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Inlanta’s Paul Buege: “Keep an Eye on the Future”

This piece originally appeared in the October 2022 edition of MReport magazine, online now.

Paul Buege joined Inlanta Mortgage in 2013 as COO and was then named President and COO in 2018. A 30-year mortgage industry veteran, Buege “was responsible for removing walls within the company and creating a workplace culture where everyone’s input is valued and acted upon.” During Buege’s tenure with the company, Inlanta was named a top Workplace by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel seven times. Buege recently spoke with MReport about the state of the housing market and how Inlanta is navigating the challenges.

What advice do you give to your sales team when the market shifts to a down cycle? How can they keep originations flowing?
The 2021 market was historic by all accounts, and it’s hard not to want it to go on. That being said, I believe the purchase side of our business will continue to remain strong. At Inlanta, that’s where we spend our time building our success.

I always advise my team to respect the changes in the market and keep an eye on the future. During market downturns, I encourage team members to have a positive attitude, evaluate what’s working, and focus on what will ultimately lead to more business.

Events often come our way that are outside of our control, so we need to concentrate on what we can do better. After all, there are opportunities in all market types, but you should always be looking for them because they are not going to find you.

To keep originations flowing, I recommend starting with your current book of clients and referral partners and look for business there. Call your current and past clients regularly to check in. Existing referral partners should get a call no less than once a week. It’s amazing how many opportunities are lost by not doing the basics, like picking up the phone and making those calls. Use today as the starting point to improving your prospecting skills and stay close to where purchase transactions happen.

There is “gold in them thar hills,” as Mark Twain said, so get your shovels and start digging.

Should loan officers consider switching companies or should they stay put? What factors should they take into consideration?
It depends, but I wouldn’t recommend changing jobs based on emotion or a small set of recent experiences that you didn’t like. Stuff happens and no company is perfect. Change offers opportunity only when the decision is fully vetted. It is well-known that turnover is expensive for employers, but it can also cost originators who change companies.

It takes months for originators to become familiar with the ins and outs and fully comfortable with a new company, which will impact your business in the short-term. So, you need to have good reasons for looking elsewhere.

Originators who have a strong book of purchase business, big client lists, and a solid network of referral partners are in high demand. It’s like a free agent market. If you put yourself out there, the offers will be many and the dollars may surprise you. But if money is your reason for switching companies, be extremely careful. Employers that pay the most usually require an employment contract and treat these agreements with great care and scrutiny. Most of these contracts are long, and the terms can become unbearable if things do not work out. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch!

If you find that a change is necessary, keep in mind that you don’t need to act quickly. Recruiters will pressure you into a decision, but you should ignore such attempts. If the company is right for you, they will wait.

You’ll find that programs, products, pricing, and technology are mostly the same with all lenders, but it is the style of lender that is most important.

Focus on how lenders use their resources and tools, because that is how you’ll learn the most about a company. It’s also very important to look at employee reviews.

Companies that have raving employees as fans are typically better at delivering products and services. And remember, the size of a company does not matter.

Big companies can disappear as quickly as small and mid-size companies. However, a lender that has more than 500 branches and more than 8,000 employees will be a far different experience than you’ll find at a smaller-sized organization.

What is your prediction for the employment picture in the mortgage industry over the next six months? And in the long term?
The industry is in a state of over-capacity. Market forces will continue to push originators out of business, and it will be most extreme for those who were doing mainly refinance loans over the past two years. The positive is that most companies are finished with the challenge of right-sizing their organizations. Over the next six months, I expect the number of employed originators will continue to decline, but only slightly.

As the markets continues to stabilize to a “new normal” and business gets back to being mostly proactive versus reactive, we will begin to see lenders carefully add staff in nearly all areas.

Where do you see the housing market headed?
The increase in interest rates this year has cooled down a very hot housing market, but it’s certainly not like the Great Financial Crisis of 2008. After several years of skyrocketing home prices, the housing market is starting to normalize. Home values will continue to climb, but the velocity of change will slow down. This is ultimately good news for homebuyers. It’s true that it has become increasingly difficult for first-time homebuyers, and the rate environment is not likely to help. Yet the market is still approachable. Homebuyers simply require a team of professionals, including an experienced loan originator and a knowledgeable real estate agent, to help them create a purchase plan.

Is there a silver lining to be found in the current slowdown?
There most certainly is a silver lining in the current slowdown, but it will only be found by those who demonstrate resilience and are focused on doing the essential work to build success. The market is not going to be normal for some time, so trying to wait things out until something breaks for the better is not a good idea. However, today’s market shift will force many originators to exit the industry. As the ranks begin to thin, opportunities will open up to become more noticeable and will make building business easier. But to win, you need to have a forward-looking mindset, be willing to do the work and take action.

About Author: Eric C. Peck

Eric C. Peck has 20-plus years’ experience covering the mortgage industry, he most recently served as Editor-in-Chief for The Mortgage Press and National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Peck graduated from the New York Institute of Technology where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts/Media. After graduating, he began his professional career with Videography Magazine before landing in the mortgage space. Peck has edited three published books and has served as Copy Editor for Entrepreneur.com.
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