How loan officers are riding the highs and lows of the housing market
The mortgage industry, which is cooler than expected, is forcing loan officers to go back to the basics and figure out creative ways to stir up business.
Brian Atallian, a mortgage consultant for Delaware-based Pike Creek Mortgage, says that the market’s current state is concerning. Traditionally, Atallian says that inventory and market activity pick up with the onset of the spring season. This year, not so much. “Obviously things are slower, for the short term it’s getting worse as inventory remains low,” he said. “People don’t want to move and lose their low-interest rates, they’d rather put their money into home renovations rather than sell.”
Atallian has been in the mortgage business for just over 20 years, so he’s experienced the ebbs and flows. “My business has always been referral based. It’s still hard to use my approach pre-pandemic, which was sitting down in person with my clients, realtors, and potential borrowers,” he said. “It goes a long way when you’re able to engage with someone face-to-face and explain the benefits of homeownership to them, and almost act as their financial advisor. It solidifies the relationship.”
However, Atallian says that the challenges have only forced him and his team to find other methods of engagement. The team uses the app Cardtapp — a digital business card platform — to engage with borrowers and Realtors. “The app has a mortgage calculator and rates on it. When borrowers and Realtors use the app, my team gets updates about their activity and we’re able to help them or reach out about what they might need through the app,” Atallian explained. “The app also ties in the whole mortgage process for everyone, not just the borrower.”
Because Atallian’s business is heavily influenced by referrals, he says he doesn’t do much marketing outside of email blasts to his clients. He says he prefers a personal touch when approaching customers, especially at a time when LOs have to compete for a small pool of buyers. “When I get down about the market, I go through my books and call up old contacts to check in and see if I can be of assistance,” he said. “I try to do follow-ups with customers on their loan anniversaries and tell them I’m available if they want to refinance or change mortgage insurance. The biggest roadblock that I face right now is struggling to develop trust between customers and my team since we’re approaching them by email or text. A call is more personal.”
Celebrating the Small Wins
While a cooling market may promulgate uneasiness, some LOs aren’t letting the housing blues affect their approach. “The great thing about the business is that you can create whatever business you want and focus on different audiences. There are so many new ways of information and you can get creative with it,” Atallian said. “[In times like these], you get excited over small accomplishments.”
For Jason Schneider, who is a sales manager at Movement Mortgage, a lukewarm environment means working harder to re-establish relationships — especially with referral partners. “Obviously, we’ve seen [fewer] buyers and sellers in the market which means no income,” Schneider said. “But it reminds me to double back and check up on those relationships, especially since some of my referral partners have become friends of mine. Right now, I’m trying to reach around 20 people per day that I haven’t connected with in a while.”
“When I get down about the market, I go through my books and call up old contacts to check in and see if I can be of assistance.”
Brian Atallian, mortgage consultant for Delaware-based Pike Creek Mortgage
It makes sense that Schneider is taking time to put in more hours during his week dedicated to relationships. Simply grabbing coffee with referral partners has saved him. And better yet, he’s been able to reciprocate. “If I have a great relationship with someone whether they’re in the industry or not, my natural progression is to refer them to someone who I like that can help them,” he explained. “I don’t believe in cold calling. I’d rather just ask my trusted friends and partners if they have any clients who would be open to having a conversation with me.”
The Market In Perspective
Brian Mitchell started at Integrity Home Mortgage Corporation in November 2022 as a senior vice president and regional sales manager, just when the market started to shift again. “It’s hard not to be discouraged. Like most independent mortgage bankers, we’re not making money,” he said with a chuckle. “But the company is still optimistic about being able to pull through. It’s a cyclical market, and the only guarantee is that at some point, it will be strong again.”
Like Atallian and Schneider, Mitchell has been honing in on the basics, especially forming strong relationships. “Right now, it’s a game of survival,” Mitchell said. “We can’t change the rates. But what I can do is get in front of as many people as I can, create conversations, create relationships, and recognize that there are plenty of people who are still buying houses — we just need to be top of the line for referral partners.”
So how is Mitchell doing that? He explained that he and his sales team are using old-fashioned communication — phone calls — to touch base with referral partners and try to market to niche markets such as Non-QM. Mitchell also added that as painful as the market is right now — especially with many LOs stepping back from renewing their licenses — the market “needs attrition” for it to cycle through.
“If you’re not leveraging tools like video — which your customers need and look for — then you have nothing.”
Shane Kidwell, CEO of Dwell Mortgage and a founder and coach at Next Level Loan Officers
Mitchell says that putting the market into perspective has helped him to remain focused on trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. “A lot of people are obsessed with looking at interest rates day-to-day and focus on the doom and gloom. It’s easy to spiral downward into negative attitudes. You need to realize you can only control what you can control,” he said. “For me, this is the worst market I’ve seen in 21 years, and we need to be patient.”
Focusing on Small Steps
Shane Kidwell, CEO of Washington-based Dwell Mortgage and a founder and coach at Next Level Loan Officers, isn’t discouraged about the market. If anything, Kidwell says that this is a good time for him to focus on building up his personal brand and his relationships with not just customers, but business clients, too. He says that the first conversations with a colleague or client are crucial for business. “I saw a poll from Gallup Analytics that every conversation that you have with a business colleague is an instant $200,” he said. “That stuck with me. And if you talk to every person in the room you’re bound to get business whether you introduce me to someone, I set you up with a coaching class, I refer business to you, etc.”
What keeps Kidwell going in a down market is dedicating extra time to his agents. “I challenge everyone to do what I do and send a Friday market report to their agents,” he said. “It’s a great way to check up on them while providing a service.”
Kidwell says that he does these reports in a video format — and for a good reason. He says that customers and clients want easy access to your social presence to know whether to trust you or do business with you. “Everything is digital now, when you want something the first thing you do is go online or watch a video that explains what you can do,” he explained. “If you’re not leveraging tools like video — which your customers need and look for — then you have nothing.
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine August 2023 issue.