SALT LAKE CITY–Business is still brisk, but many mortgage brokers are realizing they must do more to seek out new business now that interest rates are rising and mortgage refinancing has dropped off.

That was the generally upbeat feeling that prevailed here Monday at the 2004 annual convention of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. That feeling was evident in the sessions offered from Monday’s instruction on how to help people use individual retirement accounts to invest in real estate to Tuesday’s session on how to make sure brokerage employees answer the telephone in such a way that attracts consumers.

As Kathy Snyder, VP of branch production for Leader Mortgage Co., put it: “Customer service is coming back.”

A mortgage sale has been viewed as simply “a paper, a transaction, a commission check,” said Nick Athan, sales manager at Leader Mortgage in a Lenexa, Kan. In today’s rising rate environment, however, the sale needs to be a personal relationship borrowers can’t get elsewhere.

“Those who will do that will get through this crisis,” Athan said.

He said Leader is focusing on employees meeting real estate agents and prospects like hairdressers and bus drivers face to face in their daily lives. He said you never know when someone will need a mortgage.

“It’s basic sales 101,” Snyder said.

Athan and Snyder were among the 800 attendees expected at the “Racing to new heights” convention, which commemorates NAMB’s 30th anniversary and ends Tuesday evening with a gala dinner. The convention also has drawn several hundred companies showing off their wares at the exhibitor expo.

The biggest and most elaborate booths were largely dominated by the top mortgage lenders, including Washington Mutual and Bank of America.

Various modes of transportation were the hot prizes–from cars to ATVs to the Segway scooter. In between registering for prizes, attendees learned about new products from large and small lenders and technologies such as Sysdome’s Broker Score program, which is designed to reduce mortgage fraud, and a la mode’s WinTOTAL valuation tools.

Brokers praised both the expo and sessions, but many said the most important takeaway from the convention would be a renewed motivation and excitement about what lies ahead.

“It sort of gears you up for next season,” said William Souto, senior loan officer with Weatherstone Mortgage Corp. in Plainview, N.Y.

Souto said he found most other people at the convention were just as excited and optimistic as he is.

“They’re happy because they’re making money and want to continue making money,” Souto said.

Many, like Souto, also came away with new contacts in the industry even if those new contacts weren’t at the convention.

Souto’s said his company learned about a potential lender with which it would like to do business. The lender wasn’t at the conference, but Souto and another Weatherstone employee learned about the lender from talking with other brokers.

Pava Leyrer, president of Heritage National Mortgage Corp. in Grandville, Mich., came away with something: She noticed a large number of young faces in the crowd. She’s happy that more young people are entering the mortgage business, but she hopes they will view it as a serious career path, not simply as a quick way to make money. She fears many of the newcomers aren’t being well trained, but hoped the conference sessions would help clear up any poor advice they’ve received.

For Leyrer, the sessions are a chance to stay current on ideas and trends.

“If I walk away with one idea that I wasn’t doing or forgot to do, then re-implement it, it was worth it,” Leyrer said.

That applies not only to her business, but also to the educational outreach she does in her community on such topics as credit and finances, she said.

New NAMB president Bob Armbruster spoke at the morning’s general session. His “wish list” for the coming year included education of students about the role of credit in their lives, a level playing field for mortgage brokers, uniform federal lending standards and a national housing task force.

He also praised March 22, 2004, the day the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development withdrew controversial proposed changes to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

Armbruster said the pressure is off–for now. But, he said, a new rule will likely be proposed at some point.

New rule or not, rising rates or falling rates, those in attendance remained optimistic about the mortgage brokerage business overall.

“The sky never falls on our industry,” Athan said.


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