Top Originator: DeAnn Ellis is an educator, not an order-taker

by Kimberly Greene25 Jul 2019

Mortgage origination is like a personal sense of style: once you find what works for you, you wear it all the time, regardless of the trends.

DeAnn Ellis, senior loan officer for Element Funding, has been rocking her personal style or origination for 20 years: visiting real estate offices, offering CE courses for her realtor partners, getting involved in the community and doing local events, and attending as many closings as possible.

“We go around and, you know, shake hands and kiss babies, if you will,” Ellis said. “We do exactly what we did a long time ago: we go around, we pass out flyers, we attends sales meetings, and of course, we try to educate our partners.”

Her method is a very traditional way of running a mortgage business, and Ellis agrees that it isn’t original. The difference, she says, is knowledge. Not only does she has more than 25 years in the business, but her LOAs as also well-seasoned, with more than 50 years’ worth of experience between the three of them. They’re knowledgeable about programs, about process, and about educating their clients on ways that credit issues and budgeting can have to their file.

It’s simple but it works; Ellis closed more than $70 million last year and set a goal for $90 million in 2019. On January 1st, her team went all in on a new CRM, AllClients, which has helped to continually touch her partners, and she also added some key team players to help bring different aspects to the business.

“We’re pretty much doing what we did last year but we’re trying to do it better,” she said.

Better doesn’t always mean faster, though. Ellis, for example, has an LOA who does nothing but take applications on the phone—all day, every day. Her business coach discouraged her from making that move, but Ellis knows that in her market, that’s a valuable advantage. Everyone’s moving to an online platform, she said, but it’s not a great option for everybody, and her one-on-one-customer service is appreciated.

“We all know Quicken is killing it with their online app, [but] that’s why I believe a lot of people still come to us with the fallout. I don’t want to be an order-taker; I want to be an educator. And I want to make sure that the customers feel confident and secure through the process. So I will never go to just an online platform for originating, not for my team,” she said.

There’s a bit of irony in the fact that Ellis was “the worst math student ever” and is now a financial professional. When she got out of high school, she was hired as a teller at NationsBank (now Bank of America). Ellis rose through the ranks quickly, and at the ripe old age of 21, she was doing consumer loans. A mentor of hers was also a client, and when she offered Ellis a job at 100 percent commission, Ellis only hesitated briefly before making the move. Today, Ellis acts as a role model for her daughter, who has been through the XINNIX mortgage academy and has been working with Ellis for two years.

Ellis hired a business coach several years ago, although when the subject first came up, she deflected, thinking that she knew what she was going to do and how she was going to do it going forward. The relationship wasn’t actually smooth at the beginning, until Elllis realized shifted her mentality and came to accept that he was bringing in other ideas to implement. Once that happened, she was on board completely. She is also planning on hiring another coach for more personal business development.

“You’ve got to realize that the industry—every industry—is changing continuously and you get set in your ways and you think, ‘okay, my way is good,’ but if you’re not thinking ahead and getting coached, then you’re not going to make the move when you need to.”

Talking to Ellis, you figure out pretty quickly that she likes to be control, and it was hard of her to let someone else steer the ship. It was true for coaching, and it was true when she was building her business. As she scaled, she discovered that she couldn’t be everywhere, she couldn’t touch every file, and she couldn’t continue to grow unless she accepted that, as frustrating as it was.

“In the beginning when you’re building your business, you have 100% control. You are the one that’s originating, you’re the one that’s making the decisions, you’re the one that’s calling, and then when you grow and you have a lot of business, you have to put people in different positions to be able to take your business to the next level. That is a consistent challenge because you cannot control everything.”

In spite of that, Ellis is a big advocate for hiring a coach and for getting the right people in place not so they can steer the ship, but so that she can get above deck and steer it herself. It may never seem like the right time to work on your business, but the truth is, she says, there’s never a guarantee of the right time. Each originator has to look at their business model and decide: is it suitable for their quality of life, is it suitable for where they want to go, and what sacrifices are they willing to make to get their business in a position to satisfy those questions.

But more than anything else, she says, originators have to align themselves with the right company and make sure that their ops partners are stellar.

“My ops are absolutely amazing. I don’t have to check with my closers to see if my packages go out; I don’t have to check to make sure my CDs are acknowledged; I don’t have to check to make sure my funds have been wired . . . You are only as good as your ops partners in this industry. If you don’t have a good processor, you can pretty much hang your career up,” Ellis said. “Seriously. I’ve seen it through the years. And once you find that core group of people and a company that’s going to back you in your success, the sky’s the limit.”

And there’s nothing but blue skies from here.