Superstar Secrets

There are many secrets to becoming a top producer, including a number of strategic systems and other elements that superstars use to reach the highest levels of origination. The following comments highlight the business secrets from several of the nation’s top producing originators.

“The primary reason I have been able to grow my business over the years has been the laser focus on developing, maintaining, and marketing to my database of closed loan clients. As the market has shifted from Realtors controlling 65 percent of the purchase business, to the present number of 25 percent, I have been able to maintain a high production level because of constant contact with the database. We touch our client database a minimum of 15 times a year through postcards, newsletters, annual reviews and phone calls. This system buys our clients “brain cells” so whenever they have a mortgage need, they will think of us. On average 70 percent of my production will come directly from my closed loan clients. Approximately 15 percent of my database will either personally close a loan with me in any given year, or refer me a closed loan in that year creating an annuity business. If I am marketing to 2,000 people, I should be able to close 300 loans a year by doing nothing but staying in contact with my database.”

David Jaffe
Chase Manhattan Mortgage
Westlake Village, Calif.


“All successful LOs know how to uncover their customer’s goals before giving advice, but the super producer needs to take it a few steps further in order to maximize their referral stream. I call this step determining the customer’s center of influence. I first determine who referred the client, and that provides a context for me. From there I ask about their profession, their affiliations with civic organizations, how long they have lived in the community and other questions to determine the breadth and nature of their influence among others. This helps me identify ‘super referral’ sources. We provide extra value to these folks. It may be referrals back to them, if we are in a position to generate referrals. If not, we make sure that our super referral sources always receive special attention as VIP clients.”

Jeff Lake
American Home Mortgage
Mt. Prospect, Ill.


“It’s hard to name one specific ‘secret’ to define success in the ever-changing mortgage industry. Over the years, the importance of recruiting and teaching individuals who are able to function as a team has become more and more important. Players on my team are all superstars in the positions they fulfill. They are positive thinkers and doers. They are loyal to me and to each individual team member.
“Each team member shares my philosophy of ‘under promising and over delivering’ and they never miss an opportunity to spread this philosophy throughout the Realtor community. I share in the pride the team members experience with the close of every loan, no matter the difficulty or ease involved in assisting our clients with their mortgage needs. I feel very fortunate to have such a group of individuals who work with and beside me.”

Jon D. Volpe
Nova Home Loans
Tucson, Ariz.


“In building a career as a mortgage originator—or in any other career for that matter—the key is to remember the end game. As one builds their business, you have to always keep the final goal in sight. I have always operated under two basic guidelines; one that you are only as good as your last mortgage and secondly that many smaller pieces of pie will add up to more pies. This means treat each borrower as your most important one no matter how small or large the deal is, a satisfied customer is your best referral source and there is no cost to good will. Second, no matter what put your best offer on the table first, even if it means working for less than you would like to. Especially in today’s tighter market with savvy borrowers, the best first offer is generally the one that gets the deal and a slightly lesser fee is much better than no fee at all. To sum it up do what you have to get as many deals as you can and know that they will help to create a foundation that will keep the business coming in the door; good market or bad. The key is to build a base of satisfied clients who will become your ongoing source of business. Remember, our clients either move, trade up, trade down or refi. If you do a great job with them the first time, you are sure to have them as customers for life.”

Melissa Cohn
The Manhattan Mortgage Company
New York, N.Y.


“Unlimited energy, enthusiasm, intense drive and a genuine passion for the mortgage business—these are the ingredients for a superstar loan officer. I have consistently been one of the company’s top producers and ranked among the top loan originators nationwide. So what’s the secret to being a top performer year in and year out? A few superstar tips:

  1. Maintain a Database—I learned this very early on. Start with a program like ACT and keep track of as many parties to a transaction as you can. In a purchase transaction, your contacts should include the buyer and seller as well as both the listing and selling agents. I try and add 150 names to my database each year and take out 150 names each year. If you haven’t heard from someone in the past 24 months, chances are you can delete them from your database.
  2. Direct Marketing—I market at least six times a year to people who know me from my database. My marketing materials have a consistent look and feel; the only thing that changes is the message. By having your name in front of your clients on a consistent basis, you are always kept in the client’s presence. Whether or not they have a need for mortgage services, they will have you in mind when the right time comes.
  3. Saying Thanks—I always send a thank-you gift or note at the close of every transaction. It sounds corny and takes time as well as money, but I believe it is really worth the expense. It helps you stand out from the other loan officers and clients truly appreciate it.
  4. Honesty and Responsibility—I take full responsibility for every part of the mortgage process. Being responsible also means being accessible. My clients all know they can always reach me anytime, weekdays or weekends. At the end of the day, the client remembers you and the how smooth the process was, so it’s important to assume full responsibility. If there’s a problem or an issue, be honest and upfront about it with everyone involved. No one likes surprises in this business.”

Janna Kohl
First Financial
Los Angeles, Calif.


“Clients don’t want a mortgage, they want money. The sooner you realize that your product is money, the easier it is to transition from a salesperson to a Mortgage Planner. A Trusted Advisor, who can monitor the market, builds relationships that create wealth for their clients and take rate out of the equation. A scripted and trained mortgage planner never sells; they teach, coach and assist their clients and referral partners.

This has helped me grow my business in hot and cool markets over the past 20+ years. I am confident that I am the best qualified professional in my market to help my clients manage their mortgage as a financial tool as well as offer market advice. I think the best mortgage professionals push themselves to gain the knowledge and training that helps them feel that they are the most educated and qualified mortgage planner in their market. It isn’t a secret, but most fail to do so.”

Barry Habib
Mortgage Market Guide
Holmdel, N.J.


“I strongly believe in the importance of turning all of your past clients into clients for life. However, many people simply mail or market to their clients for life throughout the year. This is what I call a customer retention strategy. In this market, it is critical to adopt a customer engagement strategy. One of the engaging strategies I have developed for my clients for life is a “Family Day at the Movies.” Each year during the winter holiday season my team buys out a movie theater and invites all of our clients to bring their families to see that year’s winter-themed family movie. Each year, as a team we discuss the movies available, determine a date and make arrangements with a local movie theater. We then mail out an invitation to all of our clients for life, informing them of the event and ask that they RSVP to our office. For our VIP and Raving Fan clients we make personal phone calls inviting them to join us for the movie. Of our database of nearly 1500 clients, we usually fill the event with 400 – 450 people in attendance. After the event, it is essential for everyone on my team to make outbound phone calls to their clients to further engage in that relationship. We have been hosting this event for eight years and have experienced great success in cementing relationships with our past clients. We truly believe in targeting relationships, this is just one of the many strategies we use to continue targeting and building relationships.”

Tom Bass
Targeting Relationships Inc.
Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.


“The basics of making a personal connection with our clients are the veritable foundation for which the entire relationship will be built. These relationships are key to the longevity and fruitfulness of this customer. I truly believe that the stronger the connection I have with the client, the more referrals I am likely to see during the course of our relationship.

During the initial phase of meeting someone new (either in person or over the phone), I look for areas in which I can connect with this person without being gratuitous or over-the-top—what people do we have in common, what interests do we share, where are they from originally, and such. For example, if their Social Security number starts with a ‘0’, I know that they are probably from the East coast. If it starts with a ‘5’ I know that the Northwest is (or was at some point) their home. Every now and then a client’s accent will provide the necessary ice-breaker for me to connect with the person on a level deeper than the standard ‘what interest rate I am able to offer that particular day.’

I truly believe that the more of your personality you are able to inject into the process, the more probable this new ‘prospect’ is likely to become a long-term ‘referring client’. Often times I find ways to weave elements of my personality – for example, my love of classical music – into my conversations with the client. I try to be very intuitive as to the areas in which I feel the client and I are connecting then I exploit this connection to establish long-term rapport.

In a time in our business when we have enough software and outsourcing to never actually have to get out of bed in the morning, I find it refreshing to come back to the basics of success and the prolific impact of a handwritten thank you note.”

Matt Elerding
Chase Home Finance
Vancouver, Wash.


“My mom was a Realtor, so I grew up among them and learned first-hand that it was poor communication from their lenders that frustrated them to no end. I learned that they chose to do business with those loan originators who did a good job of keeping them informed. So, I decided early on to make “Communication the Lubrication in my Mortgage Operation.” I designed my ACTion Marketing system as a step-by-step method to communicate with the listing agent and selling agent from the initiation of my contact with their referred client, at 12 key points during the loan process, followed by an announcement of our loan approval, culminating with a copy of their referred client’s closing survey. I announced my successes on every transaction. This aggressive system of communicating was unique when I began my mortgage practice in 1985 and remains so today. My team and I separate ourselves from our competition every month, by providing exceptional communication at every step of the loan process. As a result, our business is over 90 percent Realtor referred, purchase business. I just finished reading client and Realtor surveys on 46 recent closings. Almost every one of them had a penned notation that mentioned their appreciation for our professional communication.”

Greg Frost
Frost Mortgage Banking Group
Albuquerque, N.M.