Top Originator: staying number one in America's highest-income county

by David Kitai13 Jan 2021

Kristi Hardy (pictured) has been named the “Best Loan Officer” in Loudoun County every year since 2013 by The Loudoun Times-Mirror. That’s no small feat considering Loudoun County, in the DC metro area, is the highest-income county in the United States.

While staying on top of this highly competitive and fast-growing market, Hardy managed to grow her volume above $100 million in 2019 all the way to $236 million in 2020. The VP and senior loan officer at Atlantic Coast Mortgage attributes that growth to an expanded team, efficiency-minded processes, and a change in perspective. In recent years she’s seen herself more as a CEO than an LO, meaning she can take more of a bird’s eye view of the industry she works in. While she can look at her business from a distance, Hardy emphasized the closeness of her relationships with clients as the true key to her success.

“It’s really important to me that all my clients are well served,” Hardy said. “I take each situation personally and I’m backed up by the right people and the right system. I know you can’t make every single person happy, but that’s my goal. I want them to be raving fans.”

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One of the personal touches Hardy leans on in her approach is humor. Rather than just delivering stern, efficient, businesslike service, she can keep conversations light and enjoyable while taking her clients on their journey. It’s an element of fun that, in her view, makes her relationships more robust.

She uses social media, too, but not with hyper-targeted ads. Rather she posts semi-weekly on Facebook and engages with posts from her friends and the wider community. It’s a platform that allows her to reach people directly even in a world of social distancing.

Hardy’s focus on relationships hasn’t kept her from efficiency when it matters. Her growth between 2018 and 2020 has been meteoric, while the sheer quantity of properties processed last year (584) is somewhat mind boggling. Hardy accepts that staying on top of a market as competitive as Loudoun County for so many years helped her build the capacity and efficiency of practice to handle 2020’s record volume.

A lesson Hardy learned early-on, she explained, was to do as much upfront as possible. By focusing on that initial due diligence, she can avoid accidents and oversights that can cause a loan to blow up down the road.

“If a loan blows up, that sucks the energy out of you for days, weeks, or even months,” Hardy said. “On my team we focus on getting all the information upfront and making sure we’re not sending an approval letter on something that’s going to have an issue.”

Read more: How a millennial mortgage pro quintupled her volume in two years

Technology has helped with that process, Hardy explained, noting that when she started in the industry she was printing out rate sheets and calculating debt ratios by hand. With the rise of expedient technology, though, has come more competition. Hardy is regularly dealing with clients who are hounded by bigger players promising lower rates as soon as she runs their mortgage credit report.

Hardy, though, can counter her competition with a similarly low rate and a far stronger relationship. She works on building a relationship so strong the client “won’t even listen to someone else.”

Staying in pole position in a market as competitive as Loudoun County takes serious work. In her first year, Hardy was seventh nationwide for rookie volume, a success she attributes to late nights handwriting ‘thank you’ cards to clients, prospects, and referral partners. When asked what other originators can do to increase their volume and improve their community presence, Hardy stressed that there is no substitute for hard work.

“Be willing to put in the time,” Hardy said. “When I started off, I was working a ton. Now I can just work smarter, not harder. But for the first several years, in someone’s mortgage career, they really do have to get their face out there and get their name out there and network. They have to work as much as it takes.”