Massachusetts’ most successful loan originators had to dramatically expand their staff to respond to borrowers on nights and weekends.

In a year when low interest rates drove record levels of residential refinancing in Massachusetts, loan originators throughout the state saw purchase activity in 2020 close to or even exceeding the previous year’s levels.  

“It was a perfect storm – we had record purchase volume and record refinance volume at the same time,” said Shant Banosian, a senior vice president at Guaranteed Rate in Waltham. “Usually it’s one or the other; in this case we had both at the same time.” 

Even as many households struggled to make mortgage payments, the purchase market benefited from the lifestyle changes others sought during the pandemic – from seeking seaside retreats to finding single-family homes with backyards and more space to work at home. The pandemic also created a challenging environment that saw loan originators looking for ways to meet the needs of consumers and the real estate industry.  

The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman, has compiled from its proprietary loan originators module the top loan originators of calendar year 2020. The originators are ranked by number of loans, loan volume statewide, by region and by the institution with which they are most closely affiliated. 

Massachusetts had $126.3 billion in residential mortgages in 2020, up from $80.8 billion in 2019. Purchase activity statewide was nearly $37.6 billion, just behind 2019’s volume of $37.7 billion. Refinancing activity doubled from $43.1 billion in 2019 to $88.7 billion in 2020. 

Market Challenged LOs’ Teams 

Staff and technology were keys to managing the refinance and purchase volumes at the same time, said Banosian, who led the state’s loan originators with 3,102 loans worth $1.5 billion. He doubled his staff, hiring mostly for operational roles to handle the pipeline of customers, including processors, underwriters and sales support. He said he expects his team to continue to grow in 2021. 

Who originated the most mortgages? Who did the greatest volume of loans? See our rankings of Massachusetts’ top loan originators of 2020

In addition to high levels of activity, the purchase market presented additional challenges. A shortage of available homes for sale, high demand from homebuyers and an influx of cash in the market due in part by government aid contributed to motivated buyers and bidding wars, Banosian said. 

“We saw that our consumers wanted to move, move fast, and on top of that there were less homes for sale, so the speed in which closings were happening was faster,” Banosian said. “It was the most aggressive purchase market we’ve seen.” 

To maintain their referral relationships, successful loan originators adapted quickly to the pandemic by shifting in-person connections to virtual ones.

Andrew Marquis, a senior loan officer with Guaranteed Rate in Lexington who originated 1,389 loans worth $676.87 million, also added staff during the pandemic, which was a challenging task on its own. He said loan processors have highly skilled jobs, and qualified candidates would sometimes accept counter-offers from their current employers. One solution Marquis found was to train members of his current staff for some of those roles and then hire for jobs requiring less specialized skills.  

With consumers facing anxiety during the homebuying process and sellers accepting offers at all times of the day, Marquis said he hired staff to cover night and weekend shifts as well, ensuring the team was available for clients to reach at all hours.  

The work-from-home environment brought on by the pandemic also helped loan originators manage the challenges of 2020. Patricia Lotane, a mortgage loan officer with Cape Cod Five who originated 412 loans worth $186.06 million, said that even though she missed the face-to-face interactions that were previously standard in the industry and at the bank, working from home allowed her to be more productive in handling the volume of work. She also gave credit to the bank’s back-office workers.  

“It was a big team effort – it’s nice to have coworkers and the Cape Cod Five group that really all care,” Lotane said. “They know the customer, and what they’re feeling. They do care about the outcome for the customer.” 

Pandemic Forced Changes 

Loan originators last year also had to adjust to working in an industry that had previously been accustomed to in-person meetings both with customers and with referral sources – real estate agents, attorneys and other industry partners.  

Lotane said that the high volumes actually helped keep the relationships with referral sources strong during the pandemic.  

Everybody was so busy, we were talking with each other constantly,” Lotane said. “I wonder if volume wasnt so high, what it may have looked like at the point as far as keeping up with relationships with the attorneys, with agents…but we were all so connected because we were all so busy.” 

Lotane added that she is already making plans for in-person meetings with industry partners.  

Lindsay Barron LaBonte, a branch manager with HarborOne Mortgage in Northampton who originated 311 loans worth $83.88 million across Western Massachusetts, used social media and video tools to do outreach with customers and referral sources. Before the pandemic, LaBonte had been planning to start using video tools to enhance relationships in the industry and for marketing opportunities.  

Diane McLaughlin

“I had already started the footprint for that over the last few years, and I was really able to just switch it on full throttle when we needed it right in the beginning of the shutdown,” LaBonte said. “Im comfortable on the video platform because of that, and maybe because of my age. Since I am a Millennial, that always helps a little bit with the social media curve, although I have plenty of non-Millennial colleagues that are excellent at it as well.” 

HarborOne kept loan originators updated on changing policies and processes, both internally and within the industryLaBonte said, and referral partners and consumers appreciated the educational opportunities. 

Banosian said his team had success setting up webinars and social events to provide information to referral partners and clientsHe added that he is waiting to see how the industry, which was always based on human interactions, resumes business.  

Just like we learned a lot last year,” Banosian said. “I think we’re going to learn a lot this coming year as things open back up and what the needs and demands and wants of all our clients are. 

Top LOs Grappled with Red-Hot Purchase Market

by Diane McLaughlin time to read: 4 min