How mortgage brokers can remain busy in a quieter market

'Even if you only have two loans on your desk, that doesn't justify a two-hour workday'

How mortgage brokers can remain busy in a quieter market

What shape the US mortgage market will take for the remainder of 2024 and the years ahead is anyone’s guess – but for Julene Stewart (pictured), of MS Lending, there are always opportunities and growth potential, regardless of how the landscape looks.

The Madison, MS-based broker told Mortgage Professional America that bringing a consistent level of resolve and commitment to her role, irrespective of the market intensity, had proven an important component of her success over the years.

“My personal thoughts are on things I can control, and I think that’s where I try to keep my mindset,” she said. “For me, it’s just keeping up the hard work and putting in the time. Even if you only have two loans on your desk, that doesn’t justify a two-hour workday. You’ve still got to put in a 10-hour workday.

“You’re just focusing on different things than working a file, and that thing [could be] getting out in your community or focusing on a new growth area. Maybe get out of your tri-county area and focus on someone that’s not being served in a helpful way.”

How brokers can gear up their business for busier times ahead

Mortgage rates have stayed stubbornly high in recent weeks with prospects of an imminent Federal Reserve interest rate cut seeming to have receded substantially. While that may have put something of a dampener on the current market, the fact that activity is no longer as intense as during the COVID-19 pandemic can present other opportunities for mortgage entrepreneurs, according to Stewart.

That could mean taking more time to onboard staff or scaling upwards – the latter a process that Stewart has recently been involved in following the merger of Fidelity Mortgage, her former company, with MS Lending.

It was a logical move for all parties, according to Stewart. “Something for people to consider is I feel like we all love to be small, little brokerage shops, and there’s value in that,” she said.

“In our market, where there’s very few mortgage brokers at all, it made sense to join forces to grow a bigger population share, kind of take over our area and make ourselves have a bigger presence.”

There seems little chance that the market will roar back into life in a big way before the end of this year, with rates expected to remain relatively high even if a Fed cut does arrive by January. Still, a calm and reasonably predictable market would also be a welcome development after a long period of turbulence, Stewart said.

“Back in January, February, I [said] ‘It’s an election year, things always kind of improve right before an election year,’” she commented. “Now, I’m not sure that’s actually going to happen this cycle.

“I don’t think we’re going to go in the wrong direction either. I think we’re just definitely in this stagnant trend – which I will take over a volatile trend any day. I don’t like to have unknown daily rollercoasters.”

Engaging with AI a productive way for brokers to spend their time

Another consideration to occupy mortgage professionals’ time during a spell of milder activity: artificial intelligence (AI) and the role it’s likely to play in the industry in the coming years.

For brokers and loan originators, Stewart said, it’s essential to hit the ground running as soon as possible on the AI front and get up to speed with the advancements that are in store.

That, coupled with the growing prevalence of large cross-country brokerages, means an interesting few years is ahead for the industry.

“AI continues to grow, and the bigger national brokerages are expanding. Eventually, there’s going to be more and more of those,” Stewart said. “So you’ve either got to get on board with them now or prepare yourself to be where you can be as competitive with them in the future.

“I just think that more and more lenders that we originate with have the capabilities to install these high-level AI systems and so your bigger national brokerages are going to have the money to sink into those as well.”

Always a staple of Stewart’s approach to the business, meanwhile, is finding a purpose beyond profit and striving to empower as many clients and colleagues as possible.

“I have a huge heart and passion for trying to make a bigger impact on our underserved communities,” she said. “I hope that people take some time, if we’re in one of these down cycles, to get out there and educate people who need help with understanding basic finances.

“Help change someone’s life for the future. We can all take this time to make an impact instead of just chasing the dollar.”

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