The hands-on approach

The hands-on approach

The hands-on approach

It's possibly the hottest day of August, if not the summer, in the Nation's capital, a city that prides itself on its lack of skyscrapers - a bylaw actually makes it illegal to build a building higher than parliament. An unfortunate side-effect, especially on a day like today, is also the lack of shaded sidewalks, or shade in general for that matter. With the plenitude of outdoor tourist attractions in this picturesque city, it seems that the popular spot today for tourists seeking refuge from the sun is the lobby of the historic, and air conditioned, Chateau Laurier.

This is exactly where Nicole Drummond, a broker with Ottawa's the Mortgage Source, Mortgage Centre Canada, suggests for a meeting place. Despite having to fight with the Friday afternoon traffic and find a parking spot downtown Ottawa, Drummond is all smiles when she walks through the old brass revolving doors. And why wouldn't she be? After a hectic "busy season," which has her working or on call all day, every day from February to August, today is her last day before a five-week trip to the south of France.

"The switch was finally turned off last week," she says, still smiling, suggesting a few spots inside the Laurier before braving the sun-drenched Parliament Hill - a fitting spot for a photo shoot with Drummond considering 85 per cent of her business is based on helping government workers relocate. A native Montr‚aler, the fluently bilingual (French/English) Drummond has been living in Ottawa for the last 20 years.

While she originally sought out a career as a teacher, it's something she realized wasn't for her after just two months into a placement through teacher's college. What followed was a career in the finance world - Royal Bank, Scotiabank, First Line Trust - where she was first introduced to the mortgage side of things as a Scotia mortgage clerk in 1979. Years later while at First Line Trust she had an instance of bad luck, where she put a deposit down on a new house but couldn't sell her old one. But it was then that something clicked.

"It cost me a $10,000 deposit, but then I thought hmm, there is an opportunity here," she says.

Combined with her passion, which was "to work with clients on a daily basis and get back to the ground level, versus being a regional manager of a trust company," mortgage brokering made sense, she says. And since brokering fulltime, even though she says switching from a salary to a commission-based career was the biggest risk she's ever taken, it did also mean that she was going to be paid in relation to the huge amount of overtime she had become accustomed to (and still maintains today).

For instance, when asked what Drummond's hobbies are, Nelly Van Berlo, president at the Mortgage Source, simply replies: "What, you mean other than working 24/7?"

But Drummond's long days also have a lot to do with her clientele, who are usually Department of Defence (DND) or other government employees who need to relocate and often don't know anything about the area they're going to. It's a situation Drummond is familiar with, her husband being in the military. Over the past 30 years Drummond has lived all across Canada, and at one point moved seven times in just five years.

"We were moving every summer," she says, "So I can really put myself in their shoes."

Drummond acts as the go-between for the Realtor, the lender, the lawyer and the insurer, and helps out with everything, from house insurance to disconnecting the phone and cable.

"I try to take care of every single little detail, from start to finish," she says, adding that she works weekends because "that's just what you have to do to buy a house. When you relocate you don't know the area, you need the perfect neighbourhood, perfect schools, perfect everything. It can be very stressful. Plus I need to be available in the evening because banks are only open until four, and you always negotiate houses in the evenings it seems."

Full service with a smile                                                                                                                           Drummond's full-service approach can almost directly be traced to her own life married to a career military man.

"We are all family and help each other out," she says. "That's the military life. My husband was gone for a while and I had people helping me shovel the driveway. Plus when you treat somebody from the DND like this, word travels fast and next thing you know they are asking you to help out their mom and dad, friends and co-workers."

But securing funds never seem to be an issue with Drummond, as she has been a top producer with the Mortgage Centre for sometime (and currently sits and No. 1 in the country). It also doesn't hurt that, to put it bluntly, "the government doesn't belong to B business," she says. "I wouldn't even know what to do with a B deal, so I pass those clients off to other brokers in the office."

And it's definitely a formula that works, and within one year of starting off as a broker (and after she identified her niche as being DND and government relocation) she went from writing three deals a month to more than 20, also allowing her to move out of the Re/Max office where she was situated.

Seasoned brokers will always say that in order to be successful you need to tap into the community that you are a part of, and for Drummond this worked perfectly. With two assistants she processes between 700-800 mortgages per year, and is often taking calls at midnight or later just to be able to speak with military members in Europe or other parts of the world who have plans to come back to Ontario. This also presents Drummond with the opportunity to travel abroad to where Canadian officers are situated, such as Belgium and Germany.

"Mortgage Centre doesn't pay for those trips for me, it's all out of my pocket," she says. "But when I can come back with 10 deals that entire trip is more than paid for."

Another fortunate aspect of dealing with government relocations and having the military life background is that she not only has contacts in each city, but is familiar with the areas herself too, rhyming off several regions and government industries that coincide with them.

"For government you have Kingston, for the penitentiary, Southern Ontario has the fisheries and Toronto has several offices. When it's RCMP you are looking at the whole [Highway] 401 basically, and for military, I know all the bases and have friends at each one."

She is also familiar with the ins and outs of relocating, being through it so many times, so knows exactly what clients and their government employers are after. To prove it, she has the highest return of client satisfaction surveys, says Van Berlo, providing a few examples.

"Madame Nicole Drummond and her team dedicated time (often outside of normal working hours - my first face-to-face meeting [two-hours long] was on a Sunday) to provide outstanding support," wrote one of her clients. "She also perfectly understands the moving process (options, restrictions, potential benefits, etc) for members of the Canadian Forces. Priceless support, she was awesome."

"She has been with me since 1996 and I never have had a more dedicated and client-oriented mortgage agent," adds Van Berlo. "I could go on, but then again, I am biased."

Full circle
Even though teaching didn't resonate with Drummond in her early career quest, it is clearly in her genes somewhere. Not only has oldest of two sons become a teacher, but he actually enjoys it (clearly not taking after his mother).

But in the true form of tapping into your own community, Drummond has found a new niche that could eventually extend her busy season an extra month into September.

"The fact that my son is a teacher has definitely opened up that whole side of the business, which isn't as busy as DND, but it's also blossoming," she says. "It's a new market for me, so it's not as busy, but it will pick up sooner than later."

In fact, her five-week trip through the south of France, which will not only allow Drummond to indulge in two of her passions (gourmet cooking and travelling) and her husband in his (he is a self-taught sommelier), brings her right back to Ottawa in time for September, or as she calls it - "teacher's season."

If she commits the time and energy to it as she does to her government and military clientele, then it's sure to prove to be just as successful.

Now if she only had more time