Brokerage owner gets a pizza the action

From pizza maker to brokerage success story

Brokerage owner gets a pizza the action

If future career success can be measured by how well one performs at a pizza parlor, then one could have easily predicted the meteoric rise of Marshall Gottlieb (pictured).

The partner and CEO of Agave Home Loans started in the mortgage industry in 2013 after graduating from Northern Arizona University with a finance degree. Before that, a career as a loan officer was the yeast, um least, of his expectations. 

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“I worked in the restaurant industry,” he told Mortgage Professional America during a recent telephone interview. “I actually worked in pizza from when I was 15 years old until I was 22.” He described an impressive trajectory in the field: “I was a busboy, dishwasher and then I cut the pies and then server, bartender and front-house manager.”

From pizzas to mortgages

The work ethic he gained during this time was hardly much adough about nothing. A family friend who happened to be a vice president at Quicken Loans suggested he try his hand at being a loan officer. Shortly thereafter, he would retire his apron.

“He told me that when things are booming and the economy does well, everyone is buying a house, and when the economy is not doing well, interest rates go low and everybody’s refinancing.” That economic snapshot would closely mirror the last 10 years since his entry into the industry, he said.

He acknowledged the work was not all it was cracked up to be in the beginning. “I had a lot of doubt early in my career,” he said. “I thought about quitting many times and going back to Flagstaff [Ariz.] to be a ski bum. I wasn’t making good money, I was really stressed, and I didn’t know how to communicate with different personality types.”

But after about six months, it started to click. “Once you have a little bit of product knowledge and know how to communicate with different kinds of people – some want you to be direct and concise, others want you to be an educator – I started to do well. It kind of launched my career once I started to get some momentum.”

That momentum would propel him for nearly seven years at Quicken before realizing his next step. “At the end of 2019, I got married and while I was on my honeymoon decided I was going to quit,” he said. “I was thinking of getting out of the industry but ended up opening a brokerage.”

The business begins to grow

He and his childhood friend, Doug Wang, ended up launching that brokerage in January 2020. Out of thousands of potential names for the fledgling firm, they ultimately picked Agave Home Loans in allusion to the picturesque succulent plant with rosettes of narrow spiny leaves and tall flower spikes that dot the landscape of Phoenix, the capital of Arizona located near the border with Mexico. Apart from its aesthetic attributes the agave is also key in the production of tequila.

Agave Mortgage would open two months before the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The credit markets were very uncertain,” Gottlieb recalled. “We weren’t able to lock rates. We also didn’t know how to run a brokerage, we didn’t know about processing, underwriting and title. Working at Quicken is pretty cookie cutter – you did one job, and that’s to originate. We kind of took it slow at the beginning, and really tried to do every role ourselves so we could learn the ins and outs.”

Once they reached a certain comfort level, Gottlieb and Wang brought in a third partner, Joey Harrington. as their chief technology officer. Today, the company has more than 60 employees.

A breadth of knowledge is key to success

Gottlieb credits much of the firm’s success to a keen knowledge of various products and a penchant for advising clients on their best options. 

“You gotta know FHA and VA and conventional and purchase and refi and streamlines. That’s really our bread and butter,” he said. “We don’t do a lot of non-QM or second mortgages. Our loan officers have a goal of simply getting to know the client’s situation. Many clients and consumers come in with preconceived notions about what they’re supposed to get and what they’re supposed to ask for.”

Loan officers at Agave are trained differently, Gottlieb said. “People’s ability to survive in challenging markets – we’ll see how long this one will last – is truly their ability to fully understand where the client’s at. What do they have in liquid assets? Can they get co-signers? What do they have in reserves? Is their job stable? You have to understand every aspect of their credit report: Is their student loan in deferment but about to start payments? Is their car a Toyota that’s going to last forever and about to be paid off in five months?”

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It’s a matter of fully understanding each client: “When you start coming from a place of not pigeonholing people on the product and really come from the angle of understanding their situation, you can then make a more creative recommendation that makes a lot more sense. In certain situations, it’s OK to be an order taker, but we try to coach people and teach people – to make recommendations that make the most financial sense. We present the options to the client, and the client make their own decisions. We find that many in the industry do not do that.”

There’s no way of having predicted the spread of a pandemic emerging – let alone two months after launching a business. Yet the scourge emerges in this story as something of a metaphor manifesting challenge – with attending lessons on how to react to such unexpected developments.

“You don’t try to predict,” Gottlieb said in looking back. “You try to prepare. If the market turns out to be really good, you need to be ready to move fast and capture that. And if the market is not very good, be prepared to be lean and nimble. You have to be prepared for both ends of the spectrum.”

These are no pie-in-the-sky sentiments, but words tested by time and forged by challenge – words to live by. Cheers to that.

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