Top originator: How a former firefighter got tapped to lead Guaranteed Rate’s push in Michigan

by David Kitai16 Dec 2020

Jonathon Auer knows how to deal with pressure. Once a firefighter, Auer has built a reputation for serving his clients well and earning their sustained trust. A humble guy, Auer’s priority is to be that reliable professional in his clients’ lives, the mortgage equivalent of their family doctor or financial planner. The Pontiac, Michigan-based originator’s humility and hard work is paying off. Auer was just tapped by Guaranteed Rate as its new senior vice president of mortgage lending for Plymouth.

Auer spoke to MPA about why he thinks he earned that new role with Guaranteed Rate, how he built his business up to this point, and the priorities that guide his approach to life and mortgages. He shared how his past experience as a firefighter has helped him navigate the stresses of this year and how he stays focused on the big picture for his customers.

“I love talking to people, I love helping people, I was always great at basic math and that’s what I believe the mortgage business is,” Auer said.  “Not everybody finds exactly what they’re good at in their life, but I think I found exactly what I’m good at and that’s just working with people and helping people. What I’ve found is that if you just do the right things and help people, then your business expands itself because people want someone that’s going to take care of them.”

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That’s not to say Auer sits waiting by the phone all day for his business to come in. He’s built his pipeline with key referral relationships, though taking a slightly different tack than most originators. Rather than focusing on real estate agents, Auer builds his strongest referral partnerships with financial planners. The rise of digital real estate listings, in his view, means that fewer buyers are actually using real estate agents. Financial planners, conversely, are taking on larger roles in their clients’ overall financial lives and are looking for strong mortgage professionals like Auer to partner with.

Auer wins those planner relationships with hard work. He’ll usually ask a financial planner for a few “homework assignments,” to prove his efficiency and effectiveness. He delivers that good customer experience and from there builds a strong two-way relationship with the planner, referring business that might come his way. The key to delivering that service, Auer said, is to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That speed and availability, he said, can be the difference between a client winning or losing on their bid for a home.

That availability has stood him in good stead this year. Auer accepts that while he’s done record volume in 2020, it was a year of tests. As a former firefighter, though, Auer knows a thing or two about stress and could use his experience helping people trapped in a burning building to help people in need of a refi or looking to purchase in this low-rate environment. He’s proud at the end of this year of having helped as many people as he did in 2020.

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That commitment to customer service, and Auer’s reach and success in Michigan, is what attracted Guaranteed Rate to him. Auer explained that the Guaranteed team had been chasing him for a while and after a few meetings with management he realized that the Guaranteed Rate infrastructure will be key to taking his business to the next level. In his new role, Auer gets the institutional support of a marketing team, a sales assistant, and a closing team.

A family man who attributes much of the success to his wife’s support, Auer emphasized that despite the new big title and larger company behind him his focus will remain where it always has – on providing consistent, available, and human customer service to people making the largest financial decisions of their lives.

“For me, it’s always been about customer service,” Auer said. “You have to be available for the client, you have to be able to handle tough questions. You have to be able to ask the tough questions, too. You have to be honest and candid with your clients to let them know that something might not be is the right move, with a level of care where you’re not coming across like you’re trying to make the decision for them.”