When it comes to closing deals, real estate agents are a risk-averse bunch. They would rather steer a homebuyer who is ambivalent about the choice of lender to an institution they’ve worked with before that can deliver a smooth settlement.
“You don’t want to risk working with an unknown lender who might drop the ball,” says Mark Ross, a realtor with Charles Rutenburg Realty in Clearwater, FL, who has been referring clients to GTE Financial Credit Union ($1.6B, Tampa, FL) since 2009. “I send them business all the time. They’re my go-to lender.”
Becoming a realtor’s go-to lender can be a challenge because of the misconceptions realtors typically have about cooperatives. Many agents believe credit unions have fewer products and more stringent guidelines than banks, says Tina Cheung, a realtor with RE/MAX Realty Centre in Olney, MD. Some agents don’t even realize credit unions offer mortgages, adds Ross.
Those impressions can make it difficult to land on an agent’s radar, but once credit unions do, they stand an excellent chance of getting referrals. Because agents value old-fashioned customer service over impersonal financial institutions, credit unions don’t need to be large to attract realtors, who had these tips for cultivating relationships with agents.
Co-Host Meet And Greets
Agents typically hold weekly meetings at the office, sometimes with guest speakers. Those meetings present the perfect opportunity for an enterprising credit union to introduce the loan products it offers to local agents. Ross suggests that a loan officer does the presentation so agents can meet the person they would be referring clients to for mortgages. The more specific details the loan officer can provide about products the better. Mortgage products that help buyers who have difficulty qualifying for conventional financing especially stick in agents’ minds.
Co-hosting first-time homebuyer seminars with agencies are another opportunity. Cheung works with half a dozen credit unions, including FedFinancial ($73.6M, Rockville, MD) and Tower ($2.6B, Laurel, MD), which periodically have an agent and a loan officer together at a branch to take questions from members who want to buy a home. These Q&A sessions may be weekly, monthly, or as infrequently as twice a year. Credit unions can also send a loan officer to seminars that agencies host for prospective buyers.
Be Accessible And Respond Quickly
Realtors can’t abide financial institutions that put them in voice mail jail every time an agent has a question. Often, those questions require quick responses to resolve problems with a borrower or determine how well a preapproved buyer has been vetted. Ross prefers to work with GTE because of easy access to loan officers.
“I can send a text, email, or a phone call, and within 15 minutes, I get a reply,” he says.
That response time can make all the difference when there are multiple offers on a home, Cheung adds. “If a seller wants to know how rock solid a preapproval letter is and there’s no one on the other end of the phone to answer the question, that member’s offer, which was on the top of the pile, now falls further down, and the credit union doesn’t get the loan.”
Deliver When No One Else Will
It’s one thing to get on an agent’s radar and another to stay on it. But one thing definitely gets a credit union noticed — coming through on a deal when other institutions can’t.
Ross often refers his clients to GTE Financial because of its 30-day process from application to settlement. Other lenders, especially the big banks, typically need 45 days, which is too long for a client who needs to settle quickly, he says.
Sometimes just making the loan generates loyalty from agent and client alike. Cheung represented a buyer with excellent credit who couldn’t get financing for a condo because it had a higher delinquency rate than lenders preferred.
“She had exhausted all the different avenues,” says Cheung, whose client wasn’t a credit union member at the time. “I called my credit unions and one of them came through with the loan. She’s going to be a member for life.”
Keep Agents In The Loop
Every agent understands that deals occasionally fall apart because of unforeseen circumstances. What gets an agent’s goat, however, is when lenders don’t alert them to problems that have the potential to derail a settlement.
“The best loan officers stay in contact with the realtor so that if something does pop up right before closing and there’s been good communication all along, the realtor doesn’t think, ‘wow, what have you guys been doing all this time?’” Ross says.
Reduce Closing Uncertainty
The biggest question mark surrounding most real estate transactions is often whether settlement will take place on a given date. GTE Financial removes that uncertainty by guaranteeing all closing documents will be ready five days before settlement. That guarantee isn’t just a relief for Ross but also lets his buyers and sellers sleep easier, too.
“You have buyers trying to get the power on in their name and sellers scheduling the movers,” Ross says. “It’s so much easier for everyone to get things done when they know in advance that settlement will take place, and the realtor can be working on other stuff.”
Buy Your Own Agency
Traditionally, credit union service organizations such as CU Realty, which Cheung is affiliated with, are how cooperatives have connected with realtors and sent business each other’s way. But two years ago, TDECU ($2.1B, Lake Jackson, TX) went one step further and bought the No. 1 independent real estate agency in its community. Since then, that agency — now TDECU Realty — has doubled sales and agent commissions, says its president Ed Birdsong, who also used to own the agency when it was Birdsong Realty.
For agents like Shane McGehee, who stayed on after the acquisition, the close connection with the credit union has made his job much easier. The agency’s support staff more than doubled to five people for the same number of agents — 11 — as before, freeing McGehee to spend more time with clients and less on paperwork. Soon, he’ll be able to track a client’s settlement closely through shared networks with TDECU, but the real boon has been direct access to funding, particularly when settlements end late in the day.
“I had a closing on Friday that started at four and finished at eight,” McGehee says. “Everybody stayed late for us, and we funded at night.”
That’s not the only way he can count on TDECU, which also owns a title company. In a crunch, the credit union can go from application to settlement in as little as 10 days.
“We don’t pull that silver bullet out every day,” Birdsong says. “But when we need it, we know TDECU will jump through hoops for us.”