Residential Magazine

Rekindle That Realtor Relationship

Prepare for a purchase-market shift with your referral partners

By Rick Webster

It’s anyone’s guess when mortgage rates will truly turn the corner. The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan has crept above 3% a handful of times this year, but so far it’s failed to maintain this upward trajectory.

Yet while industry economists can’t reach consensus on the timing, they all agree that rates will eventually rise. Meanwhile, the pressure is on for mortgage originators to rekindle Realtor relationships that may have cooled during the refinance frenzy of the past 18 months.

The problem is not merely that pandemic-related social-distancing policies have kept originators and Realtors from meeting one another for open houses and cocktail dates. For many, the bigger challenge has been finding the time to connect with real estate agents at all, even virtually, while dealing with a deluge of refi opportunities.

Data intelligence

Even though 2021 sales volumes have failed to trump last year’s historic highs, the mortgage market is still in the midst of a refinance lending bonanza by any reasonable measure. In fact, in metro areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Boston and Washington, D.C., refis accounted for more than 75% of all mortgages at the midpoint of the year.

Fortunately, Realtors who feel rebuffed may be willing to let bygones be bygones. With for-sale housing inventory at an all-time low, the National Association of Realtors reported that its membership count actually exceeds the number of U.S. homes on the market. Originators need Realtors — according to a McKinsey & Company report, 39% of first-time buyers and 27% of repeat buyers work with a Realtor to select their lender. But Realtors need originators, too. Since referral partnerships aren’t built (or rebuilt) overnight, now is the perfect time for lenders to lock in loyalty by demonstrating all the ways they can provide value.

With so many Realtors to choose from, loan originators might wonder where to focus their energies; after all, there are only so many hours in the day. To solve this challenge, mortgage companies are increasingly turning to data-intelligence tools that allow originators to assess current marketplace productivity and act on competitive intelligence to build the networks that best support their marketing strategies.

For instance, originators can identify which real estate agents are closing the most loans of a given type within a given geographical area. By keeping tabs on these agents’ activities, originators can know the moment a new listing goes live.

Branding opportunities

Of course, identifying highly productive referral partnerships is only useful to originators who are equipped to act on this intelligence. By piping the data directly into their mortgage marketing software, originators can automate the creation of co-branded marketing collateral that converts more leads to loans at a speed that truly wows Realtors. This is particularly useful in locales where homes are spending very little time on the market.

According to data from as of August 2021, the median amount of time that a U.S. home spent on the market was only 39 days. That’s a precipitous drop from the median of 61 days spent on the market in August 2019, before pandemic-related supply-chain issues exacerbated housing-inventory shortages.

With the right technology, a mortgage originator can receive alerts the moment a desirable referral partner posts a new listing. They can then introduce themselves mere minutes later with a cobranded website that is already generated, using data and images pulled straight from the property listing. As these single-property websites collect leads, a well-tuned marketing tech stack will automatically go to work on nurturing leads via omnichannel, co-branded marketing campaigns.

Demonstrated value

Impressing referral partners, however, isn’t just about marketing speed; it’s also about marketing quality. Today’s homebuyers and sellers have an abundant number of options when it comes to selecting a real estate agent, so helping Realtors stand out from the crowd is a meaningful way to demonstrate value.

One of the most effective ways for originators and real estate agents to differentiate themselves to potential clients is by highlighting their domain expertise. For originators, this might mean helping clients understand the current interest rate environment or walking them through what to expect during each phase of the homebuying journey. For Realtors, this may mean providing data-driven content that contextualizes a home’s value and demonstrates local-market expertise.

Preparing this kind of content doesn’t have to be a chore. Today’s customer relationship management (CRM) platforms offer automated, co-branded marketing campaigns for home-purchase leads that make it effortless to position lenders and Realtors as experts while helping borrowers make better-informed buying decisions.

Open houses returned with a vengeance this past summer as municipalities around the country rolled back COVID-19 restrictions. Then a fresh round of infections and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led many jurisdictions to redouble their social-distancing mandates.

To help keep homebuyers safe while allowing them to tour homes in person, some originators and Realtors are turning to electronic check-in solutions that eliminate common challenges associated with paper check-ins, such as unintelligible handwriting, burdensome and error-prone manual data entry, and misplaced sign-in sheets. Better still, data from electronic check-in services can be funneled straight into the mortgage CRM as another vehicle for kicking off automated marketing campaigns.

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Some originators have been reluctant to take advantage of these kinds of co-marketing features due to compliance concerns. Federal guidelines prohibit lenders and real estate partners from receiving any “thing of value” in exchange for referrals. But there’s no longer any need to delay.

Many of the industry’s leading CRM systems now offer solutions that make it easy for originators and referral partners to co-brand marketing collateral with control and confidence. This eliminates the need for mortgage originators to choose between strong marketing relationships, regulatory compliance and operational ease. ●


  • Rick Webster

    Rick Webster is vice president of client strategy at Top of Mind Networks, a Black Knight company. He draws on his experience from a career that has spanned the mortgage, marketing and technology industries to help mortgage lenders fine-tune their marketing and sales-funnel strategies.

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