In order to grow a business, mortgage originators must solve a single puzzle: how to originate more loans in less time.
Sam Sharp, executive vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate, has figured that out—partly through building a team that handles management details so that he can focus on selling, and partly through staying adaptable and adopting some byproducts of the changing environment.
Sharp closed 431 units in 2018 for a total volume of $135 million—although the drop from $181 million in 2017 was the largest decline he’s ever experienced in his career. Other originators may attribute a decline in any given year to market conditions, but not Sharp.
“2018 was a down year, but not because of the market. A lot of people look at this and they say, in general, the market was slow. That is not accurate by any case. The market does not determine how much business you do; it just determines where you get that business from. I’m a firm believer in that, I say that all the time, and it’s true. So for me 2018 was down because of personal choices and some of the things that I was focusing on and not because of market factors.”
There were a lot of changes for Sharp last year: he took on a new role at Guaranteed Rate, focusing on technology development and he also tried a few different strategies that didn’t pan out as well as he’d hoped. Because the majority of his business was coming from repeat clients and a couple of key business partners, he admits that he hadn’t been doing much prospecting at all, something that’s changing in 2019.
This year prospecting is a top priority, setting up a lot of education events for agents and also dividing time between past partners as well as newcomers to the industry. He knows that when he turns his efforts to building those relationships, it always generates as much business as he can handle.
“The moral of the story is that if you’re not prospecting, you’re not going to be growing the way that you should.”
Sharp is an advocate for looking both inward and outward to improve outcomes. People tend to stay in the same habits and do the same things again and again, even if they aren’t yielding great results.
“I’ve spent a lot of focus on is tracking the metrics, finding out where my business comes from, and having a strong understanding of what works and what doesn’t work. Because a lot of loan officers spend a large portion of their time focusing their efforts on endeavors that don’t actually pay off.”
Some people may not mind taking an application over the phone, for example, because they like bonding with their clients. Sharp would challenge that; after all, how much bonding is done sharing an employer’s address? By utilizing an online application, for example, that time can be spent talking about other things that the borrower wants to discuss. Certain activities may not be as fruitful as they seem, and without change, there can be no growth. The other part of that is looking outward to other originators and figuring out how and where they’re succeeding, and what methods they’re using.
Sharp has been a top producer for the majority of his career, but started from nothing. He got into the mortgage business in 2001, in the middle of a refi boom. While his colleagues were taking advantage of a drop in interest rates, Sharp couldn’t—he didn’t have a database yet.
“They were out cleaning up on this refinance on this refinance boom while I was stuck trying to figure how to get someone to talk to me about something I knew nothing about,” he said. “So out of the gate, I saw the value in the purchase market, and I knew if I was going to solidify my longevity as well as springboard my success I was going to have to look to focus on getting to the source of the business first.”
He started concentrating on engaging with real estate agents and looking for ways to different ways to make connections. It’s created a very strong foothold for his business, and he’s been able to capitalize on those relationships ever since.
He also takes a lot of pride in over-communication, and letting clients know exactly what they’re getting into at the beginning of the process, rather than having them surprised and bewildered halfway through. The mortgage process is very difficult for a lot of borrowers, and some of that can difficulty can be avoided if they were prepared for what they’d have to do to hold up their end of the bargain.
“If you tell someone out of the gate that something’s going to take an hour and it takes a half hour, they’re pleasantly surprised. I practice that type of activity. I let them know it’s going to be a big pain in the ass and when it’s not, they’re happy.”
Whatever path leads to success, it’s not a finite one. The top players are able to dig deep and invest in themselves.
“Sometimes when people have conveniences that create more time, they use that time for leisure activities, whereas I use it to generate even more business. So I’m always looking for ways to try and still maintain the same quality of origination and relationships with my clients yet while trying to streamline the process so that I can fit more into one day.”