It's pretty easy to isolate the good from the bad in a lot of professions: a dentist laughing gleefully every time you flinch, a plumber demanding payment up front while your knees disappear underwater, a real estate agent who never returns your call or is constantly dragging you to inappropriate houses. You wouldn't let any of these hang around long enough to do any real damage.
A loan officer is a little bit harder to quantify, largely because the bad ones often don't show their true colors until late in the house-buying process.
Still, you may gather a few clues from thoughtful interviews of any you are considering. Yes, you should interview a loan officer (or a real estate agent, for that matter) just as you would any potential employee or contractor. This person will be every bit as important to you over the next few months as your secretary, babysitter, or auto mechanic.
Without further ado, here are the three questions you MUST ask:
1) What hours are you available?
The right answer to this question is “Whenever you need me". Real estate takes place during weekends and evenings and you may well need to get hold of your mortgage person at some very awkward times. Your loan officer will be ungrudgingly available to fax you a revised preapproval letter or answer questions even if it is the Fourth of July.
Most of the time a good loan officer will be able to keep you up to date with what's going on and answer your questions during normal work hours. Most importantly, a good loan officer will always make themselves available when you're signing the loan documents. This is the most critical point of the loan and the time when you're most likely to have questions, so they NEED to be available while you're signing.
2) How do I reach you outside of office hours?
A good loan officer will give out his/her cell, home phone, or beeper numbers for emergency use. There is a responsibility on your part to not abuse this access. If you are making an offer, 7 PM on a Sunday is not too late for a call, but 9 PM probably is.
As we mentioned above, a good loan officer will make himself available for you whenever you need him and will make sure he's available at all times. Being a loan officer is somewhat similar to being a doctor - if you do your job right, you can get everything done during normal working hours. However, if emergencies come up or a patient desperately needs you, you need to make sure they know where to find you.
3) Do you have coverage for times when you are not available?
Everybody needs a break and busy loan officers usually have reciprocal coverage agreements with like-minded colleagues. Make sure you have those phone numbers and instructions for when they should be used.
A good loan officer will make sure you know well in advance that he's going to be away for a certain period of time and that you will be covered while he's gone. They will typically try to time things so that none of the really important items come up while they're gone and will have one of their trusted coworkers cover for them while they're gone. No one will know your situation as well as your loan officer, but try to be patient while they enjoy some well-deserved time off.
Some Final Thoughts:
More than anything else, try to use common sense when picking a loan officer. If someone starts giving you rates right away on a 30-year fixed loan, without asking any questions about your situation, there's something missing. They should be able to get a good idea of your situation and have you answer the questions they need to know in 10-15 minutes, then give you a good idea of how they can help.
Particularly in the case of refinancing, the loan officer should ask what you are trying to accomplish and help you figure out the best way to accomplish that. Only when he has these answers can he guide you to the most appropriate products or even advise you that perhaps now isn't the time.
Carey is the Publisher of Home Experts Online . Home Experts Online offers people the opportunity to learn from experts around the world on topics related to purchasing, owning and maintaining a home. Share your expertise today by submitting your articles. Sign up at http://www.homeexpertsonline.com/authors/register