Secret Weapons For Success

Insider tips from California’s top producing loan originators

Katie Jensen
Weapons For Success

California’s leading independent loan originators are bringing in dollar volume comparable to originators at big banks — in a tough market, no less. What are their methods? California Broker Magazine spoke with four of the top loan originators in the Golden State. See what they have to say on topics like secret success strategies, lead generation, fighting retail banks, and the best social media tools for bringing in business.

According to Modex, the top five lenders were retail banks, but these independent loan originators are generating dollar volumes that meet or beat dollar volumes originators at retail banks.

Watch The Interest


Their secrets are revealed below ... 

Al Hensling, Voice Of Reason

Loan Originator and President of United American Mortgage Corporation

Modex reported 2022 Volume: $294.28 million

Your voice is the best tool you have to capture attention and command respect. Smiling and soft-spoken, Hensling seems to have a calming aura about him. He’s also well-established within the Southern California market as a non-delegated banker. As someone who defines himself as a problem solver, this approach conveys the message to his clients that everything is going to be OK and, for his referral agents, that he can handle even the messiest of loans.

What kind of market are you anticipating in 2023?

I think you're going to see a lot of individuals try to enter the marketplace. There are still some very innovative strategies from a financing standpoint. Some of the buy-down programs we've established and some relationships with some proprietary lenders that are very focused on Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) lending. So, they're affording below-market rates to help stimulate home ownership.

I think you're gonna see a fair amount of first-time homebuyers coming into the marketplace. A lot of individuals believe the rates they see today are somewhat temporary, and ultimately rates will come back down. So, some people are willing to take a leap of faith and get into a product that will be comfortable. It’s a little bit of a stretch right now with the hope that in the future rates will come down and it'll become an opportunity to potentially refinance.

Is there any strategy you consider your secret weapon?

The secret weapon is to always remain calm. A lot of the Realtors that are in the marketplace don't really have a tremendous sales skillset or people skills. Not all but a lot of them want what they want when they want it, and they don't try to develop relationships. There always has to be an adult in the room. As long as you can stay calm, be the voice of reason, always tell the truth, and always provide answers when people need them in an efficient fashion, you're going to be successful.

We've really established ourselves as a solution-based lender, and we get called in oftentimes to fix transactions that have gone awry, maybe at the big bank because they don't understand the complexities or the challenges and/or the solution to those challenges for the particular transaction.

Retail banks dominate the California mortgage industry. How can independent mortgage loan originators get ahead?

Oftentimes the case with the retail banking space, they usually do one product — maybe a couple of products very well — whereas in the broker or mortgage banking space we have the opportunity to participate in more, whether it be Non-QM, government down payment assistance, or up to a $25 million jumbo product. So it just gave us an opportunity to be able to fit the client's needs by having the essential product set. I chose this space because I felt it was a much better opportunity and would be a much better situation for our clients, but also from a financial standpoint, from flexibility.

There may be a lot of moving parts, for example, in a family law case. You may have two individuals that are trying to split assets and then determine what they can purchase. Or there may be a liquidation or a buyout of one individual where it requires a cash-out refinance. That’s when we get called in.

Al Hensling

Scott Evans: Marketing Innovator

Branch Manager at CrossCountry Mortgage

Modex reported 2022 Volume: $261.92 million

Five years ago, Evans was your everyday loan originator, scrambling for leads and new referral sources. That was until he developed a new strategy to get Realtors’ attention. For those loan originators who are nervous for what this year holds, remember panic leads to desperation, and that is not the look you should be going for. Learn how one LO was able to flip the script, and got Realtors to chase after him.

How do you generate leads?

My business has always been based on going after Realtors. [They] are my customer and my client, uh, that's who I, you know, focus my daily activities after. Part of going after Realtors is you have to create value for them. And the ultimate value proposition is creating business to give to a Realtor.

Is there any strategy you consideryour secret weapon?

Most lenders don't have an ability to create business to give back, and that's what I stumbled across four years ago. So, I started doing these homebuying seminars. A majority of them are VA homebuying seminars, but I also do traditional homebuying seminars. Essentially, I do the marketing, and fill the room to present to all the people coming to the event. The call to action is for them to fill out a loan application and then set an appointment with the Realtor. So now I'm giving the Realtor someone that is motivated to buy a house and that's spelled out in an application to get pre-approved.

I'll have 50 to 100 people sometimes at these events. And I've now taken 'em into different markets. When the pandemic happened, I took this seminar to Texas because California was shut down. We're still doing these events in Texas and doing a loan in Texas in comparison to doing a loan in California, it's the same amount of work.

Now that California's opened up, my plans are to take the homebuying seminar up the coast of California. I've gone into Orange County and Fresno, and now I'm going into LA. I’m also looking to take them to Bakersfield.

How do you market these events?

It's all from Facebook. We'll select a venue like a Dave & Busters, a local brewery, or something that has more of a well-known name. It is a free event. The hard part is figuring out who's actually gonna come to the event out of the people who are signing up. So when people sign up on Facebook, I have a way to text them to follow up and see if they're coming. The secret sauce is the marketing and getting people to sign up. We do them on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday after work. We also do a free buffet and free drinks for people to come. We've been doing them for the last four years.

I'm also going after new home builders doing seminars at their model homes. I come in with a value proposition of driving 40 to 50 people to their model home to go on a contract. So it's a tremendous amount of value right now in this market.

Scott Evans

Risha Kilaru, Know-It-all

SVP Mortgage Lending, OriginPoint

Modex reported 2022 Volume: $249.61 million

Self-proclaimed “Benjamin Button of the mortgage industry,” Kilaru is as competent and articulate as they come. She can underwrite loans in her head. She can give you realistic projections about where the market is headed. She can travel the world and answer all of her clients phone calls without missing a beat. Oh, and she’s one of California’s top producing originators. It’s a mystery whether there’s anything she can’t do — that’s what makes her so valuable.

What kind of buyers do you work with?

I'm in the toughest real estate market in the country, where they are extremely savvy. I would say they're very rate centric. I mean, you name it and that's the demographic I deal with. So, I have a lot of Asians and Caucasians. But I would say they are a very tough group of buyers that pretty much knows what's going on. They know the numbers, they've got spreadsheets, and they've talked to people.

What kind of market are you anticipating in 2023?

I don't think this is the market that you had in November and December. I think your borrowers have figured out this pricing it's not gonna last.

You can already see the trend of inflation is coming down. Your job numbers are still fantastic with 311,000 jobs added in February. So that fear of recession that you've been hearing and that has been scaring buyers, it's really not what the numbers are showing.

I tell my clients that you can't look at what the Fed is doing. It's like driving a car and looking in the rearview mirror. They look at the past to determine the plan for the future. I said that's the wrong way to gauge the U.S. housing market or the economy. The easiest way, if you wanna get an idea where the markets are heading, is looking at stocks. Your stock market is not doom and gloom.

I tell my clients, when that rate dips, you miss the boat. It's like buying the stock at its peak. If you don't see the value of buying it when it's the lowest, then you are not a savvy investor. But the trend is these guys have figured out they can get a house cheaper today. It's still technically a buyer's market, but it can switch on a dime.

Is there any strategy you consider your secret weapon?

It's my background. I always think of myself as the Benjamin Button of the mortgage industry. Truly, because when I started my career trajectory, I started in the foreclosure department, the very end of the loan process. Then, I started managing bankruptcies. After, I started running those departments, then running quality control, then being moved to correspondent where I was handling the buybacks. Later, I began underwriting loans for a company, learning anything and everything about how to structure a loan, how to make it work, and how to make it sellable before finally moving into origination.

I am literally underwriting the loan in my head as I'm talking to them. I know which borrowers could default because I've worked with enough borrowers that have defaulted, been in foreclosure or had bankruptcies. In one conversation I know if this deal's gonna pan out or it's not worth wasting my time.

All of this knowledge and background is rare. It’s very rare you would find a loan officer that's underwritten or ran underwriting or has run so many departments associated with mortgages. Most of them just start originating.

Risha Kilaru

Thuan Nguyen, Tech Wiz

CEO of Loan Factory

Modex reported 2022 Volume: $539.07 million

Nguyen has so many clients, he doesn’t know what to do with them. At first, he built a do-it-yourself platform called Moso where borrowers can handle the loan process themselves, which allowed him to complete a record amount of loans in a year. It ended up being so successful for his company that it brought in even more clients. Now Nguyen is swamped. So, now he’s telling other originators to please use his platform.

What are your tips for marketing on social media?

A lot of clients come from social media, and it's the best way to get clients because it's cheap. If you don't have money, you need to go on social media. Use your phone to record a lot of videos with helpful content, and post it online.

If you get involved with Facebook, for example, you need to help other people. You need to somehow let them know that you are an expert, and then they will come to you.

You have to provide very good advice and share your knowledge. You must answer their questions correctly and precisely. You need to show your product and pricing to the potential clients. So this is a way for you to let everyone else out there know about you as an expert, and that you have a good rate or good service. Ultimately, it's your chance to let other people know about you. Make a lot of noise.

What kind of buyers do you see coming to the market this year?

Mostly the younger generation. They are the ones that are going to buy homes this year. They are more active on social media too, which matches perfectly with my business model.

My model is heavily reliant on technology. We built a platform so good that our clients can come and check rates, apply for a loan, as well as monitor rates, and request us to lock their rate. We can interact online throughout the whole loan process — a 100% technology. And they are the best segment to do this. They value technology more than the older generations.

What is your secret weapon?

My website is my biggest weapon. I closed 6,600 loans just last year, which comes out to be at least 500 closed loans a month. That means I have to have, on average, a thousand clients in my pipeline. Normally, to help or service 1,000 clients, I have to have an army of staff to help me. But with the Moso Technology, I can handle that amount of volume easily.

When clients hear about us, they go to our website where they can check and monitor the rate themselves. They can say, “Oh, the rate is too high. I’ll wait for the rate to drop a little bit lower before I apply.” They can also use Rate Alert, which is a daily email updating them on the current rate, then they can click on a button to lock the rate whenever they want.

Although we have a huge amount of transactions, nobody complains. We get perfect five star reviews. No other mortgage company in America has that type of reputation.

Thuan Nguyen

Don’t worry, Nguyen isn’t gatekeeping this technology from the rest of the industry. Loan Factory opened it up for other brokers to use through a $50 monthly subscription. The company has not been able to promote it yet, because they are swamped with clients. Nguyen said they have over 40 brokers who have been using it for the past four years, and they are loving it.

This article was originally published in the California Broker April 2023 issue.
Katie Jensen
Katie Jensen,
Staff Writer
Published on
Apr 17, 2023
California Broker
Rising Rates Dampen Housing Affordability In California

About one-in-six residents can afford the average home in California

California Association of Realtors
California Broker
After 25 Years, Getting Back To Basics

Napa Valley's Pro Mortgage, a family business for 18 years, adapts to the changing times

Sarah Wolak
California Broker
DFPI Guidance Regarding Remote Work

Onus put on branch managers to actively monitor MLOs

California Broker
Appraisal Bias Now Touches More Communities

New data shows growing appraisal gaps in Asian American Communities

Katie Jensen
Connect with your local mortgage community.

Meet your your colleagues, both national and local, by attending an event in your area.

Become a subscriber.

Discover the story of your success. Subscribe to the nation’s longest running mortgage magazine.