By David Robinson
Linda Mister attributes her longevity as a top-producing loan originator to an ambitious work ethic, tenacity and team support. It’s a winning combination that has enabled her to succeed during the “ups and downs” of her 27 years as an originator.
“I was taught that if you want something you have to work for it,” said Mister, who last year closed 525 loans and $82.9 million as an originator for WR Starkey Mortgage, Ft. Worth, Texas. “It’s been a rewarding career so far. I never dreamed that I would be able to achieve what I have.”
The Cold Call Start
Mister began her lending career at 18, as a receptionist for a small Durant, Okla. bank, while also attending college and working another part-time job. She subsequently moved into processing before earning the opportunity to originate. “There was an account executive position opening and two of us were being considered,” she said. “The branch manager told us whoever closed the most loans in a month would get the job. I did more that month; I really wanted it.”
She jumpstarted her rookie originator year in 1983 by taking the traditional cold calling route. “I got in my car and stopped at every Realtor and builder office within a 20 mile radius,” she said. “That’s when most real estate offices gave you full access. I kept coming back even when some didn’t want to see me. I began to get a few deals and within a year was doing about $2 million a month.”
Once she had established a few promising Realtor relationships, Mister sought opportunities to speak to groups of agents. “Managers invited me in their offices to make presentations on the service I could offer,” she explained. “Most agents welcomed me as part of their team and I also went to lunches and dinners with them, to get acquainted outside of the office.”
Part of her popularity was based on handling “hero loans,” the difficult deals that other originators avoided. “Once they saw what I could do with the harder loans, agents gave me their other business as well,” Mister said. They also appreciated the handwritten thank-you cards she sent after their meetings. “It’s something I still do. You have to stay visible with your agents or someone else will.”
Mister steadily grew her Realtor business while working as an originator for Temple Inland/Guaranteed Residential. In 2005, she moved to WR Starkey Mortgage and made a critical change in her approach. Rather than continuing to work with numerous Realtors, she decided it would be more effective to concentrate on several top performing offices. “I identified the ones I wanted to work with and met with the team leader to explain what I could do for them,” she said. “I stressed my availability, our regular updates and an emphasis on trouble-free transactions. For example, I’d ask ‘How many deals do you have that fall apart or don’t close on time?’ They responded positively to that because they had obviously experienced a number of problem loans.” The new focus provided the benefits she anticipated. “My prequals increased from about 10 a week to over 40,” Mister said. “This has generated more loans overall.”
She also developed a well-received offer that other originators can easily adapt. “I encourage Realtors to have their customers call me to ensure they are getting the best deal possible,” Mister said. “By offering to re-qualify their customers and review their GFE’S, I am able to gain their trust. I take my time explaining programs, qualifications and what the other lender is giving them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they are so happy that I took the time to do it, they ask me if I would do the loan for them.”
In addition, Mister has cultivated preferred lender relationships with several major builders in the Ft. Worth area. “This has been an integral part of my overall business,” she said. “In one recent month alone, I had 18 builder-related loans in process.”
She noted that proactive communications is an essential ingredient for long-term builder associations. “We provide weekly e-mail and phone updates for all of our builder transactions. One of builders’ biggest complaints is that some originators don’t return calls to customers. We return our phone calls the same day as received.”
Concentrating on Realtor and builder business has enabled Mister to maintain a full pipeline of purchases, which accounted for almost 80 percent of her 2009 volume. “Most of the refinances we do are actually construction perm loans,” she added.
The Physician Niche
Several years ago, Mister diversified by creating 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 20 loans a year for doctors and their referrals,” she pointed out. “As interns, they may only be able to afford a $90,000 property, but after a few years they’ll be looking to move up to a $300,000+ house.”
Customers for Life
Mister is equally committed to maintaining a high profile with past customers. Her follow-up campaign includes a thank-you card sent two weeks after closing, and postcards subsequently distributed at a month, six month and yearly intervals. The mailers feature recipes, gardening tips and other useful information. “I like to do something that attracts attention,” said Mister. She also sends a customer satisfaction survey at closing.
She emphasized there is no “silver bullet” to guarantee customer retention. “I return calls, answer client questions, treat every buyer like they are the only one, close on time or early without surprises and then stay in touch with them. It really is that simple.” The result has been a database of loyal customers, many of whom she’s worked with since the beginning. “I’m doing loans for the children of people I helped more than 20 years ago,” she said.
The Team Approach
Mister readily acknowledges that the support of WR Starkey and her team has made her stellar production possible. “When I came here, the company offered assistance to help me reach my volume goals,” she said. Her team consists of RayLyn Boyer, senior assistant; Leslie Isbell, assistant; Ray Owens, prequels assistant; Nancy Booth, processor; and Tracie Calhoun, processor. “I couldn’t do it without them,” she emphasized
Mister takes approximately 70 percent of the pre-qualifications and then hands the files to an assistant for follow-through. “Last year we did about 2,100 pre-quals,” she said. “We have a good division of responsibilities and cross-train to ensure that we are always able to meet customers’ needs.”
She also adheres to a full work schedule. “I’m answering the phone at 7:30 a.m. and usually don’t stop working until about 9 p.m. I take vacations and enjoy other time off, but when I’m working, I don’t seem to be able to slow down.”
Mister is as enthusiastic today as she was when starting out almost three decades ago. “I’m still growing my business; it’s never enough,” she said. “Despite the industry challenges we all face, I’m excited about the future.”
David Robinson is Associate Editor of Broker Banker.