When I think about tips to help credit unions strengthen real estate agent relationships, three questions come to mind: How can credit unions form relationships with real estate agents; what do real estate agents look for in a lending partner; and what are the signs you have found a good real estate agent partner?
How do you strengthen a relationship with a real estate agent?
First of all, understand the real estate agent relationship revolves around trust. There are timelines and contracts for things like appraisals and finance contingencies. I'm looking for a partner I can rely on to give me updates. Then, I can inform my clients and/or the listing agent in the transaction and my client and I can move forward. Credit unions I interact with should understand if I call and ask for an approval letter, then I've probably just written an offer for a purchaser and I want to present that full approval letter with the offer. So trusting the real estate agent is important.
Events — such as brokers' opens, which are the Tuesday luncheons Realtors hold for one another — are a great way to form trust, too. Credit unions can sponsor these events. When I send a flyer to 10,000 real estate agents, it says, "Sponsored by … " with the name of the credit union. That's a great way to get face time and also show your commitment to the real estate community. If a brokers' open is too big of an investment, perhaps you could invite your local real estate agent group into your office. Have a breakfast meeting, have coffee, have a lunch meeting — whatever. As you get to know them, you'll form relationships. For the past six years, I've form the best relationships I can with the credit unions.
Referrals are another important relationship-builder. I have great relationships already, but I always try to make this clear: If you send me a referral, I will try to reciprocate.
The majority of real estate agents out there are honest and trustworthy, and you will get that reciprocal referral back. You'll see your percentage of loans increasing compared to what you've preapproved as the relationship gets stronger.
What do real estate agents look for in a lending partner?
First, because of the state of the mortgage industry since 2007, real estate agents are looking for a direct lender. When I present an offer to another real estate agent, I want to have a letter attached to the offer that's from a local direct lender. I can pitch the local servicing as a benefit. Having the lender based in town is a huge benefit because all of the underwriting, processing, and closing can be done in one office. Part of what makes that attractive is the fact that if I have a question, I can walk into the office or make a quick phone call.
I also know who to reach out to. I know who the processors are, I know who the underwriters are, and I know who the closers are. I don't like to call Charlotte, NC, and speak to someone I don't know. From a real estate agent's perspective, we like the local direct lenders and we know many of the direct lenders are credit unions.
How do you know if you've found a good relationship?
Consider the parameters. When you refer a real estate agent, are they calling you back or sending you a quick email of what the status is? If so, that's great. Clear communication is the foundation of a successful relationship. When a credit union contacts me, I can generally give them some quick insight. Usually off the top of my head I can say: They're active and they're close to making an offer.
You want to have an open line of communication. It's about courtesy and respect. The ability to answer underwriting questions is another benefit and helps build the overall relationship.
I've heard many stories about real estate agents being demanding or berating loan officers. That's definitely not the kind of person you want in your real estate program as a long-term partner. You want someone who can work with you, someone you like. You get to know their personalities. These relationships often turn into social ones, even if they don't start as social. If they start as business, it'll probably turn into a social relationship simply as a result of the amount of business you're doing with these real estate agents.
The bottom line is that a credit union's relationships with real estate agents can benefit the credit union, the agents, and the member. Just make sure you pick the right partner, handle it professionally, and give as much as you get.
This article originally ran on July 1, 2011.