Some of the most important steps in the homebuying process aren’t particularly interesting on its face. These subjects, like the complicated landscape of mortgage lending, are incredibly important, though. So how exactly do you break through and educate homeowners? Build a brand to differentiate your business. “I really wanted to find a way for us to stand out as a team and make mortgages fun and fashionable so people want to hear what we want to say,” said Erin Finnen, senior loan officer and founder of LBD, Lending by Design.
Finnen has built a booming lifestyle brand showcasing her loves while also elevating her platform as a lender. Using the reach she’s gained already, she now has a platform to use for education for clients. We chatted with Finnen to get her insights on branding, lending, and the housing market today.
Q: What’s your background and how did you get started?
I started in real estate in 1997. I sold real estate in San Francisco during the Dot Com bubble. I came back to North Carolina and stayed at home with my kids for 5 years. When I decided to go back to the workforce I was told by someone not to go back into real estate, but to look on the mortgage side of things. So… I did, and that was 12 years ago.
Q: Tell us about your brand—where did LBD come from?
I wanted to form a mortgage team which, at that time, was a new concept. I needed a brand that was relevant to mortgages, but to also mean so much more. I love shopping and fashion. I looked at the little black dress as something that never goes out of style: It’s classy. It’s flexible. It’s reliable—all the things that describe how you want your mortgage lender to be. So, I actually chose the LBD as my icon, so to speak, first, and then figured out the Lending by Design name part.
Q: What did it take for you to build your brand to where you are today?
I think my reputation as a lender has helped a lot. I already had a big circle of people using me as a preferred lender—promoting it and trying to stand out as being something totally different in the mortgage world, intrigued people. I think being consistent (I wear an LBD to our closings, and I wear LBDs to all our events) and putting my personal brand out there as much as possible.
Q: As for entertaining, do you have any hosting tips?
Most of it is focused around Realtor® events; whether it be open houses or broker-type luncheons. I help a lot of my agents with their client appreciation parties. It’s still me out there serving my referral sources. My husband is extremely involved with Charlotte Family Housing and Beds For Kids, so we do a lot of entertaining at our home for those charities. And I just like to have friends at my home! I actually wrote a blog with entertaining tips. You can read it here.
Q: What is your typical client’s experience like?
It’s pretty much the Ritz of mortgage lending—white-glove service start-to-finish. The communication piece is huge for us. It’s personalized communication, an email or phone call from myself or someone on my team. What I want to do is WOW my clients from start to finish in this process.
Q: What is your approach to today’s market as a lender?
Today’s market is wacky. You’re always having to reinvent the way you’re calling on people and who you’re calling on. At the beginning of this year, I wasn’t really busy. So, I broadened my reach. Now with the spring markets it’s very busy, so I had to focus on my top referral agencies. Nothing can fall apart as far as our service piece goes. I don’t see any major change coming in our market in our near future. I feel like we’re going to have a healthy market for a while.
Q: What tips do you have for home buyers?
First step is to get pre-approved. Talk to a local lender and go through the steps to get a full pre-approval so that when you’re ready to make that offer you’re fully educated to understand what that means exactly. You also want to have made sure you’re not just pre-qualified. You want to be fully pre-approved so that when you find your dream home, you’re prepared with a pre-approval letter in a multiple offer situation. Make sure that you have a letter specific to the property address.