Now that the six-year-long refinance boom is over and more origination business is coming from purchase transactions, loan officers need to make a greater effort to cultivate referral relationships with real estate agents.
Technologies that bridge the gap between originators and real estate agents are designed to improve communication and help better manage leads, which is crucial when loan officers are competing for the attention of top producing agents.
"Lenders are interested in leads and the reason they want to establish relationships with real estate agents is to get those leads. The agents want to establish relationships with lenders because they want to find someone who is going to be honest, someone who is going to give them a call," said Roxana Davidoff, CEO of technology firm Big Purple Dot.
The Irvine, Calif. developer's collaborative customer-relationship management platform captures customer information from lead generation websites, integrations with third-party CRM systems and other sources and makes it available to loan officers and real estate agents that have chosen to work together. Big Purple Dot completed beta testing and the public release of the system earlier this year.
While Davidoff's background is in lending, the other co-creators of Big Purple Dot come from other backgrounds: one is a technologist and the other has experience as a real estate agent.
They initially created websites to assist novice real estate agents better compete against their more experienced peers.
"The more we became involved in the industry, we started to understand there was a larger problem that needed to be solved," said Davidoff. "Lenders and real estate agents tended to work independently. They feel comfortable working independently and that is all that they know. We realized they wanted to interact with each other."
Lenders approached Big Purple Dot because of the large number of real estate agents it had in its database. Meanwhile, real estate agents asked the company to provide them with lender contacts.
"We thought if we could change the way that the real estate industry communicates with each other (using) an open platform, we felt it could create more success for both parties," she said.
Big Purple Dot created its CRM technology using the voice of real estate agents. "They called us, said, 'This is our needs,' and we built it," said Davidoff.
While the people behind Big Purple Dot come from a real estate and technology background, the technologists behind Roostify have taken the challenge from the viewpoint of consumers.
"Each of us went through our own respective real estate and mortgage transactions and experience certain frustrations," said Rajesh Bhat, CEO of the San Francisco-based company. "We spent a year before we launched the company trying to understand why a solution we thought would be very obvious for the industry didn't exist."
Their objective was to make it easier for consumers to go through the mortgage application process. "A byproduct of that was to help our lender customers," said Bhat. "It improves their service delivery and reduces the cycle for them."
Roostify's Web-based technology lets borrowers electronically submit loan documents and receive automated status updates throughout the mortgage process. The Web-based platform launched in January and can be accessed from desktop computers and mobile devices.
Many mortgage lenders still rely on traditional offline-based processes or require borrowers to scan and email sensitive information, which is less secure than other methods for transferring documents. Roostify's founders created the technology with the goal of improving efficiency and transparency.
A recently released enhancement to the Roostify technology called "Connections," lets loan officers provide real estate agents with referral links so they can also receive the automated loan status updates, while sensitive borrower information is kept private.
The paperless document uploads and automated updates create a mortgage process "that aligns with the experience that consumers expect and have in other verticals," Bhat said. And the transparency it provides can help originators differentiate themselves with real estate agents, he added.
Particularly in a purchase-driven mortgage market, customer referrals can also flow from the originator to the real estate agent, with loan officers filtering prequalified borrower leads for their real estate partners, said Davidoff.
"We're a big funnel system. We funnel leads from anywhere and we give visibility to the lender and to the agent to communicate in real time on every single one of those leads," she said.
"The agent can be rest assured that the lender is communicating with the buyer because they can actually go into the back end of the system and see the way the lender is communicating and also vice versa," said Davidoff.
The Big Purple Dot technology also provides charts for lenders and real estate agents to track which marketing activities provide the biggest return on investment.
"Lenders want to see what is going on, they want to have visibility. We've finally given them that; we have given them that crystal ball to be able to see every single lead that is generated by the agent," Davidoff said.
People are able to use the technology in different ways. "We're like a large sandbox," and Big Purple Dot is able to "semi-customize" the platform to how the partners communicate with each other, she added.
Sean Hasson, a senior loan officer at Monarch Capital Home Loans in Aliso Viejo, Calif. credits Big Purple Dot for helping transition his business to reflect the new emphasis on purchase transactions. He called Big Purple Dot "user-friendly and frankly, the selling point" when he's developing new real estate agent referral partnerships.
Before Big Purple Dot, if a partner got an online lead, the real estate agent would have to manually send that information to Hasson. Now, the consumer information is shared in real time, along with any other updates. It is "straightforward but powerful," he declared, adding "we wouldn't be where we are today" without the technology.
In addition, the technology provides real estate partners with transparency into the loan process, as well as an opportunity to co-market services to consumers, Hasson said.
Meanwhile, the Roostify website is easy for borrowers to navigate and understand, plus it's pleasant to the eye, said Travis Kniffen, a mortgage originator at American Capital Corp. in El Segundo, Calif.
"Less is more when it comes to websites, in my opinion," he said.
Speed matters when it comes to getting a lead to convert into a closed loan, especially in a purchase market where loan closings can't be delayed. With technology like Roostify's, an initial borrower inquiry from a lead aggregator website like Zillow can set off a chain reaction that can lead to a loan application being created and ready for the consumer's signature within minutes.
For example, on a recent Friday night, Kniffen received a new client referral. He sent out an email invite to the client to sign up with Roostify and by Monday morning, Kniffen had received a completed loan application ready for processing.
While Kniffen still prefers to make the initial personal contact with customers over the phone, the Roostify website makes the application and document gathering process easier by "tenfold," for the borrower, Kniffen said. He's now looking to get his real estate agent partners using the Roostify Connections updates as well.
Originators want technology that enhances service delivery, not replaces the personal touch they have with consumers, said Bhat. And with refi business contracting and purchase business playing a bigger role in the mortgage industry, loan officers need new ways to differentiate themselves with real estate agent partners.
Agents "refer out business to lender partners that get the job, that close on time or ahead of schedule and also keep them and clients abreast of what is happening in the process," said Bhat.