Many loan originators work primarily with a more general customer base, preferring to avoid any specific niche. However, others have found that developing one or more niches can be highly rewarding. Following are a few examples.
Linda Mister, WR Starkey Mortgage, Ft. Worth, Texas, established a hospital physician niche. “I initially met with the administrators at our two major hospitals and suggested that I could assist their doctors,” she explained. “I sold myself by providing customer and Realtor testimonials and highlighting my track record so that they were confident I could deliver on what I promised.” They allowed her to display fliers that announce “I have the Perfect Prescription for You,” and include homeownership details aimed at first-time buyers, including a special state bond program designed for doctors, teachers, police officers and firemen/women. “Doctors are comfortable knowing that their hospital has given me access and I build rapport by taking the time to explain the homebuying process, about which most of them know very little.”
The doctor niche takes time to establish but is worth the investment. “It took me about six months to get this under way, but I’m now doing about 40 loans a year for doctors and their referrals,” she pointed out.
Matt Elerding, The Elerding Team, Powered by HomeStreet Bank, Vancouver, Wash. has developed a niche with people going through a divorce. “I write approximately 50 ‘Divorce Loans’ a year, about one a week,” he said. “I have a handful of attorneys with whom I have developed close working relationships. In turn, they have entrusted me with their clientele in need of a divorce type loan. The other loans of this type come from past clients who are returning to me after their marriage has gone awry. Frequently, we are removing one of the spouses (from the mortgage) which, until recently involved a ‘cash out’ refinance in order to buy out the spouse’s entitled equity. However, in today’s environment it is often a liability that the remaining spouse has agreed to take on.”
Elerding began sending regular monthly e-mails to all the attorneys in his database. “Not all of them deal with family law but I have found that there is a tight network among attorneys and if you stay in regular contact with them, your name will eventually rise to the top of the list as the ‘go to’ loan officer for these types of mortgages.”
He noted that other steps you can take to develop this niche include hosting a divorce seminar to inform Realtors and attorneys of the options and your expertise; writing an article on “Mortgage Loan Options for the Recently (or soon to be) Divorced” for your local newspaper; making presentations at local attorney group meetings; appearing on a radio program to highlight mortgage-related trends, including key considerations involved in divorce situations; and preparing a brochure on “Don’t Lose Your House in the Divorce,” for distribution in attorney offices, mediation centers and other appropriate locations.
Elerding added that divorce loans can be challenging. “I have found that mortgages resulting from failed marriages are among the most difficult to deal with. For example, you want to be careful not to divulge too much information to either person so as to avoid receiving a very angry phone call from the other half stating that you should not have said something. The best advice I can offer is to be sensitive to the situation and the less said the better. The transaction will be charged with emotion, hurt and confusion. Remember your role as a professional and deliver them a product that helps them to navigate the choppy waters of this chapter of their life.”
Louise Thaxton actively began her support of the military community in 2005, a few years after she began originating. Thaxton, Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation, with several offices in central Louisiana, developed a military Louise marketing campaign of “Zero to the Hero” (Zero closing cost to military buyers) and began providing Realtors with brochures and flyers that had a patriotic theme; incorporating the American flag, eagles, and key words such as serve, freedom, hero and team. “We marketed to the Realtors on both sides of the sale,” she explained. “I was attending all of my closings, meeting agents and title reps, making weekly sales presentations and promoting our ‘Zero for the Hero’ theme.” She also sent hundreds of special care packages to armed forces customers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Thaxton also began offering VA “lunch and learn” seminars to area Realtors. “It has provided them with the information they need to better understand how to work with the military borrower,” said Thaxton. Of course, she also emphasizes Fairway’s capability to close a VA loan in less than two weeks, a significant benefit to military homebuyers.
Based on her experience working with military borrowers, Thaxton later created a Military Mortgage Specialist certification for her company’s loan professionals, of which she was named National Director. There is an initial mandatory attendance at a “boot camp” (or basic training) where an overview of the Military Mortgage Specialist program is outlined, along with a follow-up 90 day period of coaching, mentoring and training, whereby individuals are coached and instructed on how to meet the specific home loan needs and requirements of United States military service members; both active military and veterans. In addition, she created a program for Realtors that will provide them with certification as a Certified Military Residential Specialist (CMRS).
Beata Bukowski, Forum Mortgage Bancorp (Team Beata Bukowski), Chicago, discovered that the ethnic marketplace offers an ideal opportunity to reach prospective customers. One of her most effective marketing strategies is appearing on an ethnic radio station to speak about news in the mortgage industry. “Originally this was a paid promotion, but I now appear as an ‘expert guest’ on a weekly program to help educate people,” she explained. “I’m Polish and I talk about the general economy and its trickling effect on the Polish community. I also give the listeners, many of whom aren’t able to read English—and who very religiously listen to the radio—education that they are not able to obtain elsewhere. This includes information about available loan programs, credit scores, bank requirements, and preparation for getting started on loan applications.”
Bukowski noted that the radio show has been successful, as she receives numerous phone calls from prospects after each program.
“In addition, it helps with branding and generates greater name recognition within the Polish community,” she added.
Another loan originator has been successful with a “future bride” niche, by attending bridal shows and handing out first-time buyer tips and other information.
And still another developed an effective niche with parents of college students; by arranging the financing for condos and second homes for their children to live in while attending college.
Other LOs have niches with college professors, professional athletes, law enforcement personnel, EMT/emergency professionals, self-employed borrowers and more.
While some niches require extra preparation, many can be easily established just by understanding the special needs and concerns of the specific group.
David Robinson is Associate Editor of Broker Banker.