Traditionally, late fall to early spring is a time of reflection in mortgage origination land, with branch managers and loan officers alike concentrating on relationships, education, and next year's game plan. Originations normally fall off about 20% between mid-November and mid- January, and some segments don't see any real growth until March.

But this year, experts say, sales figures will not necessarily take a major slide.

"There is no traditional season anymore," said Harry Slifer, a loan officer with Bank of America. "We're going to see some brief respite around the major holidays, but I can't say the month of January will be a bad month."

Other lenders agree that seasonal volume fluctuations are less severe than they used to be. "We hit one of our better weeks last week," said Joe Parker, North Carolina mortgage manager for Wachovia Mortgage Co., Winston- Salem, N.C. The company has not experienced serious slowdowns from November to January in a few years, Mr. Parker said.

Winter is still the perfect time to train new employees and teach seasoned ones new skills, said Mr. Parker. Wachovia provided laptops to all its originators in the beginning of 1995, and will spend some time getting everyone up to speed with the loan software provided. The company also conducts one-day seminars on bank services.

The season is also a great time to build new contacts, and to thank others. Integra's originators spend more time in the field, making sales calls and talking to realty agents and builders, according to Phillip Lavelle, senior vice president for residential lending at Integra Bank, Pittsburgh.

And a lot of originators concentrate on gearing up for next year. "During these holidays, you do a lot more contacting of previous client bases to thicken the soup," said Mr. Slifer of Bank of America. "If I wasn't working hard now, in the beginning of the year numbers would be in the toilet.

"The phone may not be ringing as much, but you're plowing through advertising. In November, business usually goes down around 30%, and you kind of like the reprieve," he added.

Many loan officers, who often operate on a commission basis, budget themselves to accommodate the lower income they will be bringing in. The season is also a good time for originators to take a vacation. A large number of Integra employees take advantage of this, Mr. Parker said.

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