Top Originator: Nicole Santizo opens up about her $102 million business

by Kimberly Greene23 May 2019

Eighteen years ago, Nicole Santizo was ready for a transition.

Having grown up in the Bay Area and indoctrinated by her parents into a life filled with an entrepreneurial spirit, Santizo had made a life for herself in the world of high-tech marketing. Eventually, however, that spirit was tested as she yearned for more autonomy beyond the parameters of corporate infrastructure. She got the opportunity to marry her interest in real estate investing with her financial prowess and people skills, so she took it—and took off.

Santizo built her mortgage business on a foundation of generosity and giving, which isn’t necessarily where most people start thinking about their future. Over time, Santizo has found that investing in relationships is a long game, not something that happens overnight.

“When we get in the business, we’re like, ‘I need deals, I need leads, I need referrals.’ Give. Forget all of that, don’t worry about that. Give, be generous, volunteer, serve, show up, whatever you can do to help others, it comes back to you, it just does,” Santizo said. “It’s counterintuitive, often, but I think it’s a great way to live life, really, and to do business.”

Two years ago, Santizo moved to Guaranteed Rate and spent the majority of her first year getting her team settled and “opening the kimono” to her local market—doing strategic events, direct mail, and basic marketing so that people could find her. She sees herself as a highly relational originator and most of her transactions come from past client referrals, which she sees as a testament to being engaged and in touch. Now a vice president of mortgage lending, Santizo closed more than $102 million last year, and has gotten more targeted both inside and outside her business to move forward.

That targeting is important because the popular marketing avenue of social media don’t appeal to her, nor does she think it would fit with a significant segment of her clientele. She utilizes a lot of Guaranteed Rate’s ‘set it and forget it’ resources for social media content and focuses her energies elsewhere.

“Candidly, I’m just not a social media person that’s really out there posting what I had for breakfast, or a picture of my clients at the signing table. I work with a lot of high net worth borrowers that appreciate discretion and don’t really want to be posted.”

Earlier this year, Santizo jumped into a strategic partnership with an organization that caters to the top 200 realtors in her market. Between advertising in their publication and participating in exclusive, red-carpet events at multi-million dollar properties, she believes that that partnership is a great avenue to become very targeted with her marketing to the right people.

She also assessed her team and made some changes in order to best match needs with skill sets, and as a result, her colleagues are all in their lanes and truly enjoying the work.

“Everybody is completely thriving,” Santizo said. “It’s challenging, it’s exciting, it’s fast-paced, it’s harrowing at times, but just feeling like everyone is where they’re supposed to be. I can just see a real lift to morale and productivity this year.”

There are so many mortgage originators and any number of ways to get a business off the ground and keep it running. In order to rise above the din, Santizo says that the needle is threaded by finding where there’s a need or a niche to fill, and then owning that space. Having a few key champions as referral sources is important for core business and confidence but that isn’t self-sustaining. Once an originator has established a true brand identity, the scaling possibility is huge.

“You certainly need to have real clarity on what space you’re going to occupy in the market, what need you’re going to serve, and then just be true to that. There’s one version of you, don’t try to be what somebody else is; it has to be authentic to who you are. And it does take time, but if you’re meeting a real need, I think there’s always a place to grow and build beyond that.”

Santizo’s approach is clearing paying dividends, and she also got a boost when moving away from a bank and becoming what she calls ‘lender agnostic.’ She has the ability to find a home for each and every loan scenario that gets sent her way, because every loan scenario is very different. Being a direct lender and a broker means frees her from any particular product; she has the freedom to be relational first, and not every originator benefits from that option.

“I’m really able to objectively curate what the client’s options are. So the relational is doing the diagnostics, investing the time, walking through them, and then presenting these opportunities that I think align with their greater financial plan, and what they’re after. So I’m trying to support their ambition rather than betray it.”

Santizo may have walked away from the high tech world of Silicon Valley, but she’s found a place of purpose and freedom where she can soar.