PERSON OF THE WEEK: Sean Hennessey is a Maryland-based vice president for Embrace Home Loans, a nationwide mortgage lender that has been in business for more than 30 years. Currently, the firm has more than 80 offices and is licensed in 46 states and Washington D.C.
MortgageOrb recently interviewed Hennessey to discuss what mortgage professionals, including loan officers, should consider when evaluating employers that will help them succeed in an ultra-competitive marketplace.
Q: As the housing market continues to recover, the mortgage lending business is the strongest it’s been in over a decade. In response, many lenders are hiring. For mortgage professionals that are seeking new opportunities, what advice would you offer them? And what exactly should they look for in a mortgage lender employer?
Hennessey: Not only is the mortgage lending business the strongest it’s been in over a decade, it’s also extremely competitive. In just the last five years, the average number of days a home is on the market has been cut in half. In fact, it’s not uncommon for homes to sell in just a few days after being listed. Additionally, we’re seeing a shortage in housing inventory. According to the latest report from the National Association of Realtors, inventory is down 7.1% and has declined for 20 consecutive months on a year-on-year basis.
For mortgage professionals, this means they must be on-point – they must be able to get in front of the right borrowers, work with the right Realtors and execute a strong marketing strategy. The challenge is that doing so takes time – time they don’t have. Historically, loan offers were expected to rely on their own resources and connections to generate business, but this simply doesn’t work in today’s highly competitive marketplace.
Instead, mortgage professionals should have resources provided to them to help succeed and bring in more business. What does the lender do to support community outreach, with both prospective borrowers and Realtors? Are they active in local events and organizations? Do they offer marketing resources, such as a dedicated marketing coordinator, to develop customized materials and help design and execute a strategy? If the answer to these questions are no, the expectation will be to rely on your own resources – a huge undertaking that could impact your success.
Q: What about for the mortgage lenders – how does providing these tools and resources help them?
Hennessey: There are benefits for loan officers, but it’s also a win for the mortgage lender. Making investments in marketing resources and other tools not only helps the loan officer, but it also helps the lender secure more business and become more profitable. It’s simply a win-win.
Aside from that, it’s also a great way to retain loyal employees. Lenders that provide a high level of support to its loan officers are demonstrating that they care. It also fosters a more positive work environment where individuals want to succeed – for themselves and for the entire organization.
Q: Regarding the workplace, how important is a good environment and what does that look like?
Hennessey: The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent American Time Use Survey found that individuals between ages 25 and 54 spend just under 37% of their time at work. The next largest percent of time is spent on sleep. We spend over half our lives at work, making it critical that individuals – including those in the mortgage profession – have a positive work environment. Otherwise, companies are faced with burnout, turnover and lower profits.
As for what a stellar workplace looks like, ideally, it’s one that encourages employee engagement, interaction and collaboration. Loan officers should feel as though they are a part of the team – from both a professional level and personal. It’s one thing to say you care; it’s a completely other thing to actually show it, such as providing exceptional support or even just showing compassion for employees when they are faced with a challenging time in their life.
For mortgage professionals evaluating employers, I’d encourage them to look at employee retention – how long do folks stick around? Have they been recognized as a “Top Employer to Work For” by any organizations? These are typically awarded based on actual employee surveys – not advertising dollars.
Q: Are there any other aspects loan offers and other mortgage professionals should look for in prospective employers?
Hennessey: Again, the industry is the most competitive we’ve seen in a while. Beyond providing superior support to generate business on the front end, lenders must also provide the right technology and underwriting tools. For instance, Embrace’s Approved to Move program provides homebuyers with a full approval before they find a home. As housing inventory remains at a historical low, this is extremely valuable, as it enables borrowers to make an offer knowing the loan is already underwritten. This gives the borrower a competitive edge when placing bids on a house that has several other bidders, and also gives the seller peace of mind that the sale won’t fall through.