Prime Lending Inc. (Mortgage Banker)
Categories: Builders: 31%
Past customers: 28%
Customer referrals: 12%
Purchase Business: 54%
Prior career: Commercial land broker
Support team: Assistant, marketing assistant, processor, processing assistant, marketing specialist
Workweek: 5 days, 45 hours
Services outsourced: Mortgage Market Guide and bulk mailings
Favorite books: Bible
“Becoming a Person of Influence”
By John Maxwell
Favorite quote: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary, and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Vacation time: Three to four weeks annually
Stress-reducing technique: Exercising and traveling
Sharon McCormick hadn’t always planned on being a mortgage originator. In 1992, she was a commercial land broker after being involved in a number of other real estate-finance ventures, and wasn’t necessarily looking for a new career.
But McCormick will agree that it was a wise decision to start originating in 1993. Her volume has steadily grown and last year she closed $76.2 million and 287 loans at Prime Lending in Dallas, Texas. She placed number 199th on Mortgage Originator’s Top Originators list (for dollar volume).
After receiving her MBA in finance, McCormick held a variety of real estate and finance positions at banks and realty offices. She turned to mortgage originating after her previous employer abruptly eliminated her job. “I had two daughters and needed a job,” she said.
McCormick knew the owner of a mortgage brokerage who encouraged her to join the firm. After a brief training period, she hit the streets in search of her first loans. She was confident, but unaware of the best way to originate. “It was in the midst of the 1993 refinance craze,” she said. “I got a reverse phone directory, the kind that gives you the phone numbers for specific addresses. I pinpointed some of the largest houses in the area and found their phone numbers. The book also notes when the homeowner obtained their telephone line, which told me when they moved in and the approximate interest rate.”
Then McCormick called prospective refinance customers from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every night. “I have no call reluctance at all,” she said. “I knew that even though I would get turned down many times, other people would be interested in a refi. I had prepared a concise message; something like ‘If you haven’t refinanced yet, I have ways to save you money.’ ”
Her simple telephone campaign was a success; she began receiving loans during her first month in the business. “I made as many calls that were necessary to get some loans,” she said.
McCormick wasn’t content to rely on this successful tactic, especially as the refi business started to slow. “I contacted Realtors and asked them what they wanted. One of the things mentioned was having a clean car in which to drive their clients. So I began thinking about the potential of providing car washes as a way to meet and talk with agents.”
McCormick produced colorful fliers announcing the car-cleaning offer and arranged a quantity discount with a local car wash. “The flier told the agents they needed to bring their business cards and be there at a designated time,” she explained. “I was there to introduce myself and discuss loan programs. The agents would almost feel guilty that they were getting a car wash from an originator with whom they weren’t doing business, so they would give me a deal. This worked out every well; it’s how I got started with Realtor business.”
She continued holding car washes for the next couple of years and also expanded her contacts by visiting select Realtor offices. “I targeted three of the largest offices and began delivering fliers that highlighted my background and specific loan programs,” she said. “Holding the car washes and distributing fliers ensured that everyone in these offices knew my name within six months.”
McCormick learned that promoting her ability to qualify borrowers quickly was another strategy appreciated by agents. “I take an application over the phone, then immediately run a credit report and inform the agent that all they need to do is find the borrower a house.”
She also realized the value of providing her agent contacts with referrals. “I ask every borrower who calls whether they already have a real estate agent, and if not, I refer them to one of the agents on our list. Agents remember that.”
Realtor business was a crucial part of McCormick’s overall base until a few years ago, when she realized the impact of competition from in-house lenders. She began to place even more emphasis on past customer relationships. Her customer service/follow-up program now includes:
- Oversized business card. One side of the card features the message: “I want to make you a member of our raving fan club,” and the other side lists the names and contact information for her team members. “This helps demonstrate that even when I’m not available, they can contact anyone here,” she noted.
- Closing gift. McCormick gives borrowers a self-addressed ink stamp for their new home.
- Post-closing survey. McCormick initially didn’t receive a sufficient number of responses. “Then we started to include a dollar bill and a stamped return envelope and now we get almost all of them back,” she said.
- Monthly newsletter. Her assistant helps produce the two-page newsletter, which usually covers a single subject, such as bi-weekly mortgages or refinancing. In addition, the newsletter usually features a personal news item. “In past issues I’ve included pictures of myself with Rudy Giuliani, my two daughters, and my support team. We get a lot of feedback on this; people feel like they know you.”
- Letter with the customer’s HUD-1 statement, sent in January.
- Letter reminding customers to take advantage of the Homestead Act tax credit.
- Anniversary and holiday cards.
- Other items, including college football schedules, a calendar, and refrigerator magnet. “I send the newsletters by bulk mail, but the calendars go first class, which is a good way to update our database,” she noted.
- Thank-you card sent to all those who have provided referrals.
- Refinance letter sent during periods of low interest rates.
McCormick has a personal Web site, which she uses to generate business, rather than to merely provide information. “Customers are able to quickly complete the application, which then populates into Point. It’s been a good source of loans and a major time- saver for us.”
She expanded her builder base after Prime Lending—which she joined in 1994—was subsequently acquired by a large bank. The alliance provided her with an entrée to the bank’s diverse builder programs, enabling her to offer both interim and permanent financing to builders and buyers. “I began doing a lot of custom homes during the last two years, and my average home price has increased dramatically.”
She meets with builder reps on an ongoing basis and has also developed other value-added services. For example, she has a separate cell phone number and e-mail address for them to use when communicating with her team. She also developed a booklet for builder reps and agents to distribute to their customers. It highlights such critical areas as the loan process, payment schedules, and credit issues.
McCormick emphasizes the importance of having a flexible marketing program. “I’m constantly reinventing myself,” she said. “In October I typically develop a plan for the upcoming year, but I’m always making changes—based on marketing conditions, ideas obtained at conferences, and other factors.”
She has a five-person team to help manage the load: an assistant, a marketing assistant, a processor, and an assistant processor; her daughter recently joined them as a marketing specialist. “I couldn’t do it without their contributions,” she emphasized. “I know how much my success depends on them.”
McCormick took an organized approach to assembling her team. The first person she added was a processor. When she reached $20 million in annual production (1997), she was ready to hire an assistant. She spent two months evaluating all of the various activities she wanted accomplished and then compiled a detailed job description for her assistant and placed an ad on http://www.monster.com/, an online job placement service.
The company pays the staff’s base salaries, but McCormick is responsible for production bonuses and other incentives. In addition to the monetary rewards, she helps ensure her team’s loyalty by watching out for their interests in other ways. For instance, she will often modify a job description in order to take advantage of a team member’s talents. “For example, I have someone who was great on the phone and with detail work, but who didn’t necessarily want to market, so we created a slightly different role for her.”
McCormick and her team have developed an efficient system to ensure that they can get through a full pipeline in a timely manner. A key step involves the application process; she takes approximately 80 percent of her applications over the phone and follows-up with faxes and e-mails. “Most of my business comes from veteran borrowers, including many past customers who appreciate the convenience and don’t require hand-holding,” she explained.
They also are certain to take complete applications upfront. “We never send out a blank application for a prospect to fill in and sign. We’ll either get the information on the phone or from their online application and then send the completed app to them. They are much more likely to return our application rather than one that they have to fill out.”
McCormick also created a refinance check-up form that lists homeowners’ balance, current interest rate, and other details. “It’s another way of streamlining,” she said. “We don’t have to take as many phone calls during a heavy refinance period; they just send the form in and we’re ready to go.”
She doesn’t find it necessary to provide regular updates to real estate agents and builders. “They know us well enough and are aware that we take care of any problems right away. There’s no need to take the extra take time to send written reports.”
In addition, the staff uses Point’s Conversation page as a way to keep track of their contacts with borrowers. Every time a team member talks to a customer, they log their comments, actions, and initials on the form. “This is an ongoing record of all communications that helps ensure there are no surprises,” she said.
Streamlining the loan process is just one of the main characteristics of top producers, according to McCormick. She also believes that most successful originators focus on the activities that guarantee production increases. “You need to concentrate on the origination activities and off-load the non-productive tasks to a staff member. I consider production to be my main responsibility and I work hard to eliminate any friction that occurs in the loan process.”
Of course, McCormick is also an advocate of the team concept. She emphasized that you simply can’t reach the higher levels without a crew. “You have to surround yourself with people who complement your own talents. For example, I’m not very detail-oriented, so I make sure that everyone on my team has that quality.”
She also believes that top producers have the ability to see the big picture, to “look outside the box. You have to find ways to look ahead, searching for new business. You can’t be satisfied with the business you have today; you have to be thinking ahead to the next 100 loans. Always think like an entrepreneur.”
McCormick is definitely looking ahead to next month and beyond. She will continue to grow her business, which will include working with more builders. “I’m always looking for new opportunities,” she said. “I never get bored in this business. Just look how much it’s changed in the last few years alone.”