Top Originator: On course for $255 million the old-fashioned way

by David Kitai09 Dec 2020

Justin Crowley only practices one form of marketing. The senior loan originator at First Western Trust, who did over $135 million in originations last year, doesn’t use social media ads, doesn’t buy leads, and doesn’t purchase billboard space. He writes birthday cards to his clients every year.

Crowley is old school. His nationwide pipeline, with clients in 37 different states, is based on referrals. When the calls and emails come Crowley works rigorously with his clients, ensuring their experience is as easy and as enjoyable as possible. Now on course to cross $250 million in 2020, Crowley told MPA how he built his business, what he’s learned in his decade of work in the mortgage space, and why he’s happy to call himself “old school.”

“When I first started out, I talked to some folks that had gotten to that upper echelon of production. I asked them what got them there and what kept them there,” Crowley said. “The consensus that I picked up from those conversations was that they just got that it just stuck to the basics answer your phone, respond, be ethical, be truthful, you know, take care of the clients first, they'll take care of you later. And that's just kind of how I grew my business.”

Read More: Skipping refis to focus on purchases, relationships, teams

Crowley’s work touches just about every sort of loan and property. That could be an FHA loan for a first-time homebuyer buying an $80,000 condo in Wyoming or a $4 million loan for a real estate investor in Long Beach. The one rule he sets, though, is that his processors never talk to his clients. By making himself the single point of communication, Crowley explained, the loan process is far less confusing for the client. His goal, he said, is to make an intimidating process more natural and friendly.

In making things friendly, Crowley relies as little as possible on technology. He doesn’t take any applications through a website or portal, for example, and instead runs through the applications live with his clients over the phone. That personal touch, plus a card on the client’s birthday, keeps Crowley top of mind.

While there’s some temptation towards the “shiny object” of the latest tech, Crowley knows what works for him and stresses that he avoids those tech pieces as best he can. Sure he’ll use DocuSign here and there, but phone calls, emails, and scanned documents are enough for him. It’s an approach that takes rigor, but it’s an approach that’s more human, both in connection to the client and in the back-end work done by Crowley and his team.

Read more: Managing complexity to cross $200 million

Crowley’s focus on human connection began on 9/11. A 20-year old, he was fixing computers at a mortgage office on that fateful day and watched as all his clients that month cancelled on him. He also saw a mortgage assistant at that office get fired in spectacular fashion. As that assistant was packing up his desk, Crowley walked into the manager’s office and said, “I don't know what that guy does, but I learn quick and I need work. If you want to save yourself some time, I can show up on Monday.” He got the job.

As an assistant to loan officers, Crowley learned as much as he could as fast as he could. He started noticing that a lot of the LOs he was assisting knew sales and people, but they didn’t actually understand the nuts and bolts. He started learning the technical side, going to underwriting seminars and FHA appraisal courses. The first loans he started originating were the “sticky” ones that the more senior LOs were either “too busy or too lazy” to touch. Crowley built a reputation for handling these tougher loans which, while challenging at the time, have paid big dividends for him since. The first loan with that client might be tough, he said, but the second and third are easy.

Now Crowley doesn’t have to go asking for business anymore. Referrals come to him and his volume has been increasing steadily year-over-year. He went from just over $84 million in 2018 to over $135 million in 2019. Now he’s on course for over $255 million in 2020. At the same time, his rigorous approach and focus on quality interactions means he’s had to turn down deals that would increase his volume even more. In 2020 alone he’s turned down over 800 deals. But that quality over quantity approach is what Crowley wants to do. After all, he’s old school.

“My number one focus since day one was just knowing what the heck I was doing, doing the best I could and doing it as quickly as I could to make this process easy for my customers,” Crowley said. “If I do $350 million in a year, and everyone's pissed off and frustrated by the end of the process, that's not as much of a mark of success as if I can do half that but 95% of those people are thrilled.”