What drives one Houston brokerage?

Owner details how association helped kickstart growth

What drives one Houston brokerage?

For Rachel and Aaron Clark (pictured left and right), launching Firehouse Mortgage in 2018 was an undertaking with community service at its core – an effort about more than just the bottom line.

The husband-and-wife duo had been working in the real estate and mortgage industries since the mid-2000s, gaining their licenses and working as loan officers. It was Aaron’s status as a full-time firefighter that spurred the decision to open a new brokerage predominantly employing first responders as part-time LOs.

“We’re at five loan officers now,” Rachel told Mortgage Professional America. “We’re trying to help our community. We serve first responders, giving them a side job to make extra money but not be something that’s taking away from their family time – because the career of the first responder can take away a lot.”

Most of the company’s loan officers work for the City of Houston, where Firehouse is based, around eight days a month. That means two days a week at the fire department, giving them the time needed to balance loan officer work with their first responder duties.

“They’re able to balance out and still give a good amount of time to loans versus the fire department,” Rachel said. Other areas of community outreach include Texas FFM, a youth organization aimed at positively impacting students’ lives and developing their career success through agricultural education.

Prior experience a key element of serving niche clients

VA mortgages are a strong area of focus for Firehouse, with Aaron having served in the Marine Corps and another LO, Sean Strasner, a former member of the navy.

“We’re passionate about helping veterans,” Rachel said. “We treat all our clients like family and friends, but I think it’s a little different when it comes to a veteran or an active-duty military member – especially when dealing with my husband or Sean – because they’ve been there. They know what it was like.

“Aaron can say, ‘You know what, when I was in, we didn’t get the knowledge of the homebuying process and the benefits you get as a veteran when you get out.’ So he’s very passionate about telling them, ‘Hey, you served. You did this. Make sure that you’re using this benefit,’ especially for those who are still on active duty.”

Plenty of veteran and active-duty service members aren’t fully aware of their various homebuying options, she added – making it doubly important for advisors at Firehouse to provide as comprehensive an educational component as possible.

First-time buyers are also a strong source of business for the company, particularly Hispanic populations in the South Texas area. “A lot of those are not just first-time homebuyers, but their parents don’t own a home. They’re first-generation homebuyers,” said Rachel.

“It’s a lot more on the education aspect – educating them about the whole homebuying process, but also explaining to them right now in today’s market that little bit higher price to get seller concessions to help cover some of those closing costs or buy down that rate are a lot more beneficial than necessarily getting a $5,000 reduction in the price.”

How AIME helped accelerate company’s growth

Crucial to the company’s growth has been the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME), an organization whose events Rachel said had proven an important way of forging ahead in the industry.

“2020 was our first AIME event, and it was really on a whim,” she said. “After going, I was like, ‘Man, there’s just so much I don’t know.’ So we made a decision to go to AIME Fuse in 2020… and I felt like after that event, we were like, ‘Hey – this is what we need to be doing. This is where we need to be, these are the things we need to do.’”

Rachel has been involved with planning committees for the organization and as a captain in Texas – and made sure the rest of the company was familiar with the value it can offer.

“We took all our LOs to Fuse two years ago, just because I [said], ‘I need you guys to understand what it’s all about,’” she said. “Yes, we’re here right in Houston – but they’re such a bigger network and a bigger purpose than what we’re doing.”

That served as a valuable step in helping each loan officer progress along their already rapid rise in the industry. “It’s just nice to see them kind of grow in that community,” Rachel said, “to find their place like I’ve found our place.”

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