After a year of pandemic, what have mortgage originators learned?

by David Kitai17 Mar 2021

Mortgage originators should think, for a moment, about where they were at this time last year. As shelter-in-place orders were handed out and terrifying news about the pandemic swept the nation, the industry was thrown into momentary disarray. Purchases stopped dead and lenders shut their doors, unsure of what the COVID-19 pandemic might bring. Nobody was sure if, and how, their business might survive.

Fast forward a year and the whole industry is in a very different place. Originators nationwide have had their best year on record, driven by the perfect storm of a refi boom and the ramping up of what looks to be a seriously hot housing market. Some of that was the result of structural changes and policy decisions, but a great deal of it came down to individual originators, their ability to adapt in the face of change and adopt the new means by which this industry does business.

Melissa Cohn (pictured), executive mortgage banker at William Raveis mortgage, believes that originators have learned a few key lessons over the course of the pandemic. She shared with MPA some of what those lessons are and why understanding them and incorporating them into your work will make the difference between success and failure in the years to come.

“We’ve learned to appreciate technology,” Cohn said. “We can appreciate the fact that we went paperless a number of years ago, and that the transition to working from home from working in an office has been fairly seamless because so much of what we do other than physically meeting our clients, is really done online, over the phone, or through our loan operating systems.”

Read more: How to make the space for female originators

Those loan operating systems, Cohn said, have proven utterly crucial in these hard months. The ability to price rates, lock-in rates, run credit checks and obtain asset and income verifications for clients has enabled originators to be even more productive than they were before. Some of the efficiencies that have come with remote work, in Cohn’s opinion, helped facilitate the huge success originators had this past year.

Despite those efficiencies, there have been frustrations. Turnaround times and underwriter shortages have resulted in frustrated clients and strained relationships. When it felt half the housing market was getting a refi and the other half was trying to move, operations felt like they were being pulled apart at the seams. The originators who got through this, Cohn said, learned the importance of expectation management in the face of a potentially difficult deal. Cohn herself has relied on over 40 years of experience to tell clients that the speed they expect might not always be the speed they’ll get. Originators who lived through 2020 now have what feels like a lifetime’s worth of experience in managing client expectations and frustrations.

While the lessons learned in 2020 might seem unique to the pandemic, Cohn believes that the industry is likely to remain quite remote and far more digitized than it had ever been before. The efficiency that comes with a 15-minute Zoom call replacing a drive out to meet a client, she said, cannot be overstated. While collaboration is key and some element of returning to offices is likely, originators have proven they can work in the face of trying circumstance.

Read more: How can originators secure a softer landing when volumes go down?

Now, as rates begin to rise, Cohn sees the lessons learned in 2020 being applied into 2021 and beyond. Originators can stay efficient and stay digital, while managing client expectations around a hot housing market. They can trust their systems and communicate with one-another across the breadth of a continent if needs be. Those who learned lessons last year, she believes, will be successful this year and next year.

“Those of us who have worked hard to service and stay on top of our clients for the past year, will do well in this new year and new rate environment,” Cohn said. “People remember that service. People obviously remember the best rates, but people remember service and it’s so important that we develop and maintain those relationships because the purchase market is not going away and there are still plenty of people that need to refinance.”