After three decades in the mortgage industry, Rob Clark knows the business like the back of his hand. He’s still experiencing great growth, closing $121 million in volume last year, up from $87 million in 2018.
Even still, Clark doesn’t pretend to know the answer to every question that comes his way, and this is one of the reasons he continues to thrive among his competitors.
“Even if I am 98% sure of something, I will still take the time to verify because a correct answer six months ago may be different today,” he said. “If you aren’t accurate, you run into problems that could result in an application getting rejected and could hurt your credibility with clients and realtor partners.”
Understanding limitations, continuous learning and always keeping a pulse on the current environment is something that Clark stands by.
Clark got into the mortgage industry straight out of college in 1990 and worked his way up the ranks from loan officer to branch manager and eventually to become the Maryland regional manager for his brokerage at that time; now he sits as the vice president of mortgage lending for Guaranteed Rate Affinity. So much has changed since he first started out, from guidelines to handwritten loan applications and waiting days for a credit report.
“When I have my initial talk with a borrower, most tend to have a good working knowledge of the mortgage process, simply because people are doing research online versus picking up the phone and asking questions,” he said. Clark considers this to be a good thing; if a consumer has a basic understanding of the process and some of the terminology, it can help with communication between broker and borrower.
Dealing with an informed consumer requires a different approach, according to Clark. Rather than being a source of information, brokers now need to take an advisor role using experience and data to provide financing options, then explaining why one outweighs the other.
“After receiving initial information on a client, I usually spend up to an hour on the phone with them to discuss goals and objectives, expectations and what the process entails,” he said. “It’s important to develop a relationship and depending on the specific situation, explain which options are best for them.”
What has also changed, according to Clark, is that clients are much more likely to be speaking with multiple brokers and lenders before deciding who to work with, so first impressions matter a great deal.
“If I’m one of four people they are deciding between, I need to show them fairly quickly why they should choose me. It comes down to responsiveness and knowledge, but most importantly, taking the time to listen,” he said.
Being fast, accurate and personable is also how Clark maintains his important relationships with realtor partners. Keeping an honest, open line of communication is key to building those strong bonds, he explained.
“Whether you have good news or bad news, you need to reach out just as quickly. If it isn’t positive, have a solution ready and if it can’t be fixed, explain the reason why.”
This is one of Clark’s goals for 2020: being more available for realtor partners and prioritizing follow up. With many working from home, he has been exploring new virtual options to stay in touch with partners, including live Q&A sessions on social media.
For anyone new to the industry, Clark emphasizes the importance of maintaining a database, because that’s what will enable more business in the future. If he could go back in time to the start of his career, Clark said there’s one thing that comes to mind that he would do differently: keeping better records of past clients.
“For the first decade of my career, nothing was automated. Getting that information back would be like a treasure chest,” he said. “When you take care of clients and 30 years later, they still remember you and refer you to family and friends, it’s priceless.”