One of Ryan Sawyer's clients was a Korean War veteran who dreamed of touring the world with his wife. When his wife died, the octogenarian wanted a cash out refi in order to take the trip and live their shared dream. Upon closing, Sawyer and his team sent the vet a travel bag and stuffed with things he would need for his journey.
“The guy calls us up in tears, thanking us. It was one of the things that pulls on the heartstrings,” Sawyer said. “That was probably my best moment, and that’ll probably stick with me forever."
Sawyer is a producing branch manager with Guaranteed Rate, and while business isn't always sunshine and rainbows, his current business model was forever shaped by one definitive moment in his career: the moment that he decided to solely focus on VA loans.
In the aftermath of 2008, Sawyer struggled with industry-wide issues, such as homes under-appraising and clients with now-inadequate credit scores, along with a host of other qualifications that had previously gone unenforced. He had dipped his toe into the VA space from time to time, but it wasn't until he did an internal audit of his team's loan applications that he realized the pull through on VA loans was nearly ten times higher than it was with civilian loans.
“We were closing more VA loans but we had less of them, so I said, let’s reallocate our focus on nothing but VA loans, and that’s what we did.”
Half of his team thought he was crazy by closing the door to such a large section of the industry, and didn't show up to work the following Monday. The rest, however, are still with him to this day.
Mortgage origination has been Sawyer's sole profession. For all of the compliance and paperwork headaches that come with the job, speaking with customers is the highlight of his day. He goes even deeper when working with veterans, learning not only their financial goals, but their personal histories. (“It's like talking to your grandparents every day,” he said.)
Sawyer felt the burn in 2017 and 2018 when refinance opportunities slowed, and said that last year was a rebuilding year, when he moved to Guaranteed Rate. His team closed nearly 300 loans for around $80 million, which was down almost half from his 2016 volume.
“It was more of an eye opener because in the refinance world, when you get a rate increase consistently four or five times, we haven’t dealt with that for 10 years. So to see that kind of shakeup in the market, it’s a good thing . . . it keeps you on your toes,” Sawyer said.
Most of Sawyer’s clients are well into their retirement years, so refis were his bread and butter. He rarely sees a vet young enough to have done a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq, and . He’s also a bit of an anomaly at Guaranteed Rate, where the model trends largely toward purchase. As his existing refi opportunities have diminished, he’s been eagerly branching out into the purchase market, hoping to find a perfect balance between the two.
‘The whole purchase model is foreign to me because that’s not where I come from. I come from telemarketing, direct to purchase, refinance business. I’ve done plenty of business doing purchases, but they just don’t come with realtor referrals.”
He’s figuring out how to build those relationships and get those referrals. He moved back to his hometown north of Albany, New York, and has started dipping his toes into the marketing waters with event sponsorships and local media appearances. It’s exciting, he said, to return to the area as “a VA guy.”
“Most of the real estate agents around here are like, ‘I’ve been waiting for somebody who knows how to do a VA loan, because I sent one to a competitor and they just completely blew it up,’” Sawyer laughs. “I have a one-up on a lot of individuals that are not VA focused; it’s a product you have to really learn and know how to do it.”
With such an older client base, Sawyer has had to be very selective about what technology he implements and how much time and effort the team spends on it. At 35 years old, Sawyer finds himself in the opposite situation as other originators who are looking to get their hooks into the younger generation via tech, but aren’t native users themselves. Sawyer knows that what he may want for himself isn’t what his clients will go after–and that’s okay.
“Technology has been fantastic for the younger generations, but we try to force technology on some of our older veterans and that just doesn’t work. So we do stay away from some of the technology, especially with our older veterans,” Sawyer said.
Another way that Sawyer differs from his peers in that he’s getting licensed nationally. Being with Guaranteed Rate allows him to scale his business to all 50 states, which he'll have done by the end of the year. He’s learned to run with a smaller, more efficient staff than he’s ever had before. And with his eye on the purchase market, he'll be expanding his reach to younger veterans who have many more stories to tell.
Diversity allows a business to survive a number of disruptions. Sawyer, however, found that having a niche allows him to consistently appeal to a target market, with the added bonus of providing a level of service equal to that of those who have served us all.
For strategies from top originators, come to Anaheim on April 4th for our Power Originating session featuring Shant Banosian, Ben Anderson, and Oleg Tkach.