How long have you been in the mortgage business and what inspired you to get into it?
It blows my mind to say it, but I’ve been in the mortgage business for over 20 years. I got started totally by accident. After graduating from college, I moved back to my little bitty home town in Colorado and realized that maybe it was a little too itty bitty. Somewhat on a whim, I picked up and moved to Portland and, well, needed a job. I stumbled on a position as an assistant to a Loan Officer. I had no idea it would turn into my life’s work, but it did… and I love it.
Who is your typical customer and what questions do they typically have?
Wow, you know my clients are so diverse that I don’t think I can point to a ‘typical customer’. In fact, one of the things I like best about my job is that I get to meet and serve so many interesting people. But since you asked, I’ll point to a few common threads I’ve noticed:
First-time homebuyer clients often ask about special first-time buyer and low down payment loan programs and also tend to have a lot of questions about the loan process. Although not every first-time buyer asks, I always love sharing some insight into the income tax benefits of owning versus renting.
Clients moving from one home to another, whether locally or relocating to Portland, often need some help puzzling through the logistics. Should they try to dovetail the timing of their sale and purchase? Or should they (or could they) buy first and then sell? Some want to explore the option to keep and rent their current residence. The availability of bridge loans also comes up.
Current and aspiring real estate investor clients have wide-ranging questions, from how to get started in real estate investing to portfolio analysis to strategies for leveraging their equity to utilizing 1031 tax-deferred exchanges.
And current homeowners frequently ask about how to fund remodeling and home improvement. Because I’m in Portland, I often get questions about how to finance construction of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU).
What specific steps do you use to help your customers find the best home loan for them?
I start by assuming nothing, asking a lot of questions and listening (carefully and thoughtfully). This may sound obvious, but there is enough busywork that goes into setting up a loan that it is easy to just forge forward without ever taking the time to talk. To kick-start this conversation I’ve created a “Planning Worksheet”. This worksheet is also a good way to make sure no stone goes unturned.
Once we’ve talked, it’s time for me to get to work. I like to joke that I pretty much just solve story problems for a living (something I loved as a kid and still love today). With the information my client has shared about their finances and goals, I put together loan options so that we can talk through pros and cons and zero in on the loan that is the very best fit. Think of me as an interactive human mortgage calculator. (But I don’t come with any of those annoying animated ads.)
How long have you been in the mortgage business? What awards have you won?
I’ve been in the mortgage business for over 20 years. Time really does fly!
A lot of the awards in our industry are based on the number of loans a loan officer closes. I’ve been lucky enough to be busy enough to have won these types of awards over the years, but they are not how I choose to measure my success. Instead, I strive for each client to sense that I care about them, have their best interests at heart and will do all I can to provide a positive experience as they work with me and my team on their home purchase or refinance. Happy clients are my greatest reward.
Along that line, there is one award I don’t mind mentioning. I’m proud to have been named a Five Star Mortgage Professional every year the award has been given in Portland (7 years, as of 2017). The Five Star Professional organization performs an annual survey of recent homebuyers, asking each to evaluate the mortgage professionals with whom they worked based upon customer service, integrity, communication, preparation and attention to detail, and overall satisfaction. Additionally, respondents are asked whether they would recommend the professional to a friend. The award goes to less than 7% of the mortgage professionals in Portland, and I’m honored to be among them.
I am also a Certified Mortgage Planning Specialist. The certification process includes a completing a holistic course encompassing all aspects of how a mortgage fits into the overall context of a client’s financial life. As a CMPS member, I’ve pledged to abide by a code of conduct and maintain high standards of ethics, service and professional competence. There are over 500,000 loan originators in the United States and only 8,000 (1.6%) are CMPS members.
What are the pros and cons of a fixed rate mortgage versus an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)?
A fixed rate mortgage has a fixed rate (and typically a fixed payment) for the entire term of the loan. An a
adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) is a loan with an interest rate (and payment) that can change.
Nearly all ARMs available today have a fixed interest rate for an initial period of time, commonly 3, 5, 7 or 10 years, before the rate starts adjusting. Because you are, in effect, sharing the risk of higher future interest rates with your lender, you will generally get a lower initial interest rate on an ARM than you will on a fixed rate mortgage. And, generally, the shorter the initial fixed period, the lower the initial rate.
Assessing whether an ARM is right for you entails peering into the future: How long will you keep this loan? How will your income and expenses change over time? The goal is to balance the risk of higher rates in the future with the benefit of the lower initial rate, with some worst-case contingency planning in the mix.
If you are certain you’ll sell your home or otherwise pay off the loan before the fixed term of an ARM ends, an ARM can be a great way to save money. One example that comes to mind is a young physician client. She purchased her home at the beginning of her medical residency at OHSU with a firm plan to sell it and relocate out of the area in 4 years’ time. A 5-year ARM was just what the doctor ordered (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Perhaps less obviously, an ARM can also be an interesting option if you plan to aggressively prepay your loan. This is because every time the rate adjusts, the payment is recalculated, taking into account the then-current principal balance. So, even if the rate increases, it is possible that your monthly payment could decrease, when taking into account a smaller loan balance. If you receive substantial annual bonuses, stock or option grants or gifts you plan to apply to paying down your loan, an ARM gives you the potential to shrink your loan payment over time.
One thing I can’t stress enough is to know yourself: Even if an ARM is the perfect loan on paper, will you sleep at night knowing your rate can change? If not, you may want to forgo a little bit of interest savings in exchange for peace of mind. You can’t put a price on peace of mind.
Tell us about a specific challenging borrowing situation and how you got the mortgage closed and funded.
Solving puzzles is what keeps my work fresh and fun… I absolutely love this part of my job. Virtually every loan I work on gives me the chance to do at least a little creative problem solving.
Should you pay discount points to buy a low mortgage rate? How can we structure your loan to minimize costs and maximize tax savings? These are the sorts of questions on which I collaborate with clients on a daily basis. I don’t want to minimize the importance of these decisions, but they are generally in the context of a loan that will close, one way or another, with or without my input. I’m just trying to add as much value as I can for the clients who’ve chosen to hire me.
Every now and then, however, I help fund a loan that might not have closed without my input and expertise. To know that someone can move into a new home that they love because of work I’ve done is amazingly gratifying.
Very often it seems these loans are for clients who are self-employed, freelance or otherwise have something a little outside the norm about how they make a living. Portland is home to a thriving (and growing) community of entrepreneurs, freelancers, makers and creatives.
Years ago, a young woman who works in the film and TV industry came to me, hoping to purchase her first home. She had been turned down by another lender due to an apparent lack of stability and continuity to her income. With about a dozen W-2s and 1099 forms per year, I have to admit I was scratching my head at first too. But she explained the nature of her work and, together, we assembled the necessary letters and documentation to secure loan approval and get her into her first home.
Real estate investors and the self-employed also bring some potential challenges when applying for a new mortgage. I genuinely enjoy the opportunity to learn about a client’s business, analyze and interpret their tax returns and distill everything down to a story that will make sense to an underwriter and secure a loan approval.
I recently helped a self-employed client refinance his home. He owns a portion of 7 businesses. Those businesses, in turn, own a portion of another 14 businesses. And his wife is, of course, self-employed too. The spreadsheet I made to calculate his income could hang in the Nerd Hall of Fame (if there were such a thing) (and come to think of it, there should be).
What advice would you give new or first time home buyers?
Get pre-approved. I don’t harbor any illusions about how people feel about applying for a mortgage. House-hunting is fun. Securing a mortgage is a bit of a drag. But the benefits of getting pre-approved are myriad:
Finding out your price range. Open up a home search tool and the first parameter you’ll need to enter is your price range. How do you know what to enter? And how heartbreaking would it be to fall in love with a home you can’t qualify to buy? Skip the mortgage calculator online and reach out to a mortgage professional for guidance. Securing a pre-approval is the best way to be sure you are shopping in the right price range.
Avoiding stress and a fire drill. Unless you plan to pay cash for your home (lucky you!), you are going to need a to apply for your mortgage sooner or later. Hold off until you find your dream home and (at best) you’ll be in a mad dash to secure pre-approval fast enough to keep your seller happy or (at worst) have your offer passed over in favor of one from a buyer who had their ducks in a row. It’s far less stressful to get pre-approved, at your leisure, before you start your house-hunt.
Writing a strong offer. Due to the low levels of housing inventory, there’s a pretty good chance you might not be the only buyer interested in a home you hope to buy. When competing, one great way to give your offer an edge is to present it with a pre-approval from your lender.
Knowledge brings peace of mind. Buying your first home is sure to be an exciting experience. By connecting with your lender and initiating a pre-approval, you can learn what to expect each step of the way, laying the groundwork for a positive experience free from surprises.
The good news is that getting pre-approved is actually pretty quick and easy. Using Guaranteed Rate’s Digital Mortgage, you can apply online (or from a mobile device), securely upload your paperwork and obtain a copy of your credit scores in just a few minutes. This is everything necessary to determine the best loan for your needs, pin down a price range and secure a pre-approval so that you can get out there hunting for your home.
How has the mortgage industry changed since you started, and what would you expect in the future?
Given that I took my first loan application using a stone tablet and a chisel, I sure have seen some change. (Okay, I’m not quite that old.) But kidding aside, there have been some big changes during my career and I expect the coming years to be dynamic times for this industry. Although I may be a little old school in some ways (I use a vintage HP amortizing mortgage calculator every day), but I embrace any change that improves my clients’ experience of getting a loan and helps me offer low rates, low costs and more loan options.
Technology is poised to transform the experience of getting a mortgage. This is one big reason I’ve chosen to work for Guaranteed Rate. GR has been a pioneer in adopting technology in ways that make the mortgage process more pleasant and efficient for borrowers. The next wave of innovation in lending technologies should further streamline the paperwork, giving applicants the option to share financial information directly from their employer and financial institutions to their lender.
I also expect the home valuation process to change in the near term. Today, virtually every home we finance requires an appraisal report, performed manually by a licensed appraiser. I expect we’ll start seeing more frequent waivers of this requirement when the loan is at low risk of default or the home has been appraised recently. This will save borrowers time and money.
And finally, with the mortgage crisis and resulting recession further and further in our rearview mirror, I predict we’ll see a steady increase in the number and types of loan programs offered to consumers. With the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau at the helm these new programs will have to pass regulatory muster, so we won’t see a return to the excesses of the 2000’s, but consumers should benefit from greater access to lending options.
What part of the home loan process do customers find most difficult and how do you help them through it?
For many of my clients, the most daunting aspect of the mortgage process is where to start. From the outside looking in, the process can seem obscure and jargon-filled and… numbers… money… paperwork... argh! I work really hard to demystify and simplify the process (and avoid jargon at all costs!). Happily, obtaining a home loan is inherently linear and predictable. I make sure each client knows what to expect ahead of time and then my team and I keep them informed every step of the way, from our initial “Hello!” to the day you turn a key in the lock and open the door to your new home. I’ve also built a resource center at www.workshopmortgage.com, where my clients can follow along (or read ahead).
What are the top 3 misconceptions people have about the home loan process?
1) That you have to put 20% down to get a good loan. I’m surprised how many people delay buying a home as they save toward a 20% down payment. Putting 20% down does afford you the benefit of avoiding mortgage insurance. But what if property values and/or interest rates go up while you are saving? You have to save fast enough to outpace increasing values and rates to come out ahead and that can be difficult to do. And mortgage insurance can be surprisingly inexpensive by comparison. I recommend talking to a lender as soon as you set a goal to buy a home. You may still decide to delay buying as you save, but you’ll have a clear understanding of your mortgage options, how your savings changes your options and a road map.
2) That you have to have perfect credit to get a good loan. Credit can be a touchy subject for anybody who’s had some challenges, but lenders understand that ‘life happens’. If your credit is less-than-perfect, take a deep breath and reach out to a lender. You may discover that you have some work to do before you’ll qualify for a loan, but a good Loan Officer can give you action items and a roadmap toward achieving your goals. And a surprising number of clients I’ve met over the years had no idea that they could get pre-approved and start shopping for a home right away.
3) That the there is one loan, and only one loan, you can use to buy your home. I don’t want to imply that there are not some fairly hard-and-fast rules in lending. Loan programs do have guidelines into which a borrower must fit. But there are a wide array of loan options and a surprising amount of leeway in the lending process. Even if you decide to pursue a good old fashioned 30 year fixed rate loan, you and your Loan Officer can work to structure it in a way that best fits your budget, tax situation and long and short term financial goals.
What 2 or 3 mobile apps would you recommend for home buyers or house hunters, and why? What Smart Apps do you recommend your customers use for the house hunting process?
Photo to PDF converter apps - CamScanner / Evernote Scannable
The mortgage process, for now anyway, still involves a certain amount of paperwork. We do as much as we can to streamline the process and work digitally, but every now and then we’ll ask you to send something our way that is on a good ol’ fashioned piece of wood pulp paper. When we do, one alternative is to send us a photo using the camera in your smartphone. Often, however, phone camera images come through too fuzzy or too dark for us to use. Happily there are a couple of great (free) apps that eliminate these issues by converting a photo you take with your phone into a pdf. For Android users, the best app seems to be CamScanner. For iPhone users, I recommend Evernote Scannable. You can’t beat the price (both are free) and you’ll be amazed at how well they work and how often you’ll use them.
When you are shopping for your home (or thinking about a refinance) you’ll want to look at some loan scenarios. We can use the Mortgage Coach app to send you detailed reports that not only show your monthly payment, associated closing costs and how much cash you’ll need to close, but also give you some insight into how one loan option compares to another. Want to know the interest costs for a 30 year fixed rate versus 15 year fixed rate? Or what happens when you pay points to buy a lower rate? A Mortgage Coach Total Cost Analysis can answer these questions and more.
Guaranteed Rate mobile app
Of course I have to give a plug to our own great mobile app. You can use it to instantly connect with me and my team, see real-time mortgage rates, compare rates, fees and monthly payments and apply for pre-approval in minutes.
What resources could you recommend that borrowers use to learn more about the mortgage process and how to ensure a successful home closing?
For anyone considering working with me, the very best resource I can offer is www.workshopmortgage.com. When I started working on it I said my goal was to put everything I know about mortgages onto the web. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m still adding content. In the “Process” section, I walk through the entire home buying and mortgage experience, step-by-step.
What can borrowers do to ensure a smooth mortgage underwriting process?
Great question! The difference between a smooth, speedy, drama-free ride from application to closing and a loan that hits challenges and delays is often something small. Some general rules of thumb to keep in mind are:
To the extent that you can, avoid any changes to your financial status during the loan process. Avoid job changes, opening new bank accounts and applying for new credit. Maintain the status quo in your financial life. If a change is unavoidable, talk to us ahead of time, so that we can determine if and how the change might affect your loan and how to manage it.
Let us know if you have any sizable sums of money coming your way. The underwriter will want to document the source of most all deposits to your bank account and it's a lot easier to do this as it happens than retroactively. Also, for the same reason, avoid cash deposits to your bank accounts. Cash is difficult to paper trail to the satisfaction of an underwriter.
For lots of specific tips and dos and don’ts (and a chance to win a prize), give my “Help Us Help You” document a read.
Are you active in any local associations or community groups, and at what level? What goals and/or success have you helped these groups achieve?
I started in the mortgage industry in my 20s, fresh out of college with student loans and credit card debt and very little understanding of how money works. I learned everything I know about personal finance as a result of the happy accident of circumstances that led me to a career in the mortgage industry. I needed to know about the financial markets and how to make sense of tax returns to ply my trade. I’ve picked up more than a few things by osmosis, noticing how choices clients made reverberated through their financial lives. And more than a few older, wiser clients and colleagues along the way were kind enough to share their knowledge of financial planning, real estate investing and more.
Given where I started, I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities and mentors my career has afforded me. But of course, not everybody is lucky enough to spend a couple of decades immersed in the world of finance. Putting this accumulated knowledge to work for my clients every day is fulfilling, but I wanted to do more to ‘pay it forward’.
So I volunteer my time with two financial literacy programs. The Oregon Financial Education Network is an Oregon-based non-profit that teaches fiscal workshops in the workplace and at community colleges. I am a board member and run home buying and real estate investing workshops. I am also a registered volunteer speaker with National Financial Educators Council. I’m truly passionate about financial education and the positive impact that financial literacy has on people’s lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Are you active in any fundraising organizations? What goals and/or success have you helped them achieve?
I’m a member of ninety-nine girlfriends, a collective giving project based in Portland and SW Washington. Each member donates to the collective, which pools the funds to provide awards to local non-profits focusing on arts & culture, education, the environment, family and human services and health and wellness.
In 2016, ninety-nine girlfriends gave a $100,000 Impact Award to Gateway to College National Network’s PDX Bridge Project. In addition, four Finalist Awards of $4250 were presented to Family Forward Oregon, The Circus Project, Friends of Zenger Farm and Street Roots. In 2017, our goal is to give two $100,000 Impact Awards and three $5000 Finalist Awards. I invite any women in Portland or SW Washington to join, contribute and participate in this meaningful and worthy project.
Summary of where you grew up: family, affiliations, college, high school, etc.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but my family settled in Colorado when I was still in grade school. I spent my formative years in Estes Park, a touristy little mountain town tucked in a valley below the Continental Divide at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. I headed to the east Coast for college, graduating from the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, with a BA in Philosophy.
My parents live in Anacortes, Washington and Denver, Colorado with their respective spouses and my sister is a real estate broker on Bainbridge Island, just across the sound from Seattle. I live in Portland with my partner of 17 years (and love of my life), Cindy, and our rickety old dog and cat. Maddy the Cat makes a cameo appearance at www.workshopmortgage.com. Lena the Dog prefers to maintain her anonymity.
What provides you with the most satisfaction in your job as a Loan Officer?
I love three things about my job above all others:
1) The puzzles - I enjoy the constant challenges that are an everyday part of my job as a Loan officer. In big and small ways I get to solve problems and impact my clients’ lives in a positive way.
2) The opportunity to educate - My goal is to empower every client with the information they need to make confident, informed choices about their mortgage in the broader context of their financial lives. Every time I can answer a question for a client it puts a smile on my face.
3) The people - My clients are some of the nicest, most interesting people I’ve ever met. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to get to know them and collaborate on achieving their financial goals.
What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time when you are not helping people with their home loans?
When I’m not helping people with their home loans, I indulge in a few hobbies. I’ve been home brewing since my college days. I also took up motorcycle riding a few years ago and fell in love with the freedom and fun to be had on a dual sport.
My partner and I are season ticket holders to both the Portland Timbers and Portland Thorns and proud members of the Timbers Army. We both love to travel, but out of respect for our geriatric dog and cat, we don’t manage to go much further than the Columbia River Gorge or Oregon Coast these days.
And my partner and I also own and manage a collection of rental properties in Portland and Vancouver.
Tell us something that makes you unique or something wacky, yet interesting about you?
My hometown, Estes Park, Colorado, is a tourist destination in the summertime. When we moved to town, my family started running a business called Trout Haven (an ironic misnomer, as you’re about to learn). We kept a pond stocked with about 6,000 rainbow trout. Visitors to town could come and fish and be assured of catching, well, as many trout as they cared to catch. You pretty much couldn’t not catch a fish with every cast. As a part of the fee for fishing, we cleaned the fish for our customers.
So my summer job, starting at age 11, was working at Trout Haven, gutting trout. Turns out, when you gut hundreds of trout a day, you get pretty speedy. By the end of the summer, I could take a live trout and have it ready to cook in under 4 seconds... a fact of which I was rather proud.
Summer ended and I headed off to 7th grade at my new school, where I learned that my history teacher, Mr. Flynn, also had a summer job at a trout pond when he was a kid. We bonded over our shared experiences--the sights, the sounds, the smells (mostly the smells). And of course, I bragged about my trout-gutting prowess. So when the time came for the annual student talent show, Mr. Flynn threw down the gauntlet and challenged me to a trout gutting contest.
You’re on, Mr. Flynn...and you are going down.
It was a blowout… not even close. I finished cleaning my 12th and final trout while Mr. Flynn was still on his third. There was, of course, no running water on the stage in the gym in the middle school, so things got a little bit gory.
Have you ever had one of those experiences in life when you won something, but then later on figured out that maybe you lost too? The middle school boys were impressed. The girls were… unimpressed. I had a little trouble making any girl friends at my new school for a while after that talent show.
Thankfully my social life recovered. But I still can’t bring myself to eat trout.