Don Opeka has been a salesman most of his adult life. After serving as a naval aviator in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972, Don began his sales career in the natural gas industry where he spent the next 20+ years before starting Orion Mortgage, Broomfield, CO, in 1996 with his wife Terri. In addition to originating reverse mortgages for the past eight years, the couple offers conventional loans, VA loans, USDA loans and FHA loans. Weekly Report sat down with Opeka to talk about his sales approach.
Weekly Report: How are you adapting to today’s market? Has the conversation changed at all between you and you clients in terms of helping sell the product?
Don Opeka: Nothing in my basic conversation has changed in the 45 years I have been “selling” various stuff. Most people think of “selling” as pushing something off on an unsuspecting client. I look at my job as helping my prospects solve a problem. In 23 years I’ve been in the mortgage business, no one has ever come to me wanting a mortgage. The people who have mortgages generally would like to be rid of them. People come to me for one of three reasons:
- They want to live in a house and don’t have enough cash to pay for it;
- They own a home with a mortgage and would like to pay less interest or have lower payments; or
- They have equity in a home that they would like to spend on something: An airplane, RV, vacation, investment, home care, etc.
The products I have are basically indistinguishable from anything my competition has. There are no proprietary products in this industry. Loan products are not patentable. Any competitor can offer the same product at the same or lower price if they choose to. Pricing is essentially the same as my competition. All the money is ultimately coming from the New York bond market. While I know my costs are under the competition, my pricing is always competitive, and I am typically under the competition, I never advertise price. I don’t sell mortgages. I sell trust and advice.
WR: What is your favorite reverse mortgage story?
DO: Every mortgage I have closed has a good story attached to it. It’s why I have a lady working with us who didn’t want to even interview with a mortgage company. Her husband worked for one and she wanted nothing to do with the way the industry works. We are a small company, my wife, me, one part-time employee.
One story I like is the couple who were retired and doing fine with a mortgage and two Social Security checks. When the husband died, she could not afford to stay in the home with one Social Security check. The husband’s brother referred her to us for a reverse mortgage. We eliminated her mortgage payment. Taxes, insurance and maintenance to stay in her home were about $350/month. If she sold the home, spent the equity and went on Section 8 housing, her share would be about $550/month. Simple choice: Stay in your home or move to government housing? She chose to stay in her home.
A better story was another lady who came to us to eliminate her mortgage payment. We had to wait a year for the home to appreciate enough to get the reverse mortgage. She rents out a basement apartment and an upstairs bedroom. She has trained her tenants to do her outside yard work and her cooking. They are paying her to keep her in her own home.
WR: Do you have any wording or phrases that you use on a regular basis while talking with customers to either explain the program or help convince them to use you?
DO: I have no need to “convince” anyone of anything. I offer them one or more options that will improve their life. If they choose not to accept my offer, their loss is greater than mine. I’ve had people fail to close on a reverse mortgage when the consequence for them are that they don’t have money to buy food. I can show the benefits, but the choice is theirs. In my CSA training, they made the point that seniors are permitted to make bad decisions. I’m 73 years old, on Social Security, my home is paid for, and I have enough money that I’m not going to miss any meals if I don’t close a loan. Nothing has changed from more than 40 years ago when I told my boss I was thinking of leaving a job. He asked if I had another job. I said no. He pointed out that I was a compressor salesman. The company paid more than anyone else in the industry. How could I leave? I told him to hide and watch. I have not missed any meals and have not slept in the rain.
WR: How do you all reach consumers today? Social media?
DO: Virtually all of our business comes from some form of repeat or referral business. From day 1, Orion Mortgage has focused on generating happy customers first and getting paid second. Our first borrower became a repeat customer. I accept the fact that we cannot compete with any form of media advertising. I found the attached article as we were getting started. I have tested the assumptions. It has stood the test of time.
WR: What is one (positive) take away for the coming year?
DO: The number of prospects for reverse mortgages is increasing continuously. My age is an advantage. It’s easier to sell to people my own age than to first time buyers.