Rookie Superstar – THOMAS FERRARA

Advice to New Originators:
“Always take care of your processing staff. Do everything you can to make their jobs easier.”

When Thomas Ferrara was pursuing his MBA (with an emphasis in finance) from Niagara University in upstate New York, he began considering what exactly he was going to do when he completed the year-long degree program. Ferrara had already gained sales experience while working in his father’s bakery supply business in upstate New York; he had an undergraduate degree in business administration, with an emphasis on marketing; and he was eager to find a career that would allow him to draw from all of these life- and university-learned experiences.

A friend of Ferrara’s suggested he look into mortgage originating—and so he did, securing a job as a part-time loan opener for Devere Capital Corporation in nearby Buffalo, N.Y., while completing his master’s degree.

Ferrara, 24, was drawn to the challenge and the opportunities the industry offered, and so he and the president developed a business plan for him. “First, I would spend a few months in loan opening, then move to processing, then go to closing, and finally end up originating,” recalled Ferrara of his career development path. “Unfortunately, that plan got shaken up when an originator in the Syracuse office suddenly left the organization.” Since that was where he eventually wanted to end up, Ferrara decided it was a chance he couldn’t pass up and made the move.

Devere Capital is the in-house lender for a local real estate company, and Ferrara’s position was to be the sole originator within the Syracuse-based office. With eight months under his belt as a loan opener, he was familiar with the intricacies of a loan file, but not entirely prepared for originating. “For one week, my boss drove to the Syracuse office with me and was there to help me get settled,” said Ferrara. “After that, it was trial by fire—and a lot of phone calls and hard work.”

To familiarize himself with products from different lenders, Ferrara researched online and called “scenario help desks” that many lenders offer to help develop his sense of a borrower profile and the appropriate loan products. “I also read some underwriting books with guidelines and constantly called the underwriters and processors in our headquarters with questions,” he said. “Since I had worked with them when I was an opener, it was easier for me to know their expectations and it was also helpful that I knew them as people, too.”

Ferrara’s first loan was a call-in from a couple who were desperate to buy a house that already had three offers on it. “I was nervous—and very thankful that the conversation was on the telephone because it bought me some time to do research,” he said. “It was a super-rush and it required a lot of hand holding. Needless to say, I was happy that it closed successfully.”

Ferrara discovered early on that being an in-house lender for a real estate company doesn’t by any means guarantee built-in business. “There had definitely been some burned bridges in the relationship,” he said. “Some agents who weren’t exactly happy with previous experiences seemed set on not using me. I realized I had to sell myself every single day; whether that was to earn business for the first time, or win it back, or simply maintain it.”

He took the approach of making no assumptions and was an available presence in the office every day. “I spent time walking around the office, getting to know people,” said Ferrara. “I discovered what people were good at, such as cold calls, and would ask them to help me. This allowed me to begin developing relationships with the agents in the office.” When it came down to earning their business, he was additionally able to rely on Devere’s “low-rate guarantee,” which allowed him to match or beat what competitors were offering.

To further show his support for the Realtors, he attended weekly broker’s tours and prepared open house packages for them, which included educational pieces or fliers listing payment options for the property. He was also available 24-hours a day by cell phone—although this is something he says sort of happened by default. “Many times I was working at least 60 hours a week in the office and my cell phone just kept extending those hours,” said Ferrara of his rookie year. “I did have to set some limits with agents finally and tell them to call before or after certain hours.”

He currently uses a contact management system to send e-mails to current, past and potential customers, and Realtors. The e-mails consist of market or rate updates, holiday greetings or reminders of important events like daylight savings time. “I plan this year to also incorporate a monthly postcard mailing program,” said Ferrara.

In his last rookie year, Ferrara closed 179 loans for a total volume of nearly $19 million. Ninety-five percent of his business was purchase-based on conventional loans, although he worked a substantial amount with FHA loans as well. “It wasn’t all smooth sailing though,” said Ferrara. “Early on it seemed there was a nightmare scenario once a month: something wasn’t fully disclosed about the house or I forgot to ask the right questions. You just have to be ready to take the punches and roll with them. I wasn’t willing to ever take no for an answer.”

Ferrara considers being an in-house lender something of a double-edged sword. On one hand (when everything is going well), there are agents who you can personally build up trust with, and on the other, if issues arise, “they are right there at your door and there is no place to go,” he said. “It forces you to do a better job because there is a higher degree of accountability.”

His main focus in his second full year of originating is to “capture every deal that comes through the office,” he said. “I also want to continue to learn how to handle myself in tough situations and be able to get every loan the first time.”

–Gretchen Lees