“The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
Shawn Portmann was certain that there would be life after professional basketball, although he didn’t know it would be as a mortgage originator.
After graduation from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. Portmann played basketball for teams in China, Hong Kong, Australia, and the Philippines. But he knew it was a short-term career. “You’re always under pressure to perform and you’re easily replaced by a new player,” he said. “It’s easy to get burnt out.”
Portmann, 29, returned to the U.S. and began seeking a more stable profession. During a friendly pick-up basketball game he met a successful real estate agent who recommended the mortgage lending industry and referred him to CityBank. “I learned on the go,” he said. “The first six months I didn’t close a loan, then I closed 40 during the next six months. I’ve doubled my business every year since then.”
Last year, Portmann closed approximately $120 million and 756 loans.
Early on, Portmann knew that his emphasis would be on builder business. His two primary Realtor clients specialized in new construction sales and suggested he do the same. “I worked seven days a week; visiting the building sites, putting up balloons, coordinating signs, and talking to customers—whatever it took,” he said. “This was the way I developed a solid base—by always being there, and making builder reps comfortable that once I met with their customer, the loan was done. The builder could move on to the next deal without worrying.”
Portmann developed an extensive marketing approach to help support builders and Realtors. It includes significant co-op marketing activity, such as:
- Pointer signs that direct people to specific builder developments. They include his name and that of the agent and builder. “I may spend $3,000 on signage for one subdivision, but they’ll stay up for two years,” he said.
- Billboards to highlight key subdivisions, with name/information for Portmann, agent, and builder.
- Real estate publication ads that focus on specific subdivisions.
In addition, Portmann advertises on several of his agents’ virtual home tours. These Web programs offer buyers the chance to take an online tour of various properties. It’s another way that he gains visibility while also helping the agents and builders.
“Nearly everything I do is on a co-op, partnership basis,” he said. “This helps them grow their business. For example, if I pay for a portion of an ad that results in the agent earning a $3,000 commission, I’ve invested in his growth and we have an even stronger relationship.”
Portmann also sends agents and builders a monthly update that addresses market trends, loan programs, and other useful information.
As a result of his thorough understanding of builders’ needs and his ongoing support, Portmann has been granted a role that many originators aren’t offered. He attends their management meetings, offers marketing advice, and even suggests pricing strategies. “Because of our knowledge of the FHA market limits, specific loan programs, and related areas, the builders know that we have diverse experience and insights that can be invaluable to them.”
Portmann also stays in touch with his 3,500 past customers. His monthly mailings include recipes, home repair tips, and other useful information, in addition to such items as a bookmark or paperweight. “Usually there is no sales message; I’m not asking for anything in return. But this keeps my name in front of them.”
He is committed to the success of his origination efforts; he invests about $150,000 a year in the marketing program. “I think you have to be willing to set aside a certain percentage of your income to ongoing origination.”
During his first five years as an originator, Portmann has become quite successful with a government/military niche. “We have a large military population on nearby posts and I have become well versed in their earning structures, move-up options, and residency time frame considerations. We have done loans for three top colonels and also advertise in a military publication. As a result, we are known as being very effective in obtaining the right loan for military personnel.”
Portmann emphasized that he couldn’t handle the volume without the support of his team: a marketing assistant and three processors. “There’s just no way I could be as successful without the support of several people, including my immediate team, along with the branch manager, vice president, and a number of others,” he noted. “They have been instrumental in my development as an originator.”
He takes all of the applications, most of them in his office. CityBank offers him the flexibility to approve his own loans, which are then validated by the office’s underwriters. “This is one of the reasons we are able to do such a high volume. My decision-making ability significantly streamlines the overall process.”
CityBank pays the salaries of Portmann’s team members, but he has his own ways of motivating them, including bonuses based on annual production. In addition, during each of the last three years, Portmann has paid for a vacation for two—anywhere in the world—for his team members, as well as the branch’s operations manager and underwriters. “The trips have been a tremendous incentive for them and although a bit unusual from an originator’s standpoint, they have been worth the investment,” he said.
Although he has an experienced support system, Portmann still follows a demanding schedule. He currently puts in seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day. His weekends include half days of taking applications followed by visits to builder sites. He realizes that other originators might insist that he is a workaholic or lacks a personal life. “I’ve heard it all,” he said.
But Portmann is unapologetic. He maintains this schedule because he enjoys the work and because of his own background. “I came from nothing; we didn’t have much and my dad worked very hard. So I don’t consider driving to subdivisions and answering customer questions to be that difficult. Also, I don’t have to work as much now, but I just enjoy it and know that I’m helping clients and borrowers.”
Everyone has his cell phone number and he will even take calls during application meetings. “If I’m taking an application I will usually say that I’m busy and will return their call when I’m done,” he said. “Some originators will argue that this interferes with borrower meetings, but I disagree. I think it shows that we’re responsive, and the applicant will know that his or her call will be taken right away as well.”
He considers this availability to be a key to his success. “It doesn’t take me long to answer their questions and I can then alleviate unnecessary calls to our staff,” he said.
In addition to availability, Portmann suggests several other characteristics shared by top- producing originators. Most important is to have the appropriate assistance. “Generally, the top originators are those who have a team of some kind. You need others to push you to higher levels of achievement. It’s essential to invest in other people.”
Another primary area is being able to deal with a variety of challenges. “I’m very good at multi-tasking, doing 50 things at the same time.”
Being an adept problem solver is also critical, according to Portmann. “You’ve got to be able to handle the problems and challenges. If you want to be a high producer, you can’t bother agents or customers with the small things.”
And, of course, superstars must have a plan. “All big producers know the importance of having a business plan. You need to set a goal, what you want to accomplish. A clearly defined goal will help you be successful because you’ll make yourself live up to it.”
Portmann definitely has an effective plan. He wants to continue producing at a high level while expanding into other areas as well. For example, he is in partnership with a few of his agents/builders to develop several commercial properties. However, his focus will remain on originating. “I’m a loan officer, and this is what I enjoy the most,” he said.
Shawn Portmann didn’t make it to the NBA, but he’s obviously on his way to a hall of fame career as an originator.
The Government/Military Niche
For originators considering a government/military niche, here are a few basic suggestions:
- Carefully evaluate the opportunities, which could include a military base/other installation in your own market or one that is close enough for you to effectively do business with.
- Learn the VA guidelines, including the parameters of the zero down loan.
- Know the military pay scale (posted on VA Web site). Service men and women are impressed when you know their monthly salary based on their grade and years of service.
- Advertise in military publications.
- Assume a financial advisor role with military borrowers. Younger borrowers will especially appreciate your recommendations for their future.
- Provide excellent service for one or two customers—ideally influential officers—and you will begin to build a referral network.