If you want to fall down a rabbit hole, go to Duck Duck Go, type in “mortgage geek” and get ready to laugh. Sean Cahan, AKA The Mortgage Geek, is the president of Cornerstone Mortgage Group, but he’s unlike any other mortgage executive out there.
“I’m crazy. I’ll do rap videos, backflips in the office, I run around, I pretend like I’m two different people, I never stop, I’m like the Energizer Bunny. I’m not even joking, that’s just my personality. So [The Mortgage Geek is] my personality, just with some glasses on it.”
Together with a friend and a business partner, Cahan created The Mortgage Geek persona as a way to help educate the real estate community in an accessible and engaging way. Rather than conform to the traditionally corporate world of mortgages, Cahan found a way to use his personal talents and personality to build a unique, recognizable brand.
Part of creating The Mortgage Geek was also about finding a way to stay in front of referral partners. Cahan was able to take a weakness of his, pair it with his personality, and turn it into a strength.
“I’m completely real. Not everything in life has to be professional, even when you’re talking about finances,” he said. “I was really bad at staying in front of referral partners, so The Mortgage Geek allows me to stay in front of realtor partners and in the community and more and more people outside of my Facebook or YouTube. I don’t have to do the extra work to stay top of mind now that I created Mortgage Geek. In turn, it has helped my business tremendously because I’m now top of mind. But I haven’t changed the way that I’m doing business.”
Cahan joined Cornerstone in 2015. Due largely to Cahan’s leadership since then, the company has morphed from being a single local bank to a nationwide lender with fifteen branches, licensed in 33 states. He manages Cornerstone’s operations at the top, but he’s also still on the ground, closing loans himself. In 2017, Cahan closed more than $134 million in volume and has been the top producer at the company for the past three years.
“I’m understanding of what the other loan officers are going through. I understand their struggles so that’s what’s allowing my company to grow at the rate and speed that it’s growing right now is because people want to work with an owner that can make the changes that are necessary because I’m still doing what they’re doing, I’m still in the streets, I’m doing open houses on the weekends, I’m talking to clients, I’m sending out emails, so I’m trying to streamline everyone’s business and they’re talking to someone who’s in the same shoes they are,” Cahan said.
That aspect of leadership came organically, but Cahan also made some deliberate choices in order for Cornerstone’s loan officers to thrive. One of those choices was relinquishing control and letting people learn how to get from A to C on their own; it’s not always necessary, for example, to go through B. He also learned that allowing employees to make mistakes is an important part of management.
“If I let them learn to go look up the answer or to fail to learn the answer, even if I knew how to do it, they will learn better and it’ll stay with them forever . . . I want to empower them to make those decisions and to be really just to empower them to become better employees.”
Cahan knows many of the answers, but he’s also not exempt from making mistakes. If he isn’t making mistakes, Cahan said, then he’s not trying. The between successful originators and those who aren’t is the willingness to learn from those mistakes going forward.
“Make as many mistakes as you possibly can, but only make them once. You’re only allowed a mistake once because you can get over it or say, ‘oh my gosh, I didn’t know.’ But the second time or the third time, you’ve got to change the way that you’re learning, change the way that you’re writing things down, or honestly, this is not the right industry,” Cahan said.
Although there’s room for mistakes, there’s not a lot of it. The market is more competitive than it has been in a long time, and there’s a lot of pressure on originators to submit a perfect file from the get-go.
From an operations perspective, Cahan said that Cornerstone has implemented some changes that reflect the reality of the new mortgage world. They now offer master classes, coaching, and adding a new national salesperson to help officers learn new products. Cahan himself works with loan officers on ways to bring value to real estate agents and instruct them on talking points.
“Figure out how you can learn to structure really, really hard deals. Honestly, anyone can do a 20% down, W2 borrower, even if the loan doesn’t go that smooth because they don’t know what paperwork to ask for. The bank, the processor, the underwriter, they’ll have your back and your loan will close. What it is, is that not everyone fits into the bucket. Every single deal is so different,” Cahan said. “So if you can go to your realtors and say, ‘let me have your hardest deal, and I’m going to show you how I can strategically read through all of these guidelines and find the best products for your clients,’ then that is actually how you will increase your market share in this market. That is ultimately the only way.”
For a guy who started his first business when he was 17 wholesaling after-market parts for a motorsports company, made a “ton of money” co-founding a pressure washing company when he was 19, sold fake perfume out of his backpack, and went door-to-door selling coupon booklets, the hustle has never been about the product.
“It’s not as much the actual products that I’m selling, it’s understanding the client,” Cahan said. “If I can create the best service to anybody, no matter what product I’m selling, I’m always going to be successful.”
Even though mortgages themselves are “boring as f*ck,” Cahan’s having fun—and great success—closing them.