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!