Spotlight on Success in the Making The Secrets of a Promising New Mortgage Loan Originator

Growing up in Nutley, New Jersey, Antonio Velardi learned the meaning of discipline and hard work primarily through family values and as a student athlete. Baseball taught Antonio the importance of teamwork, perseverance, and dedication to what’s important. These traits propelled him through Iona College where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business.

While playing college baseball, one of Antonio’s friends and teammates introduced him to the mortgage business. In addition to his studies, Antonio’s friend worked for United Mortgage Corporation’s Toms River, New Jersey branch, which was run by his father. The more that Antonio learned about the mortgage business, the more intrigued he grew. So much so that, with his newly-earned degrees in hand, Antonio decided to make residential mortgage loan originations his new career.

Through my decades-long mortgage industry tenure, I have encountered countless mortgage loan originators. Many of these bright-eyed hopefuls entered the mortgage industry with aspirations of launching six-figure incomes within only months of securing their license. Most of these misguided optimists lasted only a short time before giving up and turning to other professions. Relatively speaking, very few new mortgage loan originators survive past their first year. And very few of them have I known to have generated significant income within their first. Those who make it must be willing to devote the hard work, patience, and perseverance necessary to build a successful mortgage loan origination business.

But then there’s Antonio Velardi. Not only did he survive his first year as a residential mortgage loan originator, but he also epitomizes the definition of “hitting the ground running” and has raised the bar for others.

Since securing his New Jersey mortgage loan originator license in January of 2021, Antonio has closed 42 units amounting to $12.5M in volume and 78% of those transactions were purchase money loans. Antonio is the definition of new loan originator success.

I am grateful for having had the recent opportunity to speak with Antonio. During that interview, I asked Antonio if he would be kind enough to share some of the secrets to his out-of-the-gate success. He graciously agreed to, and, through the interview, Antonio shared some insightful advice that I would encourage other new mortgage loan originators to consider. My biggest takeaway? Consistency and perseverance.

What is your favorite loan to originate?

I enjoy originating FHA because a lot of the FHA deals that I do are owner-occupied, multifamily deals. It is nice seeing people go from being tenants to landlords with only 3.5% down.

What is your least favorite loan to originate?

I rarely enjoy taking an application and reviewing a borrower’s documents when the borrower has multiple LLCs and is looking for a bank statement loan. In my experience, these types of borrowers have difficulty producing the required documentation.

With purchases constituting 78% of your overall volume, is it safe to assume that you prefer purchases to refinances?

I know that purchase business will always be the “bread and butter,” but I enjoy the refinances because they offer convenience to the borrower. On the other hand, a purchase lead could take months because finding a house takes time and borrowers sometimes get discouraged and give up.

Do you originate mortgage loan modifications and/or assumptions?

Not loan modifications, but I’ve done a few divorce deals where the wife assumed the loan in the divorce.

What motivates you?

Being able to provide the life that my parents provided for me to my future family and children.

What are your priorities?

My priorities are my family and friends but, in terms of business, it is to continuously build my network of reliable and good-hearted people.

What does life-work balance mean to you, and do you consider it to be important?

It is essential to live a healthy lifestyle. In the early stages of my business, I wasn’t talking to friends much, going out, or focusing on much more than getting deals and making money. I quickly realized that I could not maintain that style of living for long and that the stress was eating me up. I started playing baseball again after work with friends and even began coaching.

Has focusing on things outside of work and on things other than generating new business helped? If so, how?

Yes, it helps me maintain my good mood and have more patience.

What do you get out of being an MLO?

I get to help people on a regular basis, and it has also given me the ability to forge, what I am confident will be, lifelong relationships.

What do you enjoy the most about being an MLO?

I enjoy the freedom and ability to create my own life. The uncapped potential for freedom is also one of my motivations for being an MLO.

Would you mind elaborating?

When I say freedom, I mean no longer feeling guilty or reckless about spending money on myself to buy the things I want and to participate in the things I enjoy doing. I’m not a very materialistic person or someone who has the urge to spend money on things I don’t need, but I love feeling comfortable doing things for and treating myself.

Does the earnings potential motivate you and, if so, how?

Yes, it does. I hear about MLOs making seven-figure incomes and it’s crazy to think about. I know it’s a long process to get there, but the journey to the top is what motivates me the most.

What do you enjoy the least about being an MLO?

Working with people who don’t value my time as much as I do theirs. For example, borrowers who call early in the morning or late at night just to pick my brain and then ultimately use a different mortgage company.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a relatively new MLO?

The more experienced real estate agents who do a lot of business don’t give you the time of day. And although the newer agents are easier to connect with, they, unfortunately, don’t have much to offer.

Do you set boundaries when working with clients?

I do. I will always answer my phone if I am available, but sometimes clients call or text at crazy hours of the day with no serious intentions of moving forward with a deal. For my active clients, best referral partners, and past clients, I let them know I am always available regardless of the day or time because I know they value my time as much as I value theirs.

What is your primary focus as an MLO?

My primary focus in 2022 is to double my 2021 production. Aside from that, it is to become the guy everyone in New Jersey knows to be an ethical and diligent mortgage professional.

Those are certainly admirable goals. What, specifically, will you be doing to achieve those goals?

I will continue to do what has worked for me thus far. Continue to network with new referral partners, set daily, weekly, and yearly goals, and continue to build stronger relationships with the people I’m working with now.

What specifically do you do to network, establish relationships, and grow them?

I direct message realtors and prospective clients on Facebook and Instagram. Additionally, I regularly schedule coffee meetings, Zoom calls, and lunches to establish new relationships and grow current ones. I also do whatever I can to bring value to them. Help them and make their life easier and more profitable. When I talk about consistency, I can say, without a doubt, that staying consistent with this is the biggest thing.

What are some of your effective habits and best practices?

I created my own structure to my business and time-block two hours every morning, Monday through Friday, to complete certain tasks such as networking and follow-up, to grow my business.

Would you mind sharing some examples of what you do to do this?

I use Facebook and Instagram to network with new clients and new referral partners. The reason I like using social media is because the viewer’s initial impression through social media is far more personal than through random texts and phone calls. Through my social media page, future referral sources can see my closing statistics, read client reviews, recognize mutual followers, and see my friends. This enhances the likelihood of them responding to my outreach.

What constitutes your daily routine, or do you even have one?

I have yet to stick to one daily routine, but my core activities, like time-blocking for follow-up and networking, have been consistent.

Of course, in-office activities are important when it comes to generating new business and forging important relationships. But what, if anything, do you do outside of the office, in your personal life, to accomplish these important aspirations?

I started asking every new person I meet what they do for work because they always ask back and that allows me to indirectly sell them or someone who they know.

How important is training?

It is extremely important. I realized the critical importance of always being ethical and doing things the right way early. In my short time in the business, I’ve come across a lot of unethical people who act out of greed. I think being an ethical person will always generate more business and develop a better reputation over the greedy ones who look for the one-time score.

I admire your ethical convictions. But what about other areas of training such as training pertaining to product guidelines, ever-evolving regulations, sales strategies, customer service, and communication?

Discovering and then distinguishing between a client’s needs and wants is an important aspect of getting to know my client. Identifying these makes it fairly easy to cater to the client as an individual.

Getting back to ethics, do you think that ethics is an innate trait, or can it be learned?

I think that it can be learned. I imagine that there are many people working in the mortgage industry who frequently compromise ethics, perhaps because they don’t know any better or were taught and trained improperly.

What would you say is the number-one secret to your early success?

Staying consistent with networking, follow-up, building relationships, and always doing what I say I will do.

Would you provide some examples, please?

Consistency is critical when networking with new referral partners, past customers, and current clients. I consider it important to regularly be of service to my circle of influence by posting important and helpful information on social media. Maintaining motivation when business gets slow or when deals fall through is also critical. I typically bounce back with productive weeks after bad ones, so, when I hit a slump, I remind myself that what I am currently experiencing is just temporary. My goal of being a top producer is always at the forefront of my mind, and I let nothing shift that focus. I successfully applied these traits to becoming a formidable college Division One pitcher and now I simply utilize them in the business field instead of on the baseball field.

Aside from your number-one secret to success, what would you consider as your next top three contributors?

Confidence, discipline, and the motivation to help people.

And what do these mean to you?

You could be the most knowledgeable salesperson on earth. But without confidence, discipline, and motivation, you will never achieve success. I also use my apprehension of failure as a motivator that lifts me towards my highest potential. My early success and amount of current experience has given me confidence when I speak with new referral partners. They appear impressed when they learn that I’ve only been in the business for a year. After meeting a local real estate agent for the first time, he mentioned all of the 5-star reviews and closings I recently posted on social media. He appeared extremely impressed and confided in me that everyone in his office used the same lender in the area who was well known for over 25 years. He found my early success so impressive, that he referred me to several other agents in his office who have since sent me several deals.

Everyone says that they have the best products and best customer service? What sets you apart from those people?

I communicate well. I answer the phone at all times when I’m able. And I’ve landed new referral sources with my tagline, “Every lender in the world says they are the best so I’m not going to sit here and talk your ear off. The real interview will be when we do our first deal.”

Why do people say “yes” to you?

I believe because I’m easy to talk to. I communicate well and continuously deliver what I promise to deliver. I know that this works because I have secured significant business through word of mouth. You don’t have to devote time to selling when your referral partners and proven record sell for you.

So many mediocre mortgage professionals simply like to tell their potential customers and referral sources what they want to hear. How important, if at all, is setting the appropriate expectations?

This is absolutely essential. Always under promise and over deliver. This applies to clients and referral partners. If a real estate agent needs an updated pre-approval letter and you know you can get it over to him in an hour, tell him he’ll have it by the end of the day and then deliver it to him within the hour.

What makes for a good day?

When I learn something new or create a new relationship.

One of the least desirable aspects of being a mortgage loan originator is delivering bad news. Nobody likes to tell a client or a referral source that their application is being declined or that the property appraised significantly lower than was expected. How do you manage sharing bad news with a client or referral source?

Before I make that call, I try to devise a solution to the problem. Perhaps if we add a cosigner or provide other comparables to the appraisal management company, the underwriter would be able to reconsider his or her decision. But that’s not always possible and sometimes the situation simply has no easy solution. Delivering bad news is an unfortunate part of the job because not every loan will close. But, at the very least, when I have to deliver bad news, I share the solution, whatever it may be, so that the borrower knows that there is, in fact, a solution, even if it’s not easily obtainable.

What would you consider the best type of referral to receive?

A past client referral is always the best. My goal is to eventually rely on previous clients for leads rather than Realtors.

How do you expect to achieve this?

By staying in contact with my past customers through no less than quarterly touch points.

How do you touch base with your customers?

I hold group chats with the buyer’s agent and the client when the deal goes under contract. I also send weekly updates to keep everyone informed and up-to-date during the application’s various stages such as when we receive notice of clear title, the appraisal report is back and approved, the loan has been cleared to close, and outstanding conditions have been updated or cleared. And I am grateful to my assistant for regularly communicating with them via e-mail and telephone calls.

Speaking of Realtors, are Realtors your only source of business? If not, how else do you generate leads?

Realtors are far from my only source of business. I also generate business through past clients, family, friends, and financial advisors. All of these non-Realtor referral sources propel me closer to my goal of generating new business primarily through past-client referrals.

For what, if anything, are you grateful?

I am extremely grateful, and I express that daily to the people who have supported me in my efforts to become a mortgage loan originator. I am also grateful for my processing team. They are a big part of my success and afford me the time that I need to focus my attention elsewhere. By setting up my files, collecting documents, and clearing conditions once the loan is approved, my processing team frees me to focus on networking with new referral partners and generating new business.

With interest rates going up, how important do you consider the interest rate environment to be in generating new business?

I think with rates going up, a lot of lenders, or at least loan originators, will fall off and exit the business. Without a strong network of referral partners and consistent hard work to generate business, it will become extremely difficult to be successful.

What will be your strategy for maintaining consistent production in a high-interest-rate environment?

Building relationships with new and current referral partners since the majority of the business will then consist of purchase deals. I will also devote more time and effort to calling past clients and friends.

Have you experienced failure as a mortgage loan originator? If so, what happened and how did you recover?

I’ve had successful realtors who were mutually connected to me through friends and family avoid my calls and text messages. When that happens, it actually proves motivational. The people who I believe are looking down at me because I’m new or who might not think I have the necessary experience become some of my biggest motivators. I’d bet that they didn’t produce as much as I have this early in their careers!

If you could offer advice to any new or aspiring mortgage professional, what would that advice be?

The only way to see results is to be consistent with your work and relationships. A lot of people give up early on when they don’t see instant success. Especially as a new loan originator, when you get your shot with a client or a real estate agent, it is essential to put your best foot forward.

It often takes a new mortgage loan originator time to build a pipeline. What advice can you offer the newly-licensed mortgage loan originator to continue forging on when production is taking longer than desired?

If it were easy, everyone would quit their jobs and jump into the mortgage business. Few jobs and professions allow you the ability to double, triple, or quadruple your income. Most jobs chain the employee to a desk for 40 hours each week and then consider them lucky to earn a 3% raise every year. Success as a mortgage loan originator doesn’t happen overnight, but with the desire to succeed, accompanied by the right team and freedom, anything is possible.

What does putting your best foot forward mean to you?

It means always giving off the best first impression and treating each and every relationship with the highest of value.

Henry Ford coined the phrase, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” And nobody has emulated these words better than Antonio Velardi. Shortly after meeting Antonio, I found myself genuinely impressed by his drive and ambition. In just his first year, Antonio has established himself as a serious contender for becoming a nationally-recognized, top-producing mortgage loan originator. I am confident that, by emulating his best practices, you, like Antonio, will ultimately be able to knock your production right out of the ballpark!

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