Originators Take Direct Route to Reach Customers

Top producers share their best consumer-direct ideas.

While acknowledging the value of working with Realtors, builders, attorneys, and other strategic partners, many originators prefer to go direct to the consumer in search of new loans. This helps ensure that they aren’t overly dependent on outside sources; they eliminate the “middle man” in the referral process.

Most consumer-direct marketing strategies are the standards, albeit with the originator’s own variation. In addition to implementing marketing techniques learned from magazine articles and seminars, originators can also consider surveying past customers.

“See Originators First” Mindset
In recent years, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has promoted its “see an agent first” concept–encouraging members to advise prospects to meet with a Realtor before an originator. Of course, this puts them in the enviable position of making referrals to the originator. However, an increasing number of originators make a point to emphasize that house hunters should get their financing in order before meeting with an agent. For example, Bill Haines, president of Rainer Pacific in Renton, Wash., strives to educate borrowers and agents as to the importance of meeting with an originator early in the process. “In our training of new real estate agents, we tell them that the first question they should ask their new customers is ‘Have you met with a lender for a pre-approval?’ In addition, most of the agents we work with say they won’t take someone in their car until they’ve been prequalified.”

Marc Brinitzer also stresses the importance of communicating the “see an originator first” message to prospects and others. “In our letters to customers and prospects and in telephone scripts we always advise that ‘If you know of someone (interested in home financing), have them give me a call first and then we can refer them to a good agent,'” said Brinitzer, a senior loan officer with Big Valley Mortgage, Roseville, Calif. “We want to be in control of the situation. We take every opportunity to tell prospects to call us first.”

Niche markets are a major part of many basic consumer-first campaigns. They enable originators to develop productive growth areas that aren’t dependant on agents or builders. One key is to find a niche that isn’t over marketed. Suzi Toadvine, an originator with National City Mortgage in LaPorte, Ind., has found ministers to be a receptive audience. “”I have received several referrals through various loans I have done for ministers,” she said. “They have passed the word through various states and referrals have arrived from all over. It was suggested that I write a letter and send it to several different databases that they are a part of. I did that and have received not only first mortgage loans but also sizeable commercial mortgages.”

Some originators develop niches with specific ethnic groups. For instance, Georgette Mooneyham established a bond with the local Jewish community. The originator/vice president with BancMortgage in Atlanta, Ga., arranged loans for a few rabbis who later suggested that others in their temples work with her as well. She also supported fundraising events and advertised in synagogue directories. Mooneyham receives 10 to 20 loans a year from Jewish borrowers. “It’s definitely been a good relationship,” she said.

Tyler Ford’s experience as a bicyclist helped him develop a valuable niche. He sponsors three cycling teams of approximately 200 riders who wear jerseys with his name and Web site and compete in various road races. “It’s a great moving billboard that covers the Tucson and surrounding areas, similar to the moving van we have (with company identification),” said Ford, a loan originator with Long Mortgage Company, Tucson, Ariz. They do about 30-40 loans a year as a result of this select niche. “We get many borrowers from within the cycling community, which continues to expand because of racing’s popularity.”

More: Other possible niches include athletes, entertainers, college professors, bankruptcies, FSBO sellers, coaches, mom and pop business owners, union members, and policemen.

Specific Origination Strategies
There are a wide variety of specific marketing techniques aimed at capturing the consumers’ attention. For example:

Brochures—Some LOs have developed their own brochure as a personal introduction to borrowers. Scott Shafman, an originator with Pinnacle Financial Services, St. Louis, Mo., has created a brochure for friends, referral sources, and others. On the cover is a picture of the Grand Canyon that says “Creating Your Own Destiny,” and the bottom reads, “Scott Shafman knows it doesn’t happen overnight.”

“The brochure tells my story and how the path I took led me to the career choice of becoming a mortgage consultant,” he said.

More: An electronic brochure to provide to consumers.

Postcards/Other Mailers— Newsletters, postcards, and other “snail” mail items need to be distinctive so they’ll be read. Brooks Grasso, mortgage director at The Columbia Bank, Baltimore, Md., typically distributes bimonthly mailings to a list of 2,000 apartment residents. One of the color postcards highlights a no-money down program of potential interest to renters and the other invites people to one of his regular seminars. Grasso cites two reasons for his consumer-direct mail success: a compelling message and consistency. “You have to get your point across quickly,” he stressed. “We’ll use ‘$500 down’ or ‘no money down’ as key phrases. This sparks their interest.” In addition, unlike some originators who will send an occasional card to apartment complexes, Grasso has been sending residents in his database two pieces a month for over a year. “They see my name a couple of times a month and eventually they’ll respond.”

Cindy and Jeff Worrell, originators with Orchard Mortgage, Raynham, Mass., also have a different slant for a popular mailer—the customer/prospect newsletter. It’s not the typical glossy paper and color photos version, but rather an easily produced, multi-page newsletter printed on colored paper stock and featuring a series of tips and loan product updates, homeowner resources, and general news, along with a listing of free reports. It has a friendly, family flavor that appeals to their ever-expanding base of past and future customers. “We continue sending and eventually they’ll become a customer,” she said.

More: Free reports, e-mail newsletters, cards for unusual holidays, calendars, and seed packets.

Community Web site–Brinitzer found a way to create a special visibility–a neighborhood Web site. Provided by a special service, it offers a forum that enables the originator and other hosts to focus on specific neighborhoods, by adding regular updates of special events, resident announcements, vacation photos, and more. He acquired a domain name that covers several adjoining neighbors. By placing own banner ads within the site, Brinitzer is increasing his recognition with current residents/customers as well as potential borrowers wanting to move into the area. Because it took more time to update the site than he expected, Brinitzer eventually plans to co-host the site with an agent. “It’s something of value for the neighbors/community and provides great visibility,” he noted.

More: An online virtual tour for of area homes for prospects.

Advertising—Some effective ads are found in small, underused publications, including church bulletins, PTA directories, and weekly newspapers. For example, Gina Jackson places a small ad in elementary school publications, including district phone directories and fundraising programs. “It’s a great way to get my name and picture in front of student’s parents, while also showing that I support the school,” said Jackson, senior vice president and originator with Cornerstone Mortgage, Dallas, Texas. “The school also sends regular e-mails to parents and allows businesses to place a banner ad in them.”

Jim Rademann, originator with R&R Mortgage in Orangeville, Calif., runs weekly ads in his community newspapers, which is more cost effective than placing them in major daily papers. “This ad is resume style and doesn’t focus on rates, but rather is aimed at showing our expertise.” He noted that ads highlight their services—how they can help borrowers with their services. “We try to distinguish ourselves as an expert.” Rademann added that unlike rate ads that are aimed at generating a more immediate response, his ads have a longer-term goal. “”We’re looking for longer term relationships, with business on a more consistent basis. Of course, you need to run this type of ad for several months before you can expect it to pay off.”

The radio talk show is sometimes a hybrid of the normal radio advertising. Some originators pay a fee to have their own call-in program, which often includes additional commercials. For example, Brinitzer has co-hosted such a local talk show with an agent. They answer real estate financing-related questions and this generates a lot of calls and produces direct leads and enhances his credibility. “Radio allows you to reach out to consumers with enhanced credibility,” he said. “They recognize you as an expert. If they call you then or later for advice, they tend to accept it. They’re not shopping. Radio programming has generated good business for me.”

More: Church bulletins, billboards, sandwich boards, hot air balloons, infomercial, and grocery store shopping carts.

Publicity—One of the most overlooked consumer strategies is publicity, in which LOs and their teams seek coverage in print and broadcast media. Robert Moulton has learned the value of publicity as a way to expand his visibility, through frequent appearances and other mentions on various business news programs. For example, he has served as a finance resource for CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, Reuters, and other media outlets “I’m viewed as a credible source. They’ll ask about home sales trends, interest rates, and related areas. I’ll go out of my way to stay in touch with various media people, to see if I can help with a story they’re working on. I write a lot of mortgages in the financial services area and these customers watch the programs and read the publications, and I end up with more referrals.”

In addition, Veronica Phillips, American Home Mortgage, Tucson, Ariz. has contacted her local newspaper regarding developments that might be worthy of coverage. “This has resulted in us being featured in our local, most read newspaper a minimum of five times within a year,” she said. “This includes a feature of our president in the business section. We still get comments from that article. We have had other publications contact us to write articles.”

Certainly a key to success with publicity is making sure that prospects are aware of it. Steve Rockefeller, an originator with SunTrust Mortgage in Virginia Beach, Va., writes a column for the local real estate section of his Saturday newspaper. “I created a mail out card that includes a photo of the newspaper on the front, along with a copy of a recent article. I send this postcard to help establish a relationship with customers and clients. It’s immediate credibility.”

More: A series of news releases on your company’s personnel announcements, special events, and other developments.

Seminars— With so many seminars being offered, the challenge is to find a least one different aspect that will help generate interest. For Grasso, it’s the location of his monthly homebuyer seminar for first-timers, many of whom are apartment residents. He holds them at the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. “The meetings are in the board room, so that everybody sits around a conference table,” he said. “It’s more personal that way.” Grasso said that he averages two closed loans a month from the seminars, with another five people who indicate their interest for the future.

Jayne Bolton, Peoples Bank, Bridgeport, Conn., has developed a program workshop geared towards women. The Women Talking Homeownership: Single By Choice, Single by Change, theme focuses on key issues that women need to know. “I discuss financing options that may be attractive to single women,” said Bolton. While she includes an attorney, real estate company rep, and Home Depot rep in the program, Bolton is in control of the program. “The seminar is advertised with fliers distributed via our branch system and posted in businesses, along with newspaper ads and fliers within women’s organizations,” she added.

Distributing informational booklets and other value-add items can also enhance the success of seminars. John Paluck, branch manager at Allied Home Mortgage Capital, Rockville, Md., has distributed a DVD that covers first-time buying issues, along with a free report on “how to buy with no money down” to seminar attendees. The CD includes a sticker asking borrowers to return it for a $100 discount off closing costs to entice prospects to exchange and meet with him after the seminar. “I’ve had about 10 borrowers come in to apply as a result. I see this as another way to generate interest and convert prospects to customers.”

More: Seminars for military personnel, custom homebuilders, move-up and jumbo buyers, and ethnic audiences.

Events—Athletic and other events are an ideal opportunity to introduce yourself and ask for referrals. The Worrells have created a series of events that have appealed to past customers and new prospects alike. They have included Fall Fest, with pony rides and pumpkins; a ginger bread making demonstration; barbeques; and magician day. A key to success is that most of the events are family-oriented. “This helps ensure it is a fun event for everyone and helps create an even stronger relationship with the parents,” said Cindy Worrell.

Al Lucas, president of Allsales Mortgage Corporation in Tampa, Fla., has proven that sometimes the most effective events are those that don’t entail great preparation or cost. Two of his favorite venues: professional football games and cigar bars. “I’ve set up a tailgate at Tampa Bay Buccaneer games, sometimes when I don’t even have tickets,” he said. “I talk with everyone around me. I’ll tell them what I do and hand out my cards. This can be especially effective with out-of-town visitors, who may be looking for second homes. In addition, I’m a cigar smoker and have often visited cigar bars or tobacco stores. Even though most people don’t smoke, I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars by meeting people this way and telling them that I’m an originator. Both of these tactics are examples of cheap marketing that don’t cost anything.”

More: Chili cook-off, ice cream truck delivery to work place, holiday receptions, street fairs, and car wash.

Certainly there are many more consumer-direct marketing ideas that can help you generate visibility and new prospects, and not have to depend on a Realtor, builder, or other professional partners. Create a list of your own favorites, modify them enough to be distinct from other originators in your marketplace, and begin implementing them this year.

By David Robinson