Mortgage Master maintains its headquarters at 5 Walpole St. in Norwood.

One of the smallest states in the country, Massachusetts, has some of the highest-producing mortgage originators.

This, according to a recently released ranking of the 200 top originators in the country, is particularly true of Mortgage Master, the Norwood-based company founded more than a dozen years ago by Denmark-born Leif Thompsen.

According to Thompsen, the fact his company turns over $1 billion worth of mortgages each year is something of a mystery. “I don’t know” the reason, he said. “If I knew, I would just bottle it and sell it.”

But soon it becomes apparent that his confidence and pride in his sales team is the formula to which he ascribes his firm’s success.

“We have a lot of very good sales people who have been here a long time. Normally, if you stay with this business long enough and you’re good, you end up building your mushroom every year,” said Thompson. According to figures compiled by The Warren Group, Banker & Tradesman’s parent company, Mortgage Master originated 7,161 loans for a total of $1.6 billion in 2001. Of that, $1.3 billion fell into the non-purchase mortgage category, which predominately involves refinancings.

Top Mortgage Master salesman Tom Digan closed over 1,000 loans last year for a dollar volume of $271 million. He’s been with the company 10 years and said most of his business is generated by referrals. If you take care of the customer from the beginning, they’ll remember, he said. “I explain things [and] people get comfortable. It’s very simple once you explain things,” he said. He also makes sure to return every phone call and rises by 5:30 a.m. daily to ensure his paperwork is done by 9 a.m. so he’s free to speak with customers for the remainder of the day. “The most productive time is right now,” he said of the mid-morning.

Thompsen said during last year’s refinancing boom most of his top loan originators were working in excess of 90 hours per week. “Last year we were up to more than twice the volume we did before. It’s just a very difficult business to staff for. I’d love to have a business that grows [a predictable] 8 percent a year. But ours grows to new higher highs and new lower lows,” he said.

‘Unusual Combination’

At its operation center at 686 Washington St. in Norwood, it’s hard to catch any of Mortgage Master’s loan originators off their telephone headsets for more than a few moments before they’re speaking with customers again. Occasionally, a head pops up from behind the eye-level cubicle to look out through the glass-fronted building to the busy street outside.

During the boom, Mortgage Masters increased its personnel by roughly 50 percent with a mix of temporary help and full-time staff, said Thompsen. Within the last few weeks the temporary positions have either been eliminated or converted to full-time jobs. Although the company beefed up for the refinance boom, Thompsen said it was growing and needed to add more people regardless of the up cycle.

“It’s been a great ride; the interest rates have been good and we really have the best underwriters,” said Digan.

Thompsen is serious about customer service because his business depends so much on the good will generated by his sales people. “It means never burning a bridge, always having happy customers … giving good rates and building a good business,” he said. Additionally, it means keeping track of the customer’s best interests. There are a number of different ways for people to obtain mortgages, Thompsen said. “These days it’s almost like another financial tool. If people have a lot of wealth, if people have one or two or three large mortgages on properties, it’s good for them to have a professional like what we have here, constantly monitoring the mortgages,” he said.

Attracting customers often is simply a matter of offering the best price, Thompsen said. Because of the vast volume of loans it generates, Mortgage Master is able to offer a competitive price to customers. “It’s just that because of the quality and quantity, which is an unusual combination, we obtain better pricing from some of the vendors. People can simply not get a better deal from anyone else in the country,” he said.

Of the 12 Massachusetts originators named to the top 200 list compiled by Mortgage Originator, a San Diego-based monthly magazine, Mortgage Master boasts seven of them. The list includes top producers as ranked by total dollar volume and number of loans

Thompsen said turnover among his top sales people is nearly nonexistent. He keeps them happy by offering them good money and good products with competitive rates to sell. He describes the atmosphere in his company, which employs about 100 people, as competitive and like a big family that shares its successes, including profit sharing.

David Gibbs, who’s also been with Mortgage Master for 10 years, said he gets a lot of help keeping focused on production goals by employing a full-time assistant. Gibbs closed 791 loans for a total dollar volume of more than $177 million, according to figures supplied by the company to Mortgage Originator for the list.

While he said there have been some “bumps” along the way, Gibbs attributes his success to hard work and “the shotgun approach of marketing every time you get an opportunity and hoping that a few stick.”

Gerald McCarthy left the ice cream business in the mid-1990s to try out the mortgage field. During the first year, McCarthy said he “only made $25,000,” but he doubled his production the next year. Last year he closed 586 loans for a total of $132 million. While the frenetic pace of business last year has eased somewhat, McCarthy still works until 7 p.m. most nights.

Thompsen said last year 70 percent of Mortgage Master’s loan volume was refinancing. “We’re on track to do more this year than last year,” he said. Additionally, the company will soon announce the opening of a new office in a new market that Thompsen said has the potential to double the business. “It’s fun growing,” he said.

High Loan Volume a Hallmark Of Mortgage Master Originators

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min