It’s November, and Umar Gebril, area manager at Academy Mortgage in Seattle, is working on his business plan for 2019. While other originators might be a little uncertain about their approach in the coming months, Gebril plans to stay the course that he put in place several months ago, which was to stay very aggressive.
“Because volume is down, a lot of LOs are pulling back, they’re not spending the marketing money, they’re not doing the same sort of proactive outreach. A lot of people are kind of afraid to talk about interest rates because they’ve gone up so much,” he said. “I made the conscious decision maybe four months ago to honestly just double down, and I’m actually spending more money in marketing right now than I’ve ever spent in my career.”
It’s a brave move but fortune, apparently, favors the brave. In 2017, Gebril closed $132 million in loan volume, and has consistently been a top producer both at Academy Mortgage since 2014 and before that as a member of Bank of America’s Platinum Club. While his loan volume has remained high, what changed after the move was the ability to control much more of the process, ensuring that he could keep promises to his referral partners and keep tabs on deals as they went through his pipeline.
Having that control is something that Gebril values highly, and something that he has made time for since his move to Academy. He began his time there managing and establishing multiple branches, but over the past few years, he’s stepped back from that in order to focus more closely on his personal production and his direct team. He’s been able to implement some small tweaks, such as moving his entire team to the cloud and using Dropbox, which had a massive impact on increasing efficiencies and removing some of the tedious paper-based barriers that previously existed.
Technology gets a lot of play these days, but the biggest hurdle Gebril is facing isn’t implementing new technologies or systems into this playbook. Rather, it’s other originators and the lengths that they will go to do business in the increasingly competitive environment. Because he has friends and colleagues at other major competitors, he knows that pricing looks like, and at least once a week he sees quotes where he knows the originator is doing these loans at a loss.
“It’s difficult—not just from the standpoint of losing the business, but it’s difficult to explain that to your borrower. You can’t fault the borrower in those circumstances; they’re a consumer and they’re shopping for the best deal, but it’s tough when you know they’re operating at a loss,” Gebril said. “I refuse to do loans at a loss even though sometimes it means losing the deal and sometimes, losing the referral source.”
To be sure, operating at a loss isn't a sustainable model, for sure, and who knows how long that approach can continue. But instead of doing whatever it takes to close any deal, Gebril is focusing on incrementally increasing his purchase transactions, with a goal of his business being 91% purchase in 2019. While he’s planning on staying aggressive, being more systematic about following up with deals that he’s closed, and asking for more business, he said that what’s working for him now and what will work for him in the future isn’t what’s going to work for someone who’s either starting out in the business or a lower-producing originator looking for that extra boost in business.
For people in either of those positions, he says, the key is to find ways to get business directly from the consumer.
“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but if I’m sitting at a table across from a realtor next to a competitor loan officer, I’m going to win that 90% of the time. The other top producing loan officers are in the exact same boat. Someone that doesn’t do the volume that we do and don’t have the experience is not going to win against one of us. Where they can win is thinking outside the box and marketing to consumers directly instead of referral sources. And if I were starting out today, that’s what I would be doing.”
This could mean marketing directly to employers, schools, hospitals—any way to get to the consumer gives originators with less experience a way to control the borrower and have something tangible to give to any prospective realtor partners: a preapproved lead.
Gebril is a goal-setter and a go-getter, and whether it’s completing a life-long a goal of getting a law degree (which he did in 2013) or reaching that 91% purchase goal, his focus on planning and execution is his key to surviving in today’s climate, and in the years to come.