how to choose a great loan officer

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Turn on your TV and it’s hard to miss the ads for mortgages and refinancing. As the dollar signs roll by, promising low rates and more savings, you can’t help but wonder: what’s the catch?

Our founding team has bought and sold over 20 homes. That’s a lot of mortgages. What we’ve learned is that there often is a catch. Work with the wrong person and you risk missing your closing date or, even worse, losing your dream house. You could get treated rudely and completely fleeced at closing, when you have no choice but to sign on the dotted line. Buying a home is complex and emotional – the last thing you need to be asking yourself is if you can trust the loan officer on the other side of the table.

It’s one of the reasons we created Maxwell: to help homebuyers like us connect with reputable loan officers who work and live in our communities. As we’ve built the company, we’ve come to admire the great loan officers we meet. They manage countless details of your loan, not to mention frequent regulatory changes, tight timelines, and demanding customers.

We have a few tips on how to cut through the syrupy slogans and smiling faces. In fact, these are the five factors we ask every homebuyer on Maxwell to evaluate the loan officers they meet through our platform:

  1. Communication: When you get a mortgage, the lender will dig into some of your most intimate financial details. After all, you’re asking them to give you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Christina Whelan, one of our loan officers from Cornerstone Home Lending, says it best: “I may be asking a homebuyer for a lot, but I also know it makes them uneasy or it comes as a surprise. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, but I always take the time to explain to the homebuyer why we need certain information and how it’s going to ultimately help them get into their home. I keep them and their agents up-to-date so they’re never in the dark.”
  1. Responsiveness: It’s 5PM on Saturday. You just walked through your dream home and want to move on it before anyone else does. “Nights and weekends? Of course,” says Taryn Bellavance one of our loan officers at Eagle Home Mortgage. “I know that’s when my homebuyers are making decisions together and may need my counsel. Email, text and phone me any time. Then let’s work hard to close on that financing as quickly as we can!”
  1. Organization: A loan officer tracks a lot of moving parts – documents, processes, regulations, rate trends, financial details, and third parties like appraisers. “Being a loan officer is a little like sitting in a cockpit – there dials, switches and flashing lights,” says Frances Wehner at SWBC Mortgage in Denver. “If we’re going to hit that closing date, it’s my role to understand what’s happening and make sure it all happens at the right time, with as little turbulence as possible!”
  1. Knowledge: One of the reasons a loan officer is so important is that home financing is just so complex. You’ll want someone like Mike Heldt from American Pacific Mortgage managing your mortgage. “Homebuyers don’t want to hear a bunch of big mortgage words and acronyms like 203K, CHFA, FHA and 1003,” says Mike. “They want to buy a home and I get to help them meet their needs with the best program. My favorite part of the job is understanding a homebuyer’s goals and dreams and then making sure they are comfortable with the mortgage offering we select. I’m not just helping them buy a house. I’m building lifelong trust.”
  1. Advocacy: It feels like it takes a village to buy a house. Listing agents, buying agents, inspectors, loan officers, underwriters, appraisers, processors, title companies, and government officials. Who is on your side? “I’m on your side,” says Nick Stewart from Liberty Home Loans. “You’ve saved money for years and dreamed of owning a home. I’m here to help make that happen. I regularly go-to-bat for my customers to take the pain out of the homebuying process. Sometimes we just need a creative solution to a big question. I really enjoy it!”

At the end of the day, it’s really hard to know anything about the guy at the other end of that TV commercial 800 number. Especially along the dimensions we outlined above. When you use Maxwell, you get to pick the loan officer that meets your needs. You can read reviews from other homebuyers, check out their endorsements from local real estate agents (and even your agent), and select a loan officer who will knock it out of the park on all five of the dimensions above. It really is that simple!

why a good loan officer matters

Business project presentation on digital tablet

Business project presentation on digital tablet

“I am going to throw up” was the only text in an email forwarded to me from James (name changed). I got this email two months ago, as we were preparing to launch Maxwell. It reminded us of the importance of working with a great loan officer.

When he started looking for a home, James, was excited about the prospects of home ownership. He looked forward to a place he and his young family could make their own. Fast forward 40 days later and feels of hope have been replaced with the feelings of nausea.

James sent this email because he just learned that his closing would be delayed – for the second time. When the original closing date was set, he arranged (bought plane tickets!) for family to help with the move and some home repairs.
This all could have been avoided if James’s loan officer would done a better job communicating issues. As an example, James received this email only a day before closing…

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If you are playing at home, that’s eleven requests that James’s loan officer made a day before closing! Almost all of these questions could have been answered well before this point. Great loan officers surface issues in advance and help you gather the information needed.

Most of us start to shop for a mortgage online – 70%, up from 0% 20 years ago. While shopping is a great idea, the internet can let you down in a couple of key ways:

  1. The interest rates you see online are marketing rates and not personalized to your situation. Depending on your financial situation, you may get a rate lower or higher than what you find online.
  2. Most shopping compares only rate and not the reputation and quality of the loan officer. James got what he thought was a good rate. It turned out he worked with a less than stellar loan officer and this ended up costing him in the end.

Maxwell is a mortgage marketplace with the best loan officers. If you’re using Maxwell to find a great loan officer, you’ll be able to read reviews and see how many real estate agents have endorsed a loan officer.

If Maxwell isn’t available in your area (yet!), talk to other home buyers to see who they would recommend.

Buying a home is the largest purchase of your life, plus it’s complicated. Find a loan officer that is well respected in the community and can help you navigate this process.

why you should shop for your mortgage

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We shop for almost everything. Why don’t we shop for home loans? Most homebuyers don’t, and the cost is significant.

Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. Close your eyes and think about 1996. Remember what it was like to buy things from a store? To actually have to drive or walk to a physical place, pick an item and exchange money (maybe even in cash!) for an item.

In 1996, I remember buying a TV. It looked something like the picture below. I was proud of the questions I asked the salespeople and the $600 I paid. I drove around to several different stores (Sears, Circuit City and Wal-mart) to learn about different TV technology. I ended up not just saving $100, but getting a lot of great knowledge about TVs.

Ok, now let’s hop back to the present. Reading reviews and comparison shopping has become a staple of life in 2015.  Most large online retailers include product reviews and even include prices of items from other sellers. In physical stores (if you still go to those), you can use a comparison tool like RedLaser to save a few nickels on your granola or find out what other granola-eaters thought about it.

We read reviews and compare everything from cereal to cars, so surely you would do the same when making the largest purchase of your life. Right?

Well…not exactly. Most homebuyers (over 50%) do not shop for their mortgage. Researchers Susan Woodward and Robert Hall found that we’re leaving money on the table by not getting multiple quotes for our mortgage. (We read the whole paper, Diagnosing Consumer Confusion and Sub Optimal Shopping Effort: Theory and Mortgage-Market Evidence, so you wouldn’t have to. If you want to check it out for yourself, coffee up, grab your stats textbook and click here.) We would also tell you that by not finding a great loan officer, you’re also setting yourself up for a lot of frustration.

What’s it worth to you?

If I posted a hypothetical job on Craigslist – see below, would you take it?

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I’m guessing that you would. A couple of phone calls for $2,500 is a no brainer. But why don’t we shop for a mortgage? Or even compare the reputation of two people that were referred to us?

To quote from the paper: “…with $200,000 principal, the savings [from getting quotes from an additional one or two brokers] are $1,866 and $2,664 [respectively].

Wow — over $2,500 on a $200,000 mortgage is a lot of savings. And many of us have mortgages well north of $200,000. There’s even more at stake if your mortgage is, for example, $400,000.

Harder than it looks

Back to the question. Why don’t we shop for mortgages? The biggest reason is because it’s difficult to shop. To get an accurate quote, you would need to share documents that allow a broker to get a better picture of your financial situation. Imagine sharing your W-2s, pay stubs, bank statements and taxes with multiple mortgage brokers. It takes a lot of trust have your personal information in the hands of multiple people. If only there was a tool like Redlaser for mortgages.

Meet Maxwell

We created Maxwell because we were frustrated homebuyers. Technology exists to read reviews and comparison shop in almost every area of our lives. Why should mortgages be any different?

Would you choose the most reputable loan officer who gave you his or her most competitive rate? We sure would.

Maxwell makes it easy to shop and get the best mortgage from a great loan officer. Maxwell helps you to collect the documents lenders care about upfront and then we anonymize your information. We share the anonymous version with great loan officers and they make their best offer to get your business. This way you can be in control of your information.

Once you select the loan officer you want to work with based on her reputation with borrowers and realtors, you authorize her to see your original documents. From there, you’re off to the races on closing your loan.

Maxwell is not a mortgage broker or a loan officer. Just like eBay is not a store and Airbnb is not a hotel. We just make it easy for you to shop and find an incredible professional to guide you through the most expensive purchase of your life.

It’s the mortgage experience we want as homebuyers. Simple, intuitive and human.

If you’re looking to buy a home or refinance soon, we’d love to help you save.

Click here to get started.