Rookie SuperStar of the Month – Debbie Zermeno

Rookie SuperStar
Debbie Zermeno
Newport Beach, Calif.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

Number of Loans

Mary Vachon-Cobb, mother and originator
Steve Glass, Branch Manager

Advice to New Originators:
“Make a business plan. If you don’t have a plan to follow, you will never get to where you want to be.”

“You could almost say I was genetically engineered to do this,” says Debbie Zermeno.

Zermeno, an originator with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Newport Beach, Calif., closed over $68 million on 248 loans in her rookie year. She attributes her first year success to a few things—namely growing up in the business. With her mother, Mary Vachon (also with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and a M.O.M. top 200 originator), and stepfather both in the real estate business, Zermeno was exposed early to the intricacies of the housing industry. “I gained a lot of knowledge working with my mom during the summers,” says Zermeno. “I learned how to close transactions, I knew about such things as closing costs, FHA, and title reports when I was 17.”

Zermeno took the real estate exam and was a licensed agent as soon as she turned 18. Originally, she intended to work part-time as a Realtor and put herself through college. When it became more of a full-time career than planned, she decided to move with her husband to Chicago and pursue a degree in business management. After giving birth to a son two years later, Zermeno decided that it was time to get back into the industry—but this time as an originator.

“I love it,” she says; now well into her second year in the mortgage business. “It offers much more of a scheduled day, you can leave the office without any worries, and I enjoy working with first time homebuyers—they are absolutely grateful.”

Four years of experience as a Realtor has allowed Zermeno to take advantage of the contacts and friends she made before becoming an originator. “A lot of Realtors knew me from when I was an agent,” she says. “It helps that I have already been in the business; since they knew me from before, they feel comfortable referring clients.”

Zermeno’s first loan came when a Realtor who was in near desperation to get a loan closed, called with a plea for help. Zermeno had him bring in the entire package, and with assistance from her manager, priced out the loan and managed a five-day close. Such success did not always come so easily during her first year. “You fall on your face so many times,” she says matter-of-factly. “Especially when I moved up from the $500-600,000 range to a million-plus—the guidelines change and you realize you can’t do as many things that you thought you could.”

In the area of marketing, Zermeno sends out customized payment comparison letters that display the difference in monthly payments a new loan program could offer. These letters are sent to a specific-zone that she primarily markets to, and the lists of names and addresses are obtained from the title company. Additionally, Zermeno distributes fliers to renters with a similar rate comparison breakdown. These letters target potential first time homebuyers who may not realize homeownership is achievable. All marketing materials are designed, posted, and sent out by an outside firm (based on Company approval). “This is a great thing for us,” says Zermeno. “Otherwise, I may never have the time to send anything out!”

When it comes to Realtors, the marketing materials sent out encourage a constant flow of communication. “We send out a ‘Pick of the Pros’ postcard during NFL season, that Realtors have to send back in with their winning selections,” she says. The entrant whose pick is closest to the outcome wins a small prize. “Another is our ‘Let’s Get Cooking’ Campaign, which asks questions about cooking and recipes.” Such interactive materials create enthusiasm and involvement from her Realtor contacts, and include her personal contact information for their convenience.

Zermeno maintains that it is essential to be consistent and persistent with all mailings. “Always include your name and the same picture—the more people see your face, the more real and the more familiar you become to them.”

Even though she now originates out of a different area, Zermeno maintains consistent business from her previous Realtor connections. The distance doesn’t create a problem as she does about 90 percent of her business over the phone, and distributes an 800 number for those out of the immediate area.

Generating 45 percent of her business through purchases should allow for Zermeno to carry success over into her second year. However, she is not going to settle for just any success. “I definitely plan to surpass what I closed last year, my goal is to reach $100 million this year.” Zermeno plans to accomplish this by following the business plan she set at the beginning of the year. “I am marketing to my past and current clients at least once every month,” she says. These mailings are more informal reminders and a means to simply maintain visibility with her clients. Items include such things as Los Angeles Lakers’ and Dodgers’ schedules, which have her contact information for easy reference.

Zermeno relies on two very experienced originators for advice when she needs it—her mom and her branch manager. “I can come to my mom with any questions,” she says. “And my manager is available any time of the day—he puts his gloves on and gets right into the middle of it.”

But what’s most important to Zermemo in the workplace is her team. “A strong team makes all the difference in the world,” she says. “You can only produce more if you have a strong team. My production doubled when I got a reliable, knowledgeable assistant.” In the past she and her husband Juan Zermeno were Realtors together, now they’re still on the same team, as he works as a sales associate with her. “It’s great,” Zermeno says. “I am completely the salesperson, and he is very organized.” With a three-year old son, their respective skills also come in handy at home. “We have a great system at home, too,” she says. “Juan works part-time and I am disciplined about working 40-45 hours a week, which helps me to stay focused.”

–Gretchen Lees