Technology is transforming the housing industry, and the rate of change seems to have caught many professionals off guard.
Today, mobile and online mortgage applications and preapprovals have become the norm. Increasingly, technology-based real estate companies such as Zillow and Redfin are providing an alternative to employing a local real estate agent by giving consumers the ability to house search via their device from any location, at any time of the day.
As a result, some in the industry foresee a future in which technology will completely do away with the need for loan officers and real estate professionals. However, this type of thinking misses the point of housing technology completely. According to a 2018 report on homebuyer trends from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 86% of homebuyers contacted a real estate agent last year when looking for a home and 56% attended an open house.
Although it is true the vast majority of today’s homebuyers go online for information initially (93%, according to the NAR report), a clear majority still turn to real estate professionals for help before making a purchase and more than half still attend open houses. This makes it is more important than ever for lenders to engage with real estate agents and, in turn, help them engage their tech-savvy clients.
The speed at which new technology and regulatory reform are changing the way homebuyers find and purchase homes can leave even the smartest housing professionals behind the times. One of the best ways to connect with real estate professionals, therefore, is to share information with them. In other words, be collaborative and help them provide the best experience possible for their clients.
Today’s mortgage market underscores the shift toward a more collaborative environment between loan officers, real estate professionals, and borrowers. There are proven tools that loan officers can provide their real estate partners, including tried-and-tested methods such as lunch-and-learns, co-branded events, and workshops, but it’s imperative to go beyond face-to-face interactions and also provide partners with strategies to maximize the mobile and online channels to reach new clients, including:
Regular business support emails: Sending a weekly email tip designed to help boost an agent’s business is a simple, but highly effective way of maintaining engagement with existing and potential real estate partners. Examples could include the value of renovation lending to help first-time homebuyers turn a fixer-upper into a dream home or best practices for promoting and hosting workshops for first-time homebuyers to generate new clients.Loan officers can also share recent blog posts about the resurgence (and importance) of jumbo loans or market trend reports that predict how interest rates will fluctuate. Anything that can potentially help real estate partners build their businesses will ultimately help loan officers cement those relationships and improve their own bottom line.
Online educational resources: This gives real estate partners their own tools for working with more tech-savvy homebuyers. For example, millennial buyers with questions about mortgage loans will appreciate real estate agents who can give them access to an eBook that explains the loan process step-by-step and answers all their initial questions. When real estate professionals provide homebuyers with links to helpful articles and/or well-designed infographics to answer common questions early in the process, it also creates a better overall experience for the buyer and tends to lead to an easier origination process overall.
An established online presence: To really help real estate partners capture more business from online homebuyer searches, lenders can advise them on how to easily set up a Google Business page. The entire process generally takes less than 20 minutes, and when set up correctly (with visually appealing images, strong testimonials, and the right cross-links) they will enable real estate agents to more effectively capture some of the 93% of homebuyers searching online for homes and real estate professionals.
There are many other strategies lenders are using to digitally engage real estate professionals, but adopting even one of the above can serve as a powerful tool to foster stronger relationships. Real estate partners will appreciate the frequent contact, as well as the useful advice, and be more inclined to send those helpful loan officers referral business as they grow their own.
Tech Tools That Work
Emailed marketing tips, shared industry reports, self-help articles for first-time buyers, and instructions for creating an online presence can only go so far though. Ultimately, real estate agents and other partners want and need new clients from their home loan partners.
This is where technology can really help a loan officer shine. From the collection and analysis of online searches, purchases, social media posts, likes, and shares, sales professionals now have access to a wealth of information about consumers’ likes, dislikes, and sales intent that can power an effective marketing campaign.
For housing industry professionals, this means knowing when a consumer is ready to start looking for a home when their credit scores have changed, and if they might qualify to purchase a home or even their likelihood of refinancing. The good news is that the technology needed to procure this valuable data is typically already in place. Companies like Sales Boomerang, Mortgage Data Solutions, and others are providing this information to housing professionals across the country. Those real estate agents and loan officers who don’t have access to this kind of consumer data are falling behind.
In particular, many of these platforms provide information on:
- When previous clients (or anyone in a lender’s database) has their credit score pulled by another lender, allowing loan officers to go out and “check up” on that client.
- Interest rate updates and alerts for when a potential client’s existing rate has changed enough to warrant a refi contact.
- The LTV on clients’ mortgages and alerts for when they reach the 80% threshold that would allow them to refi out of their PMI.
- Credit score updates and alerts for loan officers to reach out when a potential client’s score meets a certain threshold.
- Notifications for whenever someone in a lender’s database lists their house for sale, which may indicate their interest in buying another home.
Some of these data points are only useful to home loan professionals, but information on when someone lists their home for sale, credit score updates, and if their score is being pulled by other lenders, for example, could be shared with real estate partners to help them find new clients who may be ready to purchase a home. And, the loan officer who provides qualified leads to real estate agents can help those partners grow their business, which inevitably grows their own as well.
The Cost of Engagement
Real estate professionals remain the best conduit to homebuyers, even in the Information Age, and as such, productive relationships are worth the investment for loan officers.
However, such engagement is a serious investment for lenders. Beyond the time spent researching market trends and advice, there are costs associated with the adoption of new technologies and tools. Creating shareable materials such as co-branded marketing flyers, online advertisements and eBooks might also require the addition of a graphically-minded assistant or staff member.
Unlike real estate professionals though, who generally work solo or in smaller local offices, loan officers can identify large, national mortgage companies who are equipping their loan officers with the right tools for success. Loan officers should look for a company that not only provides professional, shareable marketing and engagement materials for their local partners, but also one that has access to innovative technology to help them build their own business.
The time has come for housing professionals, real estate and mortgage alike, to engage consumers via the digital channels they have become so accustomed to. The more collaboration that occurs between lenders and their real estate partners, the healthier those relationships will be, and the more success each will see when working with borrowers.