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A Superstar is Born

The essential qualities of a top producing loan originator.

Today, somewhere in America, the next mortgage originator Superstars are being born. New to mortgage lending and still learning how to spell FHA, these rookie originators have taken on the challenges of a new career with anticipation…and probably much apprehension. It’s a long road to success, but these men and women possess the skills and stamina it will take for that journey. Although they may not yet know it, in a few years people will celebrate their achievements and recognize them among the best in the business—as Superstars!

Today’s Superstars all pretty much started out the same way. We hear and read about $100 million loan originators, $500 million loan originators, even $1 billion loan originators. What we must remember is that they all began at the bottom; new to the industry with no experience, little knowledge, no client base, and a head full of dreams and fears. I interviewed a $125 million Superstar and 15-year veteran last year who confessed: “If someone would have told me back when I started in the mortgage business that I’d achieve this level of success, I would have never believed them. I had my sights set on making $100,000 a year tops. If I reached that, I figured I will have died and gone to heaven.”

It’s fascinating to talk to Superstars like these about their rise to the top. One common thread you’ll find is that most of them got into the business quite by accident and many had no initial intention of staying for a life-long career. “A friend of mine talked me into this job a few years ago when I got laid off from a tech job,” one very successful originator shared with me. “I saw it as a temporary thing. But after I got into this, I learned to like it; not just the money, but the whole idea of what I was doing.” That Superstar today writes about 300 loans a year from his broker shop in Connecticut. Like others, he did not find his passion by design, his passion accidentally found him.

This month we spotlight the top mortgage loan originators in America in this issue of Mortgage Originator Magazine. As we gaze at the names and phenomenal numbers they produce, we are awestruck by their achievements. It begs us to ask those most obvious questions: Who are these people? How do they do it?

The DNA of a Superstar
It is my belief that every Superstar loan originator shares a common DNA; a make-up of traits and characteristics that distinguishes him or her from the average or mediocre producers. In meeting many such individuals, I have noticed five things they all have in common:

  1. “Passionate Enthusiasm.” I watched a TV interview the other day with Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, star running back for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. He was talking about his difficult decision on retirement from pro football. This is a man who has been obsessed with what he does for a living. The workouts, the practices, films, play studying, and weekend games are what he lives for. He pours himself into his profession because he is his profession in every way. Superstar originators are no different. They play the game not just because they make great money, but also because they love to play the game. Superstars love what they do, and it shows. This drive, passion, and excitement for the career they’ve found are reflected in their work every day and with every customer they meet.
  2. “People Power.” Superstars know that it is people who make the business go ’round. They don’t hide in their offices or shy away from introductions. Superstars are out-reaching types of folk who enjoy meeting and working with others. This not only includes borrowers, real estate agents and builders, but appraisers, loan processors, underwriters, home inspectors, attorneys, other originators, and more. They understand that mortgage lending is really not a paper business, but first and foremost a people business and a community business. They embrace the fact that the more people you know, the more contacts and opportunities you create. Superstars have established a strong personal network that produces dozens of new prospects for them every week.
  3. “Sponge Brains.” Not long ago I had the chance to conduct a research project for a major mortgage company with thousands of loan originators. The purpose of the project was to interview the top 10 percent of the sales force and determine what they felt separated them from the rest. The #1 answer most often mentioned as the reason for their success was the fact that they were “students of their profession.” It is this group of individuals, the Superstars, who are most likely to read good books, listen to sales CDs, and attend seminars. They hire personal coaches, study new products, learn the latest technology, and expand their mental scope of knowledge year after year. They are on a mission of learning, soaking up everything they can, feeling that to maintain their competitive edge, they can never know enough. They are “sponge brains.”
  4. “Roll-the-Dice Resourcefulness.” Superstars got where they are at today because they were willing to take some risks. As their business grew, they had to evolve and grow with it. That is why you’ll see Superstars exercise their resourcefulness all the time. They spend money to advertise, hire personal assistants, set up state-of-the-art Web sites, approach emerging markets, and constantly tweak and experiment with their systems. They gamble, try new things, and are willing to be seen as a bit of a maverick. Superstars know that mediocre people follow in the path of other mediocre people, and that to be out in the front of the pack, you’ve got to be willing to be a leader, not a follower. Being a leader means taking some risks and doing what everyone else is not doing.
  5. “Horizon Vision.” Imagine you are standing in a field and begin walking toward the horizon. While you may reach certain landmarks on your way, you never reach the horizon itself. The horizon keeps moving forward, always there, but always changing and just out of reach. This is the best way I can illustrate how Superstars see their career and their goals. First, they are long-term thinkers. They don’t just try to make it through the month; they are focused on building a successful business practice over many years, down the horizon. When they reach certain goals, say 10 closings a month, or $25 million in volume a year, they keep looking beyond at what’s next. Superstars are rarely content to rest on their laurels and are never short-timers in the business. They are always looking far down the road of success to that next horizon and where they want to go next.

Playing in the Big Leagues
So, do you think you have the DNA it takes to join the ranks of the Superstars? Good! You’ve passed the first test. Now, to join the ranks of the Superstars, you better be ready to play the game—and play it big! Superstars think big and act big. They are dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars of mortgage loans every year, hundreds of customers, and earning hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars, in personal income. The realm of Superstardom is no place for sissies. Consider these true stories:

  • There is a Superstar in Tennessee who throws a giant family outing and Bar-B-Que picnic for her clients every year. She hires a band, clowns, and caterers, reserves a public park, and invites hundreds of referral clients and past customers to her event at a cost of thousands of dollars out of her pocket.
  • A Superstar in Florida teaches the only real estate school license certification course in his market. He meets every new agent because to become a licensed Realtor in his city, you are required to go though his course.
  • In Michigan, there is a top producer who takes off one full day each month, without fail, to work on her business. She retreats to her community library for a full eight-hour day to work on her business plan and strategies for the upcoming month.
  • A Texas Superstar spends over $5,000 a month to mail postcards to his database of past clients asking for their continued and referral business.
  • In Illinois, there is a Superstar loan originator who purchased 10 billboards with his picture on them. The next time you are driving through Chicago, check out his huge billboard signs along the interstate sporting his message and smiling face.
  • In Washington, a Superstar rents out an entire movie theatre once a year and invites her clients and their families to a private showing of a first run feature—on her!
  • A Superstar in California, now about 15 years in the business and looking at retirement, has hired an apprentice to take over his business in a couple of years. The apprentice will pay the Superstar $50,000 a year in residual income for 10 years to acquire his database and book of business. This Superstar will retire at age 45, not only a millionaire, but with an additional $500,000 in income!

There are countless stories of what today’s Superstars are doing to build, grow, and sustain their successful businesses. These are only a few. I’m sure every one of the Top 200 featured in this year’s Superstar list could add another story to my list. These are stories we need to hear because they inspire us, and show us what is required if we want to be Superstars ourselves. The game of mortgage lending is played at many levels. At what level do you now play the game? Do you have what it takes to play at the Superstar level?

The Next Generation of Superstars
I began thinking about how Superstars will look 10 tears from now, in 2016. Will they be a whole lot different from what we see today? I think that the same DNA mix will be needed, as well as most of the sales skills and attitudes. But the business is always changing, and tomorrow’s Superstars will change with it. Tomorrow’s Superstars will be different in three ways from many Superstars today:

  1. Consumer-direct Mindset. It is clear that Realtors and builders are losing their grip of control they once had. Today’s consumers are more informed and sophisticated, and rely less on the referral of their agent or builder. They choose to seek out answers and resources on their own. This will accelerate in the years to come. As more and more people “see their lender first,” Superstars will depend less and less on these strategic referral sources and spend more time and money targeting the consumers directly. It is becoming a race to the customer, and whoever gets their first wins the business and controls the relationship.
  2. Adaptation to High Tech. It would be a conspicuous oversight to mention the future of lending without talking about technology. Just a few years ago it was hard for us to believe that people would actually apply for a $250,000 mortgage loan on the Internet and close that loan without ever walking into a lending office or even meeting their loan officer who arranged the transaction. Many said it would never happen. But that same scenario now takes place hundreds of times every day. This trend will grow. My daughter, now a sprite 14-years old, is much more computer savvy than I am and can navigate the Internet with complete confidence. By the time she’s 24 and ready to buy and finance her first house, she’ll probably choose the method that she is most comfortable with—the computer. So will the millions of others in her age group. Tomorrow’s Superstars will take advantage of every technological asset they can find because they know that the best way to do business is the way the customer wants to do business. Tomorrow’s consumers will want to acquire information on home financing and borrow money quickly, conveniently, and stress-free. The Superstars will be ready for them.
  3. Proactive Management of the Mortgage Loan. We have seen this growing over the past few years, yet only a small percentage of originators (mostly the Superstars) have embraced it. The concept is taking a proactive position on managing your client’s mortgage “portfolio.” No longer will we watch for rates to drop and wait for people to call us. We will act similar to stock brokers and manage opportunities for our customers. When Superstars see the market move, their advanced technology that tracks their customer’s portfolios will alert them that an opportunity exists. The mortgage professional will phone or email the customer with the opportunity to refinance, consolidate debt, purchase an investment property, or convert from an adjustable rate product into a fixed-rate loan. This will revolutionize the mortgage business in ways we can’t even imagine now. Tomorrow’s Superstars will evolve to fulfill this role and in turn rule the industry.

A Giant Step Forward
No one, no matter how skilled or talented, climbs the ladder of success in this business to Superstardom overnight. Like climbing a ladder, becoming a Superstar happens in steps, one move at a time. Small moves lead to big moves and big moves lead to big results. If you are ready to start your climb to Superstardom, consider some of the steps you may have to take. For example:

  • Sit down and write a business plan.
  • Jettison low performing real estate agents.
  • Purchase new technology (hardware and software).
  • Build and manage a client database.
  • Hire a personal assistant, maybe two or three.
  • Learn new products.
  • Start consumer-direct marketing.
  • Attend several sales seminars.
  • Join networking clubs and civic organizations.
  • Tear up your resume (remember that this is it!)
  • Spend 5 to 10 percent of your income on marketing.
  • Double your annual production goal every year.

There is nothing on this list of activities that is impossible, since many Superstars have done all of them. But it is a fact that many (and I suppose we can say most) loan originators will never reach the halls of Superstardom because they are not willing to do these things. They don’t want to take the time to write a business plan, they don’t maintain a database of clients, and they are afraid to get rid of under-performing real estate agent relationships. They don’t want to hire an assistant, they won’t go to seminars, and they are reluctant to spend any money. In some ways that’s good. It is good because if you truly want to become a Superstar, the pathway is clear and the competition is light. Go for it!

David, a good friend of mine who was one of my first mentors in the mortgage business, recently retired. He’s a rich and happy man. He enjoyed a long and satisfying career. He made a lot of money, he met and worked with hundreds of fun and interesting people, and helped thousands of his customers fulfill their American Dream. Most importantly, he left a legacy for others to follow. He is a Superstar in my book, one who helped show me the way to success. The opportunity is there for you to be the next “David” to someone and to enjoy the riches of a well-lived life. How far you choose to go in this business and what you hope to achieve is up to you. There are no limits but those you place upon yourself. You could very well be this industry’s next Superstar.

By Douglas Smith

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