NMP Mortgage Professional of the Month: Mike Cox, Director of Sales and Marketing, Clear Home Loans
Each month, National Mortgage Professional Magazine will focus on one of the industry's top players in our "Mortgage Professional of the Month" feature. Our readers are encouraged to contact us by e-mail at [email protected] to be considered for a future "Mortgage Professional of the Month" feature article. This month, we had a chance to chat with Mike Cox, director of sales and marketing for Clear Home Loans. Mike grew up in Kimberly Wis., played football and wrestled throughout grade school and high school. Mike has a three-and-a-half-year old son, Kaine Michael Cox, born with CDH (Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia), a disorder where his diaphragm was not developed on one half of his body while in gestation. His organs were where his lung should have been. This was a major obstacle in Mike’s life, but became a situation where he took a lot out of, realizing that everyone is strong enough to overcome whatever life throws at you. Mike enjoys biking and any kind of exercise, including taking part in a recent grueling Tough Mudder competition in Wisconsin and is planning on participating in another this winter. Mike entered the mortgage business in February of 2000, and soon established himself in the niche of downpayment assistance. He then began HSBO.com, a free for sale by owner (FSBO) program that came with a yard sign, Web site, marketing materials and a financing sign. The program flourished and eventually was bought by GSF Funding. His video site, Rates in Motion was inspired by Gary Vaynerchuck, author of the book, Crush It. Rates in Motion is a daily video blog site providing information to both consumers and mortgage industry professionals. Clear Home Loans is Mike’s latest endeavor where he is looking to provide transparency to the mortgage lending process. Clear Home Loans is built around helping real estate agents utilize the technology of today, such as videos and social media, to market their listings and get buyers. “I think most people would tell you I do whatever I am doing at 100 percent,” said Mike when asked to describe himself. “Whether it be work, play or spending time with my son … then that’s all I do. Whenever I do something, it’s all about that one thing. I think you are just better at the task at hand when you dive into only that particular task.” How did you first get started in the mortgage industry? I left the restaurant and bar management game in February 2000 and got involved in the mortgage industry with no experience at all. Back then, all you had to do was pay a licensing fee and then start making calls … you learned on the job through training on the frontlines. I quickly found my groove in the industry, and that was no easy task back then due to the massive amount of programs that were available. At the same time, I was finding my place in the industry and getting really good at marketing myself, as I stumbled upon and became well-versed in downpayment assistance programs. I quickly learned the programs, how to structure the FHA loan and I was on my way. It was such a great program, and I had financing signs made and put them in all of my real estate agent’s listings. “This house qualifies for NO DOWNPAYMENT” could be seen everywhere in my area, and I was the first one in my area to offer such a program. FHA financing with no downpayment … how much better could you get? Since I was the only one offering it, my business took off. I was a top producer at GSF Mortgage after only one year of being in the business. I would definitely say it was the marketing of the product that took me to the next level. The product was great, but I just didn’t see anyone else marketing themselves as aggressively as I was. The best compliment I got was, “I see your name everywhere.” I still love to hear that to this day. Do you feel it is important for a mortgage professional to have a niche, or can they be everything to everyone? I absolutely think you need a niche in the mortgage business. You need to be well-rounded in every single loan program available and be able to specialize in something that will set you apart from the competition. It can be something as simple as being the best FHA 203k person in your area. If that’s the case, you can market yourself that way, do presentations on the 203k loan, and really put yourself out there as the person to go to for that type of loan. You need to make sure that every real estate agent, every investor and every bank knows that you know everything there is possibly to know about the FHA 203k loan and that if they had someone needing that type of loan, they would be insane to refer them to anyone else. It’s not enough just knowing the program inside and out. You need to promote the heck out of it. When anyone thinks “FHA 203k,” your name should pop into their head at the same time. Let’s be honest … you can be the best at anything, but if nobody knows about you, it doesn’t do you any good. It really comes down to personal branding and how you want to brand yourself in the market. If you are going to take the time to brand yourself, you better be able to back it up. That is a must! As someone with a great deal of experience with the For Sale by Owner (FSBO) market, can you share some tactical tips on ways that mortgage professionals can work with this market? FSBOs are the best way to get purchase business in the door and get referrals for your real estate agents. You can go from one extreme and start your own FREE FSBO program with signs and a Web site, or you can simply offer marketing support and be a resource for the FSBO. The thing about any way you approach it is that it takes a lot of work to structure and work efficiently, but if it’s done right, you will have a lead generation system that will give you purchase leads for the rest of your career. If you have never worked an FSBO before and you want to start small, here are a few things you can do today. Find an FSBO with a little red sign in your area (ask friends, real estate agents and appraisers to keep a look out) and then call them. Ask them about their house and why they are selling it. After they tell you everything there is to know about the house, let them know what you do—you work for a mortgage company and have many pre-approved buyers who might be interested in their house. You just wanted more info to provide to your clients. Let them know you can then offer them some free marketing materials, like flyers with payment options, a nice financing sign out front, online advertisements (Craigslist) and even help them make sure the house is priced right (your agent’s market analysis). You will do all this for free to help them sell their home in the hopes of getting the mortgage of the person buying it. Be honest about your intentions … after all, the price is right for them. This simple phone call can get you a sign and advertisements that will produce calls or Web site traffic directly to you on a daily basis. The more signs, the more calls. Here’s the catch … you need to truly provide a service to the FSBO. You should follow up every couple weeks, update your flyers and provide a true service that will help the FSBO sell their home. In return for your hard work, here is what you get out of it—purchase leads from the sign, a potential listing referral for your realtors and a possible purchase from the seller if you can help them. That is off one house. Only take on what you can handle and do it extremely well. You will never be disappointed about all of the opportunities that come from this type of program. You may just end up refinancing the FSBO and their friends. When a customer comes to you specifically for the best rate, do you feel that the focus becomes less on value of service and more on rates? This is a debate I have with people all the time. On one side, you have the saying, “If they come to you for rates, they will leave you for rate,” and on the other side, I say if they come to you for rate and you provide them with service and true sound financial information and advice they will not leave you for price. It is really about building trust with your clients from day one and asking the right questions about their financial goals. If you educate them and let them know you are always working in their best interest, you will have a customer for life. Will some people jump ship no matter what when rates dip a quarter during their lock? Of course, some people are just that way. You either renegotiate that lock or say goodbye and move on. A good indicator of this type of person is when they have 21 credit inquiries over the past five months. Be cautious of locking someone like that. But, for the most part, the originators that bring something to the table like years of experience and true industry knowledge have the least fallout. They also have the most referrals. What led to the creation of your daily consumer and referral partner targeted Rates in Motion videos? Rates in Motion was inspired by the book Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuck. One of the owners of GSF Funding, Phil Siebert, sent me the book and said to read it. After a few days of reading the book, we met to discuss how we could take something boring like mortgages, make it fun and still provide great information to the world about how to get the best possible deal on their mortgage through a daily video. I have always been about doing things that nobody else is doing and just being different. This was a chance once again to make something happen and change the mortgage world in the process. There were months of brainstorming sessions before we came up with the initial version of Rates in Motion. I had never done videos before and it was a definite learning curve for me. Yes, it was a train wreck at the beginning, but once things got going, we found our groove and continue to improve each video we produce. It has been amazing to speak with people throughout the country just looking to get the best deal on their mortgage. The people I speak with, or the ones that are always pricing their loan to double check their lender, are the ones I get my content from each day. Sure, I add in a little flavor here and there, but the issues and questions these guys come up with are the topics of my show. If they are dealing with it, then so are others out there in the industry. The goal is just to provide great information, the best rates I see each day, and hope that people use this information to get the best possible deal. If they cannot find someone that will give them those rates and cost, the consumer just contacts me and I set them up with someone I trust that I know has the best rates available. It’s that simple. If anyone wants to become a Rates in Motion-approved lender, contact me and I will see if you have what it takes. How hard is it to produce a daily show with actual live pricing? It is insanely hard. There are so many details that go into doing one show that any one little thing can throw the whole day off. The market changes so rapidly that it’s hard to post rates sometimes. Rates are only one of the issues you come across when doing a daily video. Just think about traveling, appointments, maybe the kids are sick, or one of the hundreds of other reasons you may either miss a day of work or have an altered schedule. This has not been an option for me since February of 2011. It requires a ton of pre-planning, scripting and then shooting … it’s a lot of work. It is so much work outside of a normal work day that I know nobody else will do it. It’s a huge sacrifice on a personal level. It eats up a lot of my “me time,” but just like all things that take a ton of work, it’s worth it. I have helped hundreds of people get a better deal on their mortgage. I have received national exposure and just have had a great response from all of those watching it. That always drives me to do the next show. All in all, it has been an amazing experience. There has to be a middle point between not having video and creating a Rates in Motion daily show. How can a mortgage professional get started in video? This is pretty simple. They can do this today. First, pick your message. What do you want to say, or more importantly, what do your clients want to know about. Take that topic and shoot one single video and post it to YouTube. Send the link to your database and wait for the response you get. You will be amazed. I honestly think the best use of video for originators is a video you can use over and over again. So, if you want to explain a loan product, just shoot one awesome video that explains that program and either put it on your Web site or send it to your clients as needed. Videos are tools that should be used in your business to help make your business more efficient. Here is a good example. Shoot a video explaining everything a customer will need in order to get pre-approved for their mortgage and a synopsis of the mortgage process. Then, when you schedule an appointment or get a new customer, send them this video. How much time does that save you from going over that with each and every client? Now they know what you look like, they know a little bit about your personality through the video, and it breaks down some barriers before you even meet with them face to face. If you are comfortable in front of the camera, maybe you want to do a weekly or monthly video blog post. If you engage with your followers and provide true value to them, you will be on your way to using video to get more business. What is the next big thing for you? My new focus is on Clear Home Loans, a company designed around being as transparent as possible about the mortgage transaction and the process. I have created an online update system that keeps the real estate agent, the buyer and the seller updated on the process of the sale every step of the way. It e-mails updates on the loan’s progress, or if you ever just want to just check in and see where the process is, just log in and check the status. There is no more “Where is the loan at in processing?” phone calls from the real estate agent. You can check rates online and get any type of mortgage information you need all from the Web site. I have also created a very unique program that will help real estate agents and the FSBO segment market their listings through video and other social media outlets. The new site will be focused on videos of loan programs, educational videos and videos of real estate agents and FSBO listings. There is no such thing as too much marketing for anyone trying to sell a home. I will also be offering some unique ways for real estate agents to get new leads and boost their Internet presence. The new site should be functioning soon, and I look forward to taking the purchase business to the next level. I am so excited to roll this out. I think people will be shocked to see how much content and video will be on the site. My goal is to make my new site a true resource for the consumer, real estate agent and FSBO market. Shouldn’t that always be the goal? Who is the one person you've met or crossed paths with in life that has had the biggest impact on you? I have met a lot of people in my life that I have admired and have had a very positive influence on me. I think I took a little bit from many different people, and that has made me the person I am today. The person who has had the biggest impact on me personally is my three-and-a-half-year-old son Kaine. He has taught me to always face my challenges head on like there is no tomorrow. He has inspired me, motivated me, and all around, has made me a better person. Kaine was born with Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia or CDH and has had a very difficult start to his young life. The first five months of his life were spent in the NICU of the Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee. He faced a challenge I hope nobody ever has to deal with even before he took his first breath (which he did not do on his own for at least four months). The challenges he faced during that time were nothing compared to the day-to-day issues that come into our lives. I have no idea what was going through his little head during that time, but I know he never gave up. Whenever I face a challenge in my life, I look at him and his experiences and say,, “Screw it … it’s not that bad.” He helps me keep things in perspective. I have learned to face things head on and work through whatever challenge is in my way. He is easily the biggest motivator in my life as well. I am sure all parents want the best for their kids as do I. I also want to be the person who he looks up to and he will admire for the rest of his life. I hope I earn the respect from him and that he will mention me someday when someone else asks him this very same question. I also hope that he has a child that changes his life for the better like he did for me. Thank you Kaine! I also have to thank my parents for teaching me that hard work pays off. Without that lesson alone, I would not have had the success that I have enjoyed. I want to thank them both for that.