“It was a difficult time, but we had a year or so under our belt and we had customers. We were a small shop at the time and we were able to weather the storm,” she says now.
She and partner Cara Britton started the firm after a few years of working for other companies. “We wanted control over the business, and we wanted control over our marketing. Starting our own business was a no-brainer. We had to do it sooner or later,” she says today.
The office now has 4 employees including 3 originators and they are hoping to hire a couple more soon.
When asked what she looks for when hiring an originator, she jumped right to the chase: “We want someone with experience, who can come in with a list of referrals and hit the ground running.”
Then, she laughed and added that she was willing to hire someone brand new to the business if they are a good fit and ready to work hard. “It takes a very strong work ethic to succeed in this business, especially if you are starting from nothing. You have to be willing to pound the pavement, pound the phones. There is no such thing as quick success.”
In the beginning, she said, she did her share of cold calling. “But that is not what I wanted to do. It was mostly refinancing back then, and I really just focused on networking, creating relationships with people who could refer business to me, realtors, etc. I focused on delivering exceptional customer service and keeping people happy.”
Today, she said, most of her business comes through referrals, with about 15% of her business coming from her website or from Zillow. “We succeed by providing the kind of service that only smaller independent companies can provide. Even if people apply for a loan online, we usually end up meeting everyone face to face. People still value that personal touch,” she said.
What happened after the market crash, she said, is that only the strong survived and they came together as a community. “It no longer worked to just be out for yourself. After the recession, we came together to help each other, even competitors began helping each other. It was a really great feeling. I hadn’t seen that prior to the recession.”
An upshot of that community building was that Hayes was elected president of the Connecticut Mortgage Association, where she now serves as immediate past president.
“That allowed me to participate in new ways and create events that could continue to bring people together.” She said it also enabled her to participate on the national level, traveling to Washington, D.C. on lobbying trips, for instance.
One thing of concern to her is the graying of the mortgage industry, where she says the average broker is in his or her 50s. “It is extremely important that we begin to attract younger people to the business. We need to get the word out about the great careers people can have in this business, especially to recent college graduates who are finding good jobs to be scarce.”
She said her company a while back hired a 20-year-old. “She was very bright and talented. She got her license when she was 21 and she is still with us. She is very good at working with younger buyers. She’s doing really well.”
Hayes said that while the market is constantly changing, she is optimistic about the future. The biggest problem she sees in the short term is a lack of housing inventory. “We are still doing tons of pre-quals. People just can’t find a house to buy.”
Melissa Hayes started CT Liberty Mortgage in 2005 and then watched the bottom fall out of the market.