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By Erik Payne
In 2013, Altra Federal Credit Union ($1.2B, Onalaska, WI) was a healthy lending organization.
Its 9.40% loan growth in the first quarter outpaced the 6.00% for credit unions with $1 billion or more in assets, but the credit union recognized too much of that growth was tied to refinance activity.
To transition away from its dependence on refinancings, the Dairyland credit union looked to a blooming new subset of homeowners, those of the first-time variety.
“We felt like there was opportunity to go after first-time homebuyers and help them with the home-buying process,” says Cheryl Dutton, the credit union’s vice president of marketing.
To develop specific strategies around this initiative, Altra conducted a focus group in 2013. During the session the credit union learned that when it comes to first-time homebuyers, education is key.
“We learned they don’t want to go to a seminar,” Dutton says. “They don’t want to sit and listen to PowerPoint presentations. They want to interact with those involved in the process to learn more about buying a home.”
So the credit union developed an idea — Home Buying After Hours.
Inspired by a similar program run by a realtor in Chicago, Altra hosted its first Home Buying After Hours program in the spring of 2014 for its principal market of La Crosse, WI.
The event — which more closely resembles a mixer — is one part educational, one part social. For roughly 90 minutes, members and potential members eat, drink, and wander an event space that contains booths housing experts who control or operate some part of the local home-buying process. On their own time, attendees have the opportunity to converse with realtors, appraisers, home inspectors, title company representatives, builders, and insurance representatives who “provide attendees helpful tips on home buying and answer questions,” according to Dutton.
One-on-one and group socializing at one of Altra's Home Buying After Hours.
The credit union invites one representative, usually referred by one of Altra’s own mortgage loan officers, from each profession to attend the event. It does not pay these experts, so to make it worth their time, the credit union underscores the opportunity these mixers present to build brand awareness and client lists.
In the case of realtors or home inspectors, where the credit union has many strong, local relationships, Altra rotates experts. For example, one event might include a Re-Max representative whereas the next one might include a local relator from Gerrard-Hoeschler.
“We try to alternate and spread the goodwill,” Dutton says.
Altra’s mortgage loan officers also attend the event to help attendees navigate the setup and converse with credit union members about Altra’s financing options.
Finally, the credit union gives attendees a packet of home-buying do’s and don’ts, a home-buying guide, and a $300 closing cost coupon.
Today, Altra holds a home-buying event for its La Crosse market twice a year in a large conference facility it owns. In its smaller markets, such as Rochester, MN, Clarksville, TN, and Tyler, TX, Altra holds the event annually and rents a space for the night. And the credit union now employs an event coordinator to organize the catering and event space.
When we first held the event, attendees expected to sit down and listen to a presentation. Once they realized they can ask questions on their own time, they really enjoyed it.
Altra’s first After Hours event exceeded the institution’s expectations. The event drew 80 attendees, a favorable outcome compared with its more traditional first-time homebuyer seminars that garnered almost no attendance.
That number has remained relatively constant in the more than two years since, and although Altra’s smaller markets don’t see quite so many attendees, the events in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Texas still average between 20 and 25.
Check out Altra's performance profile.
Although the credit union sets the dates for Home Buying After Hours months in advance, it beefs up its planning efforts and registrant outreach in the preceding two months. Altra sends a press release to local media outlets, promotes the event via Facebook and Twitter posts, and targets emails to members between the ages of 27 and 42 without mortgages.
The credit union’s primary goal for Home Buying After Hours is to provide education to first-time homebuyers while positioning itself as a trusted resource. Of course, it welcomes business from the event.
In 2015, Altra originated 25 mortgages through the events it held nationwide and is on pace to exceed that figure in 2016, according to Dutton, though she declined to report specifics.
The event has become such a success that Altra has considered adding a second yearly event for the smaller markets that have only one.
“When we first held the event, attendees expected to sit down and listen to a presentation,” Dutton says. “Once they realized they can ask questions on their own time, they really enjoyed it.”
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