If you’re a consumer or a small business owner who’s trying to secure a loan, then you’re particularly familiar with the important role a loan officer plays in the process. What exactly does a loan officer do? On today’s podcast, Jen Du Plessis brings on Holly Cross with Tidewater Home Funding. Holly is a loan officer. Today, she talks about how she got started in the business and what it looked like when she first started. She also shares her practices as a loan officer to be successful at what she does.
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Getting To Know Your Loan Officer With Holly Cross
I’m excited because I have a guest with me that I admire for her style. She’s an absolute go-getter and she happens to be one of my clients, which is exciting too. I love highlighting my clients to see what kind of success they’re having. Her name is Holly Cross. She is with Tidewater Home Funding down in Chesapeake, Virginia. We’re both from Virginia. I’m from the northern part. She’s from the southern, but we’re still all southerns. Holly, welcome to the show. I’m glad to have you. It’s a long time coming.
Thank you, Jen. I’m glad to be here.
Let’s talk about your practice as a loan officer. I want to talk about how long you’ve been in the business, how you got in the business, what it looked like when you first started? Tell us a little bit about that and then we’ll bring things forward and talk about what you’re doing now to be successful.
I got into business in 2006. I started as an LOA and then worked into a processor. That was back around 2008 when things were a little crazy.
Did you ever get laid off?
No. I was with the same company the whole time, which was great. We were a broker. I processed and then I became licensed in 2010. I started originating 1 or 2 loans a quarter while processing. In 2014, I went out on my own as a full-time loan officer, which felt like a big risk to take.
At that time, your kids were younger. The kids were young and you were trying to balance everything.
I wanted to wait after I’d had the last one. I know if you’re going out, in the beginning, it can be a lot of work and networking.
What have you done for the last few years? I know that your husband’s family are builders, developers and that helped your business go. How did you start growing your business to bring it to a capacity where you had a processor who was assisting you somewhat and had someone under you, a junior loan officer under you? What were some of the things that you did as a new loan officer to bring business in?
In the first year, I did a lot of networking. I did get out there and get to know everyone in the business in my area. You learn who you want to work with and if you don’t want to work with. One of the biggest lessons for me was you’re hungry in the beginning that you work with everybody.
What were some of the tipping points that made you realize that there are people you don’t want to work with? Did you have an influx of volume, all of a sudden, that perpetuated that, or was it that you weren’t getting the traction that you needed that made you realize they weren’t the right people?As a new loan officer, you don't want to walk away from anything that could possibly bring business. Click To Tweet
I would say that you put a lot of work in and try to partner with people and then you realize that maybe you’re not a great match after all, but you try to see the good in everything and you’re excited. It’s hard to not break up with people, but realize, “Maybe this isn’t a good fit.” It’s like you say, Jen, you complicate and not compliment your business. As a new loan officer, you don’t want to walk away from anything that could possibly bring business.
If you are a new loan officer coming in, would you do the same thing that you did before, or would you heed that advice that you gave about working with people that can make a difference in your business versus trying to get business from everybody? How would you approach it?
I would do the networking, get out there, meet people, but based on some of the tools that you’ve given me with prescreening and figuring out who’s on the same level as you, with the way that you work, how they work and different things that they’re doing and you’re doing to figure out if you’re a good match.
You don’t spend as much time?
You said that in the beginning.
That’s what you were doing. You’re out there running, hustling, trying to meet everybody, trying to get everybody’s business and be friends with everybody and thinking, “I have to break up with a few people.” How did your business start getting to a point where it’s tenured? Did you make a shift in a company? Did you land a big builder contract that allowed for you to grow? What was the tipping point that helped your business start to grow after you were a new loan officer and as you were progressing into a mid-tier?
There are a few things. One of the best decisions that I’ve made is investing in myself and my business by shifting what I was doing, using some resources, educating myself a little bit more and maybe admitting that I needed some help in certain areas. Tapping into working my database and building better relationships with the clients that I’ve had and the same with some of my realtors. Sometimes we go fast that you forget that.
One of the things that I want to share with the audience is that for the majority of your tenure as a loan officer, you’ve been a builder representative. You’ve done builder business. Not so much two-time close or construction-to-perm transitional, one time close, but more being the preferred lender for some builders. Let’s talk about that. How did you land your first one and was this something you were targeting or did you just fall upon it?
Most of my career, I started working for a builder before I got into mortgage. I’ve been very connected with the builders in our area. That helped. The more you do it and the more you surround yourself in that environment, you become somewhat of an expert and then you build confidence, too. It’s a different animal. A lot of the times when you’re the preferred lender, these people come to the site with an agent already prequalified elsewhere, and then they’re told they have to use you. A lot of the times they’re not thrilled to talk to me. It is a tougher sell in the beginning but once you build good trust with the builders and when you say someone is pre-qualified, they’re not going to build a house to someone’s specifications only to find out that they were never qualified at all.
If someone was interested in getting built a business, which I hear a lot like, “I have realtors, but now, I want financial planners, CPAs, attorneys and builders.” That becomes something where everyone says, “Everybody says we need to have it. Let’s talk about needing to have it.” I don’t believe in that. The audience knows that I don’t believe in that. You have to do what aligns best with you. For you, building aligns best with you because you already had that experience. If someone was saying, “I want to be a builder representative or preferred lender, whether it’s a big site and a big development, or if it’s boutique, designer, builders, custom homes, smaller builders,” what are some of the strategies or the thoughts, as you’re laying out the plan that you would go through to advise someone to reach out and try to find a builder to align with?
I would say along the lines of building up the trust and the rapport that you know what you’re doing, and if you say someone’s qualified, that’s huge because again, they’re building something to their specifications. I think for my builders, that’s very important. Maybe educating and working hard with the realtors because it’s a different process with building because you’re working with these people for 6 to 8 months, depending on how long it takes to build a house. A lot can change in that timeframe. A lot of peace of mind and educating the agents on how the process works from a mortgage side.
I’m going to debrief what you said a little bit, you need to be organized, surrounding yourself with them, have strong communication skills, be good at underwriting guidelines so that you don’t have any issues. It’s funny that you said that you feel the sell is tougher on that side. A lot of loan officers think the sale is super easy because you’re giving credits and I have to come up with a way that I can combat those credits. I find that very interesting. It’s the glasses from which we all look.
Another trait or characteristic of someone who wants to work with a builder and it goes along the lines with the organization and the communication, but your follow-up skills would have to be impeccable. You don’t have the luxury of doing a preapproval, forgetting about the client calling you and saying, “We found a house,” and you’re going, “Thank goodness they call me because I forgot all about them.” You don’t have that luxury there. It has to work because everything’s in one basket.
Constantly keeping up with what they’re doing in their life. You wouldn’t believe the things that people in our business go out and buy something. They want to find new furniture for their house or that kind of communication too from the beginning and preparing them for the market. A lot of times, they can’t lock when they’re shopping. There are a lot of moving parts.
Do you think that your experience as a loan officer assistant and processor helped you in this particular arena or generally in your practice?
One hundred percent, yes.
That’s a deficit for people who come in and are loan officers and don’t have that history. What advice would you give them to learn that? I know you have someone on your team then doesn’t have that experience? What have you guided her to do?
I would recommend reading the guidelines. Every time you have a deal, look the guidelines up. I know it’s time-consuming and you’d be surprised what you find. When you’re looking for something else in the guidelines that you’re like, “Exactly.” You need to submerge yourself in that. If you can sit with your processor and spending some time with processing and understanding where they’re coming from. Putting your file together correctly in the beginning makes it such a better experience not just the client, but everyone on your team.
Having them snoop into other files to see how they’re structured by other loan officers and get a feel for how loans are structured because everyone has a little different take on it. If you look at an application, it’s like the front cover of a book as you’re going through it, the way that it’s structured inside. Is it a thick book, a thin book? Are there are X number of pages and how many words are on each page? That’s been something that I’ve coached people on who were on my team when I was originating is to go snoop in files and look at the cover and say, “How would you put this loan together?” See how that compares to how it’s done? It’s very interesting to see different angles that people take on it. It proves that it’s not a science. It’s an art. A year ago or so, you started coaching with me. Where were you at in your practice at that time?
You got your builders, guidelines, LOA and a processor. You’ve got some realtor relationships, you might be saying goodbye to some of those or holding them on tight. Now, you’re at this critical point where whatever your volume is and you’re not growing, there’s something missing. I don’t want to talk about the coaching. What brought you into coaching? Why did you think that now is the time to make a change if you were doing well all along?
I got to a point where I felt like I was at a little bit of a crossroads. I love what I do but I didn’t feel like I was in control of it. I wanted to have better systems and things in place. I knew that if I continued to go the way that I was going, I didn’t feel like I would be able to sustain any of this. I came to a point where it was either I need to figure out something different or maybe reconsider some other career.
We all get to those crossroads. I had that in my business. You know those stories where it’s like, “I can’t do this anymore. Something has to give.” Something has to give a road sign or something that happens in there. You got into the coaching, how has your business changed in 2019 and what does the future look like for you?Continuing to learn and educate yourself within a business is huge. Click To Tweet
First of all, the coaching and even the masterminding and getting to talk to other loan officers and other areas, it makes you feel there’s some comradery there where you’re feeling alone.
You are not on an island. You’re not all by yourself.
That’s great and it gave me some clarity and some tools to use to get to where I need to be. I feel like barely figuring all that out. It’s excited me because I feel like I can keep going, grow and use some of those things to put some systems in place.
The future looks like what? What are you planning to do for now until the end of 2020, what does that future look like for you is how you want to grow your business and see things change or bring into your business?
I’m on board to hire a new assistant that will help me from lead to contract. I have my processor that will do from contract to close. I’m hoping that over the next year, I can fine-tune some of the systems that I’ve started to put in place, increase my volume and feel like I’m doing a good job at all of that, that I’m not overwhelmed and always feeling like I’m missing something.
That’s naturally the next step. It’s coming up to another glass ceiling. That’s why I call it Cracking the Top Producer Code. There’s always another glass ceiling. We were talking about this too and I said, “Your next problem is going to be management,” because your next ceiling you imagine, “You have all these people doing all these things.” “I know I have to be a good manager so that you can delegate so that you can go out and do what you absolutely love to do.” I know your volume has almost doubled. What are you doing in COVID? How did your business change since COVID? I know the builder business hasn’t changed.
In some ways, I’ve been able to build more personal relationships with some of my realtors. I haven’t done many Zoom calls with them, but we’ve been checking in quite frequently. That comradery has been good. It’s the same with my clients. Even though I haven’t been out networking and been able to see people face-to-face, it’s been cool how we’ve all been able to stay in touch. I’ve done a lot of videos, which I put some of those systems in place prior to COVID. That has been paid off.
That’s true because we worked on that for a while. I remember they got to have it there.
It’s been good considering we’ve all been stuck.
As a government says, “We’re now going to phase three and we’re going here.” I’m going, “No, because I have all this background work that I’ve been doing.” I know as a team, we’ve all been working on some of those hard skills to get things in place so that the next time that we’re out and we’re out running around that we don’t have, “I’m going to get to it. I’m thinking about it. I’m working on it,” but we’re taking action for it. How has that impacted you? How do you think that’s going to play out for your practice once if wherever were released?
I wonder too how much it’s going to change our industry in lots of different ways. Enjoying putting all these systems together and wrapping my brain around them while having all this downtime has been great. I don’t know, Jen. It’s unknown.
The most important thing is putting some things into play. They’re planting some seeds so that you can be prepared. Look what everybody’s doing with their houses, everyone’s doing renovations because this maintenance has gone awry or it’s things that people didn’t work on. They’re going, “Now that we’ve had time to slow down a little bit, we’ll paint and we’ll do the renovations.” It’s the same thing with business now that we’ve had time. It’s not that you’re necessarily slow because your business is growing. It’s growing with purchases, not refi’s, which is great. Because it’s growing, there’s still that downtime that we have that we’re not commuting, traveling, going to networking events and going to closings and stuff so we do have that time.
That idle time is important to utilize it to your benefit rather than to waste it away. I know that you’ve been doing that a lot and I know that you’ve also been balancing with the kids and things. Now that your volume has doubled and COVID is throwing a challenge in here, you’re hiring someone to take some of the relief off you accept it all of that, but how are you handling the volume while you’re in COVID? A lot of people that are reading are saying, “What do I do? What are the ways that I can get some balance in my life?”
That has been very challenging. I’ve called you a couple of times because when you’re a mom, you’re home and your kids aren’t home and you’re trying to work and you’re juggling all of that, it’s a very hard thing to balance because there are some days where I’ve had a hard time not working. You keep working and don’t know when to stop. There are other days when there are many distractions that you never get to your desk. I need to be better about proactively putting some of that downtime into my day.
We talked about that too, it’s like calling it a day. “We’re going to call it a day. I’m going to go spend time with my family.” I love that you’re sharing that. You’re being vulnerable to the fact that you can be a top producer and still have some balance, but it is a learned habit that you have to put attention on so that you can move forward with it. What keeps you motivated?
I want to do well at what I’ve put all this time into. I want to master it and have that work-life balance where I’m doing a great job for my clients. It’s the dream of homeownership that I’m working with. I have a family and a life. It’s doing well at all of it. That feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
You have a steadiness to you, but you’re very driven at the same time. Are you reading a book right now that is motivating you or listening to a book?
I listened to the book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which was good for me because sometimes you need to learn when not to let things bother you too much.
A lot of people in our industry, it’s a matter of over serving our clients and under serving ourselves and our families. Part of that is the subtle art of not caring. I have to say no to clients sometimes in order to say yes to myself and that’s part of it as a mindset switch, no doubt about it. That’s a good book, especially if you’re a people pleaser. Last question, any parting thoughts for anyone? What advice do you have for anybody who’s reading, who is challenged or struggled or anything that has to do with the context of what we’re talking about? They’re trying to break through ceilings and grow their business. What advice do you have if you could put your finger on one thing that says, “This is what you might want to consider doing?”
Don’t give up, don’t be discouraged, don’t compare yourself to other top producers because they think it takes all different types of personalities and I’m not a big networker. Sometimes I felt discourage that, “Can I make it in this business if I don’t love being around big groups of people?” It takes all different types. You can consider investing in yourself because continuing to learn and educate yourself within this business is huge.
I invest in me all the time. There could be an overload of education. There’s no doubt about it. Holly, I want to say thank you for joining us and we appreciate you taking the time. It’s fun to see your journey, what’s happening with you, how different your business is since I first met you and that you’re still working on it. This is a progressional thing. I’m working on stuff. I love that you’ve engaged with me and trusted me to help and be your tour guide as you go through this journey. I appreciate that you took the time to share with other people so that they can be inspired to help their business grow as well.
Thank you, Jen.
Everybody, we will catch you next time. Don’t forget, if you haven’t subscribed, please go subscribe and give us a rating and a great review. We’d love those reviews coming in. Please be sure to share with your friends. This is for real estate and mortgage professionals and everyone around them. All of our vendors, mortgage companies, title companies and insurance agents. Share away and have a great day. Talk to you soon.
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About Holly Cross
Holly Cross, a mortgage loan officer in the corporate office, located in the Greenbrier area of Chesapeake, has over 9 years of mortgage experience. Cross has over 12 years of customer service and sales experience, and entered the mortgage industry in 2006. Holly began her mortgage banking career as an office manager and quickly assumed a processing position. Holly’s innate attention to detail and ability to connect with customers, allows her to successfully interact with builder and realtor referrals. While maintaining her processing position, Cross began her quest for the ultimate goal, becoming a licensed mortgage loan officer in 2011.