In early 1992, Sally Kim, a loan officer for Margaretten & Co., started running out of time.
The mortgage refinancing boom was beginning to keep her working as late as 11:30 p.m. in her Chicago office. So Ms. Kim hired a housekeeper and a tutor for her two kids - and her life has never been the same.
With the refinancing boom reaching its second anniversary this month, Ms. Kim has emerged as one of the most productive loan officers in the country. She's on track to sell consumers some $90 million of mortgages, earning an estimated $450,000 in commissions.
Ms. Kim is by no means the only loan officer to prosper during the past two years. Fielding hundreds of phone calls a day, sometimes seven days a week, many a loan officer has been handling loan volume that once seemed unimaginable. In the old days, $12 million of mortgages a year was considered solid work.
At Home Savings of America, Irwindale, Calif., Bill Broza is on target to produce $150 million of residential loans this year. Beverly Ackerman, part of a new bread of "telemarketing" loan officers, is phoning her way, to more than $60 million in loans for North American Mortgage Corp.. Santa Rosa, Calif. And there are thousands of others.
Though their names and accomplishments are generally known only among their local peers, these people have been playing an undeniably crucial role, loading and firing the refinancing cannon every day since December 1991.
"They are the backbone of the operation," says Terence H. Williams, executive vice president of Margaretten, which is based in Perth Amboy, N.J.
Ms. Kim, a 40-year-old native of Korea, symbolizes not only the loan officer of today, but quite possibly the loan officer of the coming century.
As the nation's immigrant population swells - vastly surpassing the growth of rest of the population - the mortgage industry is searching for new ways to serve Asians, Hispanics, and other newcomers. Ms. Kim is already doing just that; some 50% of her loans are to immigrants like herself.
She came to America in March 1976 from Seoul. "I always dreamed about America, even though I came from high society in Korea," she says.
She worked in sales in the freight industry until a loan officer friend recommended the profession.
"She said, |You should be in this business; you are going to be successful,'" Ms. Kim says.
Aided by Immigrant Past
She traces much of her success in mortgages to her immigrant background, saying she can more deeply understand the newcomers she helps buy homes.
"I enjoy living in America, but I am still from [Korea]," she says.
It's easy to see why the mortgage industry is paying increased attention to immigrants. Apart from regulatory pressures to lend more to minorities, the immigrant market is simply becoming too big to ignore.
The Census Bureau predicts net immigration of 8.8 million people in the 1990s, which would match the country's peak level of immigration from 1901 to 1910.
Ms. Ackerman of North American is producing loans on another new frontier. She telephones loans to members of groups, such as the California Highway Patrol and California's state universities.
A growing number of mortgage companies are embracing telemarketing as an easy way to cut down ever-rising compensation costs, says Carl Jacobs, president of Carl Jacobs and Associates, a Woodland Hills, Calif. consulting firm.
"Telemarketing is a new breed," Ms. Ackerman says. It allows customers to sit in the kitchen and make out a loan application, she says.
Ms. Ackerman, 29, also has taken applications from people sitting in airplanes and cars - and from places as far away as Oxford University. Once, she took an application from a caller aboard a cruise ship touring San Francisco Bay.
Before entering the originations game. Ms. Ackerman led a completely different life. She was married to a wealthy man until one day she and her baby daughter got into her car and just left.
I had nothing," she recalls.
She says her life turned around five years ago when she signed on with North American. And since the refinance boom, her financial situation has really improved, she says. She can now save money for her 6-year-old daughter.
"My life lias only gotten better," she says.
Despite upbeat experiences like that, many loan officers complain that their personal lives have suffered during the boom.
Consider Michael J. Osterling, one of Indianapolis-based Banc One Mortgage Corp.'s top loan officers. Over the past two years, he has missed dinner appointments with his wife, sees his kids a lot less and "spends 80% of my day with my phone in my ear."
"I never anticipated it would last this long," he says of the refinance boom. "It has almost become a way of life."
Certainly, the boom has left Mr. Osterling with plenty of war stories. Once he sat at a "greasy spoon-type restaurant" iin Moorseville, Ind., to complete a $50,000 loan.
"I don't remember what I ate, but I do remember there were coffee stains on some of the paperwork," he recalls.
During the peaks in the boom, when he would try to field 15 calls in almost as many minutes. "crisis management" was the loan volume.
"It'slike you're working at McDonald's and three busloads of teenagers show up," he explains. "What do you do? You can't hire three dozen burger flippers. You know it's not going to last, so you just take care of the customer's as best you can."
Some loan officers now have assistants to help with heavy volume.
Like many originators, Mr. Osterling said his relationships with realty brokers and home builders has suffered the most during the refi boom.
About 75% of Banc One's business comes from those relationships, he said. But Mr. Osterling lost the time to get out into the field and maintain those ties.
"If you are out servicing a refi market, guess what - you are not going to keep your builder and realtor business," says Cindy Wallace Smith, of North American Mortgage.
If ever there was loan officer born for the refinance boom, it just might be North American's Cindy Wallace Smith A self-described "type A personality," Ms. Smith does not stop until she is No. I - at anything.
"Am I cocky? Maybe I am," she says. "I am very confident."
Likewise, she knoe ws her importance to Norht\American. While she "loves" the entire company, she says it's the originations staff, and only the originations staff, that brings in business. "In my opinion." she said, "producers run this company."
Ms. Smith, the No. 1 loan producer at North American for four years, is likely to earn al least $350,000 this year Her secret? I'm not telling," she says.