Top Originators

This year we have highlighted 10 originators whose exceptional and diverse accomplishments have helped them achieve a place on the Top 200 list. Whether they have shined in the top volume category, the FHA/VA arena, purchase business, or elsewhere, these LOs have created systems to maximize their success in the industry–and here they share some of their stories–and their secrets.

Perennial Top Performers

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage * Loan Originator * Aspen, Colo. * $175,229,109 * 470 loans * Purchase: 64% * Refinance: 36% * Assistants: 3 * Years Originating: 19

American Home Mortgage * Senior Vice President * Mt. Prospect, Ill. * $205,000,000 * 870 loans * Purchase: 50 % * Refinance: 50% * Assistants: 2 * Years Originating: 20

Jody Cooper and Jeff Lake have several things in common: both SuperStars have been originating for about 20 years; they’re well respected by their peers as being customer-focused, hard working professionals; and, they are among a small group of LOs who have appeared on the Top Originators List for each of the 10 years it’s been in existence.

They also have been proactive in their marketing efforts to maintain visibility with past customers and generate new business, although their respective methods have changed in recent years. “We give a lot more attention to our old clients,” said Lake. “We still use our monthly newsletter and have holiday presents for clients.  However, we also use e-mail more now than we did before, including holiday e-mails and rate alert e-mails.”

In addition, Lake spends less time working with Realtors than he has over the last decade. “Realtors only represent 20 percent of our total production,” he said. “We are trying to add more attorneys and financial advisors to the mix.”

Cooper’s marketing approach has also evolved. “I market to my current customers more than I ever have before,” she said. “This includes making periodic phone calls, distributing various mailings, and even running local newspaper ads. Also, we are refinancing more second mortgages, since those are typically floating rates and the majority of my business now is purchase transactions.”

Of course, one thing that hasn’t changed is their reliance on support. “The team approach is the heart of my success,” emphasized Lake. “My assistant, junior loan officer, and two processors have total knowledge of the business and understand the importance of our clients.”

Cooper concurs that assistance is essential to her success. “The key for me to continue being a top producer is the team of people I have working with me,” she said. “I have three associates and they each have their own expertise in a specific area. For example, one of my associates is the best at putting first mortgage deals together while another is best at coordinating second mortgages, and the third assistant keeps my database current.”

Their secrets for success are basic, yet have been proven over time. “A big part of our success is giving people more than what they expect,” explained Lake. “Even if the client is wrong, we will take the blame for everything. We always put the client’s needs before our own. Always do what’s in their best interests.”

“My key is that I am passionate about what I do and I want to be the best,” added Cooper. “I want people in town to talk about how I helped them get into a home and that they knew exactly what was going on and they were treated professionally.”

Will they continue to produce and appear on M.O.M.’s list in 2016? They both still enjoy the business, and aren’t desperately seeking retirement. “I am starting to enjoy giving back more to the other loan officers in our company by sharing some of my knowledge with them,” Lake said. “Every year my team is taking on a much larger part of the originating. Sometime in the future, I hope to have my team take over the originating business so I can spend my full time mentoring.”

Likewise, Cooper isn’t planning to retire anytime soon. “I still like the business,” she said. “It is always changing with new guidelines, programs, and products. If I get to the point that I don’t enjoy it, then I will think about retiring, but for the time being I am very happy.”

Highest Dollar/Unit

Countrywide Home Loans * Sales Manager * Glendale, Calif. * $1,080,554,199 * 3,444 loans * Purchase: 65% * Refinance: 35% *Assistants: 10 * Years Originating: 14

Alan Pezeshkian knows that a great team can make all the difference when you’re shooting for SuperStar numbers. In fact, in 2005 his team of 10 assistants and loan “bookers” helped him get to number one on this year’s lists (both dollar and loans), with $1,080,554,199 and 3,444 units. “From the very beginning days of my business, I’ve believed in offering a highly competitive incentive plan,” Pezeshkian explains. “This has resulted in virtually zero turnover in my staff and has enabled me to surround myself with a highly motivated sales team.” His team handles all of the actual applications, leaving Pezeshkian with the time to remain visible with his referral partners and to focus his efforts on generating business.

Pezeshkian’s commitment to the team concept has extended to the Realtors he works with, and landed him the position of “preferred lender” for over 20 condominium projects in his Los Angeles, Calif. market—another factor in his substantial production, he notes. “In 2005, we implemented new strategies to help our partners grow their business, and as a result, our capture rates within these offices improved significantly compared to prior years.” In addition to his condo deals—which are often first-time buyers—Pezeshkian enjoys a diverse customer base. He plans to expand his business in 2006 by replicating his successful model in other nearby communities. “I also plan to grow my business through recruiting quality loan officers, penetrating new markets and new territories, and implementing programs aimed at increasing capture rates in our relationships with real estate offices,” he shares. “I want to make sure that I deploy systems to ensure I can always deliver the highest service standards.”

Pezeshkian attributes stellar results to a supportive, growing company (“I can’t imagine realizing my accomplishments in any other organization,” he said), and ambitious personal goals. “I’ve always been a man of my words, believing that I must possess the absolute best reputation for dependability, reliability, and expertise. Like any other business, it is imperative to have the highest level of integrity and honesty, to a degree that customers trust you implicitly.”

Top FHA/VA Producer

The Rivera Group at Resource Bank * Vice President, Retail Division * Rockville, Md. * $ 83,810,143 * 326 Loans * Purchase: 65% * Refinance: 35% * Assistants: 2 * Years Originating: 8

Daniel Rivera says that the misconception about FHA/VA loans—that they are fundamentally more difficult than traditional loans—is a common fallacy among many originators. In fact, he explains, the loans simply require attention to detail. Rivera should know. He is this year’s top FHA/VA producer, with 261 loans closed and $67,048,114 in volume (80 percent of his total origination).

The vice president of the retail division with The Rivera Group at Resource Bank, Rivera attributes his decision to specialize in FHA/VA to his affinity for the programs and his customers, and not “shrinking away” from his work. His obvious passion for government loans has helped him create a strong niche in his Rockville, Md. community, and his ability to tailor his service to each individual borrower has afforded him a loyal customer base.  “Attention makes the difference because each loan is singular, there’s not a fixed pattern or layout to follow,” he says. “On the contrary, each borrower is a complete new world, completely different from the previous one.”

After eight years in the industry, his customer base has grown substantially, mostly by word of mouth. He also enjoys a robust repeat-borrower business, as his original first-time buyers become move-up clients. The level of success he has experienced is all about the service, he says. “Who doesn’t want to receive attention to detail and personal service?” Rivera’s marketing is largely based on home visits, as well as a monthly newsletter.  He has focused much of his marketing on the local Hispanic community and has found the targeted efforts successful in establishing a solid niche.  “I keep in touch with my database every month through my personal newsletter, and my customers know I care because of the timely advice they get through it,” he notes. “In-person appearances are also important, and I use that as a significant part of my marketing technique.” Rivera says aspiring FHA/VA originators must be “committed to serve” adding, “A satisfied client is truly a source of endless referrals.”

Veteran Originator

SunTrust Mortgage * Assistant Vice President/Originator * Maitland, Fla. * $97,757,063 * 158 loans * Purchase: 96% * Refinance: 4% * Assistants: 1 * Years Originating: 32

After over 30 years in the mortgage industry, Karen Miller-Lozicki has her origination business down to a science. She has created a strong niche within the custom builder community in four surrounding counties, specializing in construction-to-permanent loans. She has also discovered a way to strike a balance between her professional and personal lives. “I make my family a priority and my business secondary,” she says. “But I still maintain a productive environment around me at all times.” As an originator with one of the longest tenures in the industry, Miller-Lozicki appears as number 135 on the Top 200 list, with 158 loans closed and $97,757,063 in volume.

Beginning her career as a processor and branch manager, Miller-Lozicki quickly blossomed in the business; an opportunity to close a loan from start to finish allowed her to expand her role. “The client raved and I become a referral source to several Realtors. At that time I made the move to full-time originating.” Miller-Lozicki took that experience to heart, stating, “I never let an opportunity pass me by.” She is now an assistant vice president at SunTrust Mortgage in Maitland, Fla., where she has worked for 10 years. Although her business is 80 percent construction, she also markets to Realtors and relies on referrals from past borrowers. “I always value my clients and the referrals I receive,” she says. “I try to find a common bond between the client and myself, and treat each one, whether a large business transaction or a small one, like I would want to be treated.”

Miller-Lozicki realizes the value of a simple thank you to her borrowers for their business. She feels that this small gesture, along with first-rate service and follow-up, makes a big impact, emphasizing, “The key to my success is integrity, professionalism, and constant communication to all involved in the mortgage transaction.”

High Purchase Volume

Coldwell Banker Mortgage * Mount Laurel, N.J. * Senior Mortgage Loan Consultant * $97,529,919 * 651 Loans * Purchase: 98% * Refinance: 2% * Assistants: 0 * Years Originating: 2

Dana Gounaris saw the signs of a changing market and wanted to be prepared for the inevitable decrease in refinance business—and he was lucky to work for a company that was proactive in their preparation. “The lender I work for recognized that the industry was destined to shift from a refinance to a purchase market,” he said. “They have implemented strategic initiatives to put us in a position where we can thrive through the change.” As a result, Gounaris’ 2005 production was 98 percent purchase business.

A key reason for the recently expanded purchase business was Gounaris’ solid association with Realtors. “The division of our business I am a part of is the mortgage solution for multiple real estate brands,” he said. “The leads that come from these brands are referred to us by agents and therefore, are primarily purchasers. Recently, we have added more field representatives who act as liaisons between each real estate brokerage and our company. This initiative has helped loan originators like myself better serve the purchase market and increase our conversion rate.”

While Gounaris didn’t do much traditional marketing in 2005, he has benefited from the company’s overall visibility. “Coldwell Banker provides most of the marketing for our mortgage company as a whole. I market myself through contacting Realtors over the phone and having the field reps promote me in the real estate offices.”

Gounaris works with a diverse customer base, including first-timers and experienced buyers.  “However, in 2005 a high percentage of my business was from investors, as well as second-home buyers,” he said. While he is licensed in all 50 states, the majority of his business is derived from/comes from the Southeast region.

Gounaris attributes some of his production success to demonstrating a sincere interest in his customers’ goals and their financial futures. “One key has been finding out what people need and giving it to them,” he said. “Asking the right questions and listening is so important in providing a good experience and uncovering the customer’s needs. I try to do this on every call and believe it is one of the reasons I have been successful.”

Rookie Success Story

Great Southwest Mortgage * Mortgage Consultant * Mesa, Ariz. * $60,140,672 * 443 Loans * Purchase: 80% * Refinance: 20% *Assistants: 1 *Years Originating: 1

Chad Melin managed to do what few others have accomplished in their first year as an originator—earn a place on M.O.M.’s Top 200 originator list (as well as the rookie list).

In his rookie year, Melin closed an impressive $ 60,140,672 and 443 loans for Great Southwest Mortgage. Of course, he would readily stress that his prior experience as a general manager for a nationwide homebuilder and the invaluable guidance of his mentor helped prepare him to have a banner year. “Ryan Nelson showed me the ropes and how to do business the right way,” he said. “He taught me the systems of being a top originator and how to market to Realtors.”

Melin’s first-year marketing also included mailing postcards and co-hosting a local real estate finance radio show. “I [later] received a lot of calls from people who were looking to improve their current mortgage or credit situation,” he said.  He strives to be selective in his overall approach. “I don’t market just to say I am,” he said. “It has to make the phone ring and make money or I don’t do it.”

In a brief time as an originator, Melin has already established a healthy mix of business. “Arizona is one of the fastest growing markets in the country. With the amount of appreciation at record levels, people have been refinancing and purchasing new homes at a record pace. I have a good mix of first-time buyers, move-up buyers, and investors.”

Throughout the loan process, Melin takes an educational approach with his customers, which is appropriate considering he has a Masters degree in educational administration. “Educating clients regarding the mortgage process, along with agents, is my top secret,” he said. “If I educate people about their credit and planning for the future, instead of focusing on selling, they usually refer friends and family to me. And, when I teach agents a new way of doing something, they’re excited and share it with others.”

Melin believes his support staff also plays a critical role in his success. “I have one of the best support engines for closing loans,” he said. “Our support staff is the best in the industry.”

He is primed for an even greater production in 2006. “My goal is to originate one loan a day,” he said. “I continue to market to past clients and grow my referral sources. Most people complain when the phone rings too much. I say bring it on!”

Superstar Fast Track

First Security Lending * President * Los Angeles, Calif. * $ 289,322,063 * 558 Loans * Purchase: 39% * Refinance: 61% *Assistants: 5 * Years Originating: 5

Jack Soussana was working as a door-to-door life insurance salesman when he clicked with an originator at a seminar.  “The company I was introduced to was run by two guys who weren’t much older than I was at the time,” he recalls. “They took me under their wings and taught me the business. The support that I got early-on gave me the confidence to leave insurance—I never considered taking a step back or failing.” This attitude has served Soussana well. He made the biggest jump on the Top 200 list, skyrocketing to number 15 on the dollar list in only his fifth year of originating. “I take my business seriously,” he said. “The clients’ largest investment is in my hands, and I take pride in what I do.”

Soussana has also been able to apply his life-insurance background over the years. “One thing I picked up from my insurance days is making sure I get a minimum of two referrals per client,” he says. “I ask throughout the loan process. Every time I have any news to tell the client is another opportunity to ask for a referral—of course, the easiest time to ask is when you give the client good news. The key is to ask as if it was second nature,” he suggests. “I aim for coworkers, children, grandchildren, friends, and neighbors.”

Soussana’s “Tell-a-Friend” campaign has been one of his most successful marketing tools, along with informing his past borrowers of “new trends” on a quarterly basis. “The selling point I use most is the fact that we are a direct lender. I promote our turnaround times and our ability to think outside the box to structure the clients’ loans,” Soussana says.

In the future, he plans to expand his licensing to other states and continue to look for challenging new markets. “Taking a customer from a first-time buyer to a multi-home owner is a rush for me,” he explains. “More happy clients means more referred new clients, which equals means loans closed. It’s that simple.”

Unique Previous Profession

Cornerstone Home Lending * Senior Loan Officer * Las Vegas, N.V. * $ 72,538,885 * 511 Loans * Purchase: 79% * Refinance: 21% *Assistants: 1 * Years Originating: 6

Vicky Frontiere agrees that taking a career path from racehorse jockey to stuntwoman to loan originator may seem out of the ordinary, but she has definitely benefited from her previous work experiences. “Being a professional race horse jockey and a stuntwoman taught me a lot, including dedication, perseverance, responsibility and a focused work ethic,” she said. “My competitive side truly comes out in this business too.” Frontiere was definitely a winner last year, having posted 2005 numbers of $ 72,538,885 and 511 loans. “This is a company of top industry professionals, so the race was a tough one!”

Frontiere maintains a diverse client-base. “Much of my business comes from past customers on move-up transactions, referrals of family and friends, preferred relationships with Realtors and builders, and a network of investors,” she said.

She noted that while the Las Vegas market continues to expand, she also is comfortable developing new areas. “As a federal-chartered mortgage banker, I am also closing in six to eight different markets each month. We have a great Internet application process that is so efficient, customers and Realtors in several states like working with us.”

In addition to the Internet presence, she maintains visibility with her past customers with several different strategies. “At Cornerstone we have our own marketing department which is a huge plus. I can come up with an idea and they create wonderful materials for me to use. They create all my magazine ads, joint marketing pieces, and other items. I’m on a quarterly plan where pieces go out to my database, without me having to worry about it.”

The champion producer shows no signs of slowing down. “I set goals every year and work towards them,” she stressed. “I plan to put another production assistant in place to help me do things that take up time, like pulling credit and inputting information into our software system. Then I can spend more of my time prospecting for business.”

SuperStars of the Month: Highlight Marketing Strategies

As most SuperStars will agree, effective marketing is a key element of their overall success. Following is a summary of some of the most notable origination techniques they have implemented:

Realtor Business
Tyler Ford knows that Realtors appreciate value-added services as a way to help grow their business. Ford, an originator with Long Mortgage, Tucson, Ariz., has offered EyeOnMyLoan, a Web-based reporting system for agents and others. “The program provides the status of loans,” he explained. “The agent can log on to the site and see how everything is flowing. They love it because they don’t have to call us and there are no surprises. It is a great accountability tool that frees up more of our time.”

Jim Nusselein, an originator with Mortgage Bancorp Services, Palatine, Ill., provides several value-add benefits to agents (based on recommendations of Angela Valencia of One Stop Referrals). For example, after one of his agents lists or sells a property, an outsource service automatically distributes 100 or more postcards to homeowners in the surrounding area. They include a photo of the house, along with the agent’s picture and a small Mortgage Bancorp logo. “The cards help market the Realtor, enhancing the agent’s image in the eyes of neighbors,” he said. (He and the agent share the costs of the cards). Nusselein also began offering virtual Realtor tours of listed properties for Realtor Web sites, as another co-op venture with agents. The tours include extensive photos of properties and other information.

Sherry Zickert, an originator with U.S. Bank Home Mortgage, Fond du Lac, Wisc., developed a resource book that includes details on loan programs, agency guidelines, and various other subjects. She regularly distributes monthly/quarterly updates to agents. “New Realtors especially like it,” said Zickert. “They’ll often call me and say that they have a client who fits into a certain loan program. I get a lot of referrals from the book.”

Another way to show support is via association involvement. John Madeira, vice president/originator with Cardinal Financial Company, Allentown, Pa., supports Realtor associations as a way to maintain visibility and expand his referral network. His participation includes attending meetings, sponsoring events, and participating in conferences. “It’s additional exposure,” he said. “We all know that the business isn’t just about writing loans today. Some of the other areas are what help you build a following over time.”

Listing Agent Contact
Several originators have stressed the value of reaching out to listing agents. “The biggest reason for my increase in business during the last couple of years was pursuing listing agents involved with the transaction,” said Randy Lund, loan consultant at Silver State Mortgage, Las Vegas, Nev. When he obtains a sales contract, Lund calls the listing agent to introduce himself and his team and advise the agent that everything will run smoothly. He also sends them regular fax or e-mail updates on customers’ loans. “If we do a good job of keeping them current, we won’t receive lots of calls, and we can spend more time on revenue producing activities,” he added.

Lawn Signs
Some LOs have gained visibility and referrals by planting rider signs on for sale properties. They’ve worked well for Jack Lieberman, owner/mortgage advisor of USA Mortgage Funding, Austin, Texas. He explained that the phone numbers for both the listing agent and USA Mortgage are posted on the rider signs of various properties, enabling people to call 24 hours/seven days to obtain pertinent details. Rather than hear a taped message, they can speak to an operator who takes their contact information and then e-mails it to both agent and originator. “We’re getting 200 good leads a month from one Realtor office,” Lieberman said.

Handy Giveaways
Zickert looks for something different when she considers a gift for agents or customers. Foe example, she has provided miniature metal planters that include spring bulbs, with her business card affixed to the front. “That was really fun to deliver,” she said. “I was the talk of the town.”

Robert Moulton provides new customers with a $100 savings off closing costs coupon. The coupon is personalized with the loan officer’s contact information that they can send to customers. “There’s a note that advises the customer, ‘We’re ready when you are,'” said Moulton, president/originator at Americana Mortgage Group, Long Island, N.Y.

Marc Brinitzer, originator at American Pacific Mortgage/Big Valley Mortgage, Sacramento, Calif. provides his new customers with a special post-closing gift— a one-year subscription to Sunset Magazine. “There is a tear-off cover that says ‘compliments of Marc Brinitzer,'” he said. “This is a great monthly reminder and only costs $14 per person.”

The Instructor’s Role
Lieberman has found teaching to be an effective way to expand his agent support. He has taught agents classes on the principles of lending, strategic partnering, and related topics. “We make agents look like heroes because they learn how to close more transactions and in turn, they refer more business to us. Other originators can consider this same technique. Go to the local Realtor board and organize an accredited course for continuing education classes. I believe that teaching agents can provide tremendous short- and long-term benefits.”

Builder Base
Zickert has developed builder referral relationships based on two elementary tactics. “I have joined a builder organization and also host seminars at builder offices on loan products and other topics,” she said. “My builder business is derived from lot loans and construction programs.

Jim Rademann, originator with R&R Mortgage in Orangeville, Calif., also courts builder business. “I initially did some marketing to a few builders and started working with one or two of them and they started to refer me to others,” said Rademann who concentrates on small to mid-size builders. “I’ve found that smaller builders that are doing 10 to 20 spec homes a year generally don’t have a CFO and we can provide financial direction, a very valuable service. This is such a sustainable source of business.”

The Sphere of Influence
When Lieberman started over an as an originator in Texas, he knew a key to his success would be one of the most basic (but often underused) techniques—a sphere of influence database. He taught the concept to new originators there. “I explained that there was a method they needed to adhere to and success would follow,” said Lieberman. “We began a sphere of influence database—cataloging everyone they knew in Texas—and then we called them all.” Based on prior experience, he knew results would follow. “For example, we know that 11 percent of the people we talk to need a loan within 90 days and 14 percent can refer us business during the next 60 days.”

Creating a distinct identity to separate yourself from other originators is an essential long-term strategy. Madeira realized a primarily element for creating effective marketing messages is making sure the spotlight is on the originator. “I’ve found it important to keep my name prominent, because I want borrowers to feel they are my clients,” said Madeira. “Of course, we want to properly promote the company, but individual name recognition is critical. So, when they think of Cardinal Financial, they think of me.”

Jimmy Yerman (branch manager) and Annette Walter march (mortgage consultant) work as a team at SunTrust Mortgage in Timonium, Md. “Annette and I agreed that it’s all about brand recognition,” said Yerman. They hired an ad firm to create the proper image, which included the phrase “Jimmy Yerman and Annette Walter, Your Mortgage Solution,” to be used on their letterhead, Web site, folders, pens, and other material. “We placed ads in two local magazines, one is geared towards the real estate market in our community, and the other caters to our wealthier clientele,” said Yerman. “Next, we sent an introduction of the partnership to the 1,500 customers in our database. All of our marketing material focuses on our team brand, so that all prospects know that we don’t have individual customers, we have team customers.”

Effective Niching
Niches can also make a difference. In addition to CPAs, Lund developed a successful referral relationship with title officers. “Many originators don’t think of the title rep as a logical source of business, but I’ve found them to be very good,” said Lund. “They come in contact with a lot of Realtors and are able to refer us to the agents.” In addition, Lund established a niche with the investment market of high-rise condos. “Las Vegas has experienced tremendous growth and a big part of that is the condo developments. Investors are buying for rental or resale.” Lund has counseled some of his customers to purchase or exchange their Las Vegas property for property in Phoenix.

A former financial planner, Brinitzer uses his background to assist customers, agents, and planners. “I found that I could uncover issues a client hadn’t seen and illuminate options that they would not otherwise have considered,” said Brinitzer. “This puts the discussion on a completely different level and demonstrates my value to them.” He also realized that he could promote his experience with other financial planners. “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.”

Madeira has developed a niche of Hispanic borrowers, including many who have relocated from New York and New Jersey. “There’s a relocation push to this area because people have more purchasing power in Eastern Pennsylvania,” he said. He speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese. “I’m one of the few loan originators in the area who is trilingual.”

The corporate account can also be highly profitable added Ed Currie, an originator with Woodfield Planning, Rolling Hills, Ill. He formed a corporate program with a local Realtor. “Our first account is a local hospital with 5,000 employees,” said Currie. “We have monthly access to them through an employee newsletter they produce. We are also on-site every two months.”

Bridget Keator, loan originator with Mortgage Master, Walpole, Mass., has tested the corporate employee niche as well. Her marketing campaign includes fee discount incentives. “It started on a more informal basis where I’d meet with someone at their office and then answer questions from a group of people,” said Keator. “Now I’ve begun to make presentations and have my contact information listed on the company Intranet. This has already been very successful.”

Direct Mail Response
Most originators who use direct mail as a preferred marketing strategy are on the lookout for new elements. Mai Yahn sends her past customers quarterly newsletters on trends and market insights, and includes a follow-up response form that recipients can return to receive free baseball game tickets. “This helps us learn who’s reading the newsletter,” explained Yahn, senior vice president/originator with Nova Home Loans, Phoenix, Ariz.

Currie has also devised a system for increasing the response to his newsletter. “I send an e-mailed newsletter that focuses on issues such as mortgage rates, mortgage rate outlook, credit scores, financial planning, and tax planning issues,” he said. The newsletter includes a contest that awards tickets to a sporting event or concert.

Specialty Advertising
Many originators look beyond the basic advertising vehicles to promote their message. For example, Ford announces his firm on local movie theatre screens. “The movie screen ad is more for basic visibility,” he said. “I’ve had past customers say ‘I saw you at the theater.’ It helps to reinforce their decision to use me as an originator.”

Zickert has also looked for non-traditional ways to advertise, including church newsletters. “I’m currently running a business card ad in 10 local church bulletins, which helps me reach a lot of people,” said Zickert.

Advertising offered Moulton an opportunity to showcase himself and Americana Mortgage Group at a national golf event. “We advertised when a United States Golf Association tournament came to the area,” he said. “We placed a gigantic sign outside our Southampton office, located on the main road to the event, greeting all of the locals and visitors.”

Community Involvement
Many originators use community involvement/charitable activities to give back to worthy causes while subtly strengthening ties with referral partners. “In addition to the recognition factor, it is important to give back to the community,” said Moulton. “For example, last year I coordinated a golf tournament that helped raise $50,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation. I also served as the auctioneer to sell donated items.”

Sophomore SuperStar – Megan Doonan

Advice to New Originators
“Treat others as you would like to be treated and honestly consider the best interest of your customers.”

Like an ambitious amateur athlete, Megan Doonan spent years practicing, training, and absorbing skills from the veterans around her before taking to the field for her first professional “game.”

A second-year originator with Emery Financial in Newport Beach, Calif., Doonan began her career in mortgages as an assistant to James Wand, a top producer. Over the course of five years, Doonan worked for various top producers of Emery, absorbing different originating styles and strategies. This variety led to a diverse and distinct working style of her own. “I realized that you can’t just be one way,” she said. “I worked with people who went purely on personality and organization was not important to them; and others who were focused almost entirely on organization. It was important for me to respect each method of originating and use those styles with clients based on what I felt they would be most comfortable with.”

While initially Doonan, 27, had no plans of establishing a career in mortgages, after working in the industry for a short time, she discovered an unexpected passion for it. “I have always been interested in finance, and fascinated by how people obtain wealth,” she said. When business slowed for the LO she was assisting, Doonan decided to make the leap to originating on her own; a decision based somewhat on necessity. “I didn’t have much choice,” she said of the shift, “but now I am so grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to become an originator.” The circumstances proved beneficial for both she and Emery—Doonan finished her rookie year with a personal volume of over $47 million on 108 loans.

Her originating career got off to a stellar start when a personal friend referred her a $1.9 million purchase loan. With extensive experience in an originating environment, Doonan took the loan with no reservations. “Working as an assistant for so long gave me the confidence I needed to feel completely comfortable selling various products and dealing with customers,” she said.

During the course of her time with Emery, Doonan made several contacts in banking. When she began originating she called all of these contacts, including personal friends who also worked in finance, to let them know of the mortgage services she could provide. One particular contact created a collaboration that would eventually result in generating 50 percent of Doonan’s business. Mahnaz Hashemian, who is now Doonan’s marketing associate, suggested that they should work together in reaching a relatively untapped market—the Persian community in Newport Beach and other surrounding areas of Los Angeles and Orange County. Hashemian, who speaks fluent Farsi, began hosting a finance education hour twice a month on a local Farsi radio station. During the hour, she would recommend Doonan for any mortgage financing needs. Meanwhile, Doonan would be ready at her office to take calls as they came in. “It became an incredible source of business,” said she said of niche. “I instantly became someone they could trust because I was being referred by a person of the Persian community.” The “warm” leads quickly went from promising to profitable, as Doonan converted 25 percent of the calls into closed loans. The niche development built up her database quickly and generated numerous referrals. “The customers I worked with in the Persian community liked the service I offered and referred me to all their friends and family,” said Doonan. “It is an affluent community and many of them are self-employed and have excellent credit. They are wonderful to work with. And obviously, I couldn’t have done any of this without Mahnaz.”

While the radio advertising, which is a shared cost with Hashemian, is the main focus of Doonan’s marketing, she also makes an effort to maintain close contact with the customers in her database. “I make phone calls to my customers to stay in touch and I send quarterly newsletters, as well as holiday cards and thank you cards for referrals,” she said.

Doonan also generates business through the three or four Realtors she works with. “I don’t need 10—at least not at this point,” she said. “I focus on the few that I’m working with so that I can maintain a high-quality level of service. I’m not going to compromise the type of service I want to offer for more work than I can handle.” She maintains that good service is the only way to keep your business strong. “Referral business comes from great service and your ability to keep contact with those sources,” said Doonan. “And if you don’t, well, once you burn a referral source, they’re gone forever.”

Last year, Doonan produced over $58 million in volume on 129 loans and is “so happy to have stayed level and even exceeded my first-year numbers,” she said. Her marketing efforts and service levels were strong enough to drive steady business her way, but she acknowledges things may get a bit tougher in the upcoming year. “I plan on marketing for new business and will continue especially to return to my current database for continued referrals,” she said. Doonan also intends to get her broker’s license to further educate herself and expand her business reach.

Doonan fondly considers herself to have been a sort of “guinea pig” within Emery Financial. Having worked with many of the top producers in the company, she still considers many of them to be essential mentors to her career and her professional development. She meets with Shelly (Talbott) Logemann (a veteran of M.O.M.’s Top 200 List) frequently to review the state of her business and address future plans. “I think about when I started and there were all these people around me making millions and I have to admit it was quite intimidating,” said Doonan. “But the diversity and the knowledge that I was surrounded by made my transition into originating so smooth. I couldn’t be happier with where the experience has taken me.”

–Gretchen Lees

Creating a SuperStar Partnership

During the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to test the theory that 1+1=3 as it relates to the quest for higher production. Last May, I formed an origination partnership with Annette Walter to increase our business, provide a higher level of customer service, and allow for a better quality of our busy lives. The result has been a successful business and a strong professional partnership that has led to a greater overall volume.

In March 2001, I began working with Annette, who had moved back home to the Baltimore area from Orlando Fla., where she had been originating loans for a few years after college. She faced the challenge of returning to the area and not having a solid book of business, but she loved originating and had incredible marketing ideas, time blocking skills, and strong mortgage training. I had been in the business for 11 years, and was also managing a branch for SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. I had an extensive database and great recognition in the industry. We met to discuss the options and during our interview, realized that we would make a good team. Annette would have the security of being able to continue learning the business from a mentor and I would finally have the marketing/selling assistant I had always dreamed of. It sounded like a perfect match.

Volume Growth
In 2001, my volume grew to $53.6 million (my previous high was $30 million in 1998) and I was the 19th largest producer at SunTrust. The following year, my production was $70.4 million, 16th in the company. By 2003, my level of production increased to $108.1 million, and I was number seven out of 732 originators at SunTrust. In that same year, I also finished in the top two percent of the company in customer service. It was an incredible three-year ride. After 14 years in mortgage banking, and enjoying other successful years, it seemed as if the stars had all finally aligned. I did realize, however, that there was absolutely no possible way I could have reached those levels of production, as well as manage an office, and still find a way to not come into the office on weekends, without Annette. She has an unbelievable ability to multi-task; from taking applications, and making sure each and every customer feels important, to tweaking systems, and to constantly building my database, she always managed to stay completely focused on the tasks at hand. During those three years, she was an invaluable support.

We survived the boom successfully, yet throughout this incredible growth, I was always looking for ways to get my business to an even greater level.

The Next Level
Annette and I had had several conversations regarding our individual as well as our team goals. I knew that Annette felt as though she was handling everything a mortgage consultant would, but was concerned with the fact that she still had the “assistant” title. She wanted her wings, but I didn’t want her to go anywhere. I could not have achieved my levels of production without her marketing, her drive, and her ability to put systems in place. So, we decided to create a formal origination partnership, which we did last May. We would now both originate and combine our volume as a team.

First, we needed a game plan, or more importantly, a business plan. As we evaluated where the majority of the business was coming from, one thing became evident: of the 434 loans closed in 2003, almost 50 percent of them were past customers, or referrals from past customers. My philosophy has always been that once you close a loan, that client should become a customer for life, but these numbers were impressive. I listened to a tele-seminar three years ago, and the speaker said that 7 percent of your database will either buy a new home, refinance their current home, or have the ability to refer one client to you each and every year if marketed to properly. That is a wonderful annuity to have. I took this advice, and with Annette’s help, have a database that does just that. In 2004, 9.3 percent of our past clients came back to us to do business.

We knew there was a good reason why so many clients had returned. It was the superior customer service we provided each and every day. As Annette has said, “Jimmy is always running around the office preaching the importance of customer service to everyone that it just became something we did naturally. Anyone can satisfy a customer. We want to ‘wow’ our customers as well as our referral sources, and so we do.”

Annette and I agreed that it’s all about brand recognition. We hired an advertising firm to create the right image to help us take our business and marketing to the next level, and in May 2004, “Jimmy Yerman and Annette Walter, Your Mortgage Solution” was officially introduced.

Our new brand was added to our Web site, business cards, letterhead, folders, pens, and everything else we could think of. We placed ads in two local magazines one of which is geared towards the real estate market in our community, and the other caters to our wealthier clientele. Next, we sent an introduction of the partnership to the 1,500 customers in our database. The feedback has been remarkable. We consistently run into people who tell us how great the new ad looks, and others who say “Hey, aren’t you the mortgage people in that ad I saw?”

The Team
Soon after we formed our originating partnership, we added our former processor as an assistant and replaced her with a new processor. The expanded team was in place, and ready to soar to new heights.

We felt like this was a win/win situation, not only for our clients but also ourselves. Now our borrowers would always be able to get a member of the team on the phone and get answers to their questions immediately. I have been able to manage my branch of 11 originators, recruit new loan officers effectively, as well as produce, while Annette has felt a sense of “ownership” in the business and become even more focused on sales, marketing, and production.
We have both felt more flexibility with our schedules, as well. With the strength of the partnership we are able to leave the office more easily for sales calls and even take vacations without giving the office a thought.

2004 Results
Our total volume for 2004 was 223 loans and $76.5 million. Of that amount, Annette was personally responsible for $15 million and 64 loans. This is significant, because it was only her first six months of full-time originating.

In addition, we shared the responsibility on a number of loans. Thus, while I might start the initial contact (or vice versa), Annette got involved in an early stage and/or played a key role in many of the other loans. This was a true team effort.

All of our marketing material that is distributed focuses on our team brand, so that all prospects know that we don’t have individual customers, we have team customers. Of course, we don’t both meet with the customers; one or the other will meet with specific customers, depending on our individual schedules.

There were minor challenges along the way, as we adapted to this different work environment, and slightly modified roles. For example, while Annette had been an originator prior to being my assistant, she took on the new responsibility of helping manage the team, including providing direction to our assistant. Of course, with any team situation, there’s the basic adjustment of “sharing” customers, but we’ve not found that to be overly difficult.
We pool the team income and divide it according to a percentage arrangement.

Key Systems
Some of the numerous systems we’ve implemented include:

From Application to Close

  • Our application package includes a colorful flier telling the customer of SunTrust’s free checking account, other banking opportunities, and a copy of the survey they will receive after closing. It asks them to read the survey, and if at any time during the loan process they do not feel they could give us a favorable response to one or more of the questions, to please let us know so we can immediately address the situation.
  • A Realtor package with product fliers is sent to the selling and listing agents when the contract comes in, along with a phone call and a handwritten note to build our Realtor strength and rapport.
  • We send $100 coupons to the borrowers at work to pass along to a friend during the application process.
  • During the loan process a status sheet is faxed out once a week to the selling and listing agents involved in the transaction.
  • We anticipate borrower questions by calling them with a figure when the appraisal comes in. Also, a letter is sent to them a week before closing reminding them to get us the name of their homeowner’s insurance agent, that a cashier’s check will be needed at closing, and to call the title company for a final number prior to closing.
  • We attend as many purchase closings as possible.
  • At closing the borrower receives a copy of the appraisal, address labels with their new address, and a Homeowner’s Record Keeper book to help them keep track of home repairs, maintenance, plans, and dreams.

Post Closing Tactics

  • A “Friday Call” is made to every client that closed that week, just to check in, congratulate them again on their new home, thank them for their business, and remind them of the customer service survey they will be receiving. We also ask for referrals—you’d be surprised how many people actually do give you a name.
  • A call or personal note to the referral source and the Realtor involved, thanking them for the opportunity to work with them, and letting them know we look forward to our next deal together.

Creating Customers for Life

  • Quarterly newsletters are sent by SunTrust’s customer-for-life program to the borrower along with an anniversary card and Thanksgiving Day card to their entire database.
  • In January, HUD-1 settlement statements are mailed out to the borrower and their accountant.
  • A spring postcard goes out with a discount on closing costs for friends and family.
  • In August a Baltimore Ravens football magnet with the schedule goes out to their database—people love these and request them every year.
  • During the holiday season we visit our business partners with goodies.

It is so easy if you like what you do and have fun. People like to feel special, and that is what we strive to do. Annette deserves and appreciates the additional recognition she receives as the result of our partnership/branding, and we both realize that the brand has increased our visibility.

We are enthusiastic about the future of our partnership. We will continue to do what we do best and look for new ways to build relationships and build business. We look forward to the challenges of getting our business to the next level. Partnerships in the mortgage world are great if you can find the right person who identifies with your work style and has the same business goals in mind. Annette and I look forward to growing our mortgage team and look forward to the day when 1+1=10!

Top Originator Profiles

This year’s Top Originator Profiles highlight outstanding performances by 10 hardworking and competitive loan originators.

Though they share many of the same qualities and work ethics, each of these originators has an original approach to their business. These profiles not only recognize them, but also offer insight into what makes them special, and what helped them succeed in 2016—even beyond the dynamic refinance market.

Father/Daughter Originating Team
Ray Cohen
Revere Mortgage * Illinois * $182,469,477 * 669 Loans * Purchase 25% * Refinance 75% * Assistants: 1.5 * Years originating: 13
Sheryl Cohen
Revere Mortgage * Illinois * $23,498,627* 118 Loans * Years originating: 1 (Rookie)

Ray Cohen represents the third generation of his family in the real estate business, so it seemed only natural that his daughter Sheryl Cohen would eventually follow suit and become the fourth. Ray has been originating for 13 years, following in the industry of his father, a Chicago real estate developer. Sheryl received her MBA to pursue financial consulting, but found it unfulfilling and decided to begin working with her father.

Ray attributes his and his daughter’s combined 2016 success to three things: “Rates going down, refinances, and the fact that we are each in the ‘sweet part’ of different markets.” Ray specializes in loan services for families who are expanding or separating, as well as servicing all of the members of his amassed referral base; Sheryl, on the other hand, at age 31, corners the market of those in her peer group—first-time homebuyers.

With obvious pride in his daughter’s work, it is clear that Sheryl is being primed to take on some of Ray’s business. Sheryl originates her own loans, as well as attends openings and closings for her father to develop her own relationship with some of his longstanding clients. “She’s working for long-term success,” says Ray. “Sheryl’s going to be in the business longer than I; this is certainly all part of a long-term plan.” Customers react very positively to this father-daughter team, and often comment on how nice it is that the two of them work together so well. In addition, Ray’s wife Marilyn is the administrator and president of operations at the office. “Working for my mother is the challenging part,” Sheryl jokes. The family maintains a professional atmosphere at work (although, Sheryl says, new clients “sometimes wonder why I call my boss ‘dad'”), but it took some time to work out a social relationship outside of the office. “When they’re always there, it can definitely put a strain on after-work get-togethers,” Sheryl admits. “It took me a year and a half after I started working here to invite them over for dinner!”

Sheryl averaged 50 hours a week last year and says she enjoys the varied “nature of the work,” especially the financial and networking aspects. She often attends Realtor open houses on weekends, and brings rate sheets; but “We don’t do cold calling,” says Ray. “It’s not so much what you send them,” says the younger Cohen. “It’s reminding them of who you are. Show them—here’s how we can help you sell houses.”

Both Ray and Sheryl are active within the community—attending local real estate, builder, and charity events, and hosting Realtor breakfasts. With a company ad in the local newspaper, holiday cards, and client follow-up letters, the Cohen’s marketing and lead-generation comes in diverse forms. Sheryl establishes numerous professional contacts socially and is focusing on building her business together with Realtors who are also new to the industry. Through years of experience, Ray has developed a loyal client base, which continues to be an abundant source of referrals. He also works with several Realtors, including two of Chicago’s top-producers. Overall, the Cohens try to “strike a balance”—in their business, and in their family life as well.

Foundation of Success: “Success is about honesty, your ability to be personable, and the education you provide your clients,” says Sheryl. “It’s about displaying knowledge,” echoes Ray. “Build trust and provide excellent service.”

High Loan-to-Dollar Ratio
Lance Dickson
Nova Home Loans * Arizona * $164,127,790 * 1,069 Loans * Purchase 47% * Refinance 53% * Assistants: 3 * Years originating: 8

Lance Dickson’s professionalism and dedication to customer service have continuously brought him success. Although his loan volume was excellent, Dickson had to work harder to close the dollar volume that he achieved. The past year’s refi boom helped him achieve his SuperStar 2016 volume, but he says he was especially pleased with his purchase business. Dickson, however, faces the undeniable challenge of originating in a relatively low-end market, where his average loan is around $154,000 (compared to New York City or Los Angeles where the average is closer to $900,000). “We live in an area where inexpensive homes are available, and we work with that. If someone wants a loan for $30,000 or $300,000 we treat them with the same respect and level of customer service.” Dickson views each client as a potential advocate for his business.

He also relies on referrals from CPAs and accountants for much of his business. “A thorough CPA delves into someone’s mortgage situation. That person is usually a trusted individual, and their referral will be trusted as well.” In addition, Dickson creates marketing pieces throughout the year to stay in front of his customers and prospects. Postcards and newsletters function as “soft-sell” advertising, urging customers to call. He advertises in the yellow pages and Realtor/broker trade magazines, and sends his Mortgage Market Update e-newsletter to Realtors every Friday. But the real secret to his success? The ultimate follow-through. Dickson reviews the final numbers with customers before closing and clearly explains every detail of costs and procedures so that they know what to expect on closing day. The escrow officer appreciates it, and the customer is happy and confident. Instead of closings taking up to two hours, Dickson’s clients spend 20 minutes going over the final details with the title company. This, he says, is a key to consistent referrals.

Perfect Follow-Through: “No matter how smoothly a loan goes, if the closing has even the smallest snag, that’s what the customer will remember.

High Percentage Purchase Business
Bob Fleet
Countrywide Home Loans * California * $192,836,936 * 633 Loans* Purchase 90% * Refinance 10% * Assistants: 2 * Years originating: 18

Bob Fleet represents something of an anomaly in the field of 2016 top producers—his business was 90 percent purchase-based. He credits a great mentor who taught him that, “refis come and go, but purchases are what will keep you going.”

With a career based on builder partnerships, Fleet strongly believes in relationship management, and says, “I work really hard at making my clients my friends.” Instead of focusing his efforts on database-driven marketing methods, he establishes relationships by making regular sales calls, attending building-industry events hosted by local communities, and weekend construction phase-releases. “It is important that my agents see me working on my day off,” he says. “I think it only strengthens the loyalty.”

Fleet emphasizes the importance of distinguishing yourself from the competition. “I work hard to educate builders and agents, to direct them as to why they should use me and my company,” he says—an approach that has helped him garner a 90 percent capture rate, without incentives.
Fleet has adopted one significant hallmark into his service model: “Never let a call go to the next day,” he says. The strategy is so important to him that all of his team members have to sign an agreement that phone calls will be returned within the same day, 100 percent of the time. This “guideline” has helped foster a 95 percent customer satisfaction response.

He credits his assistant, Wende Gotthelf, as instrumental in establishing a highly streamlined operational model. This combined with his company’s efficient underwriting system has allowed Fleet to maintain consistently high purchase volume without normally working more than 40 hours a week. “I believe in leading a balanced life,” he says. “A healthy work environment is paramount to this—I never want anyone on my team to work over 40 hours, unless it’s absolutely essential.”

On the Brighter Side: “The one key thing that has contributed to my overall success is a positive attitude. I am a solution-oriented mortgage banker and maintaining a positive attitude through it all has led me to where I am today.”

Top FHA/VA Lender
Michael J. Hott
Prime Lending * Texas * $253,123,338 * 2,082 Loans * Purchase 1% * Refinance 99% * Assistants: 9 * Years originating: 21

The number-one FHA/VA originator on M.O.M.’s list, Michael J. Hott, takes pride in his staff’s level of knowledge and customer service. Hott’s goal is to make sure that every person in his office is well-trained, capable, and in tune with the customer’s needs. “Phone reps need to be informed,” Hott says. “If they don’t know the answer they should say so and let the customer know that they’ll get back to them—and then make that follow up call.” He gives a lot of credit to his team, and keeps in touch with them through daily reports and frequent meetings. Hott is especially mindful of his customer’s closing costs—they are almost always within $25-$50 of the estimate. “You have to be accurate. When you’re accurate, you capture more business,” he explains.

In the past year, Hott has expanded to add three new markets. Expansion was made easier by a new software and mailing system. Most of his business comes from direct mailings and customer referrals, so Hott has created a “miniature bulk mailing center” with state-of-the-art postage machines that allow him to send out more mailings at a cheaper price. The system allows for bulk-mailing rates, saves time (no need to go to the post office), and prices each piece precisely. He raves, “It’s incredible. It literally paid for itself within the first 90 days. I could kick myself for not doing this sooner.”

Hott is careful not to confuse his customers about his FHA/VA connections. “A lot of lenders send out mailings in manila envelopes to look like government documents,” he says. “I’m upfront and straightforward about that.” While he admits that he’s thought about moving away from government loans, Hott says he really enjoys them. “I’ve done it for so long, I’ve gotten it down to a knack. After 21 years, I understand it so well—it’s what I do best.”

Customer Care: “Keep it simple, because the normal homebuyer can get overwhelmed and confused very easily. Just give the people what they want and give them the best.”

Originating in a SuperStar Company
Gerald McCarthy
Mortgage Masters * Massachusetts * $306,393,209 * 1,157 Loans * Purchase 25% * Refinance 75% * Assistants: 2 * Years originating: 7

Gerry McCarthy originates with a company that has performed consistently well year after year. Mortgage Masters had 11 loan originators in the Top 200, all of whom made both the loan and dollar volume lists. The company remains competitive with the best rates and the confidence that they can get the best loan for the customer every time, McCarthy says. He attributes his personal volume to a combination of the rise in refis, and to a great reputation. He strives to be honest and straightforward, and upholds his Good Faith Estimate to the letter. “When people were looking for refis last year, word of mouth from previous customers got around and business ‘popped’,” he says. “When people have a good experience, it makes it easy.”

McCarthy gets all of his business through referrals. “There’s not a nickel in my budget for advertising,” he explains. The only promotional item he uses is a closing gift of either a mug for refinances, or wine-bottle opener for purchase customers.

Part of his success in 2016 was due to an addition in his office—McCarthy brought his son on to help him with the daily paperwork. “With less paperwork, I have a lot more phone time, which means more sales time.” He has a part-time assistant as well.

Simple system changes also contributed to McCarthy’s volume. For example, he notes the immense amount of time and energy saved just by switching to modern conveniences. “It used to be that you had to go out and write loans all over town. Now you FedEx, you e-mail—it’s all so much faster.” McCarthy works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long. His only break in 2016 was a four-day vacation last summer, but says he doesn’t mind the constant work. “I love it, so it’s not work. I like the action. This kind of thing keeps me going,” he laughs.

Mark of Success: “Honor your word. Even if it costs you money, don’t ever go back on your word… it’s all about your reputation.”

Industry Veteran
Katherine Neal
HSBC Mortgage * Virginia * $122,380,000 * 482 Loans * Purchase 20% * Refinance 80% * Assistants: 1 * Years originating: 11

After 32 years in the mortgage industry, Kathy Neal still loves every day of it. In 1972, she began her career selling mortgage-backed securities for Freddie Mac. This led her to Wall Street, where she became a top mortgage-backed securities sales executive for Loeb Rhoades before settling into the residential lending career she can’t get enough of. “I really love the mortgage business,” she exclaims. “I learn something new every day, and every year just seems to get better.” Neal works from her home office, an advantage with three teenagers in the house. She has a part-time assistant, but still does most of the paperwork herself. Automation has made the process much easier, and helped Neal stay connected with her New York base.

Neal’s mortgage company has been owned by three parent corporations, and she developed a clever way to let her clients know that she was still the same loan originator they had come to trust. Neal placed ads on shopping carts at the only two grocery stores in town, highlighting her photo, name, and a reminder that she was available with the same phone number. “People always laugh,” she says, “but it really is a very good way to get the news out there.”

Neal also gets her name out by being involved in her chamber of commerce and school booster club. Her primary source of referrals comes from Realtors, who are so pleased with her work that they often call to thank her for taking such good care of their clients. “I strive to keep borrowers happy, which keeps Realtors happy, and generates more referrals,” Neal says. After every purchase, Neal sends a plant on moving day—the customers enjoy it, and because it’s a living thing, it stays around a lot longer than most marketing materials. “Every time they see it, I hope they think of me,” she says.

River of Referrals: “It’s all in the details. Everyone knows I’m a mortgage originator and everyone knows I want their business. You just have to ask.”

High Unit Production
Brad Silverstein * Michigan * $344,596,196 * 1,898 Loans * Purchase 10% * Refinance 90% * Assistants: 10 * Years originating: 12

Brad Silverstein’s superstar year (he was number seven on the loans list) can be attributed to long hours (10-12 hour workdays), an excellent support staff, and a major emphasis on online business.

He stresses the importance of live telephone conversations—”I don’t want customers leaving messages; if they do, someone else might get the call,” he says. “If I am on the phone, there is always one of my assistants right there to take the call.”

While efficient follow-through on 1,898 loans seems daunting, Silverstein says, “The key to my business is my support staff. We do everything in house,” he continues. “Credit, title, underwriting…if I had to, I could have a loan done in one day.”

Silverstein believes loyalty exists in clients, and treats every deal as though it were his last. He sends out a closing-gift package that includes a 2-night, 3-day vacation (travel not included) to a nearby resort, and various household goods. “I try to be a little different on everything that I do,” says Silverstein. “I send out cards the month after a big holiday saying that I hope they had a great holiday.” Another key to successful marketing, he claims, is simply “taking care of your client.” Silverstein’s company maintains a significant presence within the community with billboards, TV, and radio ads, which leads to consumer confidence in a well-recognized brand.

Silverstein and his team encourage customers to take advantage of their fully automated system, and they do—approximately 50 percent of their applications are filed online. Business is also generated via links placed on professional affiliates’ Web sites.

He credits the company’s in-house MIS department with maintaining a streamlined technology system. “I can input a loan application, which is filtered through a system that determines the lender we can sell it to,” he says. “It automatically determines which product best suits the loan.”

Streamlining Skills: “Speed is the key to success. You need an assembly line system that allows for no bumps in the loan process.”

Highest Dollar Volume
David Soleymani
First Capital Mortgage * California * $ 1,273,584,700* 1309 Loans* Purchase 29% * Refinance 71% * Assistants: 7 * Years originating: 12

“Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary efforts,” says David Soleymani, number one on this year’s dollar volume list. Soleymani saw the refi boom of 2016 as one of those circumstances. “I’ve seen a lot of cycles, and I don’t think we’ll experience anything like last year for another 40 years,” he says. A self-proclaimed “opportunist,” Soleymani took on an extra-strenuous work schedule during the busiest months—over 12-hour days Monday through Thursday, and 12-hour Sundays.

Capitalizing on what he refers to as, “by far the most efficient business you can get,” Soleymani focused on refis of clients in his high-end market. “The bulk of my loans are $700,000 to $1.5 million and I refinanced some of those loans three times last year,” he says. “I would mention a half-percent rate change without charging points and my clients were very interested. This certainly maximized my repeat business.”

A former real-estate attorney, Soleymani generates most of his business through past customers, referrals, and his professional associations. He attends breakfasts and luncheons, and plays golf as means of being, “proactive about meeting people face-to-face, including divorce attorneys, estate planners, and accountants.”

Soleymani sends value-added material to his past clients, and he utilizes e-mail as often as possible. “I send informative newsletters to my sphere of influence with economic commentary on the future direction of rates or property values.”

With seven assistants, Soleymani is able to focus on initial deal structuring and locking in loans, maintaining direct involvement throughout higher-end deals. “Having people around me is critical, although I have to create the initial direction,” says Soleymani. “Delegating everything out will only lead to diluting the quality of your business.”

While 2016 was primarily refi-driven for Soleymani, he still maintains his established relationships with 20 seasoned top-producing Realtors who provide a consistent source of purchase business.

When the Tough Get Going: “Tenacity is essential. It’s a matter of time—especially with commission. After I have spent an hour of my time on a loan, I have got to close it.”

Originating Without Assistants
Susan Theroff
First Horizon Home Loans * Missouri * $59,209,689 * 652 Loans * Purchase 30% * Refinance 70% * Assistants: 0 * Years originating: 3

Susan Theroff laughs when asked how she handles such a high volume without any help from assistants. “It’s organization,” she says. “You have to be completely, 100 percent organized all the time.” Theroff relies on operational systems that help her move applications through quickly, and knows that the secret to keeping this flow going is not allowing anything to linger on her desk. “As soon as I get a loan application completed, I send it through the underwriting system. I don’t keep files on my desk for very long.” Theroff praises her branch’s processors and closers, saying, “The staff at our branch is absolutely incredible—they are a big reason why I’m able to close such volume.”

Theroff’s hard work in 2016 was made easier by a loyal database of past customers. “I’m particularly proud of my customer base. Customers know that when rates fall, they pick up the phone and call me.” A no-cost refi offer generated more business, but name recognition was what really brought them in. Theroff’s company has a marketing department that helps originators create several professional pieces. “We have fliers, postcards, a quarterly newsletter, and a business-to-business program that targets Realtors with special campaigns,” she says. “The newsletter is especially successful. It’s timely and it really makes the phone ring.” She usually sends mailers seven or eight times each year. “Keeping contact with customers is the biggest thing. There are so many of us out here and you can’t let them forget about you.”

Theroff finds that consistency with customers and making the process as easy as possible for them is the key. She strives to “do such a good job that they tell five of their friends” and always works with the mindset that the customer comes first.

A Place for Everything: “You have to stay on top of things to make it work. Organization is huge—that’s the only way to keep up.”