Advice to New Originators
“Go after the top agents. Why start anywhere else? Don’t be afraid of being rejected.”
During his junior year at UC Berkley in Northern California, Alec Hanson realized the direction of his rapidly approaching leap into the “real world” was undefined. “I had no true ambition at that point to follow a certain occupation,” said Hanson, who was studying Business Management and Urban Development. He took a one-day a week job at the Countrywide Home Loans’ office in nearby downtown Oakland to determine if what he really wanted to do was follow in his father’s footsteps; Hanson’s father, Dan is a 30-veteran of the mortgage industry. While he admits he was merely just a “go-for” then, it gave him a sense of the business and a desire to learn more.
Over the summer, he began working at a housing tract, which required taking applications from potential buyers and helped improve his abilities in working directly with people—and solidified that he wanted to pursue a career in mortgages. “It was unexpected,” said Hanson, “but I took to it and saw that as an originator, I could take on a consultant role and really help people.”
After graduating, Hanson moved back to his native Southern California and took a job as a production assistant with one of the local Countrywide branches. He worked under branch manager and mentor Kevin Budde and eventually began sitting in on client phone calls and absorbing successful sales strategies, of which he concedes, he was very much in need. “College did nothing to prepare me for any sales-based job,” said Hanson. “We focused almost entirely on theory, which with a business degree doesn’t make sense—everything you do involves selling something, even if it’s just yourself.”
He did learn something in college though—how to study. “I made it a point to research and learn every product and understand how each one worked, including the basic guidelines,” he said. “There are so many, so I did try to keep my focus on A-paper products. I knew I didn’t want to be the type of originator who relied on making one product fit for every customer.”
When Hanson officially began originating in the Newport Beach branch, he “did what every rookie loan officer does, I mailed out marketing pieces like crazy and didn’t receive any responses,” he said. Although perhaps not like every rookie originator, he made an effort to be creative, sending out $5 bills asking for five minutes of a Realtor’s time or foam stress balls printed with his name and number. “But in the end,” said Hanson, “I got off my seat and went out into the marketplace and began to form relationships.”
Despite an aversion to “face time,” he started devoting three or four days a week to meeting people out in the field. “It really got me out of my ‘comfort zone,'” he said. “Cold walk-ins are so hard—it’s not like a phone that you can hang up, you can’t just run away. I think sometimes my manager made me visit these offices just to feel the pain of rejection,” he continued. It forced him to figure out an alternate way of approaching Realtors. “I began researching agents online and familiarizing myself with them,” Hanson said. “I would read the ‘about me’ section and visit open houses or the broker previews knowing something about the agent. I started bringing food and financial fliers. I realized it had to be about me trying to help them sell the house.”
In the beginning, he hired an assistant and took on the financial risk as an added incentive to jump-start his motivation. He also began drawing from all the “mavens” in his life and creating the image of himself as the “loan guy” within his social groups. “I wanted everyone in my life to be my advocate,” said Hanson. “It took time to build trust, but it is essential to rely on ‘connectors’ in your life to put you in front of other people.” To expand his social network, Hanson joined the Newport Association of Realtors, attended local meetings, and assisted with sponsoring and organizing events, a decision, he said, made approaching other agents much easier.
To keep in touch with clients in his database, Hanson sends quarterly newsletters about property values and other information relevant to their homes or the community. He also continues to mail to many of the top Realtors in the area, but has found that to be relatively ineffective in creating relationships. Instead, he focuses on being conscientious of other people’s time and establishing a connection at the right time. “If I am visiting an agent in their office, I don’t stop another Realtor in the hallway and try to solicit their business,” he said. “I don’t like being unexpectedly distracted, so I try to take it from my perspective.”
Hanson emphasizes his specialty of accommodation. “I work in an affluent coastal market and many of these buyers come in with all cash and it’s likely they’re buying their third or tenth property,” he said. “I have to specialize in accommodating every loan that comes in, which includes being extremely well versed in most of our products and being able to handle large loans, small loans, and equity lines.” He also makes himself available at all times, specifically the times when Realtors and homebuyers are ready to do business—on nights and weekends. “I answer my phone at all times, but I do it with boundaries,” said Hanson. “I will take a call even if I’m in the middle of something and make sure to tell them we will reconnect tomorrow. I think the most important thing is that they don’t get my voicemail.”
At 24, he takes his appearance and presentation seriously so that other people will, too. “I am very cautious of my knowledge and appearance; I am almost always in a suit and tie,” Hanson said. “I don’t look like a veteran of the industry, so someone might be quick to judge me. If I present myself well and I have the knowledge of a product that’s a better fit for someone, my age won’t even become an issue.”
With aspirations of closing $200 million in his second year, Hanson believes the secret to success is clear: “Hard work, integrity, and accountability,” he said. “This is a business who tests who you are. Surround yourself with support, learn your products, and dedicate 100 percent—being an originator gives you a chance to see what you can create.”