Loan origination is better the second time around

To say she enjoyed her first experience, would be an overstatement

Loan origination is better the second time around

It would be an overstatement to say Laura Ray (pictured) enjoyed working in the mortgage industry when she first ventured into the space in 2002.

At the time, she and her husband owned a successful company repairing water-damaged homes in Florida and Alaska. “My sister was a broker, so I did it then and I hated it,” Ray said during an interview with Mortgage Professional America. “It really didn’t last long.”

Fast forward to 2016 – well past the Great Recession – when she decided to take another stab at it. “She and I were flying out somewhere, and she had been a broker for a while. I asked her what she thought of opening a mortgage broker company. I didn’t have a license; she didn’t have a license at the time. She said ‘sure, let’s do it.’ So, we did.”

What a difference 14 years make

Fort Myers-based Liberty Mortgage Lending Group Inc. was born. “She trained me on everything I needed to know,” she said of her sister, Debra Hernandez. It’s the leanest of operations, with her as chief financial officer and her sister as CEO. And that’s it, just the two of them. “It was a different time, and the timing was great. I wanted to make money – I like making money – and at the time, that’s where the money was.”

Make no mistake: Ray is not driven purely by a profit motive but the rewards of helping people achieve the American Dream of homeownership. She described enjoying the challenge of working on the more complicated cases others may pass along to someone else to handle.

“We love that challenge,” she said. “We have great mortgage clients and great relationships. We have the opportunity to meet people not just on the mortgage level but on a personal level. Sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to work with people who are really in a difficult situation, or they think they can’t get a mortgage and to be able to get them to that closing table – it’s an incredible high. It’s such a cool feeling.”

She recalled one customer in particular, a young man from Mexico who was denied three times before coming to Liberty Mortgage Lending Group on what amounted to something of a Hail Mary pass.

“His family came to us after finding us on Google,” she recalled. “His real estate agent, who was also family, said, ‘hey, can you help us out here? This can’t be right.’ When we looked at it, his income had been grossly miscalculated – by three different brokers! It was weird because it was W2 income. When we recalculated it, everything was solid. His credit ratio was great, the debt ratio was good. It ended up being an easy loan - if we got it done in seven to 10 days, which we did, that’s not a hard loan.”

The case is particularly memorable because the young man in his 20s would become the first in his family to own a home. “It was not just important to him as a young man,” Ray said, “it was important to his family. Those kinds of stories are the ones that matter to us. All of our clients matter, but those are very feel-good stories.”

Their good work paid off. Ray said she and her sister have stayed in touch with the client, and her firm has secured half-a-dozen referrals from that transaction alone.

It’s a very different landscape now

She threw herself in the work since her first foray into the industry and has never looked back. “I didn’t have any hesitation,” she said of her second attempt. “Business in general is easy for me. I’ve just always been able to strategize and create systems quickly and get them implemented and up and running,” she said. “I have a business model I’ve been able to drop into every business we’ve owned. That part was easy. The learning curve on how to do mortgages was strenuous. However, my sister was a good teacher.”

She contrasted the different times in which she entered and re-entered the fray, in 2002 and 2016. “I never felt that stress and strain I did in 2002,” she said of her re-entry. “But also, I didn’t go through the bad times of 2008. To me, there were so many pieces to that puzzle, and there are not as many pieces now. With all the changes that were created, the environment is very different today than it was then. I do feel it’s a lot easier to be a loan originator now than it was back then. I don’t know that everyone would agree with me, but that’s how I feel.”

In addition to her sister, she credited the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) for the support the group has provided since she joined. Ray serves as one of two “state captains” for Florida as part of her work with AIME, keeping abreast of proposed legislation and issues related to the industry in her state to keep the group’s executive leadership apprised.

She acknowledged that she was largely unfamiliar with the group until about a year-and-a-half ago after going through a broker-owner program at United Wholesale Mortgage that offered a promotional code for a lower-tiered AIME membership as enticement. Ray said she soon upgraded the membership to attend the trade group’s “Hall of AIME” event that showcases the industry’s rock stars posting the highest volumes.

“All of a sudden, my AIME portal opened up with these amazing free classes, and seminars and speakers and member benefits, mentorships,” she said. “I mean, it was just a cascade of benefits. I wish I could tell you I had taken advantage of all of them, but there are so many! There are so many benefits to being a higher-tiered member. To be a part of this group is incredible.”

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