Matt Elerding knew that he needed a career change; one that would be both personally and financially rewarding.
After attending Notre Dame, Elerding worked as a volunteer for the Alliance for Catholic Education, then as a sales rep for Hershey’s Chocolate in Medford, Ore. It wasn’t especially fulfilling work, plus he had a long commute. Then in 1998, he was employed as a temporary services salesman with a long drive from his home in Vancouver, Wash. Elerding met someone who suggested he might be suited for the mortgage lending profession. “I was looking for a better job that didn’t require such a long commute, so after much consideration I switched careers and this has been a very good fit for me.”
It has been a good career indeed. Elerding has been a consistent top producer. In 2014, he closed 190 loans and $51.5 million in personal volume for HomeStreet Bank in Vancouver and he followed that up with 300 loans and $80 million last year. Especially impressive is that purchase business makes up approximately 75 percent of his annual production.
Elerding, 43, began as a loan originator at Chase Manhattan (then Mellon Mortgage). Like so many other originators, he did not receive extensive preparation. “There wasn’t a great deal of training offered at the time. Of course, my boss made sure I could read a credit report, how to select the right loan and handle the other basics.”
Without a great deal of guidance, Elerding considered that a good first step would be contacting previous neighbors and friends. “The first thing I did was send everyone I knew from my hometown of Sitka, Alaska a letter explaining my new career and then followed up with them. I started at the A’s and got my first loans by the time I got to the Bs, and business has grown ever since. I later created a ‘Gold Group’ within the database for those who are the best referral sources.”
Elerding also wanted to gain insights from veteran originators. “From my previous sales experience, I knew the best way to create success was to emulate others. I asked my boss to name some of the company’s top producers. I got some advice from them and began climbing the ranks there.” Elerding later moved to MetLife before joining HomeStreet Bank in 2012.
Elerding has tested a variety of marketing strategies, including a few underused ones. “A cornerstone of my marketing is the handwritten thank you note to customers. Every day I send 7-10 cards with a refrigerator magnet. Your name is visible on the refrigerator or file cabinet, and it’s a nice touch. I think more originators should do it.”
He also sends four mailings a year to the Gold Group. “They are informative and humorous; but not on any set schedule,” Elerding explained.
Elerding looks for other ways to be distinctive. “I knew that I didn’t want to just send a lot of mailers; but rather hoped to be different than my competitors; partially by injecting my personality into the marketing. For example, one of the mainstays has been the classical music CD that I prepare and send during the Christmas holidays. It’s a nice gift for customers, which I’ve done for the last 10 years.”
His unique Christmas cards also have been popular with customers and friends. “It’s another great opportunity to develop rapport with customers,” said Elerding. “I started about 20 years ago with traditional family photos. Then we started to reenact famous music album covers by groups like the Village People, Kiss and the Beatles, in addition to scenes from movies, including the Breakfast Club and Saturday Night Fever. We even got the mayor of Vancouver to appear on one of them. It’s marketing without being overly sales-focused and my way of letting customers know that I have a sense of humor, which is another reason to do business with me. Plus, personally it’s a nice experience with the family and another memory builder for us.”
As his business expanded, Elerding realized the importance of staying in contact with everyone directly involved with each loan. “Doing a loan has numerous opportunities to connect with customers, agents and others so they become referral sources. During the transaction, the buyer and seller are primed to refer others. If I know that an agent is working with another originator, I explain that I’d love to be their number two LO. Plus, the CPA, financial planner and others involved are so important.”
He sends Realtors e-mail updates on various timely topics, such as market trends and product updates. “We only send them when there is something noteworthy.”
In addition, he has done co-op magazine ads with Realtors. “I usually don’t like advertising because they rarely result in loans. But sharing the cost of ads helps our agents. We include our team picture, which helps keep our name and faces visible. This is a small community and people know you’re in the mortgage profession, so the ads help reinforce that.”
Elerding works closely with escrow officers as well. “They are such a good source of referrals because they’re always talking to Realtors and others. So I talk to them often. I think many originators miss opportunities to cultivate these relationships.”
News & Social Media
Elerding has discovered the significant benefits of working with the “traditional” media as well as social media. “I love to write articles for local publications. I have a lot of flexibility, enabling me to write on a variety of topics; offering mortgage advice as well as more creative essays designed to move readers or make them laugh.”
He and a real estate agent also have appeared on a few television programs to share home finance and house-hunting advice.
Social media has been a major focus during the last few years. “It’s become a core element for generating business. For example, if I add an essay or funny picture on my business Facebook page, I’ll likely have at least 150 ‘likes’ within a day. I also use my I-phone to record humorous videos of me doing brief industry-related presentations with a humorous twist. I’ll typically get an average of 1,000 views. Humorous postings on Facebook get a lot of attention and have generated many referrals.”
He noted that customers and prospects appreciate the more personal and informal approach. “People will respond that they like and can relate to the humorous tone. They are reminded that I’m a mortgage professional who can help them, but who isn’t being a pushy salesman.”
While he has a broad customer base, Elerding has developed a niche with people going through a divorce. “I have a handful of attorneys with whom I have developed close working relationships,” he said. “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.”
Elerding sends monthly e-mails to all the attorneys in his database. “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.”
Elerding emphasizes how important his team has been. “I realized that I couldn’t expand my production without support. I decided to focus on what I was good at and work with people who are better at the things I’m not. As a result, since adding assistants three years ago my business has just about doubled.”
Team Elerding currently includes Tracy Hatcher, transaction coordinator; Nicole Maddox, administrative assistant; and Elerding’s wife Heather who helps produce the client gift boxes and other marketing materials.
He takes the majority of applications over the phone. “I use a special Client Profile Questionnaire (CPQ) that I developed to get the basic client information because I don’t like sending the entire 1003, which can be confusing and frustrating for customers.” Once he completes the basic CPQ, Hatcher enters information into the LOS.
Elerding’s New Year “to do” list includes dealing with TRID and other industry challenges in addition to finding a solution for e-mail overload. “It seems there just isn’t time to deal with all of the e-mail messages,” he said. “I have to figure out another way to manage them and not miss any important customer or prospect questions. Of course, it’s better to be too busy than not busy enough.”
He plans to eventually transition into a management role, hiring another loan originator to support his production. But meanwhile Elerding keeps doing the job he enjoys. “Being a loan originator has been very satisfying and I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he said. “I like having such a variety of people with whom I work and the uniqueness of the transactions. This business keeps you on your toes.”