SuperStar of the Month – Linda Davidson

Linda Davidson
Senior Loan Officer (Mortgage Banker)
Service First Mortgage
Garland, Texas

Niche: First-time borrowers
Purchase Business: 83%
Refinance: 17%
FHA/VA Business: 84%
Most Effective Marketing: Customer newsletters/postcards
Services Outsourced: Newsletters, e-mail letters, postcards
Applications Taken Personally: 70%
Support Team: Production manager/senior mortgage planner, operations manager, mortgage planner, marketing assistant/processor, team assistant
Workweek: 5 ½ days, 55 hours

Favorite Reading: “Seventeen Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell, “High Trust Selling” by Todd Duncan
Favorite Quotes: “It’s all in the presentation.”
“The grass is always greener where you water it.”

Stress-reducing Techniques: working out with a trainer, traveling with family
Annual Vacation Time: Three weeks

Linda Davidson’s enthusiasm is contagious; she readily talks about her “passion” for the mortgage lending profession and her commitment to her team, Realtor partners, and, of course, her loyal customers. She considers herself fortunate to be a top-producing loan originator, and emphasizes that she originally got into the business by “accident.”

Last year, Davidson, 41, closed 456 loans and $50.6 million as a senior loan officer for Service First Mortgage in Garland, Texas and was number 190 on Mortgage Originators’ Top Originator list (for number of loans).
She first thought of working in the lending industry while she was an operations manager for a woman’s retail chain.

Davidson enjoyed what she was doing, but in 1996, the company was in financial difficulty and she had to consider her future employment options. Her father was a Realtor and he suggested that she consider becoming a loan originator. “Initially, I interviewed with a small company just for the practice,” she said. “The owner painted an incredible picture of a loan originator’s career, including the chance to help people achieve their dream of homeownership and making a good living at it. But the idea of having to rely on 100 percent commissions scared me.”
Davidson said that she was “waiting for a sign” that switching professions would be a wise move. “Then when I got back to the office I learned that our company was shutting down within three months, so I figured that was a clear indication that I was ready for a change.”

During the next few months, she read everything she could about HUD guidelines, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac programs, and various lender loan products. She went to work for a small mortgage brokerage in January 1997 and continued her crash course in lending. “That first year was difficult,” she said. “I was learning the basics, trying to find prospects, and meeting with Realtors. I wasn’t making much money.”

While she occasionally got discouraged, Davidson was confident in her abilities, worked hard, and was encouraged by her husband. “I spent five hours a day in Realtor offices, handing out fliers just to get recognized,” she said.

Davidson gradually expanded her contacts with agents so that they would be willing to give her a few loans. “They gave me the difficult deals and my reputation spread. They knew that if I said a loan would close at a certain date, it would. I would do anything within reason to make deals works. I once drove seven hours round trip to Oklahoma City to have customers’ papers signed.”

Early on, Davidson determined that first-time buyers would be her primary niche, an appropriate fit with her primary market, the “working class” community of East Dallas. Her average loan amount is $111,000 and 84 percent of her total volume is FHA/VA business. “It became my goal to help people purchase their first home,” she said. “Many of them don’t know they can ever buy and they are so appreciative. They often give me flowers or cookies once the loan is closed.” One fourth of her government loans are “traditional underwrites,” loans that generally don’t use automated underwriting. “These are typically borrowers who only have rent and utility payments to show; there are no credit scores,” she explained. “These are much more difficult and you have to know how to structure them.”

Davidson continued to refine her marketing strategies and reached a turning point after attending a Todd Duncan seminar. “After about a year, I was at a place in my career where I needed some direction regarding having an assistant, marketing techniques, and other areas. I had recently gone to work for Service First Mortgage and the owner told me to attend the seminar. A major discussion topic was the importance of having systems that would enable you to grow to a higher production level.” Back in her office, Davidson was motivated to create very detailed operations and marketing plans, which are broken down into categories and individual responsibilities. “I learned the importance of having a streamlined system that ensured each part of the transaction was handled the same way with every loan,” she noted.

Approximately 50 percent of Davidson’s business is based on strong Realtor relationships. Her marketing includes:

  • Bi-weekly fliers that highlight new loan products and other developments.
  • Status reports faxed and e-mailed throughout the loan process.
  • Starbucks gift certificates provided in appreciation to real estate agents. “This costs me $300 a month, but agents absolutely love it,” she said.
  • Thank-you cards and phone calls made to agents after closing.
  • Quarterly seminars on various topics conducted at Realtor offices.
  • Congratulations letters to acknowledge news articles and awards. “For instance, we’ll send them a note attached to a newspaper article that mentions their achievement.”
  • Cross-selling of agent services. “When we talk to prospective buyers regarding a pre-qualification, we will congratulate the buyer on their choice of a real estate agent and let them know they are in great hands. This solidifies the team concept between the three of us.”
  • Special value-added service summary, which includes a regular flier to remind agents of the various elements that help distinguish the Davidson team from the competition.

“We outline everything we do for them and for borrowers,” she noted. “This reminds agents that there is no reason to use any other originator/lender. It’s what helps set us apart.”

Davidson later added builder business to her base; two major developers make up about 10 percent of her total volume. In addition to regular phone and e-mail updates, the Davidson team provides lunch to various builder sites. “We’ll arrange catered lunches for the builders on their busy Saturdays,” she said. “They think we walk on water and always introduce us as their preferred lender. Last year, we did about 65 new house loans.”

Davidson hasn’t ignored her customers and prospects. She has developed a comprehensive consumer-direct campaign, which includes a loan transaction assessment status sheet; a binder that includes all loan paperwork, team summaries, a loan process flow chart, and checklist; pre- and post-closing phone calls; and a closing letter.
She also has an effective customer-for-life program to stay in contact with past borrowers. It features:

  • Closing letter– A month after closing, all customers receive a thank-you letter, along with an amortization schedule, a Davidson Team carry bag, and other gifts.
  • Newsletter/postcards—At least six times a year, they mail past customers a newsletter, letter, or postcard (outsourced).
  • E-mail Club (from Intouch)– This is a monthly e-mail notice that addresses interest rates and other useful information. “The e-mail club is an informative and very cost-effective way to stay in touch with past clients,” she said. “It costs us about $30 a month to reach 600 customers.”
  • Mortgage review– A year after closing, the team makes a follow-up phone call to wish customers a happy anniversary, offer a free credit report, and ask for referrals.

Davidson is a proponent of developing telephone scripts
for use when talking to customers, agents, and others. She has scripts for a variety of different scenarios, including appointment scheduling, interest rates, and status reports. “Having the scripts helps ensure that everyone conveys the same message, and they are especially beneficial for new team members.”

Of course, she’s also an advocate of the team concept. All of her written communications highlight the “Davidson Team.” She makes sure that customers, agents, and others realize that while she is the mainstay of the team, others are qualified to handle every step of the loan process. “One of our main points is to emphasize that we have such an experienced staff. For example, we advise everyone that four of us have FHA’s DE (underwriting) designation,” she said. “In addition, we use the title “mortgage planner” for our team assistants because it shows customers that these people are important. Sometimes people react adversely to the assistant title. When they’re told they should talk to an assistant, they may feel they’ve been passed off to someone with less influence.”

Her team currently consists of Christine Wilson, production manager; Esther Fries, mortgage planner; Karen Bowman, operations manager; Shelby Seaman, marketing support/processor; Amie Romero, team assistant; Stormi Allen, processor; and Rebecca Grissom, processor. “I couldn’t do it without them; these people are a primary reason for my success,” she emphasized. “I’m blessed to have members who believe in the same vision, the same goals.”

The team has an action plan to ensure that the pipeline is never backed up. One of the key steps is to ensure that all of the transaction procedures are clearly defined and followed. “Two years ago we brought Building Champions in to help us “white board” (outline) our loan process and how we could improve it,” she said. “We noted every single step, with checklists so that everything runs smoother. Every six months, we critique the process to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to keep it flowing.”

They’ve also created a streamlined application process. One of the two mortgage planners usually meets with customers first to obtain their preliminary financial information and explain basic procedures, then shows a brief video that introduces Davidson. “I describe the steps they will follow,” she said. “The video helps get them familiar with me while I’m also selling the importance of the team.” After watching the video, customers meet with Davidson, who answers questions and discusses loan options. “We’ve found this to be a very effective use of our time. I spend the appropriate time with everyone and they also understand that we’re a team helping them with their loan.”

In addition, they provide all necessary instructions, checklists, and other information up front so that customers and agents don’t have to call for progress reports. “We try to eliminate phone calls. I believe that if we get calls that aren’t for new business, we haven’t done our jobs.”

They also avoid promising unrealistic loan closings; about three weeks is their norm. “We know we can do faster closings, but we don’t want to over-commit and end up disappointing customers. This helps eliminate stress and, ultimately we’re able to be more efficient.”

Davidson shares the staff’s salary costs with the company, while she pays the production bonuses. “You have to be willing to invest in your team,” she stressed.

The Davidson team works long hours, but they have fun as well. For example, in the past she has arranged for monthly massages, limo rides to the movies, and a trip to New Orleans. They’re currently focusing on meeting this year’s production goal so they can they enjoy their year-end bonus of a Mexican cruise. “I believe it’s important to show your appreciation for your team,” she said.

During the last 6 ½ years, Davidson has become a dedicated student of SuperStar success techniques. She believes that having a long-term “vision” is an essential requirement. “You’ve got to be able to envision what your business will be like in five or 10 years into the future,” she explained. “For example, I can tell you what my team’s goals are and how we intend to achieve them. If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there?”

She also believes that basic implementation is often overlooked by loan originators. “You can go to a variety of seminars, but if you’re not disciplined enough to get things done, you won’t be successful.”

Davidson looks forward to implementing more effective strategies throughout the next few years. “I love what I do. I want to continue to be the rainmaker, bringing new customers in, while developing the overall vision. Our new goal is 750 loans and we’re counting on 1,500 units.”

Of course, she knows that attaining higher production goals is only part of her responsibility as team leader. “We’ve been so busy and we all love the business,” she added. “But I want to make sure that we can all enjoy an even greater quality of life. I want to make sure that everyone achieves a good balance between their jobs and the rest of their lives.”