Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment in the “Industry Warriors” series, a collection of profiles on veteran real estate professionals and lenders who produced high volumes pre-9/11 and pre-2008, weathered those economic downturns and rebounded even stronger.
With a “Movement Mortgage” tablecloth pinned to the wall behind him, Steve Barker sits at a desk in the basement of his home, computer video on and Zoom running live from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s his virtual office.
Barker — a market leader for Movement Mortgage who oversees Delaware and most of Maryland — usually works from his car, visiting each loan office. But in the new normal of closed buildings, Barker has set up a virtual format for his team to remain connected.
HousingWire spoke to Barker, who has been in the lending industry since 1991, about his strategies for leading and succeeding in today’s mortgage market.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HousingWire: What are you doing within your lending business to adapt to the current market situation?
Steve Barker: Right now the key is stay in touch with them. So I kid you not when I say this, I purchased my Zoom membership for the Premier Edition or whatever they call it. I open a virtual office at nine o’clock in the morning, and I close it at five o’clock. I text the group, and I say, ‘Hey, coffee’s on; stop in and say hi.’ So basically, I treat that as I’m sitting here exactly what you’re looking at on this Zoom call, I’m sitting here from nine to five. People know that I’m here. So they can jump in and say hi. They can jump in and ask a question. Frankly, there’s like five or six people of those 22 (on my team) that just come in and stay all day.
I did that for multiple reasons. I don’t want anyone to feel isolated right now and that’s easy, considering what we’re all going through. I have single moms with kids; I don’t want them to feel like they’re alone. I have families that are doing schooling right now, with kids online and trying to work. I want them to know that I’m still there with them, and they’re still part of a team and part of a family and part of a community. So that’s one of the things I’m doing right now, is a virtual office from nine to five.
Right now our marketing team is creating so much content to keep the consumer and the Realtors informed and educated. It’s like a fire hose right now of incredible content. Our coaching team is creating meetings to have virtually with Realtors. We’ve got my regional marketing coordinators, creating a series of four things on how to (do) social media during social distancing. So there’s a ton of content right now, that’s available to keep agents and consumers and everybody else informed. They’re keeping your mind engaged, and I think it’s important right now to also keep your heart engaged.
I talked on a call this morning about engaging the heart, to pick up the phone to call your team every day. I Venmo somebody within my team $50 every couple days and say, ‘Hey, buy locally, treat yourself to dinner, use a local restaurant, keep them in business. Let me feed your family tonight.’ There’s something called Daymaker that takes care of people who are in need, and I went on yesterday and made a contribution from the team to Daymaker to six different kids in the Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington, Delaware.
And I’m just trying to help; I’m blessed. First of all, let’s just be crystal clear. If you’re in the mortgage business right now, you’re working. Business is good. Life is grand. It’s not so good for other people.
HW: How are you encouraging your team to stay positive during this time? How are you staying positive?
SB: You can’t deny the fact that there’s fear, so you just have to be transparent with everybody right now. I always deal with crisis through humor. Since I was in college and tried my hands at stand-up comedy, I’ve always dealt with adversity through humor. Right now, you can only take so many funny memes, right? At some point, somebody’s having a crappy day. I had a crappy day yesterday afternoon, and I went for a walk, a four and a half mile jaunt and said, ‘You know what, I’m better now.’
I attended a service online courtesy of Casey Crawford a week ago, and the pastor said something that stuck with me big time. He said, ‘You should be afraid right now. You should have some sense of fear right now. Everybody should, and if you don’t, give me your address; I’m coming over to check your pulse because you’re not human. But that fear can ride in the car with you; you just can’t let it drive.’ So I’m a very positive person. When I can’t be positive, I go take a walk.
And my team is very positive. One of my teammates the other day, she booked and paid for slots for an online yoga instructor. So 10 of her teammates here at Movement and 10 of her Realtors actually did an hour-long online yoga class, and the feedback from that was amazing. People said they had the most productive afternoon that they’ve had since all this started. So think outside the box and don’t think, ‘Now I’m going to do a Zoom meeting, and I’m going to do a Zoom happy hour.’ Great. What else can you do to connect, to engage and to listen?
HW: What did you do in past economic downturns to successfully navigate that time?
SB: I had been at the same company in ’07, ’08. I was with a joint venture of a major bank. They had money. You know, the Implode-o-meter … we were watching it every day — who was exploding, who was imploding. And I didn’t have that concern. As a matter of fact, I saw opportunity in the adversity, and I took advantage of that opportunity.
Now is a time, just like then, when you have the opportunity to go deeper in your relationships, and what I mean by that is to show people that you not only care about their business, but you care about them and their family. So I think right now is a time that, similar to ’07 and ’08, gives you the opportunity to build stronger, longer-lasting relationships. And you’re just gonna do it through different technology than you did it back in ’07, ’08.
I had a great loan officer call me the other day … He said, ‘The bridge is blown behind me, so I’m going to charge up that hill, because I think there’s opportunity on the other side of it.’ So right now, the same way in ’07 and ’08 that I did it, is you’ve got to seek the opportunity on the other side of this. It might be time for a little bit of a shift in opportunity as well, and here’s what I mean by that: How many people in our industry hard-market to and build relationships with CPAs, financial planners, divorce attorneys? Take that group — they need you right now as a loan officer.
HW: Given your history in that past economic downturn, what do you think LOs need to know now that they might not be thinking about?
SB: Right now, you should not be living in the hypothetical. You should not be speculating on what this is going to look like when it’s over. You should be living in a fact-based world, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my team. So I think what people haven’t thought about is how to eliminate the noise, around what’s going to happen to our industry. Because nobody knows that answer, either.
HW: What piece of advice would you give to others in your field trying to navigate COVID-19?
SB: Do the things you’re supposed to do every day. You’re just gonna have to find unique ways to do them … I’m not a mail person; when I go to the mailbox, half of the mail that’s in my mailbox doesn’t make it into my house. Because unless it’s a bill or unless it’s personalized, it goes right in the recycle bin before I walk inside. So right now, go back to old school. Pick up a pen. Write a handwritten note. Stick it in the mail.
Every loan officer should be getting every Realtor’s home address right now because after this is over, I think a lot of people are going to discover that they don’t need to go into an office to work. So how are you going to reach them? How are you going to let them know you care about them? How are you going to educate them? And I think the mail could be a great way to do it right now.