Top Originator Spotlight: Daniel Brennan of Planet Home Lending

Industry veteran reveals how being an ex-principal helped him succeed in the real estate world

Top Originator Spotlight: Daniel Brennan of Planet Home Lending

One of the key ingredients to learning from a mistake is recognizing it as such. That is something Daniel Brennan (pictured) bumped into many times when he was transitioning from being a principal for a Colorado school district to a mortgage originator – and he wasn’t afraid to admit that to his competitors.

Instead, he would get out of his comfort zone, ask tough questions, and truly listen.

Mortgage Professional America recently caught up with Brennan, now an assistant branch manager at Planet Home Lending, to learn more about his mindful approach to failure and what he would advise those like him who want to succeed in the mortgage business.

Mortgage Professional America: Can you tell us about your mortgage journey? How did you come into the industry?

Daniel Brennan: I was a public educator since I was 22, where I worked my way up to the position of middle school principal until I transitioned into the industry in 2017. The wife of Derrick Strauss, my current area sales manager, worked for me at the school as a teacher’s aide. She introduced me to her husband because I wanted to use the equity from my home in Colorado to turn it into an investment and buy a new house. Derrick showed me how to do that. Then, down the road, I called Derrick about real estate since it has always been a hobby. We had a few meetings, and it took around two years to get everything figured out before I made the move into the mortgage industry.

MPA: Did you have any early obstacles to your mortgage career?

DB: There were challenges making the shift from being a school principal to sales where I had to pick up the phone and put myself out there. I was used to people coming to me to make the decisions as the boss. When I took on the sales role, I had to tell clients the reasons they should work with me and the company while having to learn all the programs. There were times that things fell through, and I thought, “What am I doing? Should I have stayed in what I had a master’s degree for?” I told my boss I was going to make mistakes, which I did. But I’ve always prided myself in trying to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. 

MPA: What were the challenges to your business and success, and how did you handle them?

DB: I had to compete with more experienced mortgage professionals. Early on, I definitely lost deals because other professionals who had the experience might have structured a deal and looked at the situation differently. I have always been a competitive person, so if I lost a deal, I tried to learn from what happened and do the next one better. I would ask the tough questions as to why I lost deals. I would even call loan officers who came up with creative solutions to ask, “How did you come to that?” Most people are willing to chat especially if you put yourself out there. These conversations can lead to opportunities, but some people who are new to the industry don’t want to pick up the phone and have those tough, but important, discussions.

Read more: Brokers urged to get creative

MPA: You mentioned when you were starting out, you would call people who beat you on deals. How would you guide the person on the other end, the younger you, so to speak?

DB: If it were somebody who called me on the other end, I would just be brutally honest with them about what I did and the steps that I took and would give them advice, depending on their numbers and how they are doing. Maybe it’s something with their company and they could have been supported better. It could also be that they need better mentorship. I was fortunate to have Derrick mentor me and I’m big on paying it forward. Showing empathy for people who are trying to learn and get into the industry makes a big difference. That’s a piece that many people miss by just trying to get a deal and a paycheck. Paying it forward is how you get a good name out there. People can tell by your tone on the phone if you have their best interests in mind or are just trying to get another deal through the system.

MPA: What are the most dangerous behaviors/traits that you have seen derail originators’ careers?

DB: I’ve seen loan officers start to make money and become successful then forget the foundations and principles that got them there. They lose momentum, take their foot off the gas or get complacent. Another thing I most commonly see is the lack of communication. Loan officers just feel like they do not have to get back to people or express their appreciation to their customers. They should regroup and refocus and ask themselves what have they been doing the last six months compared to the last year? Were there any changes in what they did or in their process? Are they just going to happy hours without making connections with people?

MPA: How do you encourage mortgage professionals to not give up?

DB: Having the principal background helps me a lot as an assistant branch manager, particularly with mentoring, because what I have done to mentor teachers can also translate to salespeople. Listening to people allows you to coach them in making minor or big changes and in getting back to what they need to do to be successful. As a leader, one has to listen to people and try to build them up. There are managers and there are leaders. Managers can work anywhere, but to be a leader you have to know your people and be in constant communication with them and understand where they want to be and how to get them there.

MPA: How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?

DB: I had pretty thick skin from being a principal since there is a lot of criticism that comes with that job. I just took that thick skin over with me to the mortgage business and learned how to be resilient. I had no other option given that I had a wife and two kids. I was, at that time, the youngest secondary administrator in what was a big school district. But the reason I was able to quickly get to the position of principal was that I was not afraid to go out of my comfort zone. Transitioning into being a loan officer was always about pushing myself because, unlike in education, there is no state pension, nor is anything guaranteed in this business. It is also about having good mentors and professional relationships whom you can call when you are down, who will be there to motivate and give your confidence back.

Read next: US mortgage rates break new barrier as downturn risk grows

MPA: What advice would you give to your younger, 25-year-old self?

DB: At 25, I was a teacher in the Vail Valley in Colorado, just living with my wife, skiing and traveling while exploring the ultimate outdoor lifestyle. I would say to my 25-year-old self, get out of your comfort zone and take some risks. Whether that’s becoming a realtor or learning about real estate and other investments, I could have done a better job. At that time, I was focused on being a principal because I thought that was what I wanted to do. I would give myself better financial advice and encourage being a lifelong learner and figure out how other people became successful.

MPA: Is it your family who keeps you grounded? Do you have any additional hobbies or habits to help you take care of yourself and manage the stress levels?

DB: Number one is family — my wife, my kids, and my parents. Outside of that, it’s Colorado. I like skiing, hiking, paddle boarding, river rafting and mountain biking. Any type of physical exertion is the best way for me to take care of myself. If you’re having a bad day and you can’t get out of your head, it helps to get some fresh air and exercise.