November 8, 2010

Preparing for Tomorrow

Monday, November 8, 2010
By Brad Finkelstein

Doug Benner, whose 2010 volume has already surpassed last year’s, is taking steps to source where his business will come from in the future.

There are plenty of quotes and clich├ęs about those who fail to adapt and change being left in the dust. Doug Benner, senior loan officer with Embrace Home Loans, knows that by being willing to adopt the latest marketing trends, he will stay ahead of the game.

Benner has been in the mortgage business approximately 13 years, starting at the now-defunct Federal Funding Mortgage. He has been with Embrace Home Loans’ Rockville, Md., office for the past three and a half years.

Embrace, he notes, has the best technology he has seen from a loan officer and compliance standpoint.

Prior to entering the mortgage business, for 13 years he traveled the world working for a government contractor. He was a looking for an opportunity where if he put the effort in, he would get compensated fairly for it.

Benner spoke with people in the industry and figured he would give this a shot. Furthermore, he adds, he liked real estate (he has been a long-time purchaser of investment properties) and he liked math and doing calculations.

In his time in the business, he has ridden the up-and-down waves, and right now he is in “a very big upturn right now.”

For the year so far, Benner has loan production volume of $54 million, with many more loans in the pipeline. So he will far surpass his 2009 volume of $52 million.

Having been through the cycles, Benner has learned a few lessons he has applied to his business, one of which is “don’t let an opportunity go when you have an opportunity like” today’s market. He and a few of his colleagues are working as much as they can to take advantage of what is happening, doing the things to keep the funnel full on the front end and keep them flowing through the system on the back end.

Benner is one of the top purchase loan originators at his company, although the bulk of his business by market share is refinance, approximately 70% to 30%.

His business is all referral-based. “I’m lucky enough to have a lot of A-paper professional clients, attorney, doctors and such. I would say I do a lot more conforming products, in the large loan amounts, $400,000 plus.

“Being in the D.C. metropolitan marketplace, there are FHA loans, VA loans, rural housing loans and these other niche products. But I find the referrals I get are for conforming, conventional financing, purchase and/or refinance clients.
“So my loan sizes are larger than the average,” Benner said. Given that client base, he also originates traditional jumbo mortgages as well.

Approximately 80% of his business comes from Montgomery County, Md., Washington and northern Virginia. He does some loans in Delaware. One recent application was for a USDA Rural Development loan in western Maryland.

His clients come from three sources: Realtor referrals for purchase loans, financial planner, typically (but not always for) refis and current and past client referrals.

Benner does very little in the way of co-branding with his Realtor referral sources. Rather he relies on his reputation for attracting this business source—that he has good rates, he will take care of the loan through the process and that he and his team will make sure the loan closes on time, without hiccups.

Benner says he might provide open house financing sheets but for the most part he does not spend marketing dollars on co-branding efforts. The logic behind this: If a real estate office has 50 brokers and he only co-brands with only one, the other 49 in the office might not refer their clients to him.

He also does a blog, which he said his assistants helped him develop. The blog provides mortgage news and trends as well as occasional personal information as well.

For example, the week of Oct. 11, the blog had entries on the effect of the foreclosure crisis on buyers and sellers, short sales and pictures from an open house Embrace had.

To keep in touch with his database of past clients, Benner utilizes the marketing campaigns provided by Loan Toolbox. He called it “the best follow-up system in the country.”

Helping Benner is a production assistant who helps him do things like ordering title, appraisals, and subordinations and helping get the loan set up in the system. When this assistant is done with it, the loan then goes to his processing staff.

He takes 80% of the applications over the telephone himself. There is also an online link for some of his more tech savvy clients.

Still, he said he could take an application over the telephone himself in less than 10 minutes. He likes to have some communication with the client on the front end to help personalize their dialog. It lets him get a feel for the client, what they are looking to do and what their concerns are and what they are trying to achieve.

Plus, some real estate agents that he works with insist that he meets face-to-face with the client at the agent’s office, “and develop the bond between the three of us, the agent, the client and myself.” Benner added, while he does do this in some cases, but if it is done too much, he (and any other sales person) won’t have time to take their sales to the next level.

“When I started out 13 years ago I would drive anywhere to get a deal, anywhere to get a document, to get a loan closed. But that is just the way we were,” he said.

In addition, Benner has a marketing assistant that helps him update his client database, get the information to Loan Toolbox and also help his social media marketing efforts.

In fact, he continued the use of things like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the like (including his blog) are “the most critical going forward” in terms of mortgage marketing, especially with the upcoming generation of potential homebuyers.

In fact, he calls this type of marketing better than being part of a Business Network International B2B referral group. “Putting yourself out there like that is exponentially more powerful,” Benner said. He has pages on both Facebook and LinkedIn.

Most people who are starting the home buying process today are first going to real estate websites. In the same vein, going forward, there will be a large group of those under the age of 30 using social media to find a loan officer and/or seek referrals about those originators, he said.

So he hired his marketing assistant “to help me develop that part of the business model that I never even explored before. So that is a new piece of the business.”

Benner adds there are only so many referrals that can be gotten from past clients and business partners. “If you can grow that and find even more business on the front end through these other mediums, there is nothing wrong with that.

“I would love to get to the point (where he is so busy) where I can’t take loans,” he continued, noting one should not do more loans than either he or she and/or their company can handle.

Part of that is having enough people to handle the workload. Even though he is a W-2 employee, Benner said he can still help employ people by growing his business. But that business is not going to grow if he stays static.

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