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Refi boom fuels hiring by mortgage firms during the downturn

Opportunities include sales people, underwriters, closers and post-closing professionals

At a time when unemployment levels are rising to heights not seen since the Great Depression, the mortgage industry is among the relatively few sectors outside of the frontline workforce that is actively seeking out new employees.

“We’re hiring and we’re expanding,” said Paul Buege, president of Pewaukee, Wisconsin-based Inlanta Mortgage. “And that’s happening on top of record volume for a company that’s nearly 100% virtual.”

“We are aggressively recruiting not only salespeople but inside staff as well,” said Christopher Stanton, senior vice president of retail lending at MLB Residential Lending in Springfield, New Jersey. “From underwriters to closers to post-closing, pretty much every department. Right now, we have about 160 employees and in the next 60 days we’re probably looking to increase that by about 10%.”

Part of this hiring trend can be attributed to the industry being in the right place at the right time.

“One of the things that the mortgage industry is going to be able to offer to the economy right now is refinancing borrowers into lower interest rates,” said Michael “Mo” Oursler, chief operating officer at NewDay USA in Fulton, Maryland. “This interest rate environment will create monthly savings for those borrowers and homeowners that they can use for other purposes.”

Stanton added that while the coronavirus pandemic created tumult throughout much of the economy, “there are a lot of industries that are fully active still, where people have full employment and are aggressively seeking to purchase. We’re as busy as we’ve ever been.”

Another driving force is that the mortgage industry was in a strong position before the pandemic’s economic paralysis took effect.

“We’ve been hiring a lot over the past couple years as we’ve grown,” said Alex Elezaj, chief strategy officer at United Wholesale Mortgage in Pontiac, Michigan. “A couple of months ago, before the COVID-19 crisis, we had 800 IT people here at our company, probably the most in the industry, I would imagine. But we’re really big on it and we’re going to continue to develop our IT team. So, we’re hiring hundreds of people on it over the next six months to a year.”

In April, UWM’s CEO, Mat Ishbia, promised that the company would not lay off employees during the coronavirus shutdown, declaring that he would “sleep on your couch” before he would lay off team members.

NewDay USA was also planning to increase its workforce before the pandemic took root, and it hasn’t changed course. Oursler said the company is set up to ensure constant waves of employees can be readied for its workforce.

Oursler also credited NewDay USA’s niche focus on VA lending as being beneficial for increased hiring, adding that “we don’t have to train anything other than how to serve the veteran community – and by being able to leverage that, we think we have a lot of growth opportunity ahead of us.”

Inlanta’s Buege pointed to his company’s Coaching Academy, launched earlier this year before the pandemic, which puts potential employees through in-depth education on sales techniques and technology, along with one-on-one mentoring. Buege believed an intensive hands-on approach would ensure a stronger workforce that is up to the challenge of their duties before dealing with the public.

“We wanted to be ongoing and proactive,” he said. “And I think that’s where the industry historically did not do very well: they would hire them, give them 30 days in training, and then the strong would survive and the weak would perish. We were taking an entirely different approach.”

Mortgage companies are finding their new employees through a variety of channels. At UWM, the existing workforce has helped point out possible candidates.

“About 65% to 70% of the team members that we hire come from internal referrals,” said. “What’s great about that is when you have team members that are referring others, they already know that these candidates are going to be a cultural fit and have a good work ethic.”

MLB Residential Lending’s Stanton noted his company has been able to take advantage of picking up new employees from competitors that have not been able to navigate the current economic storms.

“Not every mortgage company is hiring,” he said. “Some of them were actually caught by surprise and had some financial repercussions that caused them to have to lay people off. Through our network in the industry, we’re able to pick up some additional employees that have been at other companies and were actually in jeopardy of losing their jobs.”

The new hiring activity could also bring a fresh wave of workplace diversity. Ken Chitester, director of communications at Appraisal Institute, pointed out that the appraiser side of the industry has traditionally been close to borderline homogenous.

“Real estate valuation is not particularly diverse,” he said. “It is 78% male, 85% white and 75% age 51 and older.”

Chichester said the Appraisal Institute had worked with colleges and universities to attract young people into the profession, although the closing of schools – and, by extension, their career fairs – has put this effort in temporary disruption.

“We are trying to attend events virtually and be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

The Mortgage Bankers Association is also looking into restarting its virtual career fair program that was discontinued in 2018. Lisa Haynes, senior vice president, said the trade group was in touch with schools to get involved in this endeavor, although no deadline is in place for its relaunch.

Haynes believed that the post-pandemic era should include a new push to introduce college students to the mortgage profession before they graduate, rather than have them drift unexpectedly into the industry.

“There are no classes in college to talk about the mortgage industry,” she said. “Students don’t know they can have these jobs.”

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