When Lauren Maxwell first began selling mortgages 31 years ago in Boston, she didn’t even know what a mortgage was. But that was well before the financial crisis, she says, and selling mortgages was relatively easy.
“I was taking in loans and it was just coming in so easily, but there seemed to be a lot of roadblocks,” she says. “If I took in 10 loans a month, only three or four were closing, and I didn’t really understand it, because going through processing, going through underwriting, I didn’t really know the guidelines because I was brand new.”
After a few years, Maxwell moved to Florida, where she now lives and serves as executive vice president of American Eagle Mortgage in Naples, about 42 miles south of Fort Myers. When she first arrived in Florida, she opted to get a job processing mortgages rather than selling them, learning the nuts and bolts of mortgage origination.
“I learned from scratch, basically, what it took to make a good loan,” she says. “I processed. I was an operations manager. I was a closer. I was an underwriter.”
In 1996, Maxwell opened a retail branch for Market Street Mortgage in Naples, and all the experience and knowledge she’d gained over the years finally came together seamlessly. She says she’s never closed less than $40 million per year in loans ever since.
Maxwell ranked No. 2 for U.S. Department of Agricultural (USDA) loan volume in Scotsman Guide’s annual Top Originator rankings, based on 2016 loan data. Her success with USDA loans comes from her focus on first-time homebuyers, she says.
“People are scared of … (USDA loans) because they don’t know about them,” she says. “My goal and my passion is to help first-time homebuyers, and you do that with conventional 3 percent down, [Federal Housing Administration] FHA 3.5 percent down, and USDA zero-percent down [loans]. And of course, the best program is USDA.”
Maxwell says she tries to point borrowers toward USDA loans, as long as it’s in their best interest.
“I give them their options,” she says. “All I do is educate them on the facts [and say]: ‘This is the difference between an FHA loan, a USDA loan if you qualify, and a conventional loan. Let’s compare the three, decide on your rate, your PMI [private mortgage insurance], and you decide which one’s going to be best for you down the road.’”
Helping first-time homebuyers is what keeps Maxwell in the mortgage origination business, she says, noting that when she’s out in public, she often runs into past clients who thank her for helping them purchase their home.
“It’s super exciting,” Maxwell says, adding that working with first-time borrowers is, “more of a challenge, but it’s also much more gratifying.”
It’s a lesson all mortgage originators should heed, Maxwell says: If you’re just in it for the money and don’t have a passion for the work itself, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
“I was here through the market crash, and there’s so many in my field who didn’t make it,” she says. “You have to really love what you do, care about it, and grow it as a business, but also love it.”
For the eighth year in a row, we compiled the industry’s most comprehensive list of the nation’s top mortgage originators. The rankings include not only the originators who are closing the most dollar volume and the most loans, but also the leaders in niche areas, like Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Department of Agriculture loans as well as home equity lines of credit.