Rookie Superstar – Lydia Gajeski

Advice to New Originators
“Gain as much knowledge as you can—other people will perceive that and you can build trust upon it.”

In 2000, at age 19, Lydia Gajeski returned home to Green Bay, Wisc. Homesick after pursuing pre-med studies and trying to make ends meet as a single mom in Las Vegas, Nev., she was ready to take on any promising opportunity that came her way. So when a friend of her mother’s needed a part-time loan processor, Gajeski hoped it could potentially be just the break she was looking for. “I love math, so that seemed a good fit,” she said, “and it was a small mortgage company and a great place to get my feet wet.”

Gajeski, one other processor and an originator handled all the business for Oasis Mortgage, a local manufactured housing company’s finance arm. “We only did 50 to 75 loans a year, but it was an introduction to the business, and eventually landed me a job as a loan officer assistant at another company,” she said, “which is where I received most of my training.” Gajeski began as an assistant during the refi boom in 2002 and quickly started taking applications, running credit and calling clients, and eventually “basically doing the LO’s job, who was always out hunting and fishing. I didn’t know much at the time about the different jobs, I just did it all,” said Gajeski, 25. “I was a single mom raising two daughters and all I knew was no matter what, you got the job done—just like coming up with money for your own mortgage payment.”

The hard work and trial-by-fire introduction to originating paid off a couple years later when a local originator approached Gajeski about joining his start-up company, Patriot Mortgage Services, and becoming an originator on her own. “I was hesitant to switch to a commission-only salary, but I knew then where the money was being made,” she said, “and I knew it was time to make more money for me and my family.”

Many of the clients from her previous company followed. “The company was actually on its way out of business, so the timing worked out well for me,” said Gajeski. “People came looking for me because I was the one they had developed a relationship with. Starting out with clients was helpful—I had no idea how to go out and get new ones.”

Additionally, it helped that Patriot Mortgage made a big entrance when they joined the Green Bay marketplace. “We advertised all over the place—newspaper, TV, radio ads, and real estate guides,” said Gajeski. “We also sponsored the Brett Favre Annual Softball event here and got involved with the local Chamber of Commerce.” Gajeski placed her own ads in the phone book and on shopping carts at area grocery stores—but she focused mainly on developing business in the niche she knew—manufactured housing.

“Manufactured homes require different types of loan products,” said Gajeski. “The key part is being able to get construction lenders to trust that you know what you are doing, and that you are going to be on board with the right builders—they are sometimes hesitant because there can be a lot of problem areas.” Having established relationships with several lenders, Gajeski was able to create four or five accounts with manufactured housing producers in the Green Bay area.

Between these business partnerships and the four real estate agents she works with, Gajeski keeps busy working nearly 60 hours a week. “I usually work at least one weekend day a week, which I spend visiting the offices of my manufactured homes’ accounts,” she said. Her husband (Gajeski was married in 2004) stays home with the children so that she can maintain her thriving career. “We make compromises,” she said, “and he’s incredibly supportive of me.”

Gajeski also relies on a little help from her Mom, although there’s a paycheck involved. “I have one processor, who is amazing, and my mother works as my assistant,” said Gajeski. “It is great—I am a very ‘get to the point’ kind of person, and my mom relates well to people on a personal level—we make the perfect team.”

In 2005, Gajeski closed over $18 million on 128 loans, and she credits her first-year success with her knowledge of the entire loan process. “It has been extremely helpful for me to know the business from the processor’s perspective,” she said. “I don’t have to wait around if someone isn’t available—I can step in and order title or appraisal or call the underwriter—there’s no waiting around for someone on my team to come back.”

With an ambitious goal to more than double her 2005 volume this year, Gajeski is making an effort to be ever-present in the field and keeping in touch with customers in her database. “I am making a lot of phone calls to make sure people remember me,” she said. “I’m also hosting events for many of my business partners and focusing on keeping those relationships strong.”

Having a specialized niche in manufactured housing may prove the most fortunate move yet for Gajeski. “I am seeing a lot of Realtors and originators drop out of the profession these days,” she said. “I am lucky to be able to rely on the trust my business partners have in my knowledge of the products and players involved. I have also learned to be very versatile with any kind of credit that comes in the door.”

Although Gajeski vows to return to pre-med after she retires from originating, right now she is exactly where she wants to be. “I am 100 percent satisfied with my career. I couldn’t have imagined that I would be doing this well,” she said. “I remember growing up and my mom struggling a lot and I never wanted to feel that way with my children. I am so fortunate to be where I am now.”

–Gretchen Lees