An Epic Struggle HEOPA, HERA, and Hercules; all epic stories by Justine Assal

by 09 Mar 2010

With so many changes in the industry, mortgage brokers have to adapt and redefine themselves at a rate and speed the likes of which have not been seen. It’s not just the rule changes and the adoption of HEOPA, HERA, HVCC, and all of the other acronyms that sound so innocuous but require new training and a new level of vigilance in order to remain compliant and a bulletin board of timelines and dates highlighted so that we can remember when to order appraisals, etc.; but it has also been the need to redefine ourselves from the niche markets that once dominated many of our pipelines, to the first time home buyers and government loans that are now the only option for most borrowers.

Many of us had built our referral business in very specific markets and after many years, had become known for our expertise in this specific area. Indeed, it was the hallmark that made a successful broker!  The fall-out in 2009 has resulted in brokers fielding an on-going barrage of phone calls and emails from would be buyers, realtors, and other referral sources requesting mortgage information for programs that we cannot currently originate. It is an on-going reminder that most of the inquiries we receive simply cannot be translated into business and sometimes a depressing realization to see how much money we are hypothetically losing. This is not a problem uncommon to any broker that is still in the business but how to deal with this situation   certainly appears to be the main crux that separates those who are now thriving in the marketplace from those who are floundering.
Human nature cannot be discounted here as it is certainly more intoxicating to remember when you were on the top of your game than to face the reality that you are no longer there. It is almost therapeutic to just lose yourself in the daily grind, but equally as mind-numbing to just exist without passion. Much like  in an Epic movie or any classic story line where the hero eventually has to fall from grace and wander aimlessly while they now battle self doubt; mortgage brokers have made it through the external battle. But, how long will each of us wander aimlessly before we take our parts in the story and fight back?
So perhaps we are not Rocky Balboa or Maximus Aurelius, and our struggle is figurative, but the internal struggle in which we find ourselves requires the same soul searching and strength as any great hero. If it is more comfortable to look back with fond recollection at our success, but this is not going to produce new success, we have no choice but to force ourselves into thinking forward and to make a decision to change. This is an Epic struggle and certainly no less life changing than that of any story’s eventual hero. We are the heroes in this story, as we are still here. Those that should not have been in the business have long gone;others had the skill but not the tenacity or pipeline to see it through. Others were simply victims of the market and had to find new jobs, but whatever the reason, they are gone and we are left. That makes us heroes! The underdogs! The struggle is ours to fight as we are the survivors. The future of the story must be written by us, or we will be written out of the plot.
So now I suppose it is time to get back in shape, stop whining, and train for the next battle. It begins today by writing a new business plan. It doesn’t mean that you should forget your past success but to embrace it as strength to further convince yourself of your ability. If you succeeded once, you know the roadmap to reaching future success! Perhaps you just need a jumpstart and some guidance to get you on the right track.
After spending years courting niche markets that we  have learned with a degree of expertise, we are left with the realization that although nobody wants to completely redefine a once successful business model, obviously closing loans is what keeps the doors open. This means that the business plan must evolve and adapt in order to once again work. Starting today, begin taking the phone calls for loans that are not closable under current market conditions and add the contacts to your data base. This allows you to prepare an informative newsletter quarterly to remain active in your niche market, just in case! After all, most competition has left so it only makes sense to stay visible and positioned to jump if and when the right time comes. This allows you to maintain your position as expert and continue growing your database for tomorrow.  The next and hardest part is embracing a new segment of the market and starting it from scratch. Many of us have always originated FHA, VA, USDA,  first time home buyers loans and such, but never sought out this business enough to make it a substantial part of our pipeline; some have never originated any government loans. Either way, be patient as the struggle is part of the growth, you cannot reach future success without going through this process. Don’t under-estimate writing your goals down for the upcoming week. This one should begin with you reading the guidelines and studying any program with which you are not fluent and comfortable, remember this is back to basics.
 Next, examine the many realtor and referral sources that you have cultivated, they probably have not focused on your new demographic either and are not currently a viable sources of business. This equates to being famous without being rich as this is the source of the phone calls that keep your phone lines ringing, business that cannot be closed but yet it’s flattering to be thought of.
Remember always that staying in touch and in front of clients and referral sources is key. Ensure that your databases are all updated and schedule a mass email once a month. Then start calling up each realtor and scheduling appointments to ideally speak at a sales meeting or at least drop by their office. Request a few minutes to speak at meetings and explain how you can help them to close these clients. Realtors are in the same boat and appreciate your guidance in growing their own clientele. Educate the realtors that have shared your niche market to also begin working with first time home buyers, USDA loans, FHA, and VA.  Set your weekly goals to visit at least 3-5 offices each week and write this into your business plan.
The next task is to establish new relationships with realtors that already work with this clientele. Set aside a specific amount of time each week to attend networking and industry functions to establish new relationships with realtors. It isn’t enough to just join different business groups; you need to actively work on committees with the local Board of Realtors, Chambers of Commerce, and other functions. It sounds so simple but many of us do not make the time to be seen and to show our work ethic through volunteer committee work. Being involved and present at these functions counts far more than sitting in your office checking your phone on occasion to make sure that the line is still working. This also keeps you in front of potential clients or referral sources. 
Although there is no magic solution, all you have to do is work slightly harder than your local competitors, those that are left, and watch your pipeline increase. It is common for all of us to ponder with wistful recollection, how wonderful it was when business was plentiful. However, if we succeeded once, we are better armed to succeed again! If we take the steps necessary each day to build our business and be forward thinking, we can take the lessons that we have learned during these tumultuous times and reach greater success in the future. As with any business, set a plan and write your goals down so that you are held accountable.
Our industry is transforming itself into more of a profession than it ever was. Many brokers have left the industry and while this has been positive for the most part, it is the biggest tragedy to see brokers that have survived into 2010 remain in the past and not see the potential in the industry and the potential in themselves. This transformation is not comfortable in many ways but no worthwhile growth is. We are the survivors and have much to learn and contribute to our profession, even if it is one $70,000 loan at a time! It is our responsibility to show the new face of mortgage brokers, not as we were but as responsible, educated, well informed practitioners of the trade that we are. This is our Epic struggle.
Justine Assal originally hails from London, England and has lived in Central Florida on and off since the early 80’s. In 1999 she obtained her mortgage broker’s license and  by 2000, had established ACM Financial Corp, a Mortgage Lender that specializes in residential niches such a foreign nationals borrowers, non warrantable condos, first time home buyers, and government lending. Justine has obtained NAMB’s highest designation of Certified Mortgage Consultant and has served on NAMB’s Certification Committee, striving to raise the level of education and professionalism in the mortgage industry. Justine is the Owner of ACM Financial Corp and a top originator in volume. She has built a reputation of integrity and tenacity and seems to have a strange attraction to the intense, ever changing world of mortgages and real estate. She is also a GRI 1 Finance instructor for the Florida Association of Realtors and serving as Vice Chair of the Orlando Realtors International Council 2009-2010.  Justine has been President of the British American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida since May 2008 and is currently serving her second term.



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