10 Ways Loan Officers Can Build Strong Referral Relationships with Real Estate Agents

security best practices for mortgage lenders

Especially as we head into a purchase-heavy market this year, strong relationships that facilitate reliable referral business are vital for loan officer success. And when it comes to referrals, real estate agents still provide the most profitable leads.

Forging a close professional relationship with an agent is one of the most valuable things you can do for your lending career, but empty promises and miscommunication from loan officers has made many agents hesitant to collaborate with lenders. 

We spoke with a number of agents to get first-hand advice on what loan officers should (and should not) do to foster collaborative relationships with agents. Here are a few of the best real estate agent networking tips for loan officers.

1. Show your industry knowledge.

The mortgage industry changes at a breakneck pace, and agents want to know that they’re partnering with an industry expert who will help guide them and their borrowers through the trickier aspects of the mortgage process.

Demonstrate your knowledge of mortgage products that serve a wide range of homebuyers, from FHA to first-time homebuyer loan programs.

2. Add value with email marketing.

Because agents get so many emails from lenders, it’s in your best interest to figure out a way to add value with your email marketing. One agent we talked to raved about a loan officer who would send him weekly industry updates and rates. Consider how your industry expertise to educate agents on providing early guidance to customers on their financing options.

3. Grow your social presence.

Agents rely heavily on referrals to drive their business, so they’re constantly looking for ways to build their brand and gain exposure. Work on building your social media presence so you can sweeten the deal for potential agent partners by being able to provide them exposure and co-branded opportunities. In a competitive environment, having a significant social following will set you apart since you’ll be able to offer a benefit (i.e. an audience of potential customers) beyond just the loan. 

Unsure where to start on these marketing efforts? 

4. Back up your claims.

As an Inman Report notes, “Lender marketing efforts directed at real estate professionals mean nothing if the lenders cannot back up their advertised claims. Real estate professionals only want to work with lending partners with a proven track record whom they can trust to help clients get what they need to close on time.”

Agents want to know that you and your team can deliver on the closing date, consistently. Can your team live up to your promises every time?  

5. Establish a local presence.

Realtors want a local lender who knows their market and can be available to meet the borrower face-to-face. Focus your networking efforts in your local market by becoming an affiliate member of your local real estate agent association. Especially in competitive markets, that means your pre-qualification letter will help your homebuyers offer rise to the top of the pack.

6. Consider implementing “office hours.”

What better way to build a relationship with agents than to be right in the office next door?  Several agents we talked to had great experience with lenders who would have “office hours” on-site one or two days a week. By being at their beck and call, you are organically incentivizing agents to want to work with you.

If office hours don’t work for you, simply provide agent contacts your cell phone number, and commit to being incredibly responsive to their calls, texts, and emails.

7. Don’t crash their open house.

This came up again and again in our discussions with agents. While it might seem like a good way to (literally) get your foot in the door, it’s invasive and disrespectful to the agent. Of course, if you’re invited, some agents do appreciate having a trusted partner to discussing financing structures on-the-spot with prospective buyers.

8. Keep your promises.

Many agents we talked to seemed wary or downright jaded about building new relationships with loan officers. The reason? Consistently bad experiences with loan officers who make empty promises with no follow-through. Put your money where your mouth is and get your team to consistently deliver on your promises.

9. Get creative with communication.

Agents are constantly bombarded with cold emails from loan officers. So what if you focused your efforts elsewhere? Share their posts on social media and interact with them digitally, or—even better—network in-person at local networking events. Many successful loan officers join BNI or Vistage groups where they interact not just with real estate agents, but accountants and lawyers too—all great sources of referrals.

(If in-person events aren’t happening due to COVID, check out some virtual events where you can network over Zoom.)

10. Build genuine connection.

When you first meet a an agent, do not ‘push’ loans or start asking for appointments. Your goal should be to establish credibility and trust. Focus on quality relationship-building, and sincere conversations to establish common ground.

“The mistake I see many mortgage reps make is the ’attack’ for business. I am approached by mortgage reps with a list of questions, ‘Who do you recommend to your clients for loans?’ ’How many deals do my agents do?’ ‘Can we make an appointment?’ Before you can get reception on that level, you have to build credibility and trust. Without overdoing the mortgage conversation, network on common ground first,” says Jeanne Feeni, a successful agent in Warren, NJ.

Download our free ebook “Winning Agent Business” to learn exactly how to become the go-to lender for agents in your market.