S. John Murray Uses Refi Niche to Achieve Superstar Success

S. John Murray knew that there were better options than being known as “Mr. Meat,” the nickname for top salespeople at the in home frozen meat distribution company where he worked.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1985, Murray worked for a few months at the frozen food company, but was certainly open to other employment opportunities. He liked sales but other than the part-time job, had no experience. He wasn’t sure what to expect when he answered a loan originator ad from the Farragut Lending company.

He didn’t know much about a loan originator’s responsibilities or mortgage lending in general, and was somewhat surprised when they offered him the job.

Murray obviously made the right career choice. He has been a top producer for many years. Last year, he originated 353 loans and $106.3 million for Mortgage Financial (which he joined in 1990) in Tewksbury, Mass.

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Getting Started

When Murray started originating, he worked for a lender that was the first to offer a rate of 9.99%, breaking below the 10% barrier for the first time in nearly a decade.  He definitely became an originator at the right time. After a week shadowing one of the experienced originators, he was handed a stack of phone call slips from refinance prospects. “It was a huge challenge but a great opportunity,” he said recalling the hectic work environment then.

That first month Murray originated $6.5 million, and while he still had a lot to learn about the mortgage industry, was definitely on his way.

During those first few months, Murray followed a demanding schedule working with an ever growing pipeline of refinance customers and his first referrals. He also began contacting Realtors. “I would visit Realtor offices with my rate sheets and try to develop some purchase business,” he said. “But most of the agents already had strong relationships established with other originators. I was young and probably perceived as being inexperienced, so it was difficult to break in.”

The Refi Focus

It didn’t take Murray long to realize that he could develop a long-term career specializing in the refi market. “I began to look at refis as my bread and butter,” he said.

He was partially inspired to concentrate on refinance business after hearing a seminar speaker emphasize that having to pay closing costs was a frequent customer complaint. Murray decided to offer a “no points, no closing costs” transaction. “It became very popular with consumers and also some strategic partners,” he said.

Murray began receiving numerous referrals from financial planners, accountants and stockbrokers who eagerly told their clients about the no cost program. His refi business grew. “There are always opportunities for people to refinance and I knew this would be an ongoing source of business.”

Murray’s approach has resonated with his customers. “Because I originate about 98% of my loans as true no point, no closing cost mortgages, it is not as important to my clients to try to capture that last .125% in a rate drop, so I usually advocate locking at application,” he explained. “They know that as soon as rates drop another half point, they can, and most will, refinance with me once again.”

Murray still handles purchases but has found that his annual volume is usually about 75 percent refinances.

Strategic Partners

Murray includes financial planners, stockbrokers and accountants as key members of his strategic partner network. “I found that their referrals are highly trusted by their clients,” he said.

He also developed strong associations with his own insurance rep, accountant and other advisors. “I’m constantly updating them on new opportunities,” he explained.

He keeps in touch with his professional network by sending them Mortgage Market Guide and e-mails with information of interest to their profession.

In addition, Murray has had an opportunity to be the mortgage expert on his real estate attorney’s radio show. “It’s worked out well,” he said. “I’ll send a note to my clients to invite them to listen in on the program.”

Murray also works with a few select Realtors. “I receive about five Realtor referrals a month for purchases,” he said.

Customer Direct

Murray has developed an extensive customer-for-life program that has helped lead to his 100 percent referral base.  “I market directly to past customers, my referral basis. I’ve never done any advertising or otherwise marketed for new leads,” he said.

One of his most effective strategies is the distribution of Mortgage Market Guide. “I e-mail customers the Mortgage Market Guide Weekly and use the updates to advise my clients on when to lock and when to float. I get hundreds of refinances (and purchases) that I can directly attribute to those e-mails that I have been sending for about seven years.”

In addition, he is a member of the Loan Tool Box Platinum, which enables him to e-mail birthday and holiday greetings. “This also has proven to be another great way to reach out to my clients and the response has been amazing,” he said. “During December alone, I had over a dozen loans from that one holiday mailing.”

His 24-point customer relationship program includes a three-year greeting card program (from Top of Mind). “I also send new customers a self-addressed envelope stamper so that they think of me every time they send out bills.”

While some people might prefer to receive fewer mailings, Murray has received a positive response. “At first I thought I’d be inundating my clients with too many contacts, but very few have asked to be removed from my e-mail list.”

Having a quality database is a primary factor in his overall success. “I never end my initial client conversations without asking for an e-mail address,” he said. “Having a 2,500 strong e-mail database allows me the leverage and comfort of knowing that I am almost guaranteed a minimum of 250-300 loans a year.”

Murray is always looking for a few good ideas, many of which he learns about at the industry conferences he attends. “I attend several conferences a year, including the national Mortgage Bankers Association convention,” he said. “Of course, the key is to implement the ideas when you get home. It’s easy for people to get overwhelmed if they try to do it all. During an industry meeting I’ll usually put a gold star next to ideas that I think will be most effective. Then on the plane trip home I will chart out the five things I want to do right away.”

Murray keeps an ongoing focus on his goals and strategies. “I’ll put reminders on my desk, starting with to do list with the first five action items already highlighted in green with a dollar sign next to them,” he said. “These are my top clients or action items that I need to attend to that day and having that sheet on my desk on those files helps keep me focused.”

One of his plans for 2013 is to implement a social media campaign. “I’ll be looking for a company that specializes in social media to help train my assistant to help me better manage all aspects of my social media outlets, including Face book, Linked In, and my Web Center, so I can start to harness the growing power of social media and to allow me to better connect with my client base,” he noted.

Work Flow

Murray is adamant that he couldn’t achieve such high volume on a regular basis without support. “Having an assistant has made a huge difference,” he emphasized. “I’m able to concentrate on what I’m best at—generating business and talking with clients, while my assistant works hard to help get the loans closed.”

Murray stressed that he is closely involved with every transaction. “I will talk to the customer, handwrite the basic loan application, pull the initial credit report and lock the loans before handing the file to my assistant.”

Lori Ogden, his chief assistant, follows through by providing the loan package to customers, getting the loan in process and helping to clear conditions. In addition, Kwasi Baah, an MBA alum from Endicott College (and from Ghana), helps with social media marketing and also provides back-up support for Lori in various areas.

Like many other originators, Murray does most of his business over the phone. “There are only usually one or two customers who wish to meet face-to-face every month, which is fine.”

Murray has developed an efficient way stay in contact with clients. “Because I do a majority of my business over the phone, I have adopted the use of Plantronics Blue Tooth headsets for every phone that I own, and which I recommend that other originators get for their phones,” he explained. “I have the desk top headset version for my office, as well as the mobile phone, Voyager Pro version for when I am away from the office and even skiing. I have a Motorola Blue Tooth headset built into my ski helmet so that I can take calls if needed and my clients never need to know I am out on the slopes or away from my desk.”

He also must balance his personal production with management responsibilities. “I am the sales manager for 41 other loan originators, but they are self sufficient and need very little managing,” he said.

A New Year

While Murray will continue to focus on his overall business approach and most effective marketing strategies, he’ll be looking for additional ways to assist his customers. “A key goal this year is to increase my role as a trusted advisor. One of the ways I’ll do this is making certain they have the right support for their trusts, wills, legal and other services.”

Murray explained that he will be more proactive in guiding customers, asking if they need assistance and then suggesting specific resources. “I’ll be referring them to my own wealth management team of experts.”

He will also look for ways to help his customers overcome the inevitable challenges of obtaining a new loan or refinance. “I think we often have to act like therapists to our clients, holding their hand throughout the loan process. This means spending more time upfront explaining things and what they can expect. As originators, we have to look for ways to do an even better job of educating them and setting expectations.”

As a 27-year veteran of the mortgage lending industry, Murray has obviously learned to adapt. “I enjoy what I do,” he emphasized. “I don’t want the business to necessarily be easier, but I always want to strive to be better, to make sure I’m doing the best possible job for my clients.”

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