A career in healthcare might not seem all that similar to one in mortgages, but industry veteran Debra Carlson found a few parallels that enabled her to switch tracks and thrive in a new career. One similarity, she says, is the need to be a caregiver.
"I’m technical, but I very much want that personal relationship with my clients because without that, they’re just going to feel like another number,” she says. “That’s not why I’m in this business. I’m here to help them. I’m here to be their voice. And I’m [going to] advocate that I can do the best I can for them.”
For the past 21 years, Carlson has been with Jencor Mortgage in Calgary, part of the DLC network. She’s been a CMP Woman of Influence, won the Top Mortgage Advisor Award at Jencor from 2013 to 2017 and has been a Diamond Award winner for the past five years. She’s also received a Lifetime Achievement Award for surpassing $500 million in closed loan volume.
After nearly three decades in the business, Carlson has developed a network of more than 4,000 clients, all of whom get a personal touch. By working with an assistant who is also a broker, Carlson ensures that every client gets the benefit of that knowledge, and by sitting side by side with her assistant day in and day out, Carlson is able to maintain consistency in how her clients are handled.
Even as her database has grown, Carlson has managed to do business the same way for decades. She’s always sent handwritten notes after every personal communication, and while it’s gotten more difficult to keep up with that level of personalization, she thinks it’s the reason why people return to her time and again. It might seem archaic, but she’s seen the fruits of her labour pay off over the years.
“Sometimes I’ve lost clients to somebody [else], but they’ll come back to me, and I still service them as if they’re my own client,” she says. “Because ultimately, that’s business for me, but it’s also to help them, which is my main goal, and it’s referrals down the road. I’ve got first-time homebuyers, I’ve got renewals, I’ve got repeats, I’ve got refinances, I’ve got new construction – I have it all.”
Carlson began her working life as a dental professional, but after a decade of doing that, she needed a change. Her sister turned her on to the mortgage industry, and the two worked as a team until Carlson was brave enough to try things on her own.
“I’m very much a caregiver,” she says. “I do financing for my clients the way I would do it for myself – and I’m going to do nothing but the best for myself. I live a life of integrity – I do my mortgages with integrity and trust. That takes me through. I don’t waver from that, so my business has always just flourished.”
In her local market in Alberta, buyers are hurting more than they are in other provinces, Carlson says, and she’s doing everything she can to help them. Her strategy hasn’t changed much from 2018 to 2019, but she says things have gotten a lot harder due to regulatory changes, and she anticipates the landscape will remain difficult in 2020. Half of her prospective borrowers, especially seniors, can’t get into homes because of credit challenges or the qualifying rules – and, she adds, people don’t understand what’s happening.
“They’re not understanding why you get a rate here, and if you look sideways, you get another rate, and if you look straight, you get another one,” Carlson says. “They just don’t understand the changes, and I truly want people to understand what’s going on, so it’s taking me more time to help them understand what’s going on.”
Putting in the time
These days, everyone is looking for ways to save time, but Carlson has seen the time she invests in her client relationships pay off in spades. Technology is necessary, she says, but there has to be a balance between a hands-off and a hands-on approach to the business.
If an online application comes in, for example, Carlson will pick up the phone and introduce herself to the applicant. Working in tandem with technology helps to avoid any miscommunication and ultimately saves time along the way.
Carlson sent a handwritten note to the first client she helped, and that practice has remained a crucial part of her business. While emailing newsletters, sending postcards, knocking on doors and making cold calls are all valid ways to reach potential clients, without a true connection, people aren’t going to want to return to their broker, Carlson says.
The loyalty and commitment she gives her clients, they give to her in return. For as much as her years in the mortgage industry have been about business, they’ve also been about staying true to herself.
“Just be who you are,” she advises. “People can tell the difference. Create a personal relationship because those personal relationships last. If you don’t have a personal relationship, they could be on to the next person.”
Carlson has had to dig deep to stay true to her strategy. It’s not flashy and it’s not gimmicky, but it’s served her well, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.