Broker-to-broker advice: Breathe

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Is Mortgage Brokering a stressful career? “No” was my first thought when asked this question. I tend not to allow stress to be a part of my life. This is likely helped by the fact that I eat healthfully, sleep pretty well, and am a fairly physically active person.
 
What do vegetables, seven hours’ sleep, and strength training have to do with brokering?
 
Everything, I would argue. A sound body and a sound mind are key to having the stamina to work through some long and often challenging days. They say that the brain consumes 20 per cent of the body’s energy. Is that energy being supplied by premium fuels? After all, as one of my favourite fellow optimists, Lao Tzu, likes to say, “if you do not take care of your body, where will you live?”
 
That said, if anything’s going to crack your Zenlike veneer, it’s going to be that underwriter who goes home early on the day of a subject removal without having signed off on that tricky BFS income. You know, the matter that’s been under review for days and one that has the client losing his cool and the Realtor swearing you will never again work in this town.
 
Yes. Breathe.
 
Come to think of it, perhaps I should have answered the aforementioned question with a “Yes.” A Broker often finds himself surrounded by highly stressed parties at every turn.
 
When a strength is a weakness
Recently I completed a DiSC assessment of myself, a very useful experience. It turns out what I perceive as my confident “make this happen” goal-oriented mindset can come across to people under moderate to extreme stress (i.e. many of the people we interact with daily) as demanding, aggressive and controlling.
 
Increasing my own self-awareness was a long-term focus throughout 2013 and recognizing that those things I see as my strengths are in fact problematic in certain situations has been very useful. I highly recommend that brokers learn more about how clients perceive their own communication styles, and just as importantly that brokers learn more about how to tailor those communication styles to suit the many different clients we interact with.
 
Understanding the correct formatting and phrasing to apply to your communications with individual clients is a key element in managing stress. The starting point is to know thyself.
 
Let’s get back to the potentially stressed parties involved: clients, underwriter(s), assistants, Realtors, the appraiser, the lawyer and her staff, and even the client’s accountant hustling on a tax return. Their stress can rub off on us if we are not careful in ways that affect our own communications with all of the aforementioned.
 
Mood setting
Being the calm at the centre of the storm is a skill worth mastering. The increased (failed) transaction volumes of 2013, which most of us experienced, combined with what often feels like the extreme challenge of getting files approved due to tighter guidelines – mixed with rate-hike deadlines, subject removal and completion dates – have all conspired to put every person involved in the processing of a transaction into a state of frenzy at one point or another.
 
Internal frenzy is OK; well, at least behind locked doors frenzy is OK. Phone securely disconnected frenzy is OK. Let it loose, but do it in absolute privacy, or share it with your “venting buddy” is OK.
Everybody needs a venting buddy.
 
No doubt there have been challenges in this industry since its inception, and some have been constant, while others may fade (high rates) only to be replaced by new ones (extreme regulation).
It is fair to say that today is not representative of an “easy” time to be in this business. Considering that the broker, aka “the face” of the deal, is often the client’s sole liaison to many of these other people who have sway over the approval, his or her role isn’t without some pressure. And when the others behind the scenes are overloaded, stressed, or unreasonable, one must be cautious to filter any anxiety out of the communication with the client.
 
Currently, brokers contend with:
  • Continuously changing lender guidelines
  • Government-imposed legislation requiring more, more and still more documents from clients
  • Lenders ill-prepared to deal with anything slightly past standard volumes
  • Media misdirection (i.e. Maclean’s with their ‘Bubble 2012,’ and then a year later ‘Bubble 2013’ articles. Watch for Bubble 2014 coming soon to a newsstand near you
  • Simultaneous headlines citing interest rates about to rise and also about to fall in the same paper on the same day (fixed vs. variable)
  • The misinformation and misunderstanding of not just the clients themselves, but their family, friends, co-workers, etc.
  • The list goes on...
 
Under-promise
All we can do in the face of all of these various challenges is manage the expectations of our clients from the start. This is perhaps the key stress-reducing tactic I try to utilize. Under-promise (which is tricky in a world of rate sites and sandwich boards) and over-deliver! Do not set expectations for rates until you have a credit score and income documentation in hand, do not set expectations for mortgage amounts until the appraisal is in hand.
 
Set expectations early, and review them with the client regularly throughout the process. Perhaps, most importantly we must always keep a focus on management of our own expectations as well; this helps us to temper our tone, our predictions, our promises and general outlook.
 
If we can keep ourselves calm and rational, it is far simpler for the client to remain in that same state with us. Manage Expectations!
 

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