Attending holiday parties, taking vacations, cutting back on strategic partner meetings. That’s what many loan originators do during the final quarter of the year, especially if they are close to meeting their annual production goals.
While taking a break and enjoying the holiday period is certainly appropriate, a major slowdown can have a negative impact on your overall business and affect strategic partner relationships.
Now is a good time to analyze your typical year-end behavior and if appropriate, make some basic changes.
Review Your Pipeline
In order to close as many loans as possible in the final quarter, Greg Frost, Primary Residential Mortgage (and Frost Mortgage), Albuquerque, N.M., emphasized the importance of a thorough review and ongoing communications with everyone involved. “Sit down with your processing team and audit every loan in process,” he said. “Plan to meet every Friday afternoon until year’s end to audit progress and prepare weekly status reports. Distribute status reports via fax and e-mail to the borrower, listing agent and selling agent to keep everyone on track and up-to-speed. If you, your processors, Realtors, builders and clients are regularly updated, you will close and fund many more loans in your pipeline. Communication is the lubrication in every well run organization.”
“As you approach the final couple of months, it’s imperative to do a thorough evaluation of your pipeline,” said Joe Bigelman, John Adams Mortgage, Troy, Mich. “I focus on the loans that I know have the best chance of closing by year’s end. I generally get more hands-on with some of the slower moving loans than I might at other times of the year. It’s also important to do more to help your assistant, processor and underwriter get what is necessary to get the deals closed. This may involve more frequent team meetings and going through the pipeline in greater detail.”
“Loans taken up until mid-November should be able to be closed by end of the year,” added Amy Slotnick, Fairway Independent Mortgage, Needham, Mass. “Many clients want to close before the new year for tax reasons and you will continue to generate referrals from clients by meeting their needs while in process.”
Matt Elerding suggested weeding out loans that don’t fall into the “serious” category. “Get rid of those ‘hanger on’ loans—the ones that for various reasons haven’t closed yet,” said Elerding, The ElerdingTeam, Powered by HomeStreet Bank, Vancouver, Wash. “You may have already extended the rate lock numerous times. It’s time to move on and concentrate on those that you can close in a realistic timeframe—before December 31. So, if you haven’t already done so, divide all your remaining loans in your pipeline into ‘sure’ things (on schedule), those needing a little extra help, and others that need even more assistance, such as you working overtime with an underwriter and processor.”
Originating New Loans
The idea that “people don’t buy homes during the holidays,” may be true in your market, but that doesn’t mean you should significantly cut back on your originating activity. Look for ways to generate sales.
“When the market slows, it is time to turn up the heat on getting organized, reenergized and going after the business,” said Bigelman. “Using our automated system, I’ll do a survey of all my past customers to see who can benefit from a change. Even though rates have been rising, there are still many who can benefit from a refi. I’ll make sure I’ve contacted my database of prospects who previously said they were unsure of the timing. If appropriate, I’ll emphasize that it is likely in their best interest to proceed this year. I’ll also stress to my Realtors and other strategic partners to be sure to encourage their clients not to delay.”
Frost noted that it’s worthwhile to devote extra attention to builders and Realtors. “Meet with builder agents at their models and get a list of their standing inventory and any special pricing or concessions they are willing to offer on them,” he said. “Many builders want to get certain homes off their inventory by end of the year and are willing to make great deals. Make every one of your Realtor referral partners aware of the deals and the particular builder sales agent they should call. Copy the builder and their sales agents on any marketing materials you send your referral partners so they know that you are helping them. Better yet, drop by the model and show them. Many builders do not have an in-house mortgage company. This is a great referral vertical to establish. Start now and help them get their inventory sold. They will remember you for your effort on their behalf next year.”
“You have to continue originating,” said Slotnick. “Even though many people don’t make major financial decisions in the final months, it’s good to continue refi and purchase activity. The loans you take in November and December create a carry over for closings and a strong start to the following year. The holiday season is always one that reminds people that they need to save more money so there may be clients who begin to consider refinancing as a way to accomplish this. Strong year-end originations mean a strong first quarter.”
Budgets are often reduced in the latter part of the year, but this isn’t the time to curtail your marketing activity. Of course, you’ll be sending holiday greetings, but consider other potential messages as well. “There is never a time to stop your marketing,” said Slotnick. “Although we are all inundated during the end of the year with holiday greetings and mail, you don’t want to reduce your visibility by putting your marketing efforts on hold. Use holiday greetings as a way to stay in front but make them different. Send a Thanksgiving card rather than a Holiday Greetings card in December. If you take time off from your marketing during the times that people are less likely to be thinking about their mortgages then they will not be thinking about you when it is time to consider their financing. Stay in front regardless of the time of year. Share personal holiday photos on social media – your clients need to ‘humanize’ you as well.”
Your marketing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. “Continue to send e-mails, direct mail, social media, and whatever else to maintain visibility and generate new customers,” said Frost. “This activity should be a daily time blocked event on your calendar. Multi-media electronic marketing is a dynamic and low cost marketing tool, but only if you participate. If you have a team, one of your team members should be your designated electronic and social media communicator and should copy you daily on their efforts in this regard. Communication and discussion of topics for media distribution should be part of your daily interaction with this designated teammate.”
You also should take time to evaluate your database. “We use ACT to manage our contacts, our appointments, our rate locks and our pipeline,” said Elerding. “If we feel that previous prospects and others don’t belong there and won’t generate future business–they go. Lean and mean is the only way for a database to work effectively. It’s fine to have a 20,000 person database, but not if a good portion of them will never do another loan or make a referral.”
In addition to generating new business, you may need to have more frequent contact with your strategic partners, including Realtors, builders and CPAs. You can discuss plans for the new year, referral strategies and other hot topics. “The Fall presents a great opportunity to begin setting those appointments with our referral partners that we’ve been putting off for a long time,” said Elerding. “If their September is too busy then I get them to commit to October. We’ll discuss potential referrals, make plans for 2014 and share marketing strategies.”
It’s essential to have a formal plan in place. “I continue to make two solid sales calls to Realtors and builders every day,” said Frost. “How do I make certain this happens? I never eat breakfast or lunch alone. I split my two daily sales calls between those referral partners I wish to protect and those potential referral partners that I wish to prospect. I believe that I can’t afford to eat alone. I make at least 30 one-on-one sales calls every month, like clockwork. Break bread with them and break down barriers.”
Slotnick stressed that these discussions also enable you to comfort partners who may be concerned about the slower period. “Everyone gets nervous during the quieter times; this is definitely the time to meet with your referral partners and help them consider how you can best work together in the forthcoming year,” she said. “Business planning becomes a big focus in the fourth quarter. Let your referral partners know how a relationship with you can enhance their plans and of course, ultimately, their income in the new year. Most Realtors are not (expert) marketers. If you can offer ways to compliantly co-brand, they will jump at the opportunity.”
It takes advance planning and extra energy to “race to the finish” and you may need to give yourself occasional pep talks during the last few months. “I think it’s important that originators continue self-motivation; constantly reminding themselves to not let up in the final stretch,” said Bigelman.
Maintaining a positive attitude and a formal plan for year-round originating, and being receptive to new strategies will help ensure you have a more productive fourth quarter. You’ll also be establishing momentum that will take you into the new year.
David Robinson is Associate Editor of Broker Banker.