A shift in strategy? Rocket Mortgage looks to hire local LOs 

Rocket said it is focused on the purchase market now, just like most other lenders in this market

Rocket Mortgage is looking to hire local loan officers at a time when mortgage rates are high and the industry remains heavily reliant on the purchase market.

The Michigan lender, which racked up record profits with its call center model during the pandemic due to a large number of refis, said hiring local LOs isn’t really a shift in its business model. Rather, Rocket is simply focused on the purchase market now, just like most other lenders in this market.

“I wouldn’t call that (hiring local LOs) a shift in model. We’ve always had brokers across the country, whether it was in a call center, or we have brokers in local markets, it’s always been something that Rocket did,” Mike Fawaz, executive vice president at Rocket Pro TPO, said in an interview with HousingWire.

According to Rocket’s job post, the loan officer position is remote and requires a minimum of three years of experience in mortgage loan origination. The company is looking for someone who has a “proven track record generating organic referrals” that result in closings.

“You can lend where you live and continue to build relationships with clients and real estate agents in your community. In this role, you’ll receive the autonomy of running your own business with the backing of the number one mortgage company in America,” company president Tim Birkmeier wrote in his LinkedIn post last week.

Mat Ishbia, the head of Rocket’s rival, United Wholesale Mortgage, took to LinkedIn to claim that Rocket is “purposely dismantling” the broker channel and ultimately hurting consumers.

“This latest stunt to lure loan officers back into retail and steer consumers away from brokers (…) ​​Rocket is hiring local loan officers to compete directly with mortgage brokers in the communities where brokers have been building their business for years,” Ishbia said.

Rocket hiring local loan officers is nothing new in an environment where refinances have dried up and purchase mortgages are dominant, according to Fawaz. 

“We have multiple broker partners in the same neighborhoods on the same street competing with each other. So this is nothing different. It’s just competition and nothing changed from our perspective at all,” Fawaz said. 

Rocket declined to provide details on the number of LOs it plans to hire. The Michigan lender currently has 8,400 sponsored MLOs, according to the National Mortgage Listing Service.

Fawaz said that Rocket has always been supportive of the broker community, in contrast to what Ishbia has been claiming. 

If a broker is working with a client and that client has had a relationship or a conversation with Rocket retail, Rocket retail stands down and its broker partner continues with the transaction as part of the commitment to the broker community, according to Fawaz. 

“At the end of the day, Ishbia is making it seem like Rocket is going after the broker community, competing with the broker community. The reality is we’ve always competed in the mortgage space. We have Rocket retail, and we compete,” Fawaz said.

Rocket Pro TPO recently upped the ante against UWM by increasing its efforts to court brokers in an industry working to rightsize after a few banner years for business. 

In February, Rocket Pro TPO announced it would stand behind brokers who want to use Rocket or Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation by covering the related legal expenses, like penalties and court costs. 

The announcement came about two years after UWM gave an ultimatum to brokers to choose between the Michigan lender or Rocket Pro TPO and Fairway.

Since the announcement earlier this year, Rocket Pro TPO has had “hundreds of brokers reach out” and is in conversations with brokers regarding the ability to do business with whoever they choose, Fawaz said.

Rocket reported an adjusted net income loss of $111 million in the first quarter of 2022. Its origination volume came in at $17 billion in Q1, declining 10.5% from the previous quarter.

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