Knowing the ins and outs of the mortgage industry is not enough to achieve success in this particular field. More than that, you must also be a master of efficient communication. Nick Utesch, Mortgage Loan Specialist and President of Progressive Financial Services Corporation, joins Jen Du Plessis to share how this skill made him a $100 million producer. He explains how simple follow-up messages, being transparent with every deal, and a proper CRM helped him create great client connections. Nick also delves into the importance of choosing a single niche and working ahead of time to avoid a nonstop grind that could overwhelm yourself with deals you cannot close.
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Secrets From A $100 Million Producer With Nick Utesch
I am so excited to have our next guest, Nick Utesch, who happens to be a student of mine. He’s in one of my coaching programs, and he is exceptional. We’re going to have a great conversation with Nick. Welcome to the show, Nick.
Thanks, Jen. It’s great to be here.
I’m happy. We’re catching you right before you’re heading on this beautiful one-week vacation across the United States. We’re excited because you’re going on vacation. You’re going back home from COVID back up to New York. I want to say thank you so much for spending time with us. We’re going to get started and start from the very beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve been in the mortgage industry for quite a while now. I started back in 1992 when I was fourteen years old. I was an enterprising teenager and was looking for a way to buy a stereo that was about $1,200 back then. For a fourteen-year-old, it is a lot of money. I took a lot of various farm jobs and things like that in rural Iowa, where I grew up. By the end of the summer, I had only earned $300. I was depressed and down and out a little bit about not hitting my goal because that stereo was a part of my life. I had to have it. I saw a late-night TV infomercial about the mortgage business.Always looking at things as an opportunity on each mortgage file is always a good way to get your feet wet. Click To Tweet
It was not originations but helping people sell seller-financed real estate notes on the secondary market which is a little bit of a different situation. In this infomercial, the guy who talked in the course claimed, “Anybody of any age can make money in the mortgage business.” I thought, “This is my ticket. I’m getting my stereo.” I sent them $200 for 20 tapes and 2 manuals about the industry. They arrived on the first day of my freshman year of high school. I remembered racing home from school and dove right into it. A lot of people thought I was crazy, but it gave me a good base. I had a few mentors around where I grew up in the Midwest and ended up with my first deal when I was fifteen years old.
In that point in time, my priorities have shifted a little bit. I was all of a sudden, instead of the stereo, I wanted the fax machine, copier and computer so I don’t have to go to the library and use all that stuff. It turned into a situation where by the time I was sixteen years old, I was closing 2 or 3 deals a month. I ended up making a transition. I was speaking at a national convention and telling my story back when I just turned eighteen and I’ve met somebody that was on the origination side. She’s like, “Why don’t you try originating?” At that point, I was of legal age to sign 1003. I get out there and do it. It’s the best thing ever. In many years of doing it, I built a solid business in the marketplace I’m in and enjoyed the adventure.
Let’s talk about that solid place that you’re at. You’re very humble about it. You’ve built this little business. Everyone who’s reading this is in the mortgage of real estate business. Tell us about your production over the last couple of years and what it’s looked like?
2020 like everybody, was an insane year for me. I am a purchase money guy. I never focused on refi and have always been dedicated to getting purchases done. I ended up closing 464 deals in 2020 for about $111 million. Our average loan size is about $225,000 or so. I did the tricky thing. I’ve got a real simple model. I’m a mortgage broker. I own a company. I worked from home. I don’t have a real office. In 2020, I had no assistant and one contract processor. It’s part of the reason I reached out to Jen was to help me get control of my life and put systems in place, so I was not working 24 hours a day because I was clear in conditions. I was doing the disclosures, everything and trying to bang out 464 deals in one year.
2020 was unusual. I’m doing 464 deals like everybody else. We were busy. I’ve always been consistently busy. In 2019, I did around 315 to 320 deals and the production that year was a little lower. It was less than $70 million. We made some pretty big jumps in the dollar volume in 2020 too. Where my businesses come from? Most of it is purchase-related. The great majority of the products, 50% are previous clients and the other 50% are my realtor partners that I deal with. I’ve got some amazing people that I absolutely love and cherish in my market that have been with me for a long time. We built a good system together.
For those of you reading, let’s think about this, 464 loans in the year of COVID without doing refinances. There were a few in there and I know that there were but you didn’t even try to do refinances, whereas most people had their biggest years ever with refinances. You and I have talked about the fact that there’s a bunch of low-hanging fruit that you need to go after, which I know you’re doing now. When you think back however many years ago when you got to what you felt was the top of your game because the system was flowing and you had all this great flow in your practice, what were some of the things that took you there to have that beautiful business that you now have?
A lot of the keys for the success of having this business is being very responsive on the follow-up as far as keeping my partners in the loop. They know what’s going on. Surefire by Top of Mind has a good CRM program that does the loan status milestones. A big part of mine is having the milestones go out. You helped to cut down the phone calls a lot too. People know, “The appraisals ordered. The underwriter sent the initial approval. This is what to expect.” That helps to free up time in your day to do that. I work from home, so I am 100% virtual.
I very rarely see a client. Less than 1 out of 300 clients do I see. Strategically, when you can work on your efficiencies from home, sit down and focus on what you’re doing and you’re not having people come in and out, you free up a lot of time in your day. I know people have different opinions on this. Some people say you need to be in front of the client and build a relationship with them but I can do that over the phone. When you’re doing that, you’re going to free up time and not maybe spending two hours with somebody going through your initial needs.If you fill your pipeline with problem files, it will distract you from doing what you do best. Click To Tweet
You’re doing it over the phone in a matter of minutes. That allows you to be free to accommodate more things throughout the day. It’s simple efficiency items, keeping on top of that and then gauging where you’re at. I always try to work things in advance. The realtors I work with know we close on time every single time and don’t ever have a late closing. You’ve got to have those milestones in your own system where you’re like, “This file is closing 8 or 9 days from now. I want to get this done. I’m clear to close docs out seven days out.” That way, you eliminate the stress in your life too, about the last-minute stuff. That’s been a big key for me.
You were virtual before COVID but everybody I talked to says, “I need to get out there, do presentations, network and do all those things.” There had to have been a point in time in your career where you had to do all that to create the foundation that you now have and built off of with a customer experience. What advice do you have for someone who’s starting out who doesn’t have people calling them that they already served before or a loan officer who has been in the business for 10 or 15 years and they have never called their past clients? What suggestions do you have for them on how they could create this type of business with this efficiency of working at home and knowing who to talk to all day long?
You got to look at every deal you do as an opportunity. When you do a purchase, for example, maybe you have a realtor you’ve never worked with. You’ve got a buyer that you’re dealing with. If you focus on making sure you deliver excellent service, you communicate well to that agent, that’s giving you an opportunity to market yourself because actions speak louder than words. You’re staying in touch with them and communicating well. I’ve picked up a lot of realtors that have started doing business with us simply because they’re like, “You are much more responsive than the loan officer I work with. Let’s talk about engaging and doing some business together.” Same thing with the listing agents. Obviously, you can’t share a lot of data with the listing agent but you can let them know, “Appraisals in. Value net sales price.” I’m talking about the numbers.
Communicate basic like things are moving along nicely. It gives you another opportunity to be in front of somebody that maybe you didn’t have a relationship with. Over time that you keep doing that, you’re going to pick up some people that maybe want to talk to you. For me, what I would do is usually after I’ve had that good engagement, maybe we go out and have a little lunch, coffee and talk a little bit about what we can do to complement each other like, “The transaction went well. Is there something in particular that I can help you fill that’s missing in your business?” It gives you the opportunity to get out there and show them what you can do. Looking at things as an opportunity on each file is always a good way to get your feet wet too.
What are some of the things that you do with your realtor partners? Where’s the value that you’re giving them? You’ve shown them value through the experience that they had with a transaction. We’ll call it a transaction when you’re helping a family. Now you’ve already demonstrated what you can do. For most loan officers, “That’s what we can do. We can close on time. We have great rates to be a smooth process,” then they have to show that. You’ve already shown that. What value would you give to them? What are some of the other things that you work with real estate agents to continue to have that business, so they’re just not having an experience but feeling like you’re a contributor to the growth of their business?
Going back to the Surefire by Top of Mind situation CRM. We did a co-branded post-close follow-up for our clients that I enroll other realtors there also. That’s written campaign cards and address stampers and all kinds of things for the next five years with our clients. That’s nice because it’s mutually branded with myself and the realtor partner. That’s something that’s turnkey. They don’t have to deal with what goes out. That’s one thing we’ve done. We’ve done the list reports, which some people may be familiar with. It’s a nice flyer program for their listings. A lot of my agents like it. I’ve been providing that as a service to them too. The big thing is you establish yourself as the expert.
For me, a lot of my partner, even if it’s a deal I’m not working on, we’ve got that level of trust. They’ll call me and say, “This is the challenge I’m running into these other lenders doing this. We try to get them to you. Can you at least tell me, is this legit, what the problems are or am I going to have a problem with this?” When you step up and make sure you’re always there for them, that’s something that goes a long way. Also, following up. There are so many people in this business that will get leads and not follow up. That’s not a value. You’ve got to communicate and call that lead as soon as you can if you can. Once you talk to the client, you let your partner know, “Everything looks good. Don’t spin your wheels. Don’t get out there and show anything until we get some things fixed up.” You’ve got to be very transparent. Deliver what you say.
Quite frankly, loan officers have been in business for a long time. They start off with, “Bring me your huddled masses, everybody. Your poor credit. Bring me everyone.” Over the years, they never changed that tune. Here they are twenty years later and are still only closing 2, 3 or maybe 4 loans a month because they’re still being perceived as being that person who’s the dumping ground type of loan officer. Tell us a little bit about your conversion ratio and the type of leads that come in versus the type that close.If you brand yourself as an expert, it will be a bit easier to get your foot in the door with some people. Click To Tweet
My opinion on this too is that out of desperation, a lot of loan officers bring on loans that like taking a turkey out of the oven before it’s ready, except for pushing it in. We’re doing the opposite. We’re trying to take on these loans that aren’t ready to be processed. Out of pure desperation and, “The realtor won’t send me any more business. If I tell them no, they’ll send it to somebody else.” We tend to do that. That’s where all of the angst happens with everyone in processing and why they can’t focus on having good, clean, long go-throughs. Can I get your take on some of that and what your conversion ratio might be as it leads to app or credit polls?
You have a very good point there. Especially when you’re starting out, it’s going to be human nature. You want to take on everything you can because you don’t have a lot to work on. One of the biggest skills that take time to acquire in this business is you’ve got to be able to let people know quickly, “This is not a viable transaction.” They’ve got some challenges. You don’t want to stretch just to get a deal in your pipeline, then have two months of agony and put the borrower, realtor, seller, everybody through all kinds of challenges. Maybe only close 60% or 70% of the deals you take on. My closing ratio is near 100%.
When I say that, the only time stuff falls out. It’s going to be something like title work, the appraisal has a problem or something that’s usually outside of our control. You want to make sure you deliver. If you take on too many deals that are sketchy or maybe borderline that maybe need some more time to get some kinks worked out, you let the real estate agents and clients down then you’re going to get a reputation for that. Your reputation as an industry is so paramount. People talk. No matter how big or small your city is that stuff can spread. That’s why you want to be very diligent and not be afraid to tell a client, “I can’t help you.”
Let the realtor know, “I gave the clients some advice. I can’t help them at this time. I encourage them to do these things. Someday maybe they’ll reach back out to me, and I’ll let you know.” You record the name of the realtor that was on it and try to send them back to that particular agent. For me, that’s been critical. We get some people like anybody else. There are people you can’t help. You get some credit-challenged to people. You’re respectful to them and gave them some pointers on what to focus on. As you show them that you’re here to work with people that can truly do something, most of the lead quality has been pretty good. That’s what I’m fortunate in that regard too.
There’s a fine line there in helping someone who has some credit challenges and you know you can fix it during the process and between, “Let’s give it a shot,” because what other people hear is, “I can do it,” not, “Let’s give it a shot or a try.” More people need to consider saying no to getting into a contract but rather fixing those issues. Sometimes they only take three weeks but let’s fix them first then let’s bring you under contract. They just have to have that confidence that their real estate agent isn’t going to go someplace else if they do then let it someone else’s problem and someone else losing sleep for the next month.
If you fill your pipeline with problem files then that’s going to distract you from being able to do what you do best. You’re going to be managing fires all day long. That’s not what you want to be.
When you think about your strengths, what do you think the strengths are that you have that come so easy to you that you find when you’re working and hear with other people and you’re like, “I don’t understand why that’s hard. I don’t get it. It’s so easy to me.” What are some of the gifts that you bring to this business?
One of the most important strengths for anybody in this business is you need to know your guidelines, what can these people do, what’s acceptable and what’s not. That’s something that you learn over time. My biggest favorite program is the VA Loan Program. I’m in Oklahoma City and all my businesses is in the state of Oklahoma. I’ve been the number one originator of VA loans in the state of Oklahoma for the Scotsman Guide for the last few years. I love VA. I was passionate about that program and did everything I could do to learn all about it. When you become an expert in that field, people will seek you out too. Word travels quickly amongst real estate agents. If you brand yourself as, “This is my strength,” it’s a great way to have people remember you. Some people don’t like VA, for example. If I had my choice, I would do VA all day long and in every deaI did because I like it so much. That’s something that helped to differentiate me and become a large portion of my business. It’s over 50% of what I do.If you believe in yourself and put forth the effort, you can overcome the odds and do anything you want. Click To Tweet
What is your percentage and how do you market yourself as a VA person or as someone who’s an expert in VA? I talk about it all the time. We’ve heard this, “Riches in niches and niche to go rich,” but I feel like it has nothing to do with the money piece of this as much as it does with not being a secret loan officer or a commodity. When you can demonstrate that you have a specialized area that you work on, it’s no different than a doctor. You can be an MD or a neurologist. There’s a difference in how that works psychologically for everyone. You’re the expert in it. How did you market yourself as a VA loan officer? I want everyone to know this too because if you’re out there marketing yourself as a VA loan officer, the fear that people have is that they’re going to miss out all these other opportunities but obviously, that’s not the case. Take it away.
I built a website around that niche, which is VALoansOk.com. I’m not a techie at all. I am not great with web design but I use the basic template from one of the mortgage websites that they sell out there. If you make your website highly localized and targeted like I put as many search terms in there as I could in my content, veteran loans, active-duty service members in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I ended up getting some decent Google rankings organically without paying for it from that specialized website. In the earlier days, I started getting leads from that.
That was nice to generate people that wanted the type of business I wanted to do. Like we talked about earlier, when you’re talking with the realtors on the transaction like the new ones you might meet, these clients bring to the table. At the end, usually they’re like, “This was a great process. Everything went good.” I’d say, “If you don’t remember me for anything, remember the next time you hear a veteran or an active-duty service member, I’m the guy you call because we want to take care of those clients for you.” Believe it or not, something that simple people are remembering. They’re like, “That guy that does meeting. We’ll call them up and get the client to him.” The funny thing is then they’ll share that with some of their other real estate agent friends. You’re all of a sudden getting calls from people. They’re like, “You’re the guy that does VA.” If there’s an opportunity you have to share that, that’s a good thing for sure.
Most of the time, in that particular situation, the agent has come to you maybe for a conventional loan. You’re saying, “I specialize in VA,” or maybe they’re coming to VA and then you say, “I do other loans, so let’s talk.” This is where people think that they’re pigeonholed so badly into that spot that they don’t understand that it is the thing that is taking them out of the commodity.
You do want to show a niche. That’s how I help people help remember you but you always remind them, like, “This is how we operate too on all levels.” Not just, “We do FHA loans and conventional loans the same way. We’re neurotic about service and going to take care of your clients regardless of it.”
What do you think is, was or has been to this point your greatest career mistake?
In the early days when I was younger, 19 or 20 years old, I had aspirations of building a big company. I had branches in multiple cities. I dealt with a lot of stuff as a 19-and 20-year-old as far as employees doing crazy things. I decided at that point that I wanted to go to a simple model. I went to a model where it’s mainly me originating and I enjoy it. I’m very passionate about originations. I liked the day-to-day of it. In doing this for many years, the level of work I put in over all these years has been a little high. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made, which I’m working on fixing right now is not delegating enough good stuff in my day-to-day. That’s what I’m working with Jen on. She’s been doing a great job to coach me along to make sure that I’m taking things off my plate that we can do properly and allow myself to have some free time. Now I’m at the point where it’s like time to step back and smell the flowers a little bit. My biggest challenge was putting too much on my plate and working nonstop.
As we finish up our time together, what is some advice you’d you would give to someone who is a mid-level producing loan officer, been in the business for 10 or 15 years and can’t seem to crack that top code, that next code? They’re closing 4, 5 or sometimes 7 loans a month.
In a case like that for a mid-level loan officer, one thing you want to check, make sure you’ve got some type of CRM in place. You’ve got something to stay in front of your clients, whether it’s you making the phone calls to keep in touch with people or you have an automated system that does it. I’ve been using Top of Mind and Surefire now for several years. You’re going to spend money, invest in yourself and do that. I noticed a big change in my repeat customers and referrals from clients from doing things like that where I’m staying in front of them frequently for their birthdays and holidays.
Whether you do that or you get out there and make some passive phone calls on your own to check in, “How are you doing? I’m seeing how things are. Any major changes?” Seeing what you can do to have an opportunity to connect with them to potentially lead onto, “My neighbor’s doing something right now. Maybe we need to have you talk to each other.” I would look at that. Analyze what’s you’re doing right now. Look at those realtors that are involved and their contracts. If you don’t have a relationship with them, try your hardest to make sure it’s a smooth process so that when you have an end to potentially try to court them a little bit and get some people over to you on that front.
Also, consider the niching like we talked about. Find a program that you’re passionate about. Maybe you want to try the 203(k)s. I would never in a million years want to do 203(k)s but there are people that may be. There are so few people that are doing those. If you brand yourself as an expert then that’s going to be a little bit easier for you to get your foot in the door with some people. As long as you make sure you personally know those guidelines and how they’re structured so you don’t have a bunch of problem files.
The key here is no problem files are allowed because then every loan goes through smoothly and you look like the hero. That’s the bottom line and you’ll get referrals. Do you have a quote that you live by?
My mantra is, “You can do anything you want.” I started this company with $300 to my name. I built it up into a very successful business and have done it for many years now. I had all the cards stacked against me like a 2.1 or 2.3-grade point average in high school. I didn’t go to college and do any of that. I wasn’t concerned with the school thing at that point. If you believe in yourself and you put forth the effort, you can overcome the odds. You can do anything you put your mind to. You’re a testament to that too Jen.
Thank you for spending time with us and giving us all of your wisdom on how you built this beautiful, successful business and being vulnerable to what you’re trying to work on as you continue to grow, do personal and professional development in your life. What’s important for people to know is that there are both sides to the coin. Success is wonderful but there’s work at it. Failure is work at that too. We appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us.
I appreciate you, Jen and all you’re doing for me too.
It’s my pleasure. We want to say thank you so much for joining us and taking time out of your day. If this is the first time, you’ve been reading, welcome to our community. We hope you enjoyed this. Stick with us, hit the subscribe button, write us a review, give us a five-star rating. If you’ve been with us forever, thank you so much for your loyalty and for your contribution too. Continuing this show on for several years. I appreciate it. I hope you have a great day and put something into action because, as I always say, stop talking, take action, and you’ll get the results. We’ll talk to you soon.
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About Nick Utesch
Nick Utesch, Mortgage Loan Specialist and President of Progressive Financial Services Corporation has been in the mortgage industry for over 20 years. Starting from humble beginnings with $200 to his name at the very young age of 14, Nick purchased a home study course on the mortgage business in 1992. After developing a grasp on the basic fundamentals of the mortgage industry, Nick found himself developing a passion for the business and formed several relationships with Mentors who are seasoned veterans in the mortgage industry.
Over the course of the next year, Nick learned the ropes and had several important lessons in the “school of hard knocks”. In 1993, Nick closed his first residential mortgage loan transaction at the age of 15! Eager to help many others, he put the money earned from his first closing back into developing his fledgling business. Nick began forging many new relationships and was on his way to success.
By the time he was 16 years old, Nick had written a 145-page book on marketing for mortgage professionals, was chosen as a key speaker at many national conventions (sharing his story in front of 200 to 500 people), was a featured industry columnist, and was working feverishly on filling many voids that other mortgage companies were missing. In 1996, when Nick finished high school, he was able to devote his full-time efforts to expanding his company and formed the present-day corporate entity, Progressive Financial Services Corp.
Since then, Nick has helped over 3,000 homebuyers in Oklahoma purchase a home with little to no money down and terms that are custom-tailored to fit their individual needs. His business has been built on referrals from his many satisfied clients, as he applies the same basic principles to every person he works with, focusing on providing amazing service with no surprises and offering his best talent of knowing how to find the best financing solution for each individual situation.
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