Today on the Heath Barnes Show, I’m speaking with Matt Westervelt from NFM Lending located in Houston. After having struggles in his own personal life in the past with finances, this became the driving factor for him to help others to be financially successful for those not only in this business but for everyone he works with.
In this episode, see the different methods Matt uses to add value to others not only the clients but realtor partners and putting them first it allows for success in this shifting environment.
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Providing Value And Leading With Advise Not Price With Matt Westervelt
I am over the moon excited to have what I consider my new friend, Matt Westervelt, on this episode. What’s going on, Matt?
How are you doing, Heath? It’s a real pleasure to be here. As I told you a couple of times in the past, being a part of The CORE and part of the Houston real estate community, you’re an absolute legend in both worlds. It’s an honor that I’ve been invited to the show with you.
I appreciate that flattery, but it’s not necessary. I appreciate you being on the show. My first connection with you, as you remember, is a few of months ago. I heard about you through Derrick Geitner, a mutual friend of ours when you worked at IBERIABANK. I called Derrick and said, “Would you like to come to Amplify?”
I was hosting an event here in Houston and had a couple of people drop out. He said, “I can’t go but you might call Matt. That guy is super driven, but he just had a kid a week ago.” I’m like, “It’s in two weeks. He’s probably not going.” I called you Matt and you were like, “I’m probably in. Give one day. I’ll call you back.” Sure enough, you were like, “I’m all in.” I appreciate that. Where did you get that drive from?
A couple of reasons. One, I was always an athlete growing up. I played football and basketball my whole life. I played high school and college football. The inner athlete in me is super competitive. I’ve had a period in my time, in my past where finances were a real issue. I’m motivated by financial success. Some people are ashamed to talk about that. I am personally not because of some of the financial struggles that I’ve had in my own life. What’s drawn me to this business is to help other people in their finances and help them be financially successful.
You’ve been in the business for many years and you were with a bank before. On our pre-call, you were sharing with me that on your first Summit in 2018, you realized you were the only guy in the room of 500 people that worked at a bank. Just so the audience can get to know you a little bit and your journey, I’d love to hear your story. How did you get into the business and your first Summit?
To rewind a little bit to 2009, I was in college at the time and I’m getting ready to go back in the fall semester of junior year. We’re at the height of the financial crisis. My dad was in the construction business and construction got hit like all real estate. It got hit hard during that period. He sat down one day and said, “We don’t have the money to send you back to school.”
That was a big shock for me. That is when the whole motivation of finances started in my life. This was going into my junior year. I was fortunate at that time that I had an internship on Wall Street. I was born and raised in Connecticut right outside of Manhattan, about 50 miles North in Fairfield County before I ultimately moved to Houston a few years ago.
I had an opportunity for that internship to go full. I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to get myself into $150,000 of student debt. I said, “Let’s take this and see where it goes.” Before I was in the mortgage side of the business, I was in wealth management for about 3 or 4 years. I quickly learned that it’s one of those businesses where the greater your temples are, the more credibility you have. No wealthy investor or entrepreneur was handing over them and their family’s life savings to a 19 or 20-year-old kid.Focus on where you can provide the most value. Money will reflect when you’re putting others first. Click To Tweet
I did that for 3 or 4 years. I made no money. It was a super financially hard period of my life. Ultimately, through that wealth management career, I ended up landing at Wells Fargo Advisors, which for those that don’t know, it is Wells Fargo’s wealth management arm. Again, it’s the same thing. I’m 22 or 23 years old. No one’s handing over their life savings to me. I’m struggling from a sales or a financial perspective, but at the time and as a matter of fact, I still think they probably do this to this day. I was compensated for referring mortgages to the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Group. Growing up, my mom was a realtor. All of her friends and all the people that I grew up knowing were realtors.
They were starting to send me business a little bit and the branch manager or Wells Fargo at the local office that I was referring all these mortgages to called me up and said, “I know you’re not making any money over at Wells Fargo Advisors. You’re sending me 2 or 3 deals a month. Why don’t you just come and do this full-time?” I said, “Sure. I don’t think I have anything to lose.” I did that.
As far as my mortgage career, the rest is history but how I ultimately ended up in Houston was about a little more than a year after being in the mortgage business. I had someone at Wells Fargo given my history there on the wealth management side call me up and say, “The Wells Fargo Advisors office in Houston, Texas needs a mortgage banker. Are you interested?”
Growing up in the New York Metropolitan Area, never having left that area outside of vacations to Florida and The Bahamas as a kid, I only knew about Texas from what I saw in pop culture. I was like, “I’m not moving to Texas. Am I going to ride a horse to work?” I knew nothing about what I was getting myself into. I learned more and more about Houston and how big and metropolitan of a city it was.
About two months later after that opportunity arose, a girl that I was dating at the time that at that time I ultimately thought I was going to marry, we split up and I said, “I don’t have anything to lose. If Texas doesn’t work out, I can always move back to New York a year later.” That was many years ago now. Moving to Houston from both the career perspective and the personal life perspective, I met my wife here. We have two beautiful daughters. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made to move to Texas.
You just moved to NFM Lending. I’d love to know what made you move to NFM Lending. To some of our readers that might be thinking about switching companies, what moved you into NFM Lending? What advice would you give somebody that’s looking to change companies?
First and foremost, to circle back to your comment about the eye-opening moment that I had when I first attended my first CORE Summit, which was in the fall of 2018. I go there and I’m at a bank. I’m primarily a jumbo loan officer. My average loan size at that time was probably $800,000 or $900,000 which Houston isn’t the Bay Area. That’s a pretty big loan amount for Texas. I went thinking, “I’m going to learn a little bit,” but my stuff doesn’t stink. I’m the business.
At that point in time, I’m doing okay. I’m probably making low to mid six figures and I’d walk into this room of 500 rock stars and I’m the only person in the room that works for a depository bank. Everybody in the room makes at least five times more than I do. I said, “What am I doing wrong?” I dove head first into The CORE and The CORE model on how to build your business properly on referrals and how to build a team.
What ultimately drove me to leave the company that I was at and joined NFM Lending was that career and team progression. In this business, it’s important to be a part of an organization that is going to support your vision for your business and add staff so that you can grow your business exponentially while still having a semblance of life balance outside of the office especially if you have a family and children as I do.
I probably talked to 8 or 10 different companies before I ultimately decided on NFM and it was a great fit. We’re a mid-sized company. We’ll probably fund about $10 billion or $12 billion as an organization. It’s not an organization where I’m so big that I’m a number, but it’s also not so small that we can’t compete with some of the larger competitors in the marketplace. From a size and a culture perspective, they were a sweet spot for me and why I ultimately decided to land with them.
I love David Silverman and that whole group there. They have the bottom-up service mentality, which is going to be essential moving forward as FinTech and other pressures come in on our industry.
To give them a little bit of credit as well, one of my deciding factors and for anyone out there that’s maybe considering NFM in their journey, NFM was the first company that I’ve ever worked for and one of the first companies that I’ve ever talked to where the management team treats the loan officers and branch managers like their clients, not employees and that was important to me.
I switched companies around 2017. My list was that I needed good leadership. They had to have a good product. They needed to be nationwide and ready to sell directly to Fannie and Freddie. I need to have a P&L. Everyone has different topics or things that they need to address when changing companies. As we said, entering unusual times in our industry, you’re talking about increasing mortgage rates. In the future, we need to tighten things up. I’m curious, what are 2 or 3 things that you’re doing to look into the future to say, “How am I going to compete in the new environment that we’re about to enter?”
A lot of people talk about this in this business, but it’s a lot harder to implement than it is to say. It’s leading with advice versus price. The way our team operates is that we truly see ourselves as almost a financial advisor to our clients or an extension of their financial advisor and their holistic wealth management and financial planning. Maybe that’s a little bit of my background coming from that side of the business first, but going above and beyond and having that conversation of, “Here’s not just a raise and payment, but how does this strategy fit into your overall financial life?” Also, providing value.
Anybody can close a loan. Most companies have good rates. A lot of loan officers say that and it always makes me chuckle like, “We have really good rates and we close on time.” That’s the price of entry. No one calls on a realtor or a client and says, “Our rate is sinking. We’re probably going to miss closing by three days.” You have to go above and beyond and not only build the relationship with those referral partners and clients but truly add value by being more than an application taker.
I’m going to steal that from you. Advice versus price and I agree with you 100% with providing value not only to your realtors but also to your clients. The best advice we could give loan officers and clients is that the new environment that we’re in now is a highly inflationary environment. You got to flip what you thought before, which is, “Let me put a lot of money down. Let me pay it off as quickly as possible.” Now, that’s the worst advice. Put the least the money down. Don’t pay a penny more because if your interest rate is between 3% and 4% or it’s below inflation, you’re ahead of the game.
I’m starting another podcast called Money Reimagined where we’ll be talking about money, cryptocurrency, and other things such as that. I love the advice versus price and providing value. What value are you providing to the agents now besides closing on time? What other strategies do you provide?
A big part of the value that we’re able to provide to our agent partners is constantly looking through our own network of unrepresented clientele that we can refer back to our partners and reciprocate in that regard. To circle back to my experience in The CORE and not only the rock star loan officers that I’ve been exposed to, but also the rock star realtors from all over the country and seeing what they’re doing, how they’re building their teams, and how they’re killing it in their marketplace and taking those tips and tactics and sharing those with our realtor partners.Do what you say you're going to do. Reputation and integrity are everything in this business. Click To Tweet
One of the things that we’re sharing with our realtor partners is the idea of the showing agent versus the buyer’s agent. If you think about a typical big real estate team, you have a team lead with a bunch of buyer’s agents. The team lead is sometimes splitting 50%, 60%, or 80% of the commission with that buyer’s agent. My thought process for our realtors is why are you giving up half or three-quarters of your revenue to somebody that’s benefiting from your database and your clientele?
Some of the things that we’re coaching our realtors on are, “Puts your licensed salespeople on salaries plus per file bonuses versus commission splits.” Those are the types of conversations that help us stand out as a lender where our agents truly feel like we’re partners with them and almost consultants in their business versus a vendor. If we can help an agent grow their business and increase their margins by 10% while keeping their staff happy, that’s something else that no other lender is doing in my opinion.
It’s funny that you bring that up. I came back from a Tony Robbins’ Date with Destiny in Florida and it’s a six-day event. It’s pretty intense, but my buddy and partner, while I was a realtor from New Jersey, has a couple of buyer’s agents and he is giving them half the commissions on the deals that he brings in. He brings it in, gives it to them, takes them out to show her house, and they get half. The mentality is that you believe that people are like you and because you would want that, you think they do. Most people entering the real estate industry want security and certainty. I like the angle at that you’re giving some advice on becoming partners with the agents.
It’s setting yourself apart as a consultant and someone that genuinely cares about their growth and their business and how you can help them make more money. Whether it’s clients, realtors, or anybody in this business, if you focus on other people’s money, that’s where you’re going to provide the most value and your own money is going to reflect putting others first.
You’ve been in the business for many years and I wish I would have been as far as long as you. What that shows is people that who go through tough times, produce an enormous amount of strength internally. When we’re going through those tough times, we look at it like, “Why is this happening to me?” when maybe it’s happening for you. Maybe that time that you’re going through is a gift. Maybe that time you went through college with your father was a gift.
Maybe being an advisor was a gift because it was building the drive and the focus in you that would make you take a phone call a week after your baby is born to attend an event that costs you $5,000 because you’re thirsty to get to the next level. I admire your drive. We’ve gone through some good times which create weak people. What are 1 or 2 things that loan officers should be focused on as interest rates come up as the refis go away?
If you’re going to be successful long-term in this business, your business should rely on realtor partners and focus on the purchase side of the business. Don’t get me wrong. The last few years have been great. If you’ve been a loan officer, you could have walked in off the street from bagging groceries, gotten a call center, and made $300,000 or $400,000 a year doing refis.
As we shift into this new market, this rising rate environment, no matter what the economy is doing, no matter what race you’re doing, people are always going to need to move for family, career, and personal reasons. People are always going to buy and sell homes regardless of what interest rates and the underlying economy does. My advice to any newer loan officers out there would be to focus on the purchases almost exclusively and you will get refinances over the years from your purchases because you’re building up that database.
Now, all of a sudden you have a 3 or 5-year period where we’re at 3.5%, 4%, or 4.5%, and maybe 5 years from now, rates drop back down to 3%. You have all of that purchase business for yourself that’s not going anywhere and then you can refinance your entire database. The way I look at refinances is that’s the icing on the cake and the purchases are the cake. That is number one.
Number two is to do what you say you’re going to do. Reputation and integrity are everything in this business. People work with me because of me and people work with Heath because of Heath, not because I’m at NSM Lending or you’re at Cardinal Financial or whatever the case may be. It’s keeping your word. If you say you’re going to do something, do it and be a dependable person for your partners, your clients, as well as your team. A lot of times in this business, we focus so much on clients and on referral partners that we forget about our team.
As team leaders and branch managers, regionals, and whatever your type, the financial success, not only of our clients and referral partners but of our key members and their livelihoods are in our hands. We have a responsibility to drive leads and be able to keep them employed and be able to keep them successful. I’m a firm believer that if you take care of your team, they will take great care of your clients. The culture in our office is that my number one client is my team and my team takes great care of our clients.
If you’re reading, that’s a good piece of advice that you can start using moving forward. Tell me about your team. How’s your team set up? I’m curious. Are you working at the bank? How was your team at the bank? You went to NFM Lending. You said, “I want to change things.” What I heard you say was, “I needed to get away from the bank because I got a little more flexibility.” Tell me what your team looks like now.
Moving out of the bank world, I transitioned from a retail to a P&L model. I got a lot more flexibility on decision-making and things like that. What we do is I’ve got two LP-1 or application specialists on the front end. Their jobs are taking the leads, getting the initial application, and scheduling a loan consultation with me. Also, because of COVID, we’re meeting with all clients face-to-face via Zoom.
At least here in Texas, COVID restrictions and lifestyle changes are for all intents and purposes over, but we have not gotten away from Zoom. It allows us to build a deeper connection with clients when they see that they’re dealing with a real human being and not just a voice over the phone or somebody typing them an email. I’ve got three processors or as we call them in The CORE LP-2s on the backend. We have a split up between the front end and the back end. The front end takes the leads and prequalifies clients. Once we’re on the contract, they lock the rate and send disclosures, and then from disclosure to funding, the LP-2 takes over.
Tell me a little bit about your production. What will you end up closing in 2022 and is this your best? I’m sure 2021 might’ve been equally as good.
It’s funny having that transition from the bank world to the non-bank world as I like to call it. My production is down, but my income is up. It’s an interesting conundrum there. I don’t think I’ve ever been happy about production going down, but coming to the non-bank world and not having a bank portfolio, in 2018 and 2019, my average loan amount was about $900,000.
Now, it’s about $375,000 to $400,000. We’ll do about $70 million to $75 million in 2022 as a team. I probably did $130 million in 2021 before, but I’m proud of that even though we’re down because we completely transformed our business from being almost exclusively jumbo to now primarily conventional and government. Even though the dollar amount is down, we completely transformed our business and I’m super proud of that.
It’s a slice of business we like because of our ego. The big loan amounts, where the money typically is made with conventional FHA. I’m super proud of you. If you had a tagline, I was listening to my wife on a coaching call of hers and the advice that her coach was giving her is, “Why don’t you come up with a tagline?” Nike’s tagline is Just Do It. Everyone, Just Do It. I was thinking of State Farm and their tagline is, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Also, why don’t we as individuals have a tagline, whether it’s for yourself or for your business? It’s something that you could go back to. Do you have a tagline? If you have a tagline, what would you want it to be?If you take care of your team, they will take great care of your clients. Click To Tweet
If you put me on the spot, if I had to pick something, I would say, “Grind It Out.” In this business and even going back to sports, I’ve never been the most talented person on the field or in the business. I can tell you for sure I’m nowhere near the most intelligent but I like to think that I’m going to work harder than the next guy. I want it more than the next guy. I care about my clients more than the next guy or girl. What’s made us successful is doing the right thing day in and day out and taking great care of people because we care and we grind it out. If I had to summarize my personality and how my team operates, that’s how I would characterize it.
How about for someone that’s new in the business? Maybe 1 to 3 years that they haven’t seen any difficult times. Most people are wanting to be lean, but if you had just the basic team for somebody that, let’s say, is doing 5 to 10 loans a month, what advice would you give them on hiring a team? Who would they hire first and second? Any advice there?
Especially transitioning into the market, I think we’re all transitioning, too. You want to stay lean. As an industry, we’re probably a little bit overstaffed for the changes that are coming and you’re already starting to see it with some of these online lenders and the big headlines with layoffs. I would say to protect your team culture at all costs. Slow to hire, quick to fire is the mantra to live by as a leader. Also, if you’re going to make your first hire, it’s got to be that backend LP-2 rock star operations person. If you’re doing ten loans a month, you don’t need a junior loan officer on the sales side. You need somebody to take that processing and underwriting away from you so that you can go out and get the 15 or 20 units a month. Once you hit there, you start building and scaling the front end of the process.
You were talking about taking care of your team and that’s one of the things that you do because they’re your number one client. For some of our readers, what are 3 or 4 things you’re doing right now to take care of your team in these difficult times?
Number one is we got our whiteboard in our conference room. We’ve got our target and we don’t look at the loans we close as units or dollar volume. If you walk into my office now, at the top of the whiteboard in the conference room, it says twenty families helped. Every time we hit twenty closings in a month, that’s our mark where we celebrate. We’ll go out to lunch, dinner, or Topgolf and have a fun team event. We have those team bonding moments and get away from the office as a team.
Something else that we do that I took from an all-around great guy and probably even a better mortgage professional is J.J. Mazzo who’s a CORE coach. I took this from him and Chad Lubin who’s a great friend and mentor of mine. Every single Friday, they buy their entire team lunch or they have lunch as a team. They have a weekly recap meeting and discuss their metrics. They discuss, “How did we go above and beyond for a client this week? Name a client that we catered to this week.” Constantly getting feedback from the team on what’s working, what’s not working, and what processes they need to tweak.
Taking care of your team and feeding them every now and again is super important. I love having lunch with my team once a week. Taking care of your team also is making them feel like they matter and that their opinion on how the business is run matters because it does. I always love those weekly meetings where I’m getting that feedback of, “This part of our process is a little wonky. Maybe we could do this instead first. They gave us a great compliment the other day. Maybe we should be asking them for a referral.”
Also, uncovering both current and past client referral opportunities as well. That Friday lunch, we call it family dinner in my office. We all sit in the conference room for an hour. We eat and we talk about the week behind us and what we need to tweak to continually get 1% better every week. I tell my team, “We got to get 1% better every week.”
What I heard you say is having a celebration board for your team to celebrate and using numbers of family. Are you saying it’s having a team lunch once a week? Is that what you said?
Do you do team snacks?
Yes. The fridge and cabinet are stocked every week.
I can see why people gravitate to you. I’m honored that you would be on this episode, Matt. I want to acknowledge you for your grit. Everything you’ve been through and where you are now, I want to acknowledge you for that. It takes a drive and motivation to get where you are and it’s not easy to go from a bank to a mortgage banker. I want to acknowledge you for the time you spent with us and the advice you’ve given. If someone wanted to contact you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
They can email me or call the office. My email is super simple. It’s my first name. It’s Matt@NFMLending.com and our direct line in the office is (713) 244-8780.
Thank you again, Matt, for being on the show.
It’s another great episode. You can find out more about all the ways we can help you at HeathBarnes.com. That’s it for this episode. Have a great week. We’ll talk next time.