Top Originators

This year we have highlighted 10 originators whose exceptional and diverse accomplishments have helped them achieve a place on the Top 200 list. Whether they have shined in the top volume category, the FHA/VA arena, purchase business, or elsewhere, these LOs have created systems to maximize their success in the industry–and here they share some of their stories–and their secrets.

Perennial Top Performers

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage * Loan Originator * Aspen, Colo. * $175,229,109 * 470 loans * Purchase: 64% * Refinance: 36% * Assistants: 3 * Years Originating: 19

American Home Mortgage * Senior Vice President * Mt. Prospect, Ill. * $205,000,000 * 870 loans * Purchase: 50 % * Refinance: 50% * Assistants: 2 * Years Originating: 20

Jody Cooper and Jeff Lake have several things in common: both SuperStars have been originating for about 20 years; they’re well respected by their peers as being customer-focused, hard working professionals; and, they are among a small group of LOs who have appeared on the Top Originators List for each of the 10 years it’s been in existence.

They also have been proactive in their marketing efforts to maintain visibility with past customers and generate new business, although their respective methods have changed in recent years. “We give a lot more attention to our old clients,” said Lake. “We still use our monthly newsletter and have holiday presents for clients.  However, we also use e-mail more now than we did before, including holiday e-mails and rate alert e-mails.”

In addition, Lake spends less time working with Realtors than he has over the last decade. “Realtors only represent 20 percent of our total production,” he said. “We are trying to add more attorneys and financial advisors to the mix.”

Cooper’s marketing approach has also evolved. “I market to my current customers more than I ever have before,” she said. “This includes making periodic phone calls, distributing various mailings, and even running local newspaper ads. Also, we are refinancing more second mortgages, since those are typically floating rates and the majority of my business now is purchase transactions.”

Of course, one thing that hasn’t changed is their reliance on support. “The team approach is the heart of my success,” emphasized Lake. “My assistant, junior loan officer, and two processors have total knowledge of the business and understand the importance of our clients.”

Cooper concurs that assistance is essential to her success. “The key for me to continue being a top producer is the team of people I have working with me,” she said. “I have three associates and they each have their own expertise in a specific area. For example, one of my associates is the best at putting first mortgage deals together while another is best at coordinating second mortgages, and the third assistant keeps my database current.”

Their secrets for success are basic, yet have been proven over time. “A big part of our success is giving people more than what they expect,” explained Lake. “Even if the client is wrong, we will take the blame for everything. We always put the client’s needs before our own. Always do what’s in their best interests.”

“My key is that I am passionate about what I do and I want to be the best,” added Cooper. “I want people in town to talk about how I helped them get into a home and that they knew exactly what was going on and they were treated professionally.”

Will they continue to produce and appear on M.O.M.’s list in 2016? They both still enjoy the business, and aren’t desperately seeking retirement. “I am starting to enjoy giving back more to the other loan officers in our company by sharing some of my knowledge with them,” Lake said. “Every year my team is taking on a much larger part of the originating. Sometime in the future, I hope to have my team take over the originating business so I can spend my full time mentoring.”

Likewise, Cooper isn’t planning to retire anytime soon. “I still like the business,” she said. “It is always changing with new guidelines, programs, and products. If I get to the point that I don’t enjoy it, then I will think about retiring, but for the time being I am very happy.”

Highest Dollar/Unit

Countrywide Home Loans * Sales Manager * Glendale, Calif. * $1,080,554,199 * 3,444 loans * Purchase: 65% * Refinance: 35% *Assistants: 10 * Years Originating: 14

Alan Pezeshkian knows that a great team can make all the difference when you’re shooting for SuperStar numbers. In fact, in 2005 his team of 10 assistants and loan “bookers” helped him get to number one on this year’s lists (both dollar and loans), with $1,080,554,199 and 3,444 units. “From the very beginning days of my business, I’ve believed in offering a highly competitive incentive plan,” Pezeshkian explains. “This has resulted in virtually zero turnover in my staff and has enabled me to surround myself with a highly motivated sales team.” His team handles all of the actual applications, leaving Pezeshkian with the time to remain visible with his referral partners and to focus his efforts on generating business.

Pezeshkian’s commitment to the team concept has extended to the Realtors he works with, and landed him the position of “preferred lender” for over 20 condominium projects in his Los Angeles, Calif. market—another factor in his substantial production, he notes. “In 2005, we implemented new strategies to help our partners grow their business, and as a result, our capture rates within these offices improved significantly compared to prior years.” In addition to his condo deals—which are often first-time buyers—Pezeshkian enjoys a diverse customer base. He plans to expand his business in 2006 by replicating his successful model in other nearby communities. “I also plan to grow my business through recruiting quality loan officers, penetrating new markets and new territories, and implementing programs aimed at increasing capture rates in our relationships with real estate offices,” he shares. “I want to make sure that I deploy systems to ensure I can always deliver the highest service standards.”

Pezeshkian attributes stellar results to a supportive, growing company (“I can’t imagine realizing my accomplishments in any other organization,” he said), and ambitious personal goals. “I’ve always been a man of my words, believing that I must possess the absolute best reputation for dependability, reliability, and expertise. Like any other business, it is imperative to have the highest level of integrity and honesty, to a degree that customers trust you implicitly.”

Top FHA/VA Producer

The Rivera Group at Resource Bank * Vice President, Retail Division * Rockville, Md. * $ 83,810,143 * 326 Loans * Purchase: 65% * Refinance: 35% * Assistants: 2 * Years Originating: 8

Daniel Rivera says that the misconception about FHA/VA loans—that they are fundamentally more difficult than traditional loans—is a common fallacy among many originators. In fact, he explains, the loans simply require attention to detail. Rivera should know. He is this year’s top FHA/VA producer, with 261 loans closed and $67,048,114 in volume (80 percent of his total origination).

The vice president of the retail division with The Rivera Group at Resource Bank, Rivera attributes his decision to specialize in FHA/VA to his affinity for the programs and his customers, and not “shrinking away” from his work. His obvious passion for government loans has helped him create a strong niche in his Rockville, Md. community, and his ability to tailor his service to each individual borrower has afforded him a loyal customer base.  “Attention makes the difference because each loan is singular, there’s not a fixed pattern or layout to follow,” he says. “On the contrary, each borrower is a complete new world, completely different from the previous one.”

After eight years in the industry, his customer base has grown substantially, mostly by word of mouth. He also enjoys a robust repeat-borrower business, as his original first-time buyers become move-up clients. The level of success he has experienced is all about the service, he says. “Who doesn’t want to receive attention to detail and personal service?” Rivera’s marketing is largely based on home visits, as well as a monthly newsletter.  He has focused much of his marketing on the local Hispanic community and has found the targeted efforts successful in establishing a solid niche.  “I keep in touch with my database every month through my personal newsletter, and my customers know I care because of the timely advice they get through it,” he notes. “In-person appearances are also important, and I use that as a significant part of my marketing technique.” Rivera says aspiring FHA/VA originators must be “committed to serve” adding, “A satisfied client is truly a source of endless referrals.”

Veteran Originator

SunTrust Mortgage * Assistant Vice President/Originator * Maitland, Fla. * $97,757,063 * 158 loans * Purchase: 96% * Refinance: 4% * Assistants: 1 * Years Originating: 32

After over 30 years in the mortgage industry, Karen Miller-Lozicki has her origination business down to a science. She has created a strong niche within the custom builder community in four surrounding counties, specializing in construction-to-permanent loans. She has also discovered a way to strike a balance between her professional and personal lives. “I make my family a priority and my business secondary,” she says. “But I still maintain a productive environment around me at all times.” As an originator with one of the longest tenures in the industry, Miller-Lozicki appears as number 135 on the Top 200 list, with 158 loans closed and $97,757,063 in volume.

Beginning her career as a processor and branch manager, Miller-Lozicki quickly blossomed in the business; an opportunity to close a loan from start to finish allowed her to expand her role. “The client raved and I become a referral source to several Realtors. At that time I made the move to full-time originating.” Miller-Lozicki took that experience to heart, stating, “I never let an opportunity pass me by.” She is now an assistant vice president at SunTrust Mortgage in Maitland, Fla., where she has worked for 10 years. Although her business is 80 percent construction, she also markets to Realtors and relies on referrals from past borrowers. “I always value my clients and the referrals I receive,” she says. “I try to find a common bond between the client and myself, and treat each one, whether a large business transaction or a small one, like I would want to be treated.”

Miller-Lozicki realizes the value of a simple thank you to her borrowers for their business. She feels that this small gesture, along with first-rate service and follow-up, makes a big impact, emphasizing, “The key to my success is integrity, professionalism, and constant communication to all involved in the mortgage transaction.”

High Purchase Volume

Coldwell Banker Mortgage * Mount Laurel, N.J. * Senior Mortgage Loan Consultant * $97,529,919 * 651 Loans * Purchase: 98% * Refinance: 2% * Assistants: 0 * Years Originating: 2

Dana Gounaris saw the signs of a changing market and wanted to be prepared for the inevitable decrease in refinance business—and he was lucky to work for a company that was proactive in their preparation. “The lender I work for recognized that the industry was destined to shift from a refinance to a purchase market,” he said. “They have implemented strategic initiatives to put us in a position where we can thrive through the change.” As a result, Gounaris’ 2005 production was 98 percent purchase business.

A key reason for the recently expanded purchase business was Gounaris’ solid association with Realtors. “The division of our business I am a part of is the mortgage solution for multiple real estate brands,” he said. “The leads that come from these brands are referred to us by agents and therefore, are primarily purchasers. Recently, we have added more field representatives who act as liaisons between each real estate brokerage and our company. This initiative has helped loan originators like myself better serve the purchase market and increase our conversion rate.”

While Gounaris didn’t do much traditional marketing in 2005, he has benefited from the company’s overall visibility. “Coldwell Banker provides most of the marketing for our mortgage company as a whole. I market myself through contacting Realtors over the phone and having the field reps promote me in the real estate offices.”

Gounaris works with a diverse customer base, including first-timers and experienced buyers.  “However, in 2005 a high percentage of my business was from investors, as well as second-home buyers,” he said. While he is licensed in all 50 states, the majority of his business is derived from/comes from the Southeast region.

Gounaris attributes some of his production success to demonstrating a sincere interest in his customers’ goals and their financial futures. “One key has been finding out what people need and giving it to them,” he said. “Asking the right questions and listening is so important in providing a good experience and uncovering the customer’s needs. I try to do this on every call and believe it is one of the reasons I have been successful.”

Rookie Success Story

Great Southwest Mortgage * Mortgage Consultant * Mesa, Ariz. * $60,140,672 * 443 Loans * Purchase: 80% * Refinance: 20% *Assistants: 1 *Years Originating: 1

Chad Melin managed to do what few others have accomplished in their first year as an originator—earn a place on M.O.M.’s Top 200 originator list (as well as the rookie list).

In his rookie year, Melin closed an impressive $ 60,140,672 and 443 loans for Great Southwest Mortgage. Of course, he would readily stress that his prior experience as a general manager for a nationwide homebuilder and the invaluable guidance of his mentor helped prepare him to have a banner year. “Ryan Nelson showed me the ropes and how to do business the right way,” he said. “He taught me the systems of being a top originator and how to market to Realtors.”

Melin’s first-year marketing also included mailing postcards and co-hosting a local real estate finance radio show. “I [later] received a lot of calls from people who were looking to improve their current mortgage or credit situation,” he said.  He strives to be selective in his overall approach. “I don’t market just to say I am,” he said. “It has to make the phone ring and make money or I don’t do it.”

In a brief time as an originator, Melin has already established a healthy mix of business. “Arizona is one of the fastest growing markets in the country. With the amount of appreciation at record levels, people have been refinancing and purchasing new homes at a record pace. I have a good mix of first-time buyers, move-up buyers, and investors.”

Throughout the loan process, Melin takes an educational approach with his customers, which is appropriate considering he has a Masters degree in educational administration. “Educating clients regarding the mortgage process, along with agents, is my top secret,” he said. “If I educate people about their credit and planning for the future, instead of focusing on selling, they usually refer friends and family to me. And, when I teach agents a new way of doing something, they’re excited and share it with others.”

Melin believes his support staff also plays a critical role in his success. “I have one of the best support engines for closing loans,” he said. “Our support staff is the best in the industry.”

He is primed for an even greater production in 2006. “My goal is to originate one loan a day,” he said. “I continue to market to past clients and grow my referral sources. Most people complain when the phone rings too much. I say bring it on!”

Superstar Fast Track

First Security Lending * President * Los Angeles, Calif. * $ 289,322,063 * 558 Loans * Purchase: 39% * Refinance: 61% *Assistants: 5 * Years Originating: 5

Jack Soussana was working as a door-to-door life insurance salesman when he clicked with an originator at a seminar.  “The company I was introduced to was run by two guys who weren’t much older than I was at the time,” he recalls. “They took me under their wings and taught me the business. The support that I got early-on gave me the confidence to leave insurance—I never considered taking a step back or failing.” This attitude has served Soussana well. He made the biggest jump on the Top 200 list, skyrocketing to number 15 on the dollar list in only his fifth year of originating. “I take my business seriously,” he said. “The clients’ largest investment is in my hands, and I take pride in what I do.”

Soussana has also been able to apply his life-insurance background over the years. “One thing I picked up from my insurance days is making sure I get a minimum of two referrals per client,” he says. “I ask throughout the loan process. Every time I have any news to tell the client is another opportunity to ask for a referral—of course, the easiest time to ask is when you give the client good news. The key is to ask as if it was second nature,” he suggests. “I aim for coworkers, children, grandchildren, friends, and neighbors.”

Soussana’s “Tell-a-Friend” campaign has been one of his most successful marketing tools, along with informing his past borrowers of “new trends” on a quarterly basis. “The selling point I use most is the fact that we are a direct lender. I promote our turnaround times and our ability to think outside the box to structure the clients’ loans,” Soussana says.

In the future, he plans to expand his licensing to other states and continue to look for challenging new markets. “Taking a customer from a first-time buyer to a multi-home owner is a rush for me,” he explains. “More happy clients means more referred new clients, which equals means loans closed. It’s that simple.”

Unique Previous Profession

Cornerstone Home Lending * Senior Loan Officer * Las Vegas, N.V. * $ 72,538,885 * 511 Loans * Purchase: 79% * Refinance: 21% *Assistants: 1 * Years Originating: 6

Vicky Frontiere agrees that taking a career path from racehorse jockey to stuntwoman to loan originator may seem out of the ordinary, but she has definitely benefited from her previous work experiences. “Being a professional race horse jockey and a stuntwoman taught me a lot, including dedication, perseverance, responsibility and a focused work ethic,” she said. “My competitive side truly comes out in this business too.” Frontiere was definitely a winner last year, having posted 2005 numbers of $ 72,538,885 and 511 loans. “This is a company of top industry professionals, so the race was a tough one!”

Frontiere maintains a diverse client-base. “Much of my business comes from past customers on move-up transactions, referrals of family and friends, preferred relationships with Realtors and builders, and a network of investors,” she said.

She noted that while the Las Vegas market continues to expand, she also is comfortable developing new areas. “As a federal-chartered mortgage banker, I am also closing in six to eight different markets each month. We have a great Internet application process that is so efficient, customers and Realtors in several states like working with us.”

In addition to the Internet presence, she maintains visibility with her past customers with several different strategies. “At Cornerstone we have our own marketing department which is a huge plus. I can come up with an idea and they create wonderful materials for me to use. They create all my magazine ads, joint marketing pieces, and other items. I’m on a quarterly plan where pieces go out to my database, without me having to worry about it.”

The champion producer shows no signs of slowing down. “I set goals every year and work towards them,” she stressed. “I plan to put another production assistant in place to help me do things that take up time, like pulling credit and inputting information into our software system. Then I can spend more of my time prospecting for business.”