Peter Accolla says the secret to his success is simple: Work harder than everyone else and have a long-term plan. That may seem like an elementary formula, but building a consistent business that nets such an impressive volume takes a lot of dedication.
“One hundred percent commission is like you are your own business owner. I needed a solid plan, so I set goals for numbers of transactions, amounts of volume and how much money I wanted to make,” said the Fairfax, Va.-based originator. “It took a lot of time to structure these business plans to be realistic and accurate, but I just worked and worked until I met my goals.”
His dedication to the formula worked as Accolla ranked 49th on the Origination News 2013 Top Originator Survey, with total production of $94 million. He, like many loan officers, has seen his numbers dip this year as rates rose.
But he says he isn’t worried his business plan was designed to account for this. From day one, he has focused on purchase business over refinances, which has allowed his numbers to stay steady from year to year. Last year, purchases made up 70% of his total business, and this year that figure has climbed to 80% as refinance volume has declined.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love refinances, but they come and go with rates so I’ve never really tried to build that side of my business,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why my volume has been good over the last couple of years, and that’s still good this year.”
Business-minded Accolla may have his background to thank for his success. He never intended to be a loan originator, having studied economics in college before becoming a financial advisor and later a NASDAQ trader. His wife, who was a real estate agent, convinced him to make the move into the mortgage business.
“She was an agent for about 10 years; her last transaction was my first transaction,” he said. “Funnily enough, she wasn’t able to get me too many referrals, but she did have a lot of industry knowledge so I could bounce questions off of her, and that was really valuable.”
Her guidance allowed him to start his business off strong. For the first few years he got the majority of his referrals from showing up to open houses on the weekends and talking to real estate agents. He says his persistence gained him a great initial client base that he has built over the years.
Accolla adds that his company, McLean Mortgage Corp., has been supportive. He points to the open-door policy of CEO Pat Peavley and President Nathan Burch as a big factor in his growth as a loan originator.
“They lead by example and in a way where you can speak to them directly any time you want,” Accolla said. “This is not an atmosphere that you might see in other companies. Here, you can get answers and ask hard questions directly to the person that is going to make the decision. Having that ability has always helped.”
Burch says that he and Peavley started the company during the financial crisis because they felt the lack of top-down support for loan officers had created a void within the industry.
“We felt that the industry was not supporting originators so that they could achieve their full potential,” said Burch. “Whether it was bureaucracies or technological impediments, the big companies had become too segmented to react quickly to a rapidly changing landscape and recognize the needs of their employees. We saw that void and decided to develop a different culture.”
Peavley says Accolla immediately began to participate in this culture when he joined the company, and learned valuable skills from seasoned producers. Now that he has risen to the top, he is willing to share those skills with others.
“Peter has become an example of what a loan officer needs to do in order to become successful,” Peavley explained. “Not only does he have a great work ethic, he is very professional and treats his job as a business and has a deep desire for success. He invests the time and resources to make his business successful.”
Accolla says much of that time and many of those resources go into ensuring that his clients are happy with the process, explaining that client satisfaction is essential to build future business. This all comes back to his business plan, which he says was designed to provide as much consistency as possible.
His referral base has “taken a while to build up, and I will always continue to build them because they won’t run themselves, but I’m getting to the point where word of mouth is leading to a lot of business,” he said.
His broad base of referrals supports the stability of his business.
“I don’t want to have one month where I do a lot of business and one month where I do very little, so I’m pushing hard to diversify my sources of business,” he said. “Realtors will always be number one for me, but I’m also working with builders, CPA’s and financial advisors now. This kind of referral source diversity leads to more consistency.”
Aside from real estate agents, Accolla says he’s most excited about working with builders, as construction in the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. area has started to recover in a big way.
“We’ve had a limited supply in terms of quality homes for resale, so I think this has pushed a lot of buyers that have written contract after contract and aren’t getting a house to look into new construction,” he said. “Builders have been quiet over the last couple of years, but in the last eight to 12 months there has been a lot of construction starting up again.”
Accolla says he is fortunate because the area he works constantly keeps him busy.
“Roughly 60% of my business is in Virginia, 30% is in D.C., and about 10% is in Maryland,” he said. “D.C. is a wonderful market it is hot. In most cases, you have to be really aggressive when you are buying property in D.C. now.”
Because of the rising cost of FHA insurance, Accolla says the majority of his current loans are conventional, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, but that he is seeing increased demand for adjustable-rate mortgages.
“I think ARMs are a good product, but I make sure that I’m explaining how they work so my clients know these loans aren’t a way to get into a property, but instead a way to build more equity,” he said.
That type of care and attention to detail is what keeps his clients coming back.