Jon Tobias isn’t afraid of going against the grain. A the SVP and Area Manager at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp. in Phoenix, Arizona, he’s tightening up his operation and betting the survival of his team on their ability to go deeper into their partner relationships.
While this may not seem controversial at all, or even objectionable, Tobias said that there’s more value in this approach than there is in lead generation.
“There’s only so many leads to go around, everybody’s stepping all over each other for the same ones. In Phoenix, everybody’s buying leads—well, it’s the same people looking online for leads, so now, instead of three people, 10 people are buying those leads and they’re all fighting over it,” Tobias said.
So even when you get leads, they can be more difficult to close, whereas a strong relationship can circumvent some of that competition. When the buyer meets an agent who already works with Tobias, the agent can recommend him, thereby giving him a leg up.
“There’s a pretty good chance that, after spending three days in a car with this agent looking at homes, they’ve built some trust and sometimes we end up taking that client right away from the other person because they just believe in what their realtor is telling them.”
Tobias has been in the mortgage industry since 2002, when he fell into a role as an assistant processor. In 2004, he got a job as a loan officer in the homebuilding industry before shifting to retail origination four years later. He may have known how to originate loans, but facing 2008 without a book of business could’ve resulted in a fate similar to Sisyphus (look it up).
Instead, he felt he had nowhere to go but up, and believes that the whatever-it-takes mentality that he adopted during that time has served him well in the years since. He knew no different, and maybe that was for the best.
“I did whatever it took to get new business going, and then it was just all about consistently staying in front of those people and asking for business and then using every single opportunity to build another opportunity,” Tobias said. “I valued every single thing I got in the beginning as much as possible and milked it for whatever it had and then built on from that. Whenever you’re going through tough times and forge ahead, it creates a lot of mental fortitude, for sure. So it was tough, but I’m really glad I started then.
Guys that started when times were great in the refi boom, they were spoonfed and when things get tough they don’t know how to handle it . . . There was never room for failure for me.”
With $169 million in closed loan volume last year, Tobias has the resources to not just improve his own business, but to take an active role in improving the businesses of his referral partners as well. He and his team are getting more face time and attending more meetings, but they’re also reaching out to clients after closing on behalf of their realtors as well as themselves. They consistently mine databases in order to help their realtors stay in front of their clients as well as providing other tidbits, such as borrower birthdays or other information that they can use as leverage in order to generate leads.
That may seem like a lot of work for the originators, but Tobias says it’s just about adding more value to the partners. If they can offer a perk that their competition doesn’t offer, then it’s a shame not to do it. For this reason, having a CRM is a vital tool to his business, but it’s not the key to his business.
“I try not to rely on too much of one thing, because if that goes away, I’m screwed,” he said. Instead, he relies on the overall process, production flow, and communication levels, as well as empowering members of his team to take charge of their role. “Everybody owns it when they get the ball, which is the file. I would say the CRM’s probably the only thing you could take away that would really frustrate me, but I don’t have any one thing that would take me down.”
Tobias thinks that attrition is going to be the name of the game in the months to come, and the people with lower volumes will either consolidate or drop out of the game completely. Tobias doesn’t mind that change, although he cautions people that it’s going to take more effort and better decision-making to thrive.
“If the phone’s ringing pick it up, if the phone’s not ringing, pick it up. You need to hunt and hustle real hard right now in all your relationships and over-communicate like crazy and stay in front of people, because it’s going to get stripped from them with the competition that’s taking place,” he said.
But, he adds, don’t exist in survival mode. There are bigger and better things out there for originators who plan ahead and invest in their business.
“Anybody that’s really got the will to go big and they really want to build a big team and do high production, all the decisions that they make in the beginning need to work with that model five years from now, or you’re going to have a lot of unwinding to do. Because if you end up growing bigger than you ever think, those decisions at the beginning will completely impact you down the road.”
It’s common knowledge that the strong survive, but the smart survive as well; make decisions now for the business you want to have tomorrow.