Making the Jump: From Real Estate to Banking

Mortgage lending is a career you’ve got to love—if you don’t sincerely love it, you won’t make it in this industry. We loan officers are in the unique position of helping people make one of the biggest investments of their lives. By nature, it’s a high-stress situation. No matter how much money you’re making, it’s a job that you have to enjoy doing. And I do… But it took me four years in the business of real estate and navigating the 2008 financial crisis to finally get here. I’ll tell you how it happened.

In 2005, I was going to school for finance in New York and looking for a way to work my way through school. A friend who was in real estate kept pulling my ear about getting my brokers license, saying that he made good money and that it was relatively easy. So, I took my real estate exam, passed it, and started working with him. Turns out, I was pretty decent at it—averaging over a house a month my first year. And I was making a good living, so I stuck with it. But it never felt like the end game. I was good at it, but I didn’t love it. I wanted to do something I was passionate about.

Soon after, I started working as a real estate agent for a company called RE/MAX. They offered mortgage classes twice a week—one in English and one in Spanish. I opted to go to both (I didn’t speak Spanish, but I figured I would need it). And immediately I was intrigued. 

I naturally gravitated towards the problem-solving aspects of mortgage financing. These challenges were interesting and fun. Of course, before 2008, the mortgage products were a lot different without the Dodd-Frank regulations that are currently in place. Many people were mortgage brokers and real estate agents at the same time—which is not allowed today. Everybody and their mother were doing mortgages and real estate on the side. Money was falling from the sky in these industries (and, of course, now we know why).

Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t be a jack of all trades and master of none. So, I dropped real estate and focused on mortgages. By the time I established a book of business and got going, the crash of 2008 happened. But I adapted.

I shifted from being a mortgage broker to being a mortgage banker. I started working for a small mortgage bank in New York. Finally, I was in an industry that I found fascinating. But the company was very traditional. It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted an outlet where I could really build a career and help create something. I wanted to work for a place that had interesting products that could “break the system” and serve different communities.

By chance, a friend wanted to introduce me to George Lazaridis (i.e. Quontic’s Mortgage Lending Division President and Chief Lending Officer). It was around 2009. He and CEO Steve Schnall were just opening up Quontic. My friend described Quontic as a bank designed by “mortgage guys” for loan officers. They were pushing the envelope, being creative, and trying to serve an extremely diverse and underbanked community in New York City. I thought, “Ok, I could hone my craft and grow in an environment like this,” so I took the meeting and drank the Kool-Aid.

The thing that really got me really hooked? Quontic is a Community Development Financial Institution. What that means for loan officers is, because we lend in a lot of underserved communities—where the majority of the loans we make are to low-income families, or in low-income census tracts around the city—Quontic Bank was granted the CDFI status. Therefore we are exempt from some of the Dodd-Frank regulations that were put in place after the financial crisis. It means that we can safely use alternative or even no income documentation to make mortgage loans by relying on the totality of our borrowers’ circumstances – rather than just relying on the traditional means of underwriting. That privilege means that we must make those loans very safely and responsibly. The subprime loans that caused the financial crisis got a bad rap because brokers weren’t requiring down-payments. But if you’re putting down 20 to 40% AND you have a 700 credit score or higher, traditionally speaking, those are the safest loans a bank can make. That’s how we do them at Quontic.

Compared to most banks, who are stuck trying to just figure out how to operate within the confines of regulation, Quontic is always trying to figure out ways to break the system for financial empowerment. We’re thinking outside the box and creating guidelines that cater to borrowers who would be unbankable normally. And it’s not because they don’t deserve the loan, or because they can’t pay it back. It’s just because of the way that the regulation is written. As a result, we’re able to help small business owners, gig economy workers, real estate professionals, immigrants and other low-income borrowers who need some relief from the traditionally rigid guidelines. Of course, we’re not operating outside of the regulations, but rather connecting with regulators to help them understand people’s needs, how risk factors in, and how certain loans can in fact be made safely. Quontic has that different mindset, and that’s what’s kept me here. Ten years after joining, I’m still here.

When I found the mortgage business, I fell in love with it. I’m still intrigued and fascinated by it. This industry has allowed me to set clear goals and create a career. And Quontic helped me create a career where I’m using my expertise to help people that really need it. I’m helping people access money that they never would have been able to access; To have the ability to purchase new homes, or become real estate investors. 

But you have to love it. If you don’t enjoy the challenge, it’s just not the right job for you. The amount of stress we take on during the lending process, especially as you’re just starting out, requires balance. But if you can do that, it’s the best job in the world.

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