The mortgage workforce is back, but for how long?

By late spring of 2020, the loan pipeline at Princeton Mortgage was full. And CEO Rich Weidel’s staff was absolutely slammed. He needed to scale up ­— and quickly ­— to manage record origination volume.

Like most other lenders, Princeton, which operates in retail, wholesale and correspondent channels, fell back on the familiar strategy of hiring industry veterans to plug the gaps. Some took to the task immediately and thrived, but others didn’t work out. The attrition rate was higher than he liked, so he decided on a new approach. 

“At the beginning, we hired for skills and experience,” Weidel said in an interview with HousingWire in late December. “Now, we hire for attitude and ability.”

For Weidel, this frenzied period — in which trillions in mortgages have been originated and lender capacity has stretched like never before — created an opportunity to not only to capture market share, but to create a more stable and sustainable mortgage workforce that could grow with the business. And one that doesn’t require mass layoffs when revenues inevitably fall. 

Such a strategy stands in stark contrast to the industry’s historic modus operandi, where tens of thousands of workers are hired when margins and profits are fat, and just as many are fired when revenue and margins slim down. 

Live by the sword, die by the sword

It wasn’t so long ago that mortgage lenders were on top of the world. In 2006, loan officers were collecting record paydays by issuing mortgages to anyone with a pulse and a dream, underwriters were in high demand, and an army of processors were hired to help make it all happen. 

By the height of the bubble, the industry’s ranks had swelled to about 500,000 workers, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association

With the fall of Lehman Brothers, the real bloodletting began. Jobs in the industry vanished as banks frantically tried to shore up their balance sheets. Not that many Americans were looking for mortgages between 2008 and 2009 anyway.   

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