A Minneapolis mortgage broker’s blog, Behind The Mortgage, broke the story of a 2005 FBI investigation into local mortgage fraud, brought in some $4 million in mortgage originations and helped the broker land a radio show and a new job.

The blog has been a marketing boon to Alex Stenback, who created the site in October 2004 “out of my own frustration,” Stenback said. “There was no good spot to find out what local people were talking about regarding local real estate and mortgages.”

The local newspapers carried such news, as did other sources, “but to find all the content was hard, because you had to go to so many resources. I tried to aggregate the information and pick up things that were interesting and start conversations about them,” Stenback said.

One example of this is the entry Stenback made when a source tipped him off last November that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating local mortgage fraud.

The blogger was able to get a copy of a letter sent to local Realtors by the Minnesota Board of Realtors referencing the investigation. Stenback posted it on his blog. The story was picked up by local television and newspaper media and made quite a splash.

Stenback’s approach to the story is classical for blogs: He posted the letter with a comment that sources reported the FBI was investigating mortgage fraud in the Twin Cities, saying, “Though we’ve yet to corroborate these reports, and no specific companies were named, we thought we’d throw this out here (we check our facts in real-time here in blogland). Anyone heard anything?”

Lockhart Steele, author of New York City blog Curbed.com, has said that in a similar vein, Curbed will sometimes throw out an unconfirmed report and get responses back either confirming or denying the rumor.

“The victims of this thing (mortgage fraud) are the public,” Stenback said. “Why not let them know what’s going on, rather than making it secret?”

In the case of Behind The Mortgage, Stenback appears to be doing well by doing good. He estimates that his blog brought in between $3 million and $4 million in mortgage originations for him in 2005.

“Blogs are a great way to get business directed to you,” the broker said. He bases his estimate of business attracted by the blog on e-mails from people who tell him they heard of him through Behind The Mortgage.

“The advertising on my blog is very low-level,” said Stenback. “I don’t use the blog as a promotion of my business. People appreciate it as a resource, and they reach out to me.

“If you have a blog or a radio show, you don’t want to turn it into a commercial. Answer people’s questions, give the information, and the business will come,” Stenback said.

In Stenback’s case, not only new business but a new job and a radio show grew out of his blog. After learning about the broker through the blog, CTX Mortgage Corp. offered him a job as a senior loan officer/sales manager. Part of his duties involve contributing to a weekly radio show the company sponsors and hosts by providing content.

“Someone pointed me in the direction of Alex’s blog. I was interested in how he was using it as a business development tool,” said Al Velasco, regional area vice president for the central retail region of CTX Mortgage Corp.

“I had always thought there was a need for something like this in the mortgage world, and he was filling that need,” Velasco said.

CTX had already been approached to sponsor a financial real estate show on local Clear Channel station KTLK 100.3 FM.

“Then they (KTLK) asked us if it would be something we would like to give leadership to,” Velasco said. He agreed to co-host the show along with Sue Woodard, CTX’s regional sales trainer, and approached Stenback about providing content.

“We thought it (the blog) was a great warehouse of information we could use in order to provide content for the radio broadcast. It certainly helped that Alex is articulate and understands the market and we could play off that,” Velasco said.

The two-hour show, “The Home and Wealth Show,” debuted Sunday, Jan. 8 and attracted eight callers, Velasco said.

“The station commented to us that they never had a first-time show draw as many callers,” the vice president said. The program featured an appraiser discussing price appreciation in the coming year – he predicted that prices would flatten – and callers’ questions dealt with that issue as well as concerns about mortgages.

“The best compliment we received from the mortgage industry was that it wasn’t ‘sales-y’ and it was personal-finance oriented,’ Velasco said. “From a programming standpoint we have made a point of not sounding like a sales pitch.”

The national attention focused on the housing market is probably one reason the show did so well, Velasco said.

“Over the last two years the housing market has been the primary driver of economic expansion in the United States. Everyone is interested in their home; it’s the biggest asset and in many cases the biggest debt they have,” Velasco said.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to janis@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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