Second Best To Banks? Not So Fast

Not everyone thinks of approaching brokers for a mortgage, but independent agents are trying to change that

Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak
Second best to banks?

Reputation Is Everything

Aside from buying leads and writing hundreds of letters, Siegel knew that relationships played a larger role in her ability to get business. “I started networking early on in my career and built up a reliable referral base — people like CPAs and financial advisors, and that helped me find a niche: newly divorced women and single women,” Siegel said. “What I found was that there was a certain generation of women who were waiting to buy property until they were married or had a partner. What I found myself passionate about was educating women on strengthening their assets. And with divorce, there’s usually property involved.”

Siegel says that getting referrals for women either going through a divorce or looking to independently buy property happened because her referral base knew that she would be able to give undivided attention to each client. “I run Westchester Mortgage on my own which means I can act as an LO and a broker,” she said. “I run my business as being solution-oriented. What I tend to do for each client is help them with an individual plan: does it make sense for them to buy out the other spouse? Does it make sense for them to rent for a while? How much can they afford? It all plays a factor.”

Part of being solution-oriented is Siegel admitting when she isn’t the best fit for a customer. “It’s all about how you react in a situation. I have no problem saying that I can’t help a customer but I know who else can,” she said. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know that the main thing loan officers carry around with them is their reputation. So for me, it’s always been about having a strong relationship and solid reputation.”

Debbie Siegel, owner, Westchester Mortgage

Even though Siegel has a strong presence in the community of newly divorced and single women, she still focuses on the upkeep of her relationships in order to put herself out in the community. “What’s fruitful for me is keeping in touch with my past and existing client base. I send out newsletters every month,” she explained. “Pre-COVID, I went to all of my closings. I still try to do in-person networking events, too.”

Siegel’s other key to her success is a networking group that she’s been a part of for 20 years called Business Networking International (BNI). “That group meets every Friday morning and there’s only one mortgage broker in the group as well as one CPA, one financial advisor, one commercial banker, so there’s no competition in my networking cohort,” she explained. “The idea is to refer business to each other and help the other grow. They’re like my marketing team.”

Similar to Siegel, Ben Lavender’s approach is to make himself easy to find in the community. While Siegel sticks to older forms of communication like newsletters and cold-calling, Lavender uses social media to entice customers. “I never ask for business, I just try to put out as much valuable information as I can to two audiences: realtors and borrowers themselves,” he said. “I take topics that I often discuss with my clients and make them into videos. I do [email] marketing and newsletters too, but social media tends to be the key. You have to meet your audience where they are.”

Ben Lavender, senior loan officer, Madison Mortgage

Building A Community

Lavender, like Siegel, recognizes that he’s not for every customer. But social media is a way for him to establish an online community that feels connected to him before they meet him in person. “I have people who tell me they’ve been watching my content and they feel like they know me,” he said. “You attract and repel the people who do or don’t want to work with you, so social media is like an automatic filtering process.”

Lavender works as a senior loan officer for Madison Mortgage, a New York-based brokerage. He’s known as “New York’s Favorite British Mortgage Broker” due to his British origins, accent, and social media presence. Lavender says that Instagram is his main focus for success and that clients tend to gravitate to him on account of his content. “I try and hit the sweet spot of being dry-humored and educational,” Lavender said. “It keeps people engaged, but the way I see it is if you approach it from the audience’s perspective, the chances of connecting with them will increase.”
Lavender says a lot of his audience is people also in the financial services industry, which in turn, helps him create a business-to-business relationship with viewers. “They become my referral base. I’m not always having consumers reach out to me for loans. I prefer to be second in line, meaning that people want homes, not mortgages,” Lavender said. “So typically, when a customer reaches out, they’ve already made the decision to buy or sell their home. So before talking to me, they’re more likely to talk to their realtor or CPA who will refer me.”

Lavender has been in the industry for 10 years and recalled that when he began as a loan officer assistant, he struggled for the first 6 months. “I didn’t know the business or how to reach customers,” he said. “I was not reaching out to anyone, and I had to learn the business secondhand. So I had a mentor who taught me how to reach people and get business. I started reaching out to real estate agents, but I knew I had to have a mouse trap approach that would convince realtors to do business with me and help each other.”

Kevin Pennington, mortgage broker at Washington First Mortgage Loan Corporation

Lavender says that having had a reliable mentor take him under his wing is what propelled not only his business but his reputation, in his community. “Customers tell me that I always get [the job] done,” she said. “And especially doing business in New York, I’m happy that I can provide them with a sense of calm.”

Foot In The Door

Other brokers have taken a different approach to getting themselves out in the community. Kevin Pennington, a mortgage broker at Washington First Mortgage Loan Corporation, was able to take advantage of local businesses to get his name out there. Pennington, who is based in Kirkland, Washington, is right next door to Microsoft’s Redmond campus, which proved to give him an upper hand. “I had a few successful transactions with employees [at Microsoft] and the company was kind enough to put my name out on an online board,” Pennington explained. “That’s helped my business because what people often forget is that independent brokers are competing against larger retail banks with name recognition and larger marketing budgets.”

Pennington says that his business is 100% referral based and consists of almost entirely realtors and past clients. “I don’t use trigger leads or anything like that,” he said. “I have a website and use search engine optimization, but other than that I truly am a word-of-mouth business person.”

Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak,
Staff Writer
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine October 2023 issue.
Published on
Sep 27, 2023
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