2018 was the best year yet for Adam Slack, vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate in Wilmington, North Carolina.
He’s been in the business for 10 years, and in 2018, he topped his personal best with $115 million in volume and 454 loan transactions—particularly impressive considering the low loan amounts in his area.
The funny thing is, Slack didn’t even want to be in the mortgage business. He was a finance major in college with the goal of becoming an investment advisor/stockbroker. When he graduated from college into a recession, however, he needed work and was happy to get a job as a temp employee at a bank. He was “kind of thrown into the role” of loan origination, and quite honestly, he didn’t love it. In fact, he fully intended for it to be nothing more than a temporary position and waited tables at night for years, looking for something better to come along. Eventually, however, something clicked.
“About five years down the line I realized that I’m actually pretty good at this. I like helping out my clients,” Slack said. “Actually, I am a financial advisor. It just kind of hit me that that’s actually what I'm doing. I love doing it, and the competitiveness of the business, I actually have grown to really enjoy it.”
It was also around this time that Slack started to build relationships. Up until this point, he’d been working in the refi boom, and hadn’t really needed to focus as much on the relationships aspect of the business. When he realized that refinances weren’t a sustainable business model, he started to focus on the purchase side of the business, and from the start, spread his net wide to include not only realtors, butbuilders, closing attorneys, lawyers, and financial advisors as well.
Slack has always known that doing more business and better business comes from putting in the extra effort with clients, but it’s more than just returning calls in a timely manner and staying top of mind. Slack works hard to better position his clients so they can take advantage of the best loan products that they can.
“So many loan officers in this business are just lazy, to just put it flat out there,” he said. Some originators, for example, simply use the borrower’s FICO score instead of examining their full credit report, where a small medical collection or other small hiccup might be lurking. Some of those hiccups can be resolved by the borrower and removed from the report fairly easily, and it can make a world of difference to their loan options.
“Sometimes [that] increases the score 80 points, and that’s the difference between put into an FHA loan and a conventional loan. So really, when I first got into the business and even today, I’ve never abandoned really going that extra mile for the client, to just not look on the surface on how the file looks and make a decision on the loan program, but really look deep into the file to see what we can do to put the client in a better position.”
He’s also become skilled at rescuing files. In fact, he says, most of the partnerships with his top realtor partners formed when he was able to rescue deals that had fallen apart for them. Whether the borrower had credit issues or couldn’t get approved by another lender or the deal wasn’t structured properly because another originator didn’t know the guidelines, Slack was able to get them done. He was able to put money into the pockets of his realtors, all while making them look great in front of their clients and—shocker—those partners became big fans.
“That’s my biggest pitch to them: If you work with me, I'm going to make you money.”
Slack’s record year taught him some things about scaling a business. Slack’s team reached a point last summer where “the wheels were shaking,” but he said they overcame the bumps by collectively examining their process, and eliminating the things that didn’t work. He hired a production manager, who really allowed them to help keep on top of files and meet closing dates, and said that adding to a team directly translates to a good customer experience.
“Some people just chase after each transaction and try to put as many files in as possible and when they’re sloppy and they miss closing, that’s not a good business model. If you run a tight ship, take care of your clients, and know your business, I think the success follows. Always.”
It’s been a great year for Slack business-wise, but it’s also been a difficult one. Bill Haines, Slack’s mentor, teacher, and cheerleader since his first day in the mortgage industry, died last spring. He was the owner of the brokerage where Slack started his career, and when the company was bought by Guaranteed Rate, Slack worked under Haines while the team grew the brand into having the largest market share in the area.
What Slack learned during that process was that growing a business takes more than just working hard; it means intimately knowing the business, the guidelines, the market, and using all tools available. Slack knows his business. He knows his guidelines. He knows his market. He has been with Guaranteed Rate for eight years, and has really been able to use the technology they’ve provided to his advantage this year, which has allowed him to originate more business. He also knows that as he continues to scale, the consistency of his brand and commitment to treating his clients as he wants to be treated will work in his favor.
“Bill would be proud of me this year, I think. That’s not something I’ll overcome, I can't bring him back, but I've really tried to take what he’s taught me to heart and really tried to live up to everything that he taught me.”