Broker left world of retail to find mortgage success

Past career taught customer service, but was bandage needing ripping

Broker left world of retail to find mortgage success

“In the real dark night of the soul,” F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” The particular time resonates with Gerald E. Robinson (pictured), who left the world of retail for the mortgage industry.

“I was a sales manager and a general manager for a large, big box retailer and retail had started to affect my family life a little,” he recalled. “I rolled in at 3 in the morning one day and told my wife I was going to quit.” Did he have another job lined up, she asked, wondering about the future for the family that included two kids aged one and four. “I got three months reserve and we’ll go from there,” was the best answer he could muster.

Leap of faith pays off

The leap of faith in 2001 led him to a friend sharing about a man looking to hire at his brokerage. “So I went in and talked to him, and he said ‘if you can’t close a loan in 90 days, you don’t need to be in the industry,’ “ Robinson recalled. “Seventy-five (75) days later, I closed my first loan – and never looked back.”

In retrospect, he knows he did the right thing: “Retail can really wear you out,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily looking for a job, but looking for a change at that time. I needed to make a decision and rip off the bandage. And that’s what I did – ripped the bandage off. It was a good bandage to rip off.”

By October 2010, he purchased the brokerage house from the owner, and continues to work for 1st Choice Mortgage Co. in Idaho to this day – now as broker/owner. He works with four others under him, and posted $44 million in volume across 137 units last year.

While happy to have switched careers, he credits retail with having yielded a needed dynamic: “Retail taught me good customer service skills,” he said. “Your customers are everything, and that’s super-important. That’s what retail really taught me.”

The contrast from retail into mortgage: “You’re definitely a lot more personable with each one of your clients,” he said. “You’re able to help clients one on one. You’re helping a client making one of the largest decisions of their lives – you’re not helping a client buy a TV or computer.”

Great Recession rears its ugly head

Seven years into his then-nascent career, the Great Recession emerged. Yet it didn’t affect Robinson as harshly as it did others, which he credits to careful planning. “It actually wasn’t as detrimental as a lot of people thought because each year you redo your business plan and your budget and you have capital reserves,” he said. “And then home purchases obviously fell off the face of the Earth but then you had a lot of refinances and short sales purchases and stuff so you just needed to pivot your business model. And that’s what we did, we pivoted. I had some really good years from ’08 to ’15.”

Experiencing those times prepared him for the current climate of volatile interest rates against a backdrop of inflation, he suggested. “I don’t want to say we had the crystal ball and saw what was coming, but we knew it couldn’t last and so we pivoted.”

The way so many chased refinances during the recently passed, record-breaking refi boom is a case in point of what not to do to the exclusion of other things, Robinson said. “That wasn’t low-hanging fruit,” he said. “That was fruit on the ground, and all you had to do is walk by and pick it up. That’s how easy refinances were. I have always told my loan officers and always realized that you can’t have all your eggs in one basket. You have to be diversified, and you have to be able to do purchase, refinances, home equity lines of credit, new construction loans, reverse mortgage. You have to have a full basket of eggs, and that way when one kind of starts falling off, the other ones will typically pick up. It was an off period where we had purchases that were super-heavy and refinances that were super-heavy. It was a very, very good ride, and it probably will never happen again.”

Robinson praised the Association of Independent Mortgage Brokers (AIME) for the benefits the group has given him in his second chapter. AIME recently staged the Hall of AIME event from Jan. 26-28 in Naples, Fla., that showcased top producers. Robinson serves on the advocacy committee for the organization.

He is especially keen on the training sessions offered through AIME: “They have FHA training programs, processor programs. As a small business owner, it’s difficult to have structured training programs. You just don’t have time as a small business owner where I’m also the broker, the compliance officer, the training officer, the HR officer, payroll, etc. etc. So having AIME take some of those items off my plate has been a huge benefit.”

He also likes the discounts secured through AIME: “They’re able to negotiate discounts for us from national vendors,” Robinson said. “So that saves me money.”

And don’t forget the esprit de corps: “And then probably the most important thing is the camaraderie and the resources that we have within AIME. We can go out and ask a question. And it might be a dumb question, and we might get a little chatter back about it, but the community will give an answer and help you out.”