"When I came on board here, we really didn't have a high profile with Realtors as a source of mortgages," Martens said. "They would think of us for the cars they needed to drive but not for the mortgages they needed to have closed."
That hurt Truliant, Martens soon realized, because it effectively shut the credit union out of a potential stream of members looking for mortgages, and Realtors will often have "go to" mortgage providers when they are trying to sell a property.
"The closing of those mortgage loans are what feeds their families," Martens said, "so they tend to be pretty picky, and their recommendations to someone looking for a mortgage carries some weight."
Sensing the opening, the credit union began working with Realtors' associations in and around its Winston-Salem, N.C.-based field of membership to make sure they knew Truliant was a mortgage lender with money to lend that the public could trust, Martens said.
That approach has worked and has been part of Truliant's strong mortgage performance this year, he said. Just for the month of June, Truliant closed mortgages rose 32% over June 2008, moving from roughly 60 mortgages to 80 mortgages. The average mortgage size was $135,000.
"About 90% of the flow last month was refinancing," he said, "but there have been a few purchases here and there, and I think we are getting ready for when the sales market picks up."
Martens estimated that Truliant's real estate market is stable but has not yet shown much growth. He reported that the credit union's reputation as a trusted source of mortgages has contributed to its mortgage business growth.
"There has been a lot of interest in refinancing because the rates have been low, of course," he said. Martens added that the CU has picked up business as many mortgage brokers and other originators have exited the market. In addition, many commercial banks have tightened up their lending, even on refinancing, he added.
Ryan Shell, spokesman for Truliant, said word of mouth among members has also helped drive the growth, adding that the credit union has not run any product-specific ads on mortgages.
"We did run a small television campaign that included 'putting people in homes' as one of the things that helped distinguish the credit union," he said, "but we haven't run any spots just on mortgages."