Freddie Mac Account Manager Ben Niles was among the speakers at this year’s New England Mortgage Banking Conference. The event was held last week at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Barring two possible worst-case scenarios, the country’s economy will likely stay steady during the coming months and years, Connecticut economist Nicholas Perna told a roomful of mortgage brokers at this year’s New England Mortgage Banking Conference. The conference was held last week at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.

Several other speakers told mortgage bankers what qualities they should look for in new staff as the refinancing boom fizzles and companies try to originate more loans.

Mortgage bankers should be ready for several possible economic circumstances, Perna said during the closing session of the conference last Friday. There are many best-case scenarios in which the economy would continue its recovery, he said, but two factors could have unseen effects on the country.

If oil prices go up again and at a high rate – they have fallen slightly after the summer’s increases – the high prices could result in the country’s gross domestic product falling, which would cause unemployment to grow and the bond market to tighten, Perna said.

That situation would cause housing purchases to fall because of decreased consumer confidence, he said. Perna advised the mortgage bankers to consider that possibility and to at least think about what they would do in that situation.

“You live through it; you just have to grit your teeth for 12, 18 months,” he said.

Another, slightly more unpredictable scenario would take place if the country’s growing national deficit begins to affect the economy, Perna said. If foreign countries that lend money to the United States decide to stop or to decrease the loans in the face of a weak dollar, it could negatively affect the economy, Perna said. He stressed that the deficit has so far not had an effect, but that does not mean it could never happen.

“Have a little game plan,” Perna said.

Aside from those two worst-case scenarios, many other factors – such as next month’s presidential election – will have an effect on the economy, he said. There are many misassumptions about what a Bush or Kerry win would mean to the economy, he said. He cited a study that show that the stock market shows markedly higher returns under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.

“Be careful about knee-jerk reactions based on [politics],” he said.

Perna summed up by talking about housing prices. There is probably not a housing bubble, and the market now is much different from the last time a bubble burst, he said. The New England region is not overbuilt this time, he added, so there will be less product to absorb. That will probably lead to a steady market, but Perna projected very small increases in real estate values.

Finding ‘Players’

A handful of speakers at this year’s convention also provided information to attendees on how to find good loan officers, using them to their full potential, retaining them and helping them build a better referral network by using Realtors.

With the refi boom rumored to be over, lenders are looking for more staff to originate purchase loans. Speakers offered advice and strategies to current loan officers and companies about how to hire the right people for the job.

There are various places a potentially successful loan officer can be found, according to Kathy Herminghaus, account manager at Freddie Mac in Rhode Island. She suggested asking current loan officers if they know anyone qualified to do the job. She also said checking in with customers, as well as Realtors, could produce a possible candidate.

Checking major print publications under mortgage sales and consumer finance is also an option, but the Internet is fast becoming another medium that mortgage companies can use to locate loan officers.

“[The Internet] is one of your most reliable and least expensive options,” Herminghaus said.

For a nominal fee, an employer can search for jobseekers via Web sites like or, Herminghaus said.

Because of the fast-paced nature of the market, Herminghaus said it can be standard practice for lenders to quickly hire a loan officer without extensively checking into their background. Herminghaus suggested conducting a phone interview first to get an idea of the candidate’s potential.

For candidates with lending experience, she said, prospective employers should ask questions regarding the dollar amount of loans originated each month and how much of that business is refinance vs. purchase mortgages.

Questioning whether a candidate will work weekends and evenings is also important, but Herminghaus said people’s schedules aren’t like they used to be.

“I do not see people working evenings like they used to,” she said. “I don’t see mortgage originators at open houses anymore.”

Not being at various realty-related activities can hurt a loan originator, however. Herminghaus said loan officers should establish a visible presence in the marketplace.

“That really does mean [being available 24 hours a day, seven days a week]. There’s no way around it in this market,” Herminghaus said.

By showing up to real estate office activities, for example, loan officers are maintaining a relationship with a possible referral source, Herminghaus said.

“Loan officers should almost cater their business model to that of a Realtor,” she noted.

By offering to help a Realtor during the open house, such as offering to put up signs for the event, a loan officer is building a relationship with an agent who will likely come back to the loan officer in the future. Unlike refinance loans, such relationships are essential for generating purchase mortgage business, Herminghaus said.

In a separate presentation that took place during the Learning Center and Motivational Speaker Series at the NEMBC, Terri Murphy, founder of Terri Murphy Communications, also tackled the issue of bridging the gap between Realtors and loan originators.

“[Realtors] need you,” Murphy told the loan officers in attendance.

One way to get more business is by supporting each other’s efforts, Murphy said. When she was employed as a Realtor, Murphy said she delivered apples to doorsteps with her contact information. While that effort may have gotten her some business, Murphy said teaming up with a lender who sends a letter in support of the real estate agent can help business for both sides.

Building relationships with external sources is important, but if loan officers cannot articulate the advantages of their specific lender and programs, a borrower may go elsewhere.

“What you really need is someone who can convey concisely those options the borrower needs or wants,” Herminghaus said.

While the loan officer is expected to fulfill key responsibilities such as promoting programs and services, a strong sales manager is also necessary for the ultimate success of a loan officer, according to Ben Niles, account manager at Freddie Mac in New Hampshire.

“You [sales managers] really need to be that coach, that mentor … to your loan officers,” Niles said.

Niles said loan officers need to have a good communication style and be able to get over the fear of rejection from consumers or at a real estate office.

“Your people have to be skilled at cold calling and getting past these barricades,” said Niles.

Being persistent is also a key quality of being a loan officer, according to Niles.

According to figures provided by Freddie Mac, 80 percent of all sales are made after the fifth phone call.

“[Loan officers] have to go back [to potential customers] again and again,” Niles said.

Asked if their loan officers are allowed to approve a loan for credit at the point of sale, most attendees of the Freddie Mac workshop said they did not trust their loan officers enough to grant them such authority.

Niles questioned why those loan officers are working if they can’t be trusted. In order to increase production, he noted, lenders can hire more loan officers or make their existing ones better. Niles said he believes in the latter theory. He said employing a “player” instead of a “pretender” will only help the company.

“A player will plan, execute and deliver, and produce the volume,” Niles said. “Your top producers can show the others the way … it will make your job as a sales manager easier.”

According to Niles, the top 30 percent of loan originators account for 70 percent of a company’s loans.

“They are your leaders,” Niles said.

Retaining the leaders is also crucial, according to Herminghaus, who suggested providing motivational tools to loan officers, such as wine or a dinner gift certificate.

“A lot of times you give [a dinner gift certificate] to a loan officer [and] they’ll take a Realtor out,” Herminghaus said, turning the reward into even stronger connections with key contacts.

This year was the first year the Learning Center and Motivational Speaker Series was held in NEMBC’s 17 years. Amy Tierce, vice president and branch manager at Prime Mortgage Financial in Southborough, approached the event’s organizers to propose the new program addition after hearing from various loan originators looking for practical, on-the-job advice for generating more loan volume.

The Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association, with support from various sponsors, hosted the NEMBC. The conference was attended by about 3,200 bankers, making it the second-largest mortgage banking conference in the country.