2017 was one of those good/bad years for Tribeca Mortgages’ Fernando Zilli. Deals were flowing and volume was high, but Zilli had less and less time and mental capacity to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
“My life was completely shattered that year in terms of personal enjoyment,” Zilli says. He knew that maintaining 2017’s performance would be physically and mentally unsustainable. The tedious and time-consuming aspects of the business were siphoning off his time and energy, leaving him little opportunity to concentrate on his strengths: talking with people, finding what situations they’re in, and formulating solutions for their homebuying challenges. Business, and Zilli’s love for it, had both plateaued. Something had to give.
Zilli powered through the next two years with the help of his Tribeca team, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 slowed the economy to a crawl that he had the opportunity to examine his business and realize what needed to change: If the underwriting process could be taken off his plate, 60 to 70 percent of his time would be freed, allowing him to focus on creating new business.
Zilli hired two dedicated underwriters, both licensed mortgage brokers, who now handle what he estimates to be about “90 percent” of the brokerage’s communications. Zilli has used the extra time to put himself in front of realtors and their clients, re-evaluate the company’s systems, and, critically, to recharge his batteries. In June alone, the new business model – and the effect it has had on Zilli’s mindset – resulted in 60 new applications. If the current level of activity keeps up, Zilli anticipates that his current volume could triple within the next two or three years.
“I’m still kind of in shock at how well this is going,” he says. “I’m at the point now where I’m thinking, ‘Do I need somebody to help me field how many calls are coming in?’”
Zilli offers his underwriters a 30 percent split on the deals they work on, which means a brokerage will have to bank on a similar increase in business to justify the cost. Brokers running modestly sized businesses may wonder if the investment in an underwriting team is worth it. Zilli says those brokers, while right to fret over numbers, are missing the big picture.
“When they start a business, everybody’s always looking to minimize their cost of doing business,” he says. “But a lot of times in doing so, you give up a lot of efficiencies and you lose the ability to grow at the rate that you actually could grow because you’re so focused on the bottom line.”
The bottom line for Zilli?
“I’m actually able to do the part of mortgage brokering that makes you money. The people part,” he says.
Prior to hiring his underwriters, Zilli says he was underwriting between 20 and 25 deals a month on his own. Now he underwrites five while his team underwrites 30 to 40. Zilli’s time is now spent dealing directly with potential clients or making presentations to real estate brokerages. His phone is ringing off the hook.
“There’s nothing else I’ve done that has changed how I do business or generate revenue more than this one change,” he says. “Not only has it streamlined business, it’s actually made my life a lot better – and increased the company’s revenue forecast exponentially.”
Zilli’s story isn’t an uncommon one. Every day, brokers from coast to coast work themselves to the point of mental and physical collapse trying to do be every client’s everything. And the devil, in this case, really is in the details: Underwriting, critically important as it is, sucks. It’s not fun and, aside from possibly helping generate a referral from a happy client at some point in the future, it doesn’t drive that much business. But relinquishing a little control over the underwriting process? That changed Zilli’s life.
“If you can have 75 percent of your workload taken off your plate, you’ve got all this extra time to choose what you want to do with it,” he says. “And if you reinvest that time back into your business, it’s going to be successful.”