PERSON OF THE WEEK: David Williams is the vice president of RightStart Mortgage, a mortgage lender based in Pasadena, Calif., that provides a full range of conforming, non-conforming, Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Agriculture products. MortgageOrb recently interviewed Williams to learn more about what is driving RightStart's growth and how the new mortgage regulations are impacting the business.
Q: Your company has been around for the past quarter century and is still growing. What has been the secret behind your survival/success?
Williams: There's no secret. We've always taken a long-term approach to this business. But to do that, you need to constantly change, because everything about the housing market constantly changes, too. Forget about being successful. Just to survive, you must always be looking for ways to do things better, faster and smarter. You need to think on your feet and constantly find ways to out-market and outperform the competition. This industry has never been for the faint of heart.
There really is no alternative, though. Every time you see any significant shift in the market, companies that don't innovate drop away like flies. As we saw with the most recent housing crisis, you cannot simply work harder when times are tough and expect to make it through. You need to keep reinventing your business, even when volumes are good. The good news is that no matter what type of market we're in, there is always a way to do things better today than how you did them yesterday.Â
Q: Why did RightStart decide to expand its retail business at this time?
Williams: The timing made perfect sense. With the improving housing market and economy, more and more consumers are taking advantage of low rates to buy their first homes or move up. Opening retail locations places us in front of these buyers.
However, expanding our retail business also made sense from a recruitment standpoint. Right now, there are a lot of experienced yet unsatisfied professionals in our industry, whose companies are struggling with the changes in the market. We hear stories all the time about loans not closing on time, or about how someone was forced to change the way he does business without being given a clear explanation why. As a result, many quality managers and loan officers are jumping ship. Because we placed significant resources into preparing for this shift, it's been an opportunity for us to bring on some excellent people.
Q: What makes a great fit between branch manager and the company?
Williams: Basically, it's about everybody getting what he or she wants. Every manager knows what his or her lender wants: more business. So what do managers want? Outside of compensation and great products to sell, the three things I find that managers value most are protection from risk, excellent tools and systems, and a dedication to customer service that is infused throughout the entire organization. If we provide our managers these three things, there's no limit to what they can do.Â
Q: What sort of impact have new mortgage rules and compliance issues had on your production so far this year?
Williams: Honestly, they haven't had much of an impact. Our business is affected more by the general direction of the economy, of mortgage rates and the housing market. One of the bright sides to the new rules has been our ability to create an overall compliance strategy, which includes equipping our sales people to explain the new rules to the borrower so they can set the borrower's expectations. In a sense, it has become a marketing tool because we can demonstrate all the different things we're doing to protect our customers.
Q: What unique origination challenges are you facing in the market you serve that may be different than other areas of the country?
Williams: In certain markets, like California, affordability is a concern for many buyers. Rising home prices and low housing inventory are contributing to the problem, and if rates go up significantly, the issue could get worse. Buyers in many markets out here are finding themselves in multiple-offer situations, so it really requires a lot of energy and diligence to get into contract. From a competitive standpoint, however, we've managed to do quite well by offering a wide range of conforming, FHA, jumbo, adjustable-ratwe mortgage and refi products and services. Being a Fannie Mae and Ginnie Mae direct lender also gives us the opportunity to close loans in as few as 12 days. This really helps buyers get leverage in tight markets.
Q: With rates near all-time lows, lenders are competing hard for purchase business and seem to be doing anything they can to attract borrowers. What makes RightStart different?
Williams: The ability to close loans fast has been huge for us. But really, that stems from the technology we have under the hood. We built our own around-the-clock, web-based automated underwriting system, which allows our salespeople to work more efficiently and spend more time with customers. Having developed our own internal compliance reviews also gives our salespeople confidence that their loans will close on time. Our customers can feel that confidence, too. It just creates a superior experience for everybody, which, when all is said and done, is always the ultimate goal.