Top Originator: Julie Johnson's vintage origination technique

by Kimberly Greene15 Oct 2018

Some people might think that mortgage origination today doesn’t look much like it did 30 years ago. But in some ways, however, classic origination hasn’t disappeared.

Julie Johnson, loan officer and branch manager at Guild Mortgage in Seattle, is a fan of what she calls “vintage processing,” which she implemented within the past year.

“Traditionally, processors don’t talk to clients. We changed that about four months ago. We have a new process where our processors speak to our clients and what that does is eliminates that extra person and it gives the client a better flow. So after the client’s under contract, it goes to our processors (or, we now call them closing specialists), and they update the client every week . . . our processors/closing specialists are so positive and upbeat that it really sets us apart,” Johnson said. “We call it vintage processing because back in the day, our processors spoke to clients, in the last 10 years we got away from that. We started that again and that has really, really, really changed everything. “

Something else that has really changed in a relatively short period of time is Johnson’s personal numbers. A few years ago, Johnson had closed $36 million in volume. Last year, she closed $135 million, and is on track for the same in 2018. Johnson said the big turnaround in numbers is due to getting a coach. She signed up with The Core Training, which provides her with accountability and mentorship guidance from top producers. It’s all about accountability, she said, and it really “propelled” her business.

It’s tempting to jump on the technology train and think the tracks automatically lead to success. Social media gets a lot of attention, and it can certainly expand an originator’s personal network far beyond that of traditional methods. Johnson herself is a big fan of apps. In fact, she says that everyone has access to the best app on the market today.

“Nothing beats the number one app, which is a phone,” she said. “Nothing beats a call, making somebody hear your voice, even if I have to leave a really great message . . . they hear how hard you’re working, and they get to hear your voice. At the end of the day, there’s somebody on the other side, not just an automated email that says the appraisal’s ordered. We don’t like that, we like to pick up the phone.”

There’s no question that there are some aspects to origination today that have made the process a lot more efficient. For Johnson, the online application portal is great because it really jumpstarts the process quickly, allowing her team to do more business and be more efficient with clients, and clients love that they can be preapproved the same day that they apply. Although the housing market has slowed as a whole, it’s still very competitive in Johnson’s home base of Seattle, and Johnson has found a way to give herself and her clients that boost of confidence and an advantage over competition when it comes to the house hunt.

“We pre underwrite everybody ahead of time, even before they find a house. That way they pretty much feel like they’re completely approved . . . we will pay them up to $5,000 in any earnest money spent if we take our approval back, so they feel safe,” Johnson said. That means the client is pretty much good to go once they do find a property, and can close within 12-15 days.

Johnson moved to Guild Mortgage in 2010, and found “the best people I’ve ever worked with.” She started out in the broker field but ended up working for Bank of America after a couple of acquisitions. She knew that working for a bank was not the best platform to be successful and build a business, and with Guild, she says, she has the tools to be successful but basically operates as an entrepreneur. Company culture is also behind her team happiness and success, and they have a lot of branch activities as well as opportunities to be active in the community, including giving staff members two paid days a year that they can volunteer in their local communities.

2018 is coming to a close, and Johnson is paving the way for the year ahead in the face of a slowing market. Her strategy is to go wide.

“Instead of having 20 realtors, I really need to have 40 realtors if I want to close the same amount of purchases next year. So going wide but still giving my client and the referral partner great experience is going to be our goal next year. Going wide might mean, maybe going in the outskirts of my Seattle area, seeking out referral partners that I really want to work with.”

If being in the business for more than 20 years has taught Johnson anything, it’s the importance of working with people who are like-minded and who can share the same care for the client.

“You need to soar with eagles, not ducks. Sounds kind of weird, but everybody has to be in the same mindset,” Johnson said. “Everybody here is just so caring and it’s just about people, hiring great people. If you have great people, you can really do anything.”