mortgage loan officer interview

How a loan officer’s focus on communication reinforces referral relationships

Top Producer’s team keeps files moving forward, so he can bring in new business

Don Owens, of Hamilton Group Funding, has a great motto for his mortgage branch: Why close on time… when you can close early.

We recently spoke with Don to get some insight into how his team keeps up their end of this bargain.

Can you give us an overview of yourself and your team and how your office is structured?

We’ve kind of got a team environment here in the way that we manage the pipeline. I come from a production background in different types of businesses and I applied that to loan origination and it really helps move the files forward.

We have seven people on the team. We have a full-time marketing person who stays in the field and hands out our business cards and marketing material and tells people who we are. Her primary role is to help spread awareness of who we are and to sponsor open houses and events and lunch-and-learns and help keep our calendar filled with events. Her job is not to get us applications, her job is to get us connections. Realtors, referral sources. So she’s not going for the customers, she’s going for the referral source and building those relationships.  In a good month we might meet 100+ realtors face-to-face. That really helps a lot, but you have to have somebody out in the field making that happen while the loan officers are managing the files.

In a good month we might meet 100+ realtors face-to-face

We have a production manager who helps manage the closings. Primary responsibilities are managing the closings, scheduling the closings putting it on the calendar and making sure we close on time, coordinating the closing dates with the agents or moving a date if necessary. What we like to say here is, “why close on time when you can close early”? The way that we structure things we tend to move closings forward and close them earlier in the process rather than later in the process. We’ll often try to move closings up a little bit and try to close them earlier for the agents and the buyers. So she’s often setting up that and sending out the Floify updates on all the milestones.

She’ll also assist with little things I need throughout the day.  For example, if I need an appraisal ordered on the fly. She might jump in before it’s assigned to a processor and order an appraisal for me. The sort of things that will take your time up during the day where you can delegate those things out.

Are you the only loan originator on the team?

In the office, we’ve got a team of five originators. The way that the mortgage lending business works, in general, is you’ve got originators who bring in a lot of business and others who maybe aren’t quite as good at networking and bringing in as much business of their own.

We utilize those loan officers as junior loan officers. For example, I might have a day that I get six or nine applications or contracts, which often occurs on Mondays. People go out and put their offers in over the weekend, Monday morning you walk in the door and you’ve got a ton of contracts in your email box. That’s how it works for me anyway. I’ll assign those files to junior loan officers to help prepare the files for processing. They’ll send out disclosures and then move the files to the processors after we’ve gathered the documentation.

People go out and put their offers in over the weekend, Monday morning you walk in the door and you’ve got a ton of contracts in your email box

What that does is allow me to bring in more business and continue selling throughout the day every day while my files are continuing to move forward. We all know in our business what it’s like to focus on closing loans and then you’ve closed out your pipeline and now you have to start marketing again. That cycle is kind of a death-cycle in our business, it can really hurt your income stream. You have to have a plan in place to cut that off. Having that team network really helps me continue to fill the pipeline.

Do you specialize in any niche?

I do some targeted marketing. I‘ve got a VA targeted marketing out right now. Here locally we’ve got a 15k down payment assistance program that we offer that we have a lot of marketing material out for that specifically. What we really market is our service. That’s our niche. Our niche is ‘why close on time when you can close early’. We want people to understand that we’re efficient and we’re very good at what we do, and then deliver on that process by communication.

Our niche is ‘why close on time… when you can close early’

Communication is the key. Closing late is not a problem, not letting people know that the transaction is behind, before the closing date, is a problem. When we have to move a closing date back, people in general (customers, agents) know that it’s coming weeks in advance. Because typically you can tell if there’s a problem with the property or the customer is moving particularly slow. For example, every now and then we have situations where the customer has to physically mail their documentation or they’re out of the state a lot. I recently did a loan with a roadie and he was gone every single week. He was in town for 1 day every week. So his transaction took 2 extra weeks to close because he wasn’t available, but everyone in the transaction knew that from the beginning so there was no surprise.

Transparency is a big part of it, you have to be honest. Sometimes in our industry we will find that loans are delayed and loan officers just won’t tell the realtors and the customers that it’s going to be delayed even though they know it, like it’s going to miraculously get back on course, and you just can’t do that.

Do you believe your emphasis on communication gives you an advantage?

I went to a lunch the other day with four members of my team, and there were 25-30 realtors at the lunch and we were the only lenders. I was having a conversation with some of the realtors at our table and 4-5 of those people I’d done business with recently including three of them this month. They were all talking about how we are their favorite lender because we communicate so well.  Floify is part of that. Specifically, we use Floify for, and are really pleased with, the updates. I find that agents are really pleased about that and comment on those updates more than just about anything we do, keeping them informed throughout the process. A huge part of our business is communication.

agents are really pleased about that and comment on those updates more than just about anything we do

Yesterday my regional manager and my national sales manager were in the office here, and the phones were not ringing at all. Now, we have 18 loans closing this month and the phones were not ringing at all. We were having a conversation about how the phones weren’t ringing because the customer’s not calling to find out what’s going on with the loan, the realtor isn’t calling to find out what’s going on with the loan, the insurance company isn’t calling, the title company isn’t calling, because they all know what’s going on with the loan.

Now, we have 18 loans closing this month and the phones were not ringing at all

I’ve worked in companies before where the phone rang off the hook, and it was not new business. It was people who already had loans in the process trying to figure out where the loan is in the process. That’s just where a lot of mortgage lenders really drop the ball.

Do you work with Builders at all?

We are a preferred lender with two big builders in this area. Every week we close at least a couple of new construction transactions. I really like doing new construction transactions because it helps you build your future pipeline. Right now, looking at next month for example, I’ve got seven new construction contracts for closings, and five for the month after that. You can build up your pipeline nice and solid with new construction files, and then the 30 day transactions that come in from your general brokerage is just icing on the cake.

Are you a member of, or do you participate in, any sales training groups?

I’ve gone to the Mastermind events in Vegas before. I’ve been in some way shape or form had a CORE coach for about 5 years now. A lot of the way we run our branch in some way shape or form I’ve pulled that from some of the guidance I’ve gotten from coaches in CORE.  They’re a good group, they’ve got good concepts, and they help you bring structure to your business if you don’t have it. It’s a great way to learn how to run an effective mortgage business.

On average, how many units does your team close per month?

We pretty consistently close over 15 loans a month. We’re really trying to get ourselves to the next level. Our branch is currently operating in the top 10 in our company. We’re a small-medium sized mortgage banker. My goal is to get our branch in the top 5 in our company.

It takes a lot of efforts. You get to one level of production and it’s very difficult to get to the next level. I’m sitting here thinking, all I need to do is add 5 transactions per month, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but those 5 transactions can be very difficult to gain. You have to maintain the number of loans you’re bringing in the door, regardless of market conditions, and then add new referral partners who are bringing in new transactions and do that on a consistent basis. It’s just a constant effort to grow. We’ve got a lot of things out there right now to help us do that and make us very visible in the marketplace.

You get to one level of production and it’s very difficult to get to the next level