What are the key principles for top brokers in today's market?

Broker of the Year on lessons learned throughout a glittering career

What are the key principles for top brokers in today's market?

The slowdown that’s gripped Canada’s mortgage market amid spiking interest rates in recent years has presented significant challenges for brokers – but for one of the country’s leading mortgage executives, key to weathering that storm has been maintaining a tried and trusted approach to the profession.

Dalia Barsoum (pictured top), president and principal broker at Streetwise Mortgages, told Canadian Mortgage Professional that doubling down on the fundamentals of the role should be top of mind for brokers as they navigate the current maelstrom.

“I can tell you that these times that we’re in right now are the toughest challenge that I have experienced – even compared to COVID or B-20 [stricter mortgage underwriting guidelines introduced in 2017],” Barsoum said. “Each of them has a different flavour. At the end of the day, my approach is the same – which is that the environment will always change. There will always be something.”

It's essential, according to Barsoum, that brokers never lose sight of their duty to educate and inform the client, particularly in times of rapidly change as witnessed during recent years.

Interest rate hikes, a cost-of-living crisis, rampant inflation and home price instability have presented an increasingly complex landscape for brokers and their clients.

“As brokers, we need to stick with some principles. The first principle is we go out and educate and help our clients stay informed through any changes,” Barsoum told CMP. “COVID issues were different than the current issues as they’re experiencing right now. But our role is to go out and educate, and stay in touch.”

Also essential is an ability to “pivot,” Barsoum said, and remain innovative – the second principle that will help brokers gear up their business for success now and in the future.

“Change is always going to happen, and it’s important to step back sometimes and think through new ways of doing things,” she said. “Look at where the puck is going.

“What got us to a certain point is not necessarily what’s going to get us to the next level. And that’s something that I’ve kept in mind as I’ve navigated the different environments. Those are the two principles that I stick with – and they always served me well.”

Valuable lessons from a success-laden career

Barsoum can speak with some authority on the subject, having carved out a hugely successful career in the broker space since entering the profession in 2011. That followed a rise through the ranks in senior management roles across the banking space at Bank of Montreal (BMO), with the switch arising as a natural next step in the financial services field.

“I spent about 15 years in the banking sector and wealth management, personal and commercial banking, strategy and technology,” she recalled, “and then I got to a point where I basically wanted more control over my time and I was very passionate about real estate investing.”

Initially, Barsoum contemplated setting out as a realtor – but decided, with a young baby to take care of, spending days driving around on the job wouldn’t make much sense. Instead, having had her interest piqued by experience financing rental properties, she decided to step into the industry as a mortgage agent, working under a reputable broker who served as something of a mentor in those early days.

That’s where Barsoum’s prior work in the banking sector played a big role in her next steps in the industry. “Coming from a wealth management space, I realized that it’s better to take a strategic planning approach to financing income properties versus doing them one property at a time,” she said. “And that’s how the whole idea behind Streetwise and working with investors [came about].”

Eking out success in the early days

Stepping out on her own as Streetwise Mortgages founder has proven a hugely successful venture, with Barsoum named both Ontario broker of the year and national broker of the year at 2023’s Canadian Mortgage Awards (CMAs) in Toronto.

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That rapid rise over the years has proven that hard work and drive pays off – with Barsoum starting out with no book of business and little else but a firm resolve to achieve success in the broker profession.

“The first year was the most challenging year, but after that, things started to get better,” she said. “My approach was: ‘How can I solve a problem for real estate investors which I have personally experienced growing my portfolio?’

“That became my thing. I went out and I started to tell people, ‘Listen – you get declined by the banks, bring me your portfolio. I’ll figure it out for you.’ And I would get them results. I figured out a way to get the deals financed strategically.”

It was an approach that kept clients coming back – and generated all-important word of mouth, an essential for growth in any market climate.

“Clients who came with a decline on their third property grew with me to their 15th, 20th property,” Barsoum said. “So my clients would go out and say, ‘Talk to Dalia, because she figured this out for me when the bank told me no.’ That’s how the word got out. And of course, that fuelled my growth.”

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