If there's one name that’s synonymous with mortgages in Halifax, it’s Clinton Wilkins. The Centum Home Lenders broker is a fixture on television and within Atlantic Canada’s real estate community – and he’s been steadily building his reputation on the national mortgage scene as well.
Wilkins took home back-to-back trophies for Broker of the Year (Fewer than 25 Employees) at the Canadian Mortgage Awards in 2018 and 2019, due in large part to an impressive number of transaction units and volume in a relatively small market.
“In Halifax, the average unit volume is much lower than it is in the rest of the country,” Wilkins says, “and the big challenge in Halifax is that I have to do an extraordinary amount of units to compete on the national level, but often over the last 10 years, I’ve been named in the CMP Top 75 Brokers.”
Those accolades have led to other opportunities, which have in turn helped grow his business even further.
“We definitely leveraged the CMA wins to secure thought leadership opportunities,” Wilkins says. “I’ve become the go-to person for information relating to mortgage lending in the local media. They call me before anyone else, and having the wins really put Atlantic Canada on the map. Everyone knows it’s hard to compete on the national level in Halifax, but it shows the amount of effort we put in here, and we’re getting positive results from those efforts. We’re reaping the benefits of our hard work.”
Call it a comeback
Before Wilkins exploded onto the national scene with his first CMA win last year, there were a few years during which business wasn’t as auspicious as he’s been used to for much of his 13-year career in the mortgage industry. After he funded $62 million across 305 units in 2011, things began tapering. At one point, Wilkins even considered folding his business and moving to either Toronto or Vancouver.
“After 2011, the market was very soft in Halifax, and there wasn’t much going on,” he says. “I wasn’t really pushing myself like I had been, but by 2017, I’d decided that I didn’t want to merely scrape by. I wanted to focus on the thought leadership aspect of my business and became a regular contributor to CTV News, Rogers News Radio and Global News. I wanted to be the go-to person around mortgage lending in Halifax and Atlantic Canada.”
While it didn’t happen overnight, Wilkins now receives frequent calls from CTV to appear on air anytime there’s big news regarding mortgages – like the Bank of Canada’s first prime rate increase in five years – so that he can distill it for viewers. Last year, Wilkins furthered his commitment to becoming one of the industry’s pre-eminent thought leaders by penning a book on mortgage lending for consumers, entitled Confessions of a Halifax Mortgage Broker.
“That’s how much I love this industry,” he says, “but I certainly needed to recommit myself, and I’ve come back stronger and with more motivation than ever. Halifax is home, and it’s motivating to see the year-over-year growth in business, as well as being recognized by a group of my peers by winning back-to-back CMAs.”
Cultivating a brand
Nearly as impressive as his status as a topproducing broker in a smaller market is the fact that the mortgages Wilkins arranges are exclusively funded by A lenders; he leaves B and C originations to agents on his team.
“In the past I’d turn those deals away, but now, while I pretty much exclusively do A lending, a couple of agents in my office work with alternative and private lenders, and that makes us a full-service brokerage,” he says. “We don’t do rate buy-downs and no-frills lending. We consider ourselves a luxury brand, and the customers get the experience that brings. It doesn’t mean we’re not giving clients the best rate – we are – and we use volume to get the best pricing, but we’re not in the business of buying down rates.”
Wilkins focuses primarily on purchases, but transfers comprise 10% of his annual transactions. “I think now more than ever, the refinance business has gone by the wayside,” he says. “We do them, but fewer and fewer. At one time, my focus was on refinances, but I definitely have shifted focus to purchases because that’s good business.”'
The biggest change in Wilkins’ business, provided with a multi-pronged service network. However, his greatest appreciation is reserved for the support he’s received from Centum, especially since Chris Turcotte stepped in as the network’s president.
“In the early days with Centum, it really enabled me to shape my own destiny, and it was a brand that let me do my own thing, whereas the brief time I was running a DLC franchise, it was a prescribed way of doing things,” Wilkins says. “Over the years, Centum has evolved as a small player among powerhouses, but we have some of the best talent in the industry working under the Centum brand, and it all started at the top when Chris came over and breathed new life into Centum. It also breathed new life into me. I was ready to leave and go to another brand before Chris came on board, but now Centum allows us to compete on a national level. And I’m somebody who wants to win.”