Broker Banker asked veteran originators Jo Ann Theriault-Fazio (Guaranteed Rate, Chicago), Brooks Grasso (Fulton Mortgage Company, Timonium, Md.), and Louise Thaxton (Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., Central Louisiana) to share their insights about making the final two months of the year productive.
Broker Banker—What is the most important step in having a strong end of year?
Jo Ann Theriault-Fazio—I concentrate on those areas that help generate referrals and also prepare for the new year. For example, during the last few months of the year I will hold more “lunch and learn” workshops for prospects and I meet with our strategic partners, which help me stay visible. Recently the lunch and learn programs have focused on TRID. I’ll also develop my new business plan and implement it before the end of the year.
Brooks Grasso—It seems that many people get into the mindset of “It’s the end of year and holidays and everything will slow down.” That’s a huge mistake. A lot of past customers/prospects have time off and take care of personal tasks, including refinancing. One of the key steps is to do more prospecting during the last couple of months. Everyone on our team prospects two hours a day: following up on leads, calling Realtors to see if we can help them in any way, and whatever else we can do. It’s important not to fall into the “end of the year slowdown” rut. We’ve been very busy lately. –
Louise Thaxton—It’s perseverance—toward reaching the goals we’ve set at the beginning of the year. Even if you fall short of your overall target, don’t quit. You still have time, even if your total volume is slightly less than you planned. The momentum will keep you going into the new year. I strongly believe in setting priorities. Yes. it is the holiday season and people will be taking time off. That may mean doing more in the time available to accomplish everything you want to do.
BB—How does your pipeline review change?
JT-F—We’re spending more time with the loans in progress, trying to get them closed before year’s end. We’re also in ongoing contact with those prospects who haven’t yet applied or who are otherwise aren’t ready. My assistant and I are following up every two weeks.
BG—There is no major change in our approach. We make sure we’re meeting all of our deadlines for refinances and purchases. We meet twice a week to review the pipeline and of course, work hard to close everything we can by the end of the year.
LT—Of course, we pay extra attention to ensure that all loans in process are closed year end. We set a goal this year to have all loans closed by December 23, and then know we’ll still have an extra week to finish everything up. During this time of the year, we also encourage all of our prospects who have been thinking about a purchase to make sure they get started.
BB—Obviously you need to continue originating.
JT-F—In a time when a lot of people in our industry slow down, I tend to work 80 hours a week and on the weekends. The most important thing is getting back to everyone in a timely manner. And, if I am out doing one-on-one meetings, lunch and learns, and spending time with my referral partners; that just means that I have to put in some extra hours. I also rely on my amazing team to get back to clients right away if I am in a meeting
BG—We definitely focus on this, which includes our prospecting activity. While many Realtors and loan originators might say that people usually aren’t looking at houses during this period, we don’t want to back off. There aren’t as many incoming calls, so there’s more time for outgoing calls and e-mails. Follow-up activity is the way to increase our prospect-to-loan application ratio.
LT—A lot of people do slow down, but I look at this time of year as an opportunity to press harder. It’s not only an ideal time to continue contacting past customers, but also to work with real estate agents and other referral partners. It’s good to try something different, to set yourself apart from others.
BB—Is there any difference in your marketing strategies?
JT-F—We usually do more social media giveaways during the last couple of months. For example, in November we have a drawing to give away a Thanksgiving pie for completing a Facebook survey. This helps reconnect with previous clients and establish contacts with new people. We also send a postcard prior to Thanksgiving, asking clients to complete a survey for a mortgage check up.
BG—We do a few things toward the end of the year. For example, we send a Happy Holidays e-mail message to all of our clients and Realtor partners. In addition we send a large postcard to thank Realtors and builders for their business. We also mail a holiday card and refrigerator magnet to clients and prospects; we get a lot of comments about them. And, we call most of our clients by the end of the year. As a result of these actions we get a number of new leads.
LT—Half of my business is VA loans and at this time of year I send an e-mail blast asking everyone to send me the name of military members they know who are deployed. We then prepare and mail them all a special care package. In addition, we will adopt six families and have the parents send us their children’s Santa wish lists. We buy and wrap those gifts and invite the parents to stop by and get them. Also, we make calls to customers and prospects to wish them happy holidays and let them know they still have time to purchase a home by the end of the year.
BB—How do you work with strategic partners?
JT-F—As noted, our lunch and learn meetings have lately addressed TRID issues. Now that TRID has been implemented, I am being asked to help explain things to the agents a lot more thoroughly. We also meet with Realtors and others to review the current year and make plans for the new one. I’ll ask them to rate our performance, including the loan process, marketing materials we provide their open houses, and other areas. We listen carefully to what they like and what they think we should do differently. They are great brainstorming sessions. Guaranteed Rate’s streamlined mortgage process also helps real estate professionals to close their deals faster (as well as the educational resources offered to agents on the Partner Xchange).
BG—We also use the final months as a time to do some business planning with Realtors and others. This may involve formal meetings with our team and theirs, where we discuss co-marketing and other issues, or maybe a more informal lunch to review next year’s plans. Our business plan includes reaching out to all referral partners.
LT—We have done lunch and learn programs where I’ve provided real estate agents with business planning ideas and other support. In November and December, I’ll visit Realtor officers and meet with agents. I’ll point out how many loans we’ve done together, thank them for their referrals, and asked how I can help them with their business. In addition, I belong to a BNI group that includes a CPA, financial planner and an estate attorney. I ask them how I can help their clients with end-of-year plans.
BB—How do you keep everyone motivated?
JT-F—In addition to spending time together throughout the year—at lunch, a Chicago Cubs baseball game and other occasions—our team tries to do things together during the holidays. We also make sure everyone has time to spend with their families.
BG—Of course, we’re trying to keep everyone motivated throughout the year. One of the most effective ways I do this is by sharing a sales article during weekly staff meetings and then discussing the opportunities to obtain additional business. This can be especially helpful during year-end, when it may be a little slower. Certainly this will be a time when people spend extra time with families and friends, but we also stay focused on our goals for prospecting and new clients.
LT—First, we always discuss the importance of team members and others remembering their “why”—their overall purpose. For example, why are they in this profession or why are they working so hard. Most people tie their goals to the “why.” Everyone also needs to have a clear focus and a sense of urgency about accomplishing their goals. So if they plan on taking a few days off at the holidays, they may need to work longer hours on other days to get more done. And a checklist of what they want to get done every day is critical throughout the year, but even more so in the last couple of months.