Primary Residential Mortgage (PRMI)’s Steven J. Sless Group, the lender’s consumer-direct retail branch focused solely on reverse mortgages in Owings Mills, Md., has expanded its physical footprint to San Diego, Calif. and has hired loan originator Christina Harmes Hika to help spearhead the company’s efforts in the region as well as into new states. This is according to a statement released by PRMI, and interviews with division president Steven Sless and Harmes Hika.
At her new company, Harmes Hika becomes regional manager of the Sless Group’s San Diego branch, and is bringing other members of her team including originators Renee Konstantine and Ariale Gomez over to PRMI with her.
The move marks a significant expansion for PRMI’s reverse mortgage business and for the Sless Group, which aims to build upon previous branding efforts by incorporating Harmes Hika into a national strategy that will begin operating in states that the division has not previously operated in.
Expanding PRMI’s and the Sless Group’s efforts
Having previously worked as part of the “Harmes Team” at C2 Financial Corp.’s C2 Reverse division, Harmes Hika brings 19 years of experience in real estate and mortgage lending, including much of the past nine years having been dedicated exclusively to reverse mortgages. She served as a top reverse mortgage producer at C2, having co-built its reverse mortgage division by serving as the national assistant manager from 2016 to 2020.
In terms of the conversation that started the process of her jump to PRMI, Harmes Hika describes a conversation simply looking for advice from an industry friend in Sless.
“I was experiencing some hiccups in my business, and I actually just asked for his ear,” she tells RMD in an interview, talking about an early conversation with Sless. “And of course, he was nice enough to give it to me. And we started talking, and it just turned into something that I’d never expected. We have a lot of things that are perfect fits: my strengths complement his strengths, and everything just kind of organically developed.”
While the Sless Group has had a multi-state presence for some time, finding a new opportunity to expand operations into a physical presence in California helps to align the group and PRMI with some of its broader goals related to becoming a major presence in the reverse mortgage industry in the future, Sless adds.
“People want to work with somebody that’s in their backyard, [and Christina is] going to help us to grow out and expand our network on the west coast,” Sless says. “I think she’s going to be a huge influence with recruiting top-level reverse mortgage talent on the West Coast as well.”
Beyond that, Sless sees Harmes Hika as playing a major role in that broader national expansion for the reverse mortgage group he manages, he explains.
“Christina and her team will be an asset to the existing PRMI west coast originators offering more reverse support, sales management expertise, processing and operations assistance,” Sless says. “But we view it as a far greater opportunity than just having a west coast presence. I think she’s going to play a huge, featured role in the national expansion of the Sless Group. She’s that big of a brand herself, and we want to leverage her brand and marry that with the Sless Group brand to take our talents across all 50 states.”
Training forward originators to shift into reverse
One of the benefits that Harmes Hika will bring to the Sless Group is her experience in training forward mortgage loan officers in the specifics that come with working in reverse, a traditionally more consultative process than is found on the forward side.
“Christina and I have already begun creating the infrastructure for the 1200+ forward originators here at PRMI to grow the reverse side of their practice,” Sless says. “Christina has a passion for teaching forward originators. The vast majority of PRMI’s reverse business today is not derived by the forward originators. Christina and I will be working closely to leverage our forward originators and their strategic partnerships.”
In terms of an example of her experience, Harmes Hika explains that it benefits a reverse mortgage professional to understand the intelligence and sophistication that many forward originators have when it comes to their understanding of the traditional mortgage business, and that sometimes that can result in an erroneous perception of reverse mortgage crossover on their part, she says.
“Typically, a mortgage originator is very dynamic, very intelligent, and can pick up a different kind of matrix for a different kind of loan and get through that loan just fine,” Harmes Hika explains. “The client never has any clue that that might have been the first USDA or VA loan they got through. So, you’re speaking to somebody who thinks they can do that with a reverse mortgage, and you really need to level with them on that. You need to explain [how and why] it’s completely different [than previous loans they may have done].”
Scaling for the future
In terms of what the branch will need to do to meet its lofty goals for expansion, both Sless and Harmes Hika agree that it will come down to the recruitment of top-level reverse mortgage industry talent, in addition to using the newfound capabilities and experience that the company now has access to in the realm of training loan officers to transition from forward into reverse, the pair explains.
“My team will be stepping up into doing some more of the outreach that I have been doing, and will be looking to bring on some other top originators,” Harmes Hika says. “I’m a huge heart person, so I always look for somebody who really cares about the client first and foremost. I haven’t had the ability to really offer other top talent out there a place to land, and to help them join an amazing team with support with all that we’re going to be doing with PRMI. So, of course, I’ll be expanding as much as I can, but to bring on other talent will be really important.”
For Sless’ part, better serving west coast clients will be possible with a physical presence in San Diego, but strategic partnerships should benefit, as well, he explains.
“We’re excited to better serve our west coast clients and strategic partnerships with a local team dedicated to meeting and exceeding our standard of service,” he says. “We also plan on recruiting other top-level talent into our organization, many of whom are on the west coast. Christina will play a vital role in the recruitment of reverse originators in California and across the nation.”
Additionally, Sless is leading PRMI’s transition from brokering reverse mortgage loans to becoming a Principal Agent Lender, and has brought on a reverse mortgage “leadership council” that he, Harmes Hika, and other Sless Group reverse specialists will be a part of. Additionally, Sless currently operates in 12 states and Harmes Hika will be operating across four new states the company has not previously originated in.
“The Sless Group now has over 85 years of combined reverse mortgage experience,” Sless says.
Look out soon for a new episode of The RMD Podcast featuring Sless and Harmes Hika together to talk more about this expansion, the state of the reverse mortgage business and the logistics of transferring between companies.