Later Partners with Husband to Enhance Success
Amanda Sessa was so committed to becoming a loan originator that she didn’t even wait to have an office from which to work.
Following graduation from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a brief stint in pharmaceutical sales, Sessa joined CTX Mortgage as an assistant in 1993. She subsequently “moved through the ranks” as an assistant processor, processor and operations manager, but retained her desire to originate. “I always wanted to be an originator, so in 1997, with the approval of my supervisor but without office space, I got cards printed and began working from my car in the Boulder area,” she explained. “I would meet with real estate agents in coffee shops and their offices. I also drove around neighborhoods and saw the Realtor signs and then contacted agents, and sent mailers to my sphere of influence. I got my first couple of deals and my business began to expand from there.”
It is obvious Sessa made the right decision. She has been a top producer for 10+ years and her 2010 production—which she shared with husband/partner John—was $119.7 million and 418 loans at SCBW Mortgage, where she moved last year.
Since her first Realtor meeting, Sessa has continued to enhance her agent partnerships. One of her most successful strategies is the special caravan they have designed to showcase condo and other projects. “It’s a fun event and very helpful for the agents showing their properties,” she said. “We rent a bus that has couches and saddles for chairs, provide refreshments and take a tour of condo units and homes. It gives us a chance to highlight several different projects and to emphasize what we can do for the agents.”
She noted that the caravans (conducted with another SCBW originator) have been effective and worth the expense, which they share with the Realtors. “They help strengthen relationships with new and existing agents, and we always get a couple of deals after each one.”
Sessa’s “State of Affairs” meetings for area Realtors are another proven marketing technique. These quarterly lunches or receptions provide agents with insights regarding lending industry changes and cover timely issues relating to FHA, conventional and jumbo loans. “They showcase our knowledge and ability as loan originators; how we can help them and their customers,” she said. “Agents from many different offices enjoy getting together; the camaraderie is apparent. We always emphasize the positive.”
The informational meetings also have been cost effective. “We usually have an insurance company or other firm as a co-sponsor and get about 60 Realtors at each one. Later, as many as 10 agents will call me to talk, ask questions and share referrals. Some are new ones or others who haven’t used me in a while and we often become their preferred lender. So, this has been very successful.”
Sessa looks for other ways to stand apart from the competition. “For example, I will dress up on many holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween and take goodies to offices. This is a great opportunity to get in front of agents, and not just take rate sheets. We will also do seasonal promos, such as taking spring flower to offices.”
In addition, they keep agents informed via a weekly e-newsletter covering market changes and loan program topics of interest, along with other mailers, including an annual magnet calendar.
Sessa stressed that while she considers refinance business an important part of their total production, they ensure that busy periods don’t interfere with Realtor relationships. “We have developed a system for handling the increase in business, by adding appropriate resources and modifying our schedules,” she said. “Even in the most hectic refi periods we are attentive to agents’ needs, so they don’t feel neglected.”
Customers for Life
Sessa’s customer care program begins with the “Touch Campaign,” which involves a series of contacts throughout the loan transaction, including e-mails to welcome customers, when the initial loan package is returned, at the completion of appraisal, approval, when figures are submitted and HUD approval is received. “Our goal is to do such a good job of communicating that they won’t have to follow up with us,” she said. “It removes the stress from them and their agent. We have had agents say that this is a key reason they use us. Boulder is a small town and we know how important it is to make a good impression throughout transaction. People remember when you do a great job and when you don’t do as well.”
She also attends all loan closings, typically bringing a book or other gift to customers. “This shows the customer we’re committed throughout the entire process. It is a real opportunity to solidify relationships and make new connections.”
Once the loan has closed, they stay in touch with customers on a regular basis, primarily through various cards and other items distributed for them by The Media Center (www.mediacenternow.com). These mailers include birthday and holiday greetings, the annual magnet calendar and a monthly e-newsletter that features home-related information and other items of interest. “It is important to regularly show clients how much we appreciate them,” she said. “We are in the process of incorporating Facebook and Twitter as part of our networking with customers and others.”
Sessa also makes a point to reach out to customers who have chosen to go with another originator for a loan. “We’ll send them an address stamp like we do for all customers, along with a letter that notes we are sorry we’re not working with them on this deal, and hope to do so again in the future. This helps increase the chances that we do business with the customer again and we also get referrals from these contacts.”
A Family Business
Sessa and her husband have developed an effective working relationship that other family- business partners find difficult to achieve. “We work as a team,” she said. “Both of us originate and John, who started working with me in 1998, is also the branch manager. We both take our initial applications, rather than having an assistant do it all. Our goal is to take such a good application up-front that there are very few problems later on. Plus, we have such a great client base; it’s rare that we have any concerns. Our extensive experience is an advantage in that we have seen so many different loan scenarios so we’re prepared for just about any situation.”
Sessa stressed that they couldn’t achieve their high production level without support. “We have an incredible support team. Having a wonderful and knowledgeable staff is crucial to doing this volume.”
Their team currently consists of an assistant processor, processor, closing assistant and closer, all of whom they share with other SCBW originators, along with an operations manager who oversees the Boulder and Denver offices.
The Sessas also take the necessary steps to ensure that there is a separation between their work and personal lives. “We are pretty good at leaving everything at the office,” said John. “We have worked together for so long as a team, we seem to have a pretty good rhythm. We have lunch every day unless there is an event or Realtor lunch. We discuss business at lunch and get all the business stuff out of the way before going home.”
Amanda added that John’s after work visits to the gym also help. “That gives him a good transition from the office to home,” she said. “I am trying to follow his lead on that one. He is much more disciplined at leaving work at the office and I have learned much from him.”
In addition, they both share child rearing responsibilities. “We have two young children too, so our home life is pretty busy when we get home and that helps us not think about business all the time,” said Amanda. “We also try to take off for long weekends in the winter and summer and take at least five extended time-off periods/vacations to stay fresh and keep balanced.”
Team Sessa faces the same challenges as do most lending professionals today, including increased regulations, longer processing times and ever-changing guidelines. “We have been doing this for almost 20 years, which provides a wide perspective of how things have ebbed and flowed in our industry,” said Amanda. “It’s obvious that loan originators really need to be on top of our game on a daily basis and have a good handle on guidelines and changes.”
She emphasized that one part of their routine will never change. “We can get our loans closed in a timely manner and provide quality customer service as long as we promise what we know we can deliver.”
They also note the importance of working with a quality company. “Aligning yourself with a strong organization is extremely important,” added John. “For example, knowing that SCBW Mortgage has solid leadership, good financial backing, a strong political presence and incredible quality standards has made us stronger and more confident as originators. The business is constantly changing, but we are poised for the future with our knowledge, abilities and reputation as our guides.”
By David Robinson
David Robinson is associate editor of Broker Banker.