicate with all types of people and personalities. I’m able to talk about things of interest to people with different backgrounds.” In addition, he is aggressive about reaching production goals. “I have a minimum number of loans I want to reach each day. I’m tenacious—trying to get every possible loan each day.”

Achieving Work/Personal Balance: “We win or lose (the sale) on a day-to-day and month-to-month basis. So the desire to constantly get more loans to catch up from a bad month or get ahead in a good market usually means spending more time at work. I have an incredibly patient wife who takes care of all the house stuff so I can concentrate on the work aspect. I never work on weekends except for the occasional phone call.”

SuperStar of the Month – Dwight Taylor

Categories:  Builder: 44%
Realtor:  32%
Customer/referral: 24%
Purchase Business:   76%
  Refinance:              24%

Most Effective Marketing: Builder contact/ word-of-mouth

Support Team:  Junior loan officer, administrative assistant, processor

Applications Taken Personally:  90%

As a deputy sheriff and policeman in the Fredericksburg, Va. area, Dwight Taylor had been accustomed to stopping speeding drivers and suspected drug traffickers. He certainly hadn’t considered a career in mortgage lending, although his partner, a former originator himself, had suggested that Taylor look at the opportunities. “He felt he knew what it took to be successful in the field and had noticed something about the way I handled motorists in a persuasive manner,” said Taylor. “But I truly loved the law enforcement profession.”

However, after several years as a lawman, Taylor, 34, grew tired of the late nights and stressful situations, and following a brief stint in automobile financing, went to work for a small mortgage brokerage in 2001. “I started learning what loan origination was all about; reading magazines, attending seminars, and talking to people. I took everything I learned and adapted it.”

Taylor soon realized that he made the right move. In his first year, he closed $23 million. His estimated volume for 2005 is $133.5 million and 420 loans at BB&T Mortgage (a division of BB&T Banking) in Woodbridge, Va. Taylor’s interpersonal and organization skills helped prepare him for his new career. Yet, early on he realized the need to establish a distinct approach to generating business in his marketplace, which includes the Washington, D.C. area. “I decided in this fierce world of mortgage origination, there were too many loan officers beating down the doors at realty offices, not to mention the offices that weren’t open for solicitation or have their own mortgage operation,” he said. “My first marketing efforts were aimed at visiting builders. I had discovered construction-to-permanent loan programs that I thought would appeal to the builder community. My goal was to convince builders to borrow money to purchase land and build houses rather than to finance developments all on their own. They get paid for the land up-front and then receive funds for construction at various phases. It was a way to save the builder money, plus there was no need for a contingent deal, the borrower could close right away, and the pre-approval letter was no longer needed. I could approve these builders’ clients immediately and we would close within several weeks.”

Of course, the rookie originator had to sell builders on the concept of using the construction-to-permanent concept, similar to what custom-homebuilder borrowers often prefer. “I had to get past the sales agent/Realtor who represented these builders,” he said. “For a builder, changing from doing business their normal financing way of having developments funded (through borrower financing) at the completion of construction to construction-to-perm loans closed at the very beginning of the process, is a complete restructuring of the way most are doing business. Some don’t like the idea of giving up control of the process. I had to convince the salesmen and the builder that my way of doing business was more profitable, easier on both parties, and a safer bet for the builder.”

Taylor recalled his first builder meeting. “I entered their model home to find the marketing director onsite. I introduced myself and she noticed I was a rookie. She took me under her wing and explained how the builder community worked, offering to give me a chance with her business, but adding that the builder was not currently using my preferred type of construction financing. Over several months, I competed for their business every day. I was ‘Johnny on the spot’ with a pre-approval letter and closing package. I finally sealed the deal and converted this builder to the construction/perm concept. This is a well-known builder and in the limelight of some of the most desired communities. Once I started working with them, several others followed. My target isn’t the enormous national building firm, but the smaller builder that may benefit from construction-to-perm financing rather than carrying the homes on their own line of credit. I currently fund to approximately 40 different builders.”

Taylor also learned to communicate his message to customers. “From the borrower’s standpoint, this type of program is also highly beneficial, because of the 100 percent financing and no need to sell their home to qualify for their dream home. I constantly remind my clients that ‘we are going to be together in this process for the next 10 to 12 months.’ This establishes the fact that it isn’t the normal transaction, that we are like family. During this time, if I have presented myself in the professional manner and trusted advisor position, I reserve the right to ask for referrals.”

Taylor works closely with Realtors to find clients who are planning to build custom homes. “This in return gives me referrals for the builders and sets up my Realtors for listings once the new home is complete and the current home is ready to sell. Now that the agent has a listing, I am able to hold open houses and market for that purchase business.”

As part of his builder marketing, Taylor often posts signs on various properties. “I’ll post the ‘financing provided by’ signs that include my name and number. This helps them get pre-approved buyers but also allows me to get some leads of people looking for land but not necessarily in this particular parcel. I then become the salesman assisting in finding them the right lot and in some cases, the best builder for their needs.”

Although his primary focus is on builder marketing, Taylor also devotes appropriate attention to his customers. For example, 45 days after settlement he sends new customers a thank you card, copy of their appraisal on CD, and a reminder of how much their referrals are appreciated. “I also note how handy the appraisal can be at this point. Because most of the deals involve new houses, customers will most likely be buying new furniture and the appraisal schematic can be used for measurements of each room. It’s a great tool.”

He also sends holiday cards and periodically calls customers to see if he can provide further service. In addition, he has done radio advertising to reach prospects. “They are usually co-op ads with a Realtor, mentioning us after their subdivision announcement. I also sponsor local news and traffic reports, which are very inexpensive. I don’t get a lot of business from advertising but it’s great name recognition. People will often tell me they heard the radio spots.”

In addition, Taylor provides a series of giveaway premium items, including carpenter pencils with his contact information. “I’ll drop them off at construction job sites. You’d be surprised at the number of carpenters who call me later to say they’re building and need financing or are even starting their own firm. I also have pens and will even hand them out when I drive through McDonalds.”

He is an advocate of the “three-foot rule.” “My motto is if you get within three feet of someone, you should introduce yourself and give them a business card. This has provided me with business, contacts, and of course, referrals for land and custom-built houses. I was at a grocery store recently and saw people at one of the counters. I leaned over and said ‘Does anyone need to refinance?’ A woman said she did and asked about the rates. I later refinanced her house.”

He credits his team with helping maintain a trouble-free pipeline. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he said. The team includes Ryan Napolitano, junior loan officer who assists in backroom and managing pipeline; along with Otto Escobar, administrative assistant; and Maria Castro, processor. “I introduce my staff to our customers, saying ‘These are the individuals who will be making your dream home a reality.’ This allows my clients to put a face with a name and trust in them when they have questions or want to express a concern.”

Taylor is a hands-on originator. “I take approximately 90 percent of the applications and conduct the sales facets of the transaction,” he said. “I prefer to meet clients in person and discuss their financial picture. I use multiple computer monitors so that they can observe current market trends, product comparisons, and a synopsis of their future mortgage. After the presentation of the loan facts, I explain the steps of the process and show customers our large tracking grid in my office. The chart provides us with an update on loan status but also helps ‘wow’ customers with how in tune we are with their transaction. Our goal is to have their loan approved at least a week before closing.”

In just four years as an originator, Taylor has certainly made a name for himself. In addition to growing his production significantly during the last four years, he has been promoted to vice president at BB&T Mortgage, which he joined in 2002. As a producing manager, he is able to share much of what he has learned. “I am regularly called on to coach and mentor other loan officers, as well as participate with the curriculum for the bank’s Management Development program. I’ve found that I can even apply some of the experience I gained as a certified field instructor for the police department. My approach is a mix of motivational speaking, plus ways for originators to have a dynamic presentation, along with product reviews and sales mechanics.”

Taylor continues to refine his own approach to mortgage origination, partially by observing how other top performers have succeeded. He considers an “inner drive” to be one of the most critical SuperStar characteristics. “It involves what you’re willing to sacrifice to get to the next level,” he said. “I have a drive that many originators can’t find within themselves, and the motivation that keeps me looking for new ways to excel. I work 50 hours a week, answer the phone 365 days a year, and consider myself highly motivated and dedicated. I expect the same of those who work around me. Professionalism breeds professionalism.”

He added that some of a SuperStar’s success results from happenstance, including such factors as market conditions, an employer’s support, and other factors. “Not everyone gets the same breaks,” he said. “I believe there is a little bit of luck with everyone’s success.”

Although Taylor has achieved SuperStar success in a short timeframe, he doesn’t take his accomplishments for granted. He wants to continue growing the business and also look for opportunities to help other originators succeed. “I’m making good money as an originator. I’m comfortable doing this but eventually see myself as a mentor-coach. I would like to work with a group of my own top clients and mentor other LOs, to help them be more successful.”

SuperStar of the Month – Marc Brinitzer

Purchase Business: 60%
Refinance: 40%
Applications Taken Personally: 98%

Most Effective Marketing: Realtor presentations, co-sponsored events
Support Team: assistant, two production coordinator/assistants, two processors, set-up coordinator, marketing assistant, and closing manager.
Favorite Book: Ethics in the New Millenium –Dalai Lama

Favorite Quote: “No problem can withstand the onslaught of sustained thinking.” –Voltaire

Marc Brinizter’s diverse background in financial planning and residential originating (as well as commercial real estate) is especially appealing to borrowers who are looking for something extra. They know that Brinitzer’s expertise will give him an edge as he counsels them regarding their current and future home financing needs. This value-added service has certainly been popular; last year he closed $75.8 million and 320 loans for the Big Valley branch of American Pacific Mortgage, Sacramento, Calif., placing him at number 193 on Mortgage Originator’s Top 200 Originator List (for number of loans).

Brinitzer, 53, came to the residential lending industry following successful stints as a financial planner and commercial real estate broker in Northern California. After selling shopping centers, office parks, and other properties for several years, in 1990 he determined the time was right to move to the origination sector. “A series of situations, including the S&L crisis and an overall business slowdown, convinced me that I should make a switch,” he said. “I started as a wholesale rep for World Savings.”

In 1998, Brinitzer was enticed to join the Big Valley Branch of American Pacific Mortgage, a major net branch network based in Sacramento, Calif. “I joined Kurt Reisig’s team with the idea that I could help expand upon their previous accomplishments. It seemed to be a good chance to launch a long-term career.”

While he had an invaluable foundation for a new originator, Brinitzer nevertheless had to shift his focus to residential homebuying marketing strategies. “I began by introducing myself to new real estate agents to develop long-term relationships,” he said. “I made presentations in the offices, prepared open house fliers, and did a number of other things to establish rapport and obtain my first loans from agents.”

In addition, Brinitzer (and Big Valley) sought opportunities to strengthen Realtor ties while also supporting the community, including the sponsorship of major fundraising events. “During the last couple of years, we have hosted charitable events and invited 500 agents. In 2004, we raised $60,000, which went to the Realtors’ Salvation Army project as well as our local Habitat for Humanity organization.” Over the recent Labor Day weekend, Brinitzer worked alongside other volunteers to help build a Habitat for Humanity home. “We were a financial sponsor, along with the trade unions, whose members did most of the actual work. Obviously, these types of activities show our commitment to the community and help tie us to our referral partners. It’s a much subtler form of marketing.”

A marketing arrangement with a major Realtor is yet another option for Big Valley to solidify agent relationships. “This Realtor offers customers a choice of originators from our office and from one other lender,” he said. “While the customer doesn’t have to use us, they often do and this has proven quite successful.”

Brinitzer also became the preferred lender for a leading builder. “This got started because of prior relationships and just evolved into a very strong referral situation,” he said. “We are currently working with several of the builder’s subdivisions and anticipate expanding our builder base in the near future.”

Of course, he capitalized on his financial planning background, initially by advising customers on their long-range housing/finance goals. “I found that I could uncover issues a client hadn’t seen and illuminate options that they would not otherwise have considered. This puts the discussion on a completely different level and demonstrates my value to them. My real estate agents appreciate this because they know that this type of relationship is stronger and more likely to generate referrals for both of us. If the client is pleased, the agent is happy.” He cultivated relationships with other financial planners and CPAs as well. “I initially sent letters and met with them to explain our interest in developing a mutually beneficial referral arrangement. Most planners and CPAs believe they don’t get much business from originators; they’re more concerned with providing their clients with recommendations for other quality professional services.”

Brinitzer eventually took the next major step by adding a financial planner to his office. “This was someone who had previously counseled some of my borrowers and I thought there was a good fit so I put him on retainer.” After closings, Brinitzer sends a letter to introduce customers to the financial planner. “He has provided some sophisticated help for our borrowers, from debt consolidation to retirement planning. We have handled some very complex cases together that has created tremendous client loyalty.”

Brinitzer has found other ways to reach prospects. For example, he has co-hosted a local radio talk show. “Myself and an agent will answer real estate financing related questions and this generates a lot of calls. It enhances our credibility and produces decent leads.”

His “turnkey” customer follow-up program includes:

  • A thank-you letter sent to recently closed customers. It includes a $100 discount for appraisal services, which they can give to someone else.
  • A post-closing gift of a one-year subscription to Sunset Magazine. “There is a tear-off cover that says ‘Compliments of Marc Brinitzer.’ This is a great monthly reminder and only costs $14 per person.”
  • Letter sent to introduce customers to the office’s financial planner. “We encourage them to call and ask for a free consultation.”
  • Various holiday cards
  • Periodic real estate and interest update letters
  • HUD 1 statement mailed prior to tax filing. “We explain that customers can review it with their accountant for to consider potential tax deductions.”

Brinitzer readily credits his support team in helping him reach top producer status. “I certainly couldn’t do this without their assistance,” he emphasized. “They are an experienced, dedicated group of people who help have made a substantial contribution to my success.”
The team includes Manuel Prado, assistant; Julie Ibbs, production coordinator; Darin Sears, processor; Peggy McCray, assistant/junior processor; Diane Davison, set-up coordinator; Kelly Fields, marketing assistant; Delia Pence, production assistant; and Lindsay Witter, closing manager.

Brinitzer noted that everyone’s roles are carefully defined. “This helps us follow the same routine on every transaction. My job is to develop the client relationship and communicate the plan to the team. If I do my job well upfront, I have very little involvement with any of the paperwork from that point on. I talk with the customer, prepare their basic application, provide written instructions, and perhaps make one call to see how they’re doing. I don’t have to touch the file again.” He takes the majority of the applications over the phone. “I’ve certainly improved my phone skills during the last decade,” he said.

Maintaining thorough communications is one of the team’s chief objectives. “An assistant is responsible for making client follow-up calls, including a mid-transaction phone survey to see how the customer is doing. A key goal is to make sure the client is apprised of all developments.”

Brinitzer knows the importance of keeping his group motivated and has developed a series of incentives. “For example, I provide our processors with different bonuses, including one for closing on time and a larger one for getting documents in title five days prior to the deadline. The extra bonus is to encourage earlier closings, which eliminates rushing and potential mistakes. We also have a profitability bonus, based on our overall volume. In addition, we take quarterly field trips, when we’ll go to lunch or dinner and then do something fun like bowling or a wine tasting. All of this is my way of trying to keep them happy, and well paid.”

He has also created a novel approach to “rent” his processing staff to other LOs in the office, based on a pre-arranged agreement tied to their anticipated workflow. “I offer the team’s services on a very selective basis, allowing me to generate additional processing revenue while also helping to meet other originators’ production schedules.”

During the last 16 years, Brinitzer has had a chance to watch many originators develop their top-producing regimen. He considers fostering “deeper” relationships with key referral sources to be an essential SuperStar characteristic. “You have to be committed to your partners on a higher level than most originators are willing to do. This means really getting to know the customer or client, including their values.”

Most SuperStars have one or more assistants, he added. “Having a team and being able to delegate to them is key. I think delegating is a problem that most originators face; they’re not accustomed to letting someone else have the responsibility for various tasks. But to be able to break through to the next level, you need to surround yourself with good people and be confident enough in their abilities so that you can concentrate on the business building aspect.”

Top producers also have special systems to enable them to handle a bulging pipeline, he said. While they don’t have to be overly complicated, such processes must be consistently followed. “This allows a team of people to make it happen. To continue growing their production, originators must be able to rely on highly structured processes.”

Brinitzer will continue refining his own systems and developing new business opportunities. “There are a lot of originators in our business now, and I think to succeed you have to be more creative in your marketing approach. For instance, we know that expanding into the Hispanic market is critical and we recently hired two bilingual associates. You have to evaluate new business channels and seek alternatives to solving problems. For us, this also means training Realtors in new areas and developing more builder accounts.” One thing Brinitzer won’t alter is his enthusiasm for the mortgage lending profession. “We have a chance to be involved in one of the most profound events of most people’s lives. It’s very rewarding. This is what keeps me motivated every day.”

SuperStar of the Month – Randy Lund

Randy Lund had already been a successful CPA when he made plans to start law school. “I had my airplane ticket and was ready to attend the University of Texas,” he said.

Instead, he made a momentous decision—to get involved in the mortgage lending profession. “After a few years in accounting, I thought law school would be a good career choice, but I talked to people about the mortgage business and it seemed to match my background and people skills better.”

After a mere three years originating, Lund agreed that he made a wise decision. During his first year on the job he closed a respectable $12 million and last year’s volume totaled $106 million and 688 loans, originated while with Silver State Mortgage in Las Vegas (and another firm where he spent part of the year).

“I was hired and trained by a top producer so the learning curve was quicker,” he said. Part of his lending education came as a processor. “During my first six months, I processed all of my own loans,” he noted. “It gave me a solid understanding of the technical aspects of the loan process, and made me a more well rounded originator.”

Lund, 30, graduated from Oregon State University, returning to his Las Vegas hometown to work in the accounting field and subsequently launch an origination career. He had a sphere of influence to get him started. “I made a list of everyone I knew, along with my parents’ school-related contacts (His dad is a retired high school principal and his mother is a teacher). I wrote letters to everyone to let them know I was in the mortgage business. I did a good job with those first loans and they referred me to others. It snowballed from there.”

He also developed business relationships with a few top Realtors he had previously known. “I originally started working with about five key agents and started to get their transactions,” he noted.

Lund quickly learned the value of being persistent when trying to work with select Realtors. “There was a major agent who I wanted to obtain referrals from and I continued to contact him. I eventually began referring customers to him and as a result of that and hearing how I served my customers, he started to refer business to me as well.”

Lund also relied on a very simple pledge as part of his marketing to Realtors—that he would help ensure their loans closed quickly. “It’s really been a key in the competitive Las Vegas market,” he said. “When I’m able to tell an agent that we did a loan in two weeks or less and can do the same for them, they know I can perform versus an originator who offers 30-day closings. When you can make that kind of guarantee, you can gain a lot of additional business.”

Another smart move was establishing partnerships with listing agents. “The biggest reason for my increase in business during the last couple of years was pursuing listing agents involved with the transaction,” he said. “When we get a sales contract I make sure to call the listing agent and introduce myself and our team and let them know that everything will run smoothly. I encourage them to call me or one of our processors/assistants with any questions.”

He also sends them regular fax or e-mail updates on customers’ loans. “If we do a good job of keeping them current then we won’t receive lots of calls, and we can spend more time on revenue-producing activities.”

Once the loan closes, Lund follows up with a call to the listing agent to make sure they’re satisfied and to emphasize that “We’d love to have your business, and even be your secondary lender.”

Early on, Lund formed informal alliances with banking representatives. “I knew they are limited as to the scope of products they can offer and at the same time I wasn’t interested in handling HELOCs,” he said. “So I met with the representatives at a few major banks and suggested that we trade referrals whenever appropriate. That has worked very well. I still get referrals from these banks. I would suggest that new originators do something similar. Introduce yourself to bank reps and offer to help them.”

Based on his prior experience, Lund also developed effective referral relationships with CPAs. “CPAs are often involved in the transactions and we strive to make a connection with them right away. I’ll call them and explain that their client is working with us and we’ll share information and comments from satisfied customers so that we might receive their future referrals.”

Title officers are another referral source that Lund has courted. “Many originators don’t think of the title rep as a logical source of business, but I’ve found them to be very good. They come in contact with a lot of Realtors and are able to refer us to the agents.”

In addition, Lund has developed an effective past customer follow-up campaign that includes:

  • Follow-up letter sent to new customers. “The letter thanks them and also asks for their referrals of family and friends,” he noted.
  • Birthday and holiday cards
  • Quarterly informational letter that highlights loan programs and market updates
  • E-mail marketing: “We recently started e-mailing general news and industry trend news to past clients and have found this to be very well received.”

One key to his successful customer follow-up has been the use of the GoldMine data management program that maintains a database of all past customers, along with those who have been prequalified but not yet become customers.

“In addition, we’re able to track the quality of referrals,” he said. “For instance, we can analyze the number of an agent’s leads that actually turn into closed loans. It helps us adjust our focus, to be certain that we’re spending more time with those agents that have been more productive, and less with those that are high maintenance.”

Lund has added a solid niche with the investment market of high-rise condos. “Las Vegas has experienced tremendous growth and a big part of that are the condo developments, including a major Trump Tower project. Investors are buying for rental or resale.” His CPA background helps because he is able to provide thorough tax analysis guidance. He has counseled some customers to purchase or exchange their Las Vegas property for property in Phoenix. “When appropriate we encourage clients to diversify and Phoenix is a logical market to do so. We’ve developed relationships with a top Realtor and property manager there to provide our clients with the necessary support.”

Lund has established his own team to help him manage his expanding pipeline. “You can’t do this volume without assistance. You need a strong foundation of good people.” The team currently includes: Chi Odu, processor; Cassie Trujillo, processor; Jennifer Murrieta, processor; Vanessa Quenga, closing coordinator; Cody Workman, client relations; and Nicole Marshall, production manager. He pays their salaries himself. “I knew that when I started here, it was worth the investment to build a support group.”

He takes the majority of the applications over the phone, with one of the processors doing the remainder. “I know many originators consider it important to meet with the majority of their clients,” he said. “But it’s a time factor, this way allows us to do more business. If people want to meet with us they certainly can.”

Team members also play a key role in generating referrals. “We emphasize the importance of asking for referrals whenever they’re on the phone, even while the transaction is underway,” said Lund. “We’ve monitored how well this works and have noticed that referrals tend to decrease whenever we cut back on asking.”

In addition, he is surely one of the few originators whose own team includes a technology coordinator, Anthon Charles, who assists with Internet activity, Web site maintenance, and related areas. “In the short-term this may not be a critical need, but I saw the value of having someone to enhance our technology. As Realtors are becoming more tech savvy, there are more areas to develop. For example, we’re beginning to integrate technology with agents, such as having Web site access for sales contracts instead of faxing everything.”

Lund stressed that he has established such a large team in order to prepare for the future. “We’re planning a number of different activities, such as a joint venture with a real estate firm, and we want to make sure we’re ready for the expected growth.”

In his first three years as an originator, Lund has studied the qualities that SuperStars possess. One of the most important is an inner drive. “To be at the upper levels you need something that pushes you to be successful,” he said.
Availability is another essential ingredient. “I know that some top producers work a 40-hour week or less but I think you’ve got to be available to agents and others more than that.”

He also noted that aspiring SuperStars should make an effort to shadow other top producers. “You need to develop relationships with successful originators, to learn from them and adapt some of their best ideas,” he explained. “If you can’t have a formal mentor, at least meet regularly with those you admire.”

Lund anticipates another strong year, despite the slower overall market. He will continue expanding his referral base, and exploring other ways to work with his Realtor, investment property, and CPA clients. One of his future goals is to add a few originators to his team. “I think I would enjoy coaching other originators to become superstars. I’d like to give something back, to share some of what has made me successful.”

SuperStar of the Month – Daniel G Rivera

Daniel G Rivera, Branch Manager/Originator
Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corporation
Rockville, Maryland

Most Effective Marketing: Direct Mail, Seminars, and Monthly mailings
Support Team: Two assistants and a processor
Applications Taken Personally: 70%

Favorite Book: First Things First: To Live, to Love, To Learn to Leave a Legacy, By Stephen R. Covey; Standing for Something, By Gordon B. Hinckley

Favorite Quote: “I am a great believer in luck and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.” –Thomas Jefferson

There is no question that Daniel Rivera is an FHA lending expert. In addition to helping hundreds of borrowers achieve their dream of homeownership, this niche has made him a SuperStar loan originator. Last year, 100 percent of his $52.8 million and 285 loans volume was FHA business. (He was inadvertently left off M.O.M.’s 2003 Top Originator List, but he would have been number nine on the FHA list.)

Rivera took a circuitous route to become a top-performing originator and supporter of first-time, underserved borrowers. He had been a successful Businessman in his native Peru, before coming to the United States in 1988 to marry his sweetheart who had moved to Washington, D.C. several years earlier.

Rivera, 41, attended Columbia University to expand his business knowledge and to polish his English-speaking skills, while also working as a hotel bartender. He subsequently went to work for a major car dealership, where he advanced from salesman to finance manager, but realized that his future options were limited. “I had eventually planned to open my own dealership but saw that I had reached a top position and couldn’t go much further and couldn’t increase my income,” he said.

He became familiar with the residential lending industry while buying and selling several properties and observing his mortgage originator in action. “He was very good and aggressive,” said Rivera. “We talked about the business and I thought I could be successful at this.”

Although Rivera and his wife had some reservations about his switching to a commission-only career, he joined Crestar Mortgage in 1997. They soon agreed that he made the right decision; his first-year production was a healthy $8.5 million.

Rivera spent the first few rookie months training. “I was dedicated to learning the basics. I devoted three months to learning the guidelines and programs. Once I was sure I could answer most of their questions I began calling on agents and asked for an opportunity to do one of their loans. I explained that while I was new in the business, I was dedicated and aggressive, and available six days a week. They could call on me anytime.”

His approach paid off; agents began asked him to handle their customers’ more difficult loans. “Part of my message was that I would educate agents on real estate lending so that they could assist their clients,” he added.

One of Rivera’s initial marketing strategies was hosting seminars, many of them for the Hispanic community. He contacted homeowner and other associations, the Chamber of Commerce; and the embassies for Peru, Columbia, Salvador, and Mexico. “I introduced myself and said that I was available to assist people coming to this country with homeownership opportunities, as well as those who worked at the embassies. I suggested that I could relate my own homeownership experiences. They began calling me and I started to do some seminars.”

He continued to expand his Hispanic niche, with a goal of becoming a major force within the Hispanic community throughout the D.C./Virginia area. He contacted Spanish-owned companies and offered to host workshops for their employees “I made presentations and left information packages. After a while, people began calling and I was soon originating their loans.”

Rivera’s marketing program expanded to include a comprehensive direct mail program. He currently sends birthday, anniversary, and various holiday cards. “I sign every one of my cards and include personal messages in many of them. Based on the loan files I’ve kept, I have borrower details I can highlight. For example, I might mention the fact that a past customer wants to open his own business and I wish him luck with that. This is more personal and people appreciate it.”

He sends past customers a monthly newsletter as another way to maintain ongoing visibility. The company provides a quarterly version that includes information on interest rates, homeownership tips, and related news and Rivera sends a shorter Spanish edition during the other months. “I translate a variety of news developments on such topics as tax guidelines, immigration law changes, and other areas that Spanish-speaking people might not find in a single source. They love it and I receive very positive comments.”

Rivera personalizes the newsletter with his photo and news of his family. “I might talk about our vacation or about one of my children’s accomplishments. This helps to make our relationship more personal and longer lasting.”

He also has a regular voice-mail campaign, which involves calling past customers on a weekly basis. In addition to mentioning specific loan programs, his basic message is that he’s available to help with their ongoing financing needs. While some may consider weekly calls too frequent, he emphasized that the majority of his customers appreciate his attentiveness. He has outsourced this service to a company that ensures that the Do-Not-Call Registry guidelines are met.

Rivera does something else that most originators probably don’t—he visits must of his customers on an annual basis. He’ll arrive at their house with a healthy breakfast on a Saturday morning and spend a few minutes conversing about their home, family, future loan opportunities, and other topics. He noted that Hispanic customers are especially receptive to his spontaneous visits. “They’re happy to see me and it’s another great way to strengthen the relationship. My goal is to have them talk to me about anything–college funds, life insurance, or anything else. I’m very appreciative of the support of my past customers and this is one way I can continue to help them.”

From the beginning of his origination career, Rivera has focused on FHA business. At first it was a necessity, but has evolved into a dedication to help people. “When I began most of my first-time borrowers had situations—including credit issues—and that meant they could only qualify with FHA,” he said. “Since then, I’ve developed a real interest in assisting people who might not otherwise be able to get a loan.”

He conducts first-time borrower seminars where he explains the FHA guidelines and various options. “I explain that FHA is more flexible underwriting that will allow them to get into their new home.”

While last year’s volume was 100 percent FHA based, Rivera explained that this year he’s doing some conventional loans. “This year it seems that many people are changing their careers and became a self-employed an that make a little difficult to qualified to an FHA loan because one off the key requirement of FHA program is that they must be self-employed for at least two years. So, I may be doing fewer FHA loans overall and more in the subprime area when necessary.”

Rivera is currently the branch manager of Allied Home Mortgage in Rockville Md., a position he assumed this past February. As the sole originator he is supported by two employees: Cesar Gamarra, assistant manager and his “right hand,” and sales assistant, Stephanie Leon, as well as a processor Dina Flores. “I couldn’t do the volume without their support,” he stressed.

He takes the majority of the applications in his office, although one of his assistants will often complete the process, in addition to following up with customers to obtain additional documents. “I try to have the first contact with all customers,” he noted. “The team members will handle a variety of responsibilities, from arranging appointments to preparing marketing material.”

They make an effort to assist borrowers who aren’t ready to qualify. “We have a system that tracks customers on 60, 90, 120, and 180 days. If they have credit problems they’re likely to be in the 180-day cycle and we follow up and assist them in getting ready for the loan,” he said.

Rivera has also enlisted the help of his wife, Medalid, who does a post-closing phone survey. “She’s very good with people and able to get their opinion on how we can improve our service. My wife and children have been very supportive and made sacrifices while I have worked so hard over the last seven years.”

Rivera has observed many top originators to see what makes a SuperStar. He believes that teamwork is essential. “If you don’t have a good group, you won’t be successful at higher levels. I just consider myself part of our team. You have to compensate everyone well and provide other incentives.”

In order to become a top producer, customer service must be a priority, he added. “I always tell new loan originators that their prime motivation can’t be making money. They have to has the desire to serve and help people and the money will come alone.”

Another essential ingredient of Superstardom is “delivering on what you promise. If I can’t do a loan, I tell them right away. Most Realtors who have worked with me for a long time will say that they appreciate my honesty, I always tell them upfront.”

Rivera plans to continue combining teamwork, customer service, and an honest approach as he expands his volume in a more competitive market. Another future goal is to hire several loan officers for the office. “Loan officers frequently call me to ask for advice. I would like to hire at least four other originators and train them. I want them to be as successful and satisfied with this profession as I have been so far.”

SuperStar of the Month – Betsy Lamondn

An originator with Charter One Mortgage in Rockville, Md., Betsy Lamond has spent two decades forging lasting relationships with Realtors and customers. She credits much of her success to working in a high-end, first-time-buyer and move-up market, and having an exceptionally large contact base. Her 2003 SuperStar volume—last year she closed $112,000,000 and a little over 500 loans—is a result of a carefully developed network of Realtor and customer relationships.

Lamond, 53, started originating in 1986 when she began taking applications for the originator she worked for as an assistant during a hectic refinance period. She soon developed a rapport with key Realtors by introducing herself as a friendly, knowledgeable, diligent associate. “You have to make yourself invaluable,” Lamond says. “New originators have to do a better than great job.” She proved herself by working hard to get answers for her customers quickly, and was always accessible. Over time, she notes, you begin to develop friendships and become a familiar face.

In order to create visibility, Lamond started with what she knows best—finance. She held new-agent finance training seminars for local real estate offices, and quickly gained a reputation for her skills and “can-do” personality. She also organized “broker opens,” holding luncheons at real estate agent’s first showings, which were open to all of the area’s agents. In this casual, relaxed capacity Lamond was able to make introductions and generate recognition.

Once contacts were made, her strategy was to be available—anytime, day or night. Both customers and real estate agents know that Lamond is available to help them, and that quality has helped her gain the trust and respect that earns so many referrals. “They know that they can call me at home, on Saturday, Sunday, at night… I am accessible all the time.”

The refinance business of the past two years has kept Lamond busy, and she hasn’t been able to devote the same amount of time to her agents. She points out that higher volumes have made it harder to maintain the relationships she values, but she is willing to make the effort and work with customers and Realtors on their schedules. In fact, she has found that many Realtors prefer to do business over the phone, rather than in person, because of their busy schedules. For Lamond, this means waking up at 5:30am to start managing loans, and sometimes talking on the phone until 2:00am to secure a referral. One element that has made all of this easier is cultivating Realtor relationships outside of the workplace. “I go to their Christmas parties, open houses, to the movies…sometimes we just pick up the phone to check in and say hello.” When there is an established friendship, both sides feel comfortable calling at midnight to close a deal.

Although she relies on referrals for nearly all of her loans, Lamond does a small amount of advertising and keeps it unique; for example, placing ads in local theater publications. She also holds seminars for real estate offices. Still, most of her marketing activities are aimed at her base of customers and Realtors. Cards are sent for various holidays and often include closing-cost coupons that agents can give to borrowers, or information about remodeling loans. She also distributes calendars for New Year, along with a letter that highlights the Home-to-Home non-contingent loan program, a product that allows a borrower to access the equity in their current home to serve as the down payment on a new home. The borrower’s current mortgage debt is not considered in the qualifying ratios, so the ability to qualify is not restricted by the present home payment. This program allows Lamond to secure more loans for people who may otherwise have trouble getting qualified.

Lamond doesn’t worry about competitors with more aggressive advertising campaigns. “Each person has to develop a plan that suits them best,” she says. “Determine what your best attributes are and use them.” For Lamond, that attribute is personality. Her sincerity and obvious desire to help her clients goes along way, and her ability to simply chat and develop a connection really sticks in people’s minds. “I share a part of who I am with my borrowers and am empathetic to who they are and their individual needs,” she says. “I am fortunate that I can help them understand their mortgage and what is best for them, not just quote rates.”
Talking to customers and agents, whether out to coffee or on the phone, has led her to an abundant supply of referrals. “I usually make friends with my customers. We do the loan together and I take time to find out what works best for them…I try to maintain a personal relationship with everyone I work with,” she explains. “When you develop relationships, you are creating a joint venture with the real estate office or builder.” When they can confidently recommend a mortgage originator they gain credibility in their buyer’s eyes. “I build relationships through the loans I do,” she states. “The relationships are a result of my accomplishing the customer’s end goal, be it remodeling, a purchase transaction, or a refi.”

Lamond offers this advice to new originators: always start with what you know best. “To expand, start with what’s closest,” she says. When she wants to make a new contact, Lamond goes to the people she knows, lets them know what she can offer, and asks for referrals… just as she did 20 years ago.

SuperStar of the Month: John Hicks

John Hicks had originally planned on a career as a financial analyst, but he soon concluded that he would derive more satisfaction from a profession that offered more direct contact with people. “I realized I was better suited to a job in outside sales, based on my outgoing personality and interest in selling,” he said.

Hicks, 38, turned to mortgage lending, although he did take a somewhat circuitous route to become a SuperStar loan originator. His early experience involved the financing of repossessed and foreclosed properties, but for the last 14 years Hicks has steadily developed his residential origination business. Last year, he closed 471 loans and $110 million and was number 145 on Mortgage Originator’s Top Originator list (for dollar volume).

After graduating from Arizona State University in 1987 and a brief stint as a financial analyst, Hicks joined Chase Manhattan Mortgage’s internship program, where he was responsible for financing foreclosed properties that were transferred from Chase Manhattan to the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC). He subsequently went to work for Valley National Bank, where he handled HUD properties that had been repossessed. “Working on the government programs allowed me to become very knowledgeable about regulatory and compliance issues,” he said. “I used that experience to help me develop the residential side of my business.”

Valley National Bank also agreed to pay his tuition for MBA certification, which he thought would help distinguish him from the competition. “I had to find a way to catapult myself above other originators who had been in business for years,” he said. “I thought that by participating in the MBA program, I could expand my industry knowledge in a short time frame. That’s just what happened; I learned about systems that most companies in my market hadn’t yet implemented.”

His first year as a residential originator (1989), Hicks closed $11 million and was the company’s number one producer, a distinction he held for several years (Bank One eventually acquired Valley National Bank.) His first marketing activity was slightly unconventional–providing fax machines to area builders. “This was at a time when technology wasn’t as advanced and e-mail wasn’t as prevalent as it is today,” he said. “I selected a few top builders and Realtors and placed fax machines in 30 subdivision offices throughout the area. This enabled me to send rate sheets and commitment letters in a timely fashion. Of course, this wasn’t considered a RESPA conflict then and the Realtors and subdivision sales agents really liked having the fax machines. I subsequently removed them and tried something else.”

Hicks then offered builders a different incentive. “I told builders that I wanted to create extra value for their clients by paying $1,000 of the closing costs for their new home,” he said. “Builders saw this as a great way to provide a bonus to their customers, and at the same time, it was an opportunity for us to form a mutually beneficial referral relationship.”

Hicks continued to make builder/construction business a valuable niche. Several years ago, he began to develop a base of customers interested in building homes in high-end country club communities. He has established long-term relationships using a three- phase process: providing customers with their initial lot loan, arranging their construction loan financing, and helping them roll that into a permanent mortgage. “Over a two-year period, this has become a core part of my total production.”

Hicks also developed strong ties to the Realtor community. When he started originating, he researched which real estate offices focused primarily on buyer-based transactions. He then met with key agents to discuss ways that they could build each other’s business. “I told them that we would provide their customers a commitment letter within 48 hours,” he noted. “Then I made sure that our underwriters were able to help us deliver on this promise.”

He also began conducting educational seminars. “I went to the local real estate school and took a class on the use and applications of the HP 12C financial calculator,” he said. “Then I developed a simple training session for real estate offices. I taught agents how to calculate payments and amortization schedules. This basic program helped me gain access to other real estate offices. I also got their respect as a financial advisor.”

When he joined National City Mortgage as a producing manager in 1998, Hicks had access to a number of other marketing tools, including “Agent Update,” a newsletter he sends to his list of 30 key agents. “This is yet another way to maintain a presence in their offices,” he noted.

In addition, Hicks began to cultivate other affinity groups, including CPAs, financial planners, and attorneys. “For instance, I made an effort to develop a solid referral relationship with major accounting and financial services firms. I finally found one that would be willing to communicate the importance of being an advisor to their clients. I suggested that during their annual client evaluations they should ask a series of mortgage-related questions.” As a result, Hicks is now working with American Express’ Phoenix office “I had the opportunity to coach their group regarding mortgage rates and related areas and it sometimes seems as if they’re working for me. During the last 10 years, 30 percent of my business has come from AE referrals.”

Of course, Hicks doesn’t neglect his loyal customer base. His pre-closing activity includes an introduction letter, approval letter, loan-in-process postcard, copy of appraisal e-mailed, fax of final approval, and HUD-1 Settlement Statement. “This proactive approach helps limit the number of calls we receive during the transaction. We prefer to receive no more than two calls from customers; once when they call to inquire about a loan and then again when they thank us when the loan has closed.”
Hicks emphasized that real estate agents see the ongoing communications as a value-added benefit for them as well. “Rather than bringing agents cookies or bagels, we’re providing something of value that benefits their customers.”

In addition, Hicks’ “customer for life” campaign features 18 different steps during the five years after closing, including:

  • Thank-you package, which includes a restaurant or spa gift certificate (30 days after closing)
  • Customer satisfaction survey (60 days)
  • Greeting card with customer response card (5th and 11th month)
  • Postcard (17th month)
  • Thanksgiving card (second year)
  • July 4th postcard (third year)
  • Quarterly newsletters

Hicks also distributes a special series of popular postcards, which he considers to be his most effective marketing. He selects a specific loan program that will generate interest from a specific borrower group. The front of the card features a photo of a well-known Scottsdale golf course; the back summarizes the designated loan program and includes a photo of Hicks and his contact information. “The postcards are aimed at helping customers realize a major benefit in their existing or new mortgage,” he said.
He usually sends about 500 of each card and averages a 10 percent return rate. “For example, if we send 400 cards, we usually end up closing about 40 of the borrowers during the next six months,” he said.

Hicks also developed a customer call campaign, whereby he personally calls five past customers each week. “I’m usually calling to advise them of something specific, such as their HUD-1 or appraisal. However, I’ll even call to ask their advice on a marketing piece that we’re developing. I’m not only getting some good feedback, but also helping to build tremendous client loyalty.”

Hicks has advertised in several publications, including local community newsletters. However, he prefers to place ads where they can help contribute to a greater cause. For instance, he is involved in a charity called ECHO, which helps raise funds for the Scottsdale school district. As part of his volunteer commitment, he advertises in the school directory. “The main reason I do this is to highlight the need for school funding,” he said. “Of course, it can’t help but give me some additional visibility. I’ve had people fax a copy of the school directory ad with a note asking me to handle their loan.”

During the last five years, Hicks’ Web site ( has become a major part of his overall marketing. He initially offered his Realtors’ customers a $250 closing cost discount as an incentive to apply online. “We did this for the first year as a way to educate ourselves regarding borrowers’ potential use of the site,” he explained. “Now it’s our most effective way to generate business. When customers are given the option of spending 30 minutes on the phone or going to our site, the choice is fairly easy.”

Hicks is in the process of developing a CD that will highlight the various steps involved in obtaining a loan. “This will be a great information source for borrowers,” he said. “It will help make the borrower comfortable with the process, showing them the steps that will occur throughout the transaction. It will also familiarize them with our office.”

Hicks emphasized that his team plays a major role in ensuring that his production remains at a SuperStar level. “I obviously couldn’t do this without them,” he said. “There’s no question that having this support allows me to be the rainmaker.” The team includes Miles York, assistant/transaction coordinator; Gina Caraballo, marketing/administrative assistant; and Jennifer Bair and Wendy Carlson, processors. York is involved throughout the loan application and follow-up process, while Caraballo’s many duties include handling incoming calls and e-mails, and coordinating the various marketing activities. “They’re both responsible for ensuring that customers have a ‘raving fan’ experience with us,” Hicks said.

In addition, Hicks refers some business (not included in his production volume) to two loan officer assitants: Wendy Myers and Shelly Stewart.

He noted that daily reports and their ACT! software system help ensure that they have a trouble-free pipeline. “I have an updated report on my desk every morning. In addition, we have an advanced e-mail communication system (via ACT!) that enables us to constantly know the status of every loan throughout the process.”

Hicks is involved in taking all the applications himself, although York helps with appropriate follow-up. “While I do spend time with the application phase, I regularly evaluate my own activity to make sure that I’m devoting at least 75 percent of my time to high impact selling.”

Hicks also observes the work habits of other top producers. He believes that SuperStars share several critical characteristics. “Most important is that top producers have a formal plan for the next five years,” he stressed. “From my experience, a majority of originators don’t have business and personal plans. It’s a key difference between moderately successful originators and the high-volume producers.”

He added that a passion for the lending business is also essential. “I’m convinced that top producers have a real love for what they do, a desire to be the very best.”

Hicks is adamant that SuperStars must maintain a balance in their lives. For example, his 4½ day, 40-hour week allows him time to play golf every Friday afternoon and enjoy weekends and vacation time with his family. “Many originators look at this as just a job, with money being their primary objective. My main goal is to be able to spend more time with my family, and I work hard to accomplish that. I know that as a result, the money will come.”

Although some originators have been concerned about a slowdown in business, Hicks looks forward to the year ahead. “As the refi boom slows down, everyone is trying to find new ways of doing business,” he noted. “We’ll be creating more aggressive ways to originate, including more volume for our lot financing niche. In addition, based on the final outcome of HUD’s RESPA proposal, we anticipate being able to offer customers a guaranteed mortgage package with reduced fees. I’m very optimistic about the opportunities for another strong year.”

SuperStar of the Month – Linda Davidson

Linda Davidson
Senior Loan Officer (Mortgage Banker)
Service First Mortgage
Garland, Texas

Niche: First-time borrowers
Purchase Business: 83%
Refinance: 17%
FHA/VA Business: 84%
Most Effective Marketing: Customer newsletters/postcards
Services Outsourced: Newsletters, e-mail letters, postcards
Applications Taken Personally: 70%
Support Team: Production manager/senior mortgage planner, operations manager, mortgage planner, marketing assistant/processor, team assistant
Workweek: 5 ½ days, 55 hours

Favorite Reading: “Seventeen Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell, “High Trust Selling” by Todd Duncan
Favorite Quotes: “It’s all in the presentation.”
“The grass is always greener where you water it.”

Stress-reducing Techniques: working out with a trainer, traveling with family
Annual Vacation Time: Three weeks

Linda Davidson’s enthusiasm is contagious; she readily talks about her “passion” for the mortgage lending profession and her commitment to her team, Realtor partners, and, of course, her loyal customers. She considers herself fortunate to be a top-producing loan originator, and emphasizes that she originally got into the business by “accident.”

Last year, Davidson, 41, closed 456 loans and $50.6 million as a senior loan officer for Service First Mortgage in Garland, Texas and was number 190 on Mortgage Originators’ Top Originator list (for number of loans).
She first thought of working in the lending industry while she was an operations manager for a woman’s retail chain.

Davidson enjoyed what she was doing, but in 1996, the company was in financial difficulty and she had to consider her future employment options. Her father was a Realtor and he suggested that she consider becoming a loan originator. “Initially, I interviewed with a small company just for the practice,” she said. “The owner painted an incredible picture of a loan originator’s career, including the chance to help people achieve their dream of homeownership and making a good living at it. But the idea of having to rely on 100 percent commissions scared me.”
Davidson said that she was “waiting for a sign” that switching professions would be a wise move. “Then when I got back to the office I learned that our company was shutting down within three months, so I figured that was a clear indication that I was ready for a change.”

During the next few months, she read everything she could about HUD guidelines, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac programs, and various lender loan products. She went to work for a small mortgage brokerage in January 1997 and continued her crash course in lending. “That first year was difficult,” she said. “I was learning the basics, trying to find prospects, and meeting with Realtors. I wasn’t making much money.”

While she occasionally got discouraged, Davidson was confident in her abilities, worked hard, and was encouraged by her husband. “I spent five hours a day in Realtor offices, handing out fliers just to get recognized,” she said.

Davidson gradually expanded her contacts with agents so that they would be willing to give her a few loans. “They gave me the difficult deals and my reputation spread. They knew that if I said a loan would close at a certain date, it would. I would do anything within reason to make deals works. I once drove seven hours round trip to Oklahoma City to have customers’ papers signed.”

Early on, Davidson determined that first-time buyers would be her primary niche, an appropriate fit with her primary market, the “working class” community of East Dallas. Her average loan amount is $111,000 and 84 percent of her total volume is FHA/VA business. “It became my goal to help people purchase their first home,” she said. “Many of them don’t know they can ever buy and they are so appreciative. They often give me flowers or cookies once the loan is closed.” One fourth of her government loans are “traditional underwrites,” loans that generally don’t use automated underwriting. “These are typically borrowers who only have rent and utility payments to show; there are no credit scores,” she explained. “These are much more difficult and you have to know how to structure them.”

Davidson continued to refine her marketing strategies and reached a turning point after attending a Todd Duncan seminar. “After about a year, I was at a place in my career where I needed some direction regarding having an assistant, marketing techniques, and other areas. I had recently gone to work for Service First Mortgage and the owner told me to attend the seminar. A major discussion topic was the importance of having systems that would enable you to grow to a higher production level.” Back in her office, Davidson was motivated to create very detailed operations and marketing plans, which are broken down into categories and individual responsibilities. “I learned the importance of having a streamlined system that ensured each part of the transaction was handled the same way with every loan,” she noted.

Approximately 50 percent of Davidson’s business is based on strong Realtor relationships. Her marketing includes:

  • Bi-weekly fliers that highlight new loan products and other developments.
  • Status reports faxed and e-mailed throughout the loan process.
  • Starbucks gift certificates provided in appreciation to real estate agents. “This costs me $300 a month, but agents absolutely love it,” she said.
  • Thank-you cards and phone calls made to agents after closing.
  • Quarterly seminars on various topics conducted at Realtor offices.
  • Congratulations letters to acknowledge news articles and awards. “For instance, we’ll send them a note attached to a newspaper article that mentions their achievement.”
  • Cross-selling of agent services. “When we talk to prospective buyers regarding a pre-qualification, we will congratulate the buyer on their choice of a real estate agent and let them know they are in great hands. This solidifies the team concept between the three of us.”
  • Special value-added service summary, which includes a regular flier to remind agents of the various elements that help distinguish the Davidson team from the competition.

“We outline everything we do for them and for borrowers,” she noted. “This reminds agents that there is no reason to use any other originator/lender. It’s what helps set us apart.”

Davidson later added builder business to her base; two major developers make up about 10 percent of her total volume. In addition to regular phone and e-mail updates, the Davidson team provides lunch to various builder sites. “We’ll arrange catered lunches for the builders on their busy Saturdays,” she said. “They think we walk on water and always introduce us as their preferred lender. Last year, we did about 65 new house loans.”

Davidson hasn’t ignored her customers and prospects. She has developed a comprehensive consumer-direct campaign, which includes a loan transaction assessment status sheet; a binder that includes all loan paperwork, team summaries, a loan process flow chart, and checklist; pre- and post-closing phone calls; and a closing letter.
She also has an effective customer-for-life program to stay in contact with past borrowers. It features:

  • Closing letter– A month after closing, all customers receive a thank-you letter, along with an amortization schedule, a Davidson Team carry bag, and other gifts.
  • Newsletter/postcards—At least six times a year, they mail past customers a newsletter, letter, or postcard (outsourced).
  • E-mail Club (from Intouch)– This is a monthly e-mail notice that addresses interest rates and other useful information. “The e-mail club is an informative and very cost-effective way to stay in touch with past clients,” she said. “It costs us about $30 a month to reach 600 customers.”
  • Mortgage review– A year after closing, the team makes a follow-up phone call to wish customers a happy anniversary, offer a free credit report, and ask for referrals.

Davidson is a proponent of developing telephone scripts
for use when talking to customers, agents, and others. She has scripts for a variety of different scenarios, including appointment scheduling, interest rates, and status reports. “Having the scripts helps ensure that everyone conveys the same message, and they are especially beneficial for new team members.”

Of course, she’s also an advocate of the team concept. All of her written communications highlight the “Davidson Team.” She makes sure that customers, agents, and others realize that while she is the mainstay of the team, others are qualified to handle every step of the loan process. “One of our main points is to emphasize that we have such an experienced staff. For example, we advise everyone that four of us have FHA’s DE (underwriting) designation,” she said. “In addition, we use the title “mortgage planner” for our team assistants because it shows customers that these people are important. Sometimes people react adversely to the assistant title. When they’re told they should talk to an assistant, they may feel they’ve been passed off to someone with less influence.”

Her team currently consists of Christine Wilson, production manager; Esther Fries, mortgage planner; Karen Bowman, operations manager; Shelby Seaman, marketing support/processor; Amie Romero, team assistant; Stormi Allen, processor; and Rebecca Grissom, processor. “I couldn’t do it without them; these people are a primary reason for my success,” she emphasized. “I’m blessed to have members who believe in the same vision, the same goals.”

The team has an action plan to ensure that the pipeline is never backed up. One of the key steps is to ensure that all of the transaction procedures are clearly defined and followed. “Two years ago we brought Building Champions in to help us “white board” (outline) our loan process and how we could improve it,” she said. “We noted every single step, with checklists so that everything runs smoother. Every six months, we critique the process to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to keep it flowing.”

They’ve also created a streamlined application process. One of the two mortgage planners usually meets with customers first to obtain their preliminary financial information and explain basic procedures, then shows a brief video that introduces Davidson. “I describe the steps they will follow,” she said. “The video helps get them familiar with me while I’m also selling the importance of the team.” After watching the video, customers meet with Davidson, who answers questions and discusses loan options. “We’ve found this to be a very effective use of our time. I spend the appropriate time with everyone and they also understand that we’re a team helping them with their loan.”

In addition, they provide all necessary instructions, checklists, and other information up front so that customers and agents don’t have to call for progress reports. “We try to eliminate phone calls. I believe that if we get calls that aren’t for new business, we haven’t done our jobs.”

They also avoid promising unrealistic loan closings; about three weeks is their norm. “We know we can do faster closings, but we don’t want to over-commit and end up disappointing customers. This helps eliminate stress and, ultimately we’re able to be more efficient.”

Davidson shares the staff’s salary costs with the company, while she pays the production bonuses. “You have to be willing to invest in your team,” she stressed.

The Davidson team works long hours, but they have fun as well. For example, in the past she has arranged for monthly massages, limo rides to the movies, and a trip to New Orleans. They’re currently focusing on meeting this year’s production goal so they can they enjoy their year-end bonus of a Mexican cruise. “I believe it’s important to show your appreciation for your team,” she said.

During the last 6 ½ years, Davidson has become a dedicated student of SuperStar success techniques. She believes that having a long-term “vision” is an essential requirement. “You’ve got to be able to envision what your business will be like in five or 10 years into the future,” she explained. “For example, I can tell you what my team’s goals are and how we intend to achieve them. If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?”

She also believes that basic implementation is often overlooked by loan originators. “You can go to a variety of seminars, but if you’re not disciplined enough to get things done, you won’t be successful.”

Davidson looks forward to implementing more effective strategies throughout the next few years. “I love what I do. I want to continue to be the rainmaker, bringing new customers in, while developing the overall vision. Our new goal is 750 loans and we’re counting on 1,500 units.”

Of course, she knows that attaining higher production goals is only part of her responsibility as team leader. “We’ve been so busy and we all love the business,” she added. “But I want to make sure that we can all enjoy an even greater quality of life. I want to make sure that everyone achieves a good balance between their jobs and the rest of their lives.”

SuperStar of the Month – Jim Bane

Jim Bane is one of those entrepreneurial loan originators who constantly monitors and adjusts his marketing program to ensure he is reaching the right customers. He doesn’t take his prior success for granted and, as a result, has steadily increased his annual production to reach the SuperStar level. Last year, Bane closed 575 loans and $72.8 million as an originator for WR Starkey Mortgage in Ft.Worth, Texas. He previously originated for CTX Mortgage and BMC Mortgage.
An example of Bane’s resourcefulness occurred early last year when he realized that many Realtors were forming in-house lender units, a trend which was having a pronounced impact on the Ft. Worth origination market. Bane, 36, knew that he had to expand his approach to reach other prospects. “I had been working with a number of Realtors but I knew that I would have to broaden my base.”

Bane determined that major corporations could be a viable niche and began contacting human resource directors at companies in the Ft. Worth area. “I introduced myself and offered special service to their employees,” he said. “For example, we provide a discount off our normal fees. The HR departments endorse my services and this allows us to add updates on the company Web site and send fliers to employees.” He also provides companies with plastic display holders for his fliers and sends postcard reminders to employees who have purchased or refinanced with him. “I’ve received up to 80 customers from one company,” he stressed. “This has been my biggest marketing success so far.”

Bane suggests that originators who are considering their own corporate program should strive to do a loan for the HR directors, offer employees a special discount, and promote their value-added service on company Web sites.

Bane has developed a number of other ways to reach his customers. For example, 40 percent of his business is still derived from Realtor relationships. He conducts seminars at Realtor offices every few months and participates in Realtor and builder open houses whenever possible.

“I started my Realtor business by just visiting their offices on a regular basis,” he said. “Then, I began to identify the top agents in each office and establish relationships with them. I’ve found that newer agents often follow the example of the more experienced ones, by referring me to their customers.” He currently works with nearly 60 agents at nine different offices.

A major turning point in his career occurred after he’d been originating for several years. “Ft.Worth has a large senior population,” he explained. “When I started originating, I was 25 and some of the key Realtors, as well as prospective borrowers, wondered whether or not I was experienced enough for their older customers, and also if I’d still be around in a year or two. I gradually became established in the market and they no longer considered me the brand new originator. This was a major reason for my production increasing from $18 million in 1996 to $32 million in 1998.”

Bane also developed a solid builder base. “I look for those who build at least 60 to 70 units a year,” he said. One way that he develops new builder clients is by having title companies and other partners help promote him. “We’ll encourage a title company or even a past customer to tell a specific builder about the good service we provide, and that we might do a better job for them than their current lender does.”

He has developed a number of co-op marketing strategies with builders. One of the most popular is placing door hangers 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.”
Bane and a key builder share the cost of promotional banners that highlight subdivisions. He also prepares loan scenario sheets for distribution at builder and Realtor open houses. “Even if they don’t buy that particular house, they’ll still have my information for later on,” he noted.

In addition, one of Bane’s major builders provides borrowers with a special incentive for using WR Starkey. The builder’s contract stipulates that it will cover the cost of the home’s title policy if Bane is the originator. “I initially suggested that they include this in the contract. It’s good for us and it makes it easier on the builder because they only have to deal with one firm.”

Unlike some originators, Bane doesn’t feel the need to provide builders with written reports. “I’m talking to most of them on an almost daily basis so I haven’t found it necessary to constantly send written reports,” he noted. “Of course, this helps save time later on.”

Bane also teaches real estate finance classes at Texas Christian University (TCU). “As a result of the contacts I’ve made, we’ve done some loans for professors and a few for former students, as well. Once students graduate, they typically get good jobs and are eventually ready to purchase a home.”

The company’s marketing department assists Bane with his customer follow-up program. This includes mailing thank-you letters and monthly postcards on Valentine’s Day, Spring Break, Christmas, and other occasions. “The customers appreciate receiving them and the cards remind them that we welcome their referrals.” They also have a quarterly newsletter that includes finance information and homeowner tips. “They can then fill out a form on the back of the newsletter to receive more information on a specific topic. This has been very popular.”

While the company does some broadcast and newspaper advertising, Bane’s own ads appear in local high school sports programs and calendars, as well as the TCU campus directory. “It’s great for visibility and gives something back to the community.”

Bane added that his Web site is one of his most effective marketing tools. “Approximately 25 percent of our customers apply online. This gives them the opportunity to apply at their convenience, 24 hours a day.”

He recently initiated a program that benefits both community organizations and customers. Bane makes a $200 donation to the local Down Syndrome Partnership in the name of each purchase and refinance customer, and he’s planning to do the same a local church. “As the father of a Down Syndrome child, I know how important it is to provide this support and it also is very gratifying for our customers,” he stressed.

Bane currently has a five-person team to help handle his expanding pipeline: Julie Matney, Nancy Booth, and Tracie Calhoun, processors; and Brett Bowden and Brenda Best, assistants. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “At first I was afraid to get assistants involved in my business; I was worried that I might lose control of the client relationships. But I realized there was no way I could take 60 calls a day and do 50 loans a month without the support of others. Of course, I learned the valuable role that assistants play.”

One of his assistants is primarily responsible for taking loan applications, delivering documents, and coordinating the underwriting process, while the other one locks-in the loans and oversees niche loan products. Bane takes approximately 40 percent of his applications, with an assistant handling the remainder. “I’ll oversee all of them and I know the details on each customer.”

While the company pays for their salaries, Bane provides production-based bonuses. “The team has an incentive,” he said. “Their overall pay is tied to my volume, so they obviously are interested in helping to ensure that we’re as productive as possible.”

They rely on a pipeline chart to track their loans in process but don’t have any other unusual techniques to maintain an orderly system. “By the time we meet with customers, we’ve already completed a basic information sheet listing social security, salary, and other details. Then one of the processors pulls their credit report and imports the data to their application. We typically provide a pre-approval within 30 minutes and advise the Realtor and customer to let us know when they’ve found a property.”

Bane is adamant about promptly returning phone calls as a basic time-saving strategy. “I don’t go home at night until there is a check mark next to the name of everyone who has called,” he said. “This ensures that I won’t have to be playing catch-up the following day.”
During his 12 years as an originator, Bane has observed the varied characteristics of other origination SuperStars. For instance, he believes that most top producers are always looking for new ways to grow their business. “Some originators just want to ‘get by’ and make a comfortable living,” he said. “However, many others are more competitive; they’re always looking for ideas to do more than the other originators in their market. I’m continually trying to add a builder or Realtor to my base and constantly raise the bar on my yearly production goals.”

He insists that top producers also provide “raving fan” customer service. “I believe that successful originators always try to be a little better than the originator across the street,” he said. “I make sure that my team—including assistants, appraiser, and title company—is a bit more detailed and harder working than others. Customers realize this; they compare your performance with that of their previous originator.”
In addition, he concurs with most other top producers who emphasize the importance of having a support team. “You can’t do this volume without people you can trust,” he said. “You need help to reach the higher numbers.”

Bane also pointed out that working for a supportive company is also critical. “I attribute much of my success to the overall support I receive from WR Starkey Mortgage. The president (William Starkey) ensures that we have the necessary assistance to be successful and he is always accessible. In addition, we benefit from a variety of marketing and management resources.”

Bane looks forward to significantly expanding his production during the next few years, including the addition of more corporate and builder business. “About four years ago, I was told that an originator couldn’t do $60 million a year in the Ft. Worth market. I’ve done that and we’re now going for $100 million. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Raving Fans

Jim Bane knows the importance of providing all customers with excellent service, regardless of their loan amount. For example, he recently had an opportunity to assist a couple who work as a housekeeper and gardener for a wealthy Ft. Worth family. The borrowers were nervous and required special handholding for their $70,000 loan. Bane helped make it a comfortable process for the first-time borrowers and this obviously made an impression. Soon after closing, their employer called to thank Bane for his extra efforts on their behalf. “They told me how much they appreciated the fact that I had taken care of the couple and emphasized that whenever their family members or friends need a loan, they will refer them to me.”