She is a community stalwart in the town she once fled
Were it not for an injury that ended a promising military career, Shelly Heimer may never have entered the mortgage industry. Yet looking back at her experiences now, she marvels at the good that often comes of circumstances that initially seem like insurmountable roadblocks.
It’s not lost on her that she now works in a field long dominated by men, yet it’s that military background that prepared her for that dynamic – although unbeknownst to her when she first joined the US Army at the age of 18. “I’m very accustomed to being in a male-dominated world,” she said during an interview with Mortgage Professional America. “I come from a military background, so I’m used to paving the way for women.”
She was used to challenges even before her Army stint, having grown up poor as a child of divorced parents in the San Diego suburb of Ramona, Calif. “I come from a very impoverished background,” she said. “Neither of my parents were college educated, and my parents were divorced. I was raised by a single dad. When I got out of high school, there weren’t a lot of opportunities or encouragement to pursue college. So I found myself floundering a little bit, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Taking stock of her family’s military lineage – her dad, grandfathers and uncles having served their country – she had an epiphany: “I decided to join the Army. For me at the time, it was just a means to get out of my small town and do something with my life. Little did I know I would be really good at it.”
So she joined the military in the early 90s, going through basic training in one of the Army’s first integrated (both male and female) programs. Not a problem, she recalled, having been raised with a brother and her dad as their primary guardian. “I was comfortable in that, but it propelled me to compete at the same level as the guys, and to always be pushing myself to being equal.”
And there she was, a self-described “Southern California girl” at 19 stationed in Korea for what would end up a full year, enduring whipping cold in the winter. Still, she described meeting people of all walks of life that later guided her mortgage career while learning to adapt in unaccustomed climate and hardship.
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By 24, a bona fide roadblock emerged – one unable to be overcome by sheer determination and mettle alone. While at Fort Hood, Texas, she was injured during a training exercise. “At some point in the military, if you are not at full capacity, you get frowned upon as the weak link,” she said. “People start saying ‘she can’t go on the runs anymore’ and then they start talking about you.”
She was medically discharged, and returned to Ramona – the town she once desperately fled. “I stayed in Texas, close to base, for another year and worked random jobs here and there wondering what to do with my life,” she said. “Ultimately, I moved back to San Diego because eventually everyone comes home.”
Her sister, a real estate agent, mentioned her lender was looking to hire an assistant, Heimer recalled. She got the job. “I quickly moved through that position and found a true passion for being able to serve people at a different level – being able to help people buy homes, staying organized, understand the mortgage process. I quickly evolved.”
After six years, she ventured out on her own. “When the market crashed in 2008, 2009, it was really hard to figure out the difference between the broker side and the retail side,” she recalled. “I ended up at a couple of different retail companies that were great. The people I worked with along the way I could never say anything bad about. I’ve been lucky. If I called any of them today, I could go back in a second.”
Most assuredly, there is no going back. Comfortably ensconced back in Ramona, she runs H5 Financial – which happens to be marking its fifth anniversary this month – with her as mortgage loan officer overseeing a loan officer assistant, another on the marketing side and third-party processor working as an independent contractor. Last year, she posted $68 million in volume across 146 units.
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She credits the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) with helping propel her along the way, having joined the group from its earliest incarnation. “I have been one of the lucky ones to be part of AIME since they were launched,” she said. “Watching them evolve has been phenomenal, and I’m 100% sold on the Women’s Mortgage Network – I love everything it stands for. I love seeing other women lift each other up and propel them to do good things in our industry. I love the member portal; I get a lot of good content out of the member portal. I had to use the escalation tool one time, and it was phenomenal. They are very nurturing, and [AIME CEO] Katie [Sweeney] is a phenomenal leader. We are lucky, lucky to have her. She’s a class act.”
Back in Ramona by way of Korea via Texas, she’s now something of a community fixture. Not content to just run a business, she stages community events year-round – an annual golf tournament that last year raised $20,000 for the local school district’s deferred maintenance projects; teacher appreciation lunches; scholarship giveaways; Christmas gift giving for needy families, including last year’s iteration that benefited eight families; and more.
“Now, full circle, I’m back in the same town I couldn’t wait to get out of at 18 years old,” she said. “And I’ve truly become a household name here,” she adds with palpable pride.
“You can’t go home again,” the early 20th century American author Thomas Wolfe once observed, musing on a perceived intractability in returning to a place once lived in given inevitable changes transpired in one’s absence. Had he met Heimer, he would have been decidedly disabused of that notion.