By Vanessa Chris, Special to CMT
Some brokers have crowded trophy cases. Christine Xu is one of them.
Xu has appeared on the CMP Top 75 four times, landed on the CMP Hot List twice, been recognized as one of Canada’s top 10 commercial brokers, received the Chinese Business Excellence Award and was named a Woman of Influence in Canada’s mortgage industry.
But none of these accolades mean as much to her as the statue she took home in May 2015 for CMA’s Mortgage Broker of the Year—Alternative Lending.
“The Alternative Mortgage Broker of the Year Award is the one I’m most proud of. I believe the best we can do in this industry is become a strong alternative broker,” she says. “If a person is fully qualified they can go anywhere to get a mortgage. We add value when we can help people who are not that qualified, who are refused by A lenders.”
In search of new experiences
Alternative lending isn’t exactly where she thought she’d end up when she launched her mortgage brokering business back in 2000—but then again, in those early days she was focused on learning the ropes of a brand new industry—one she stumbled upon purely by accident.
It all started when Xu and her husband made the decision to buy a house. It was a seemingly simple task that proved to be anything but, thanks to their self-employed statuses. After a number of application rejections, Xu was flipping through the Yellow Pages one day—looking for something completely unrelated to mortgages—and landed upon the “mortgage broker” page.
“I had no idea there was such a thing,” Xu says. “I called up a mortgage broker and their results were pretty good. At that time, I also happened to be looking for a career change and I thought maybe mortgage brokering was something I could do.”
It wasn’t long before Xu came across a small ad in the Globe and Mail that read “Mortgage broker needed. No experience necessary.” She quickly responded, went in for an interview and landed the job at a brand new brokerage.
Finding her niche
Xu learned rather early on that she was one of the few mortgage brokers in the GTA who could speak Mandarin, so that quickly became her niche. She began reaching out to the Chinese community—advertising in the Chinese media and writing articles in Chinese publications—essentially doing whatever she could to educate people on the benefits of using a broker. It was an uphill battle, seeing as there wasn’t even a word for “mortgage broker” in Mandarin.
“Things were different than they are today,” she says. “Today, people call and ask ‘What’s your best rate?’. Back then they were asking, ‘What’s a mortgage broker?’”
A natural transition
But as Xu’s business evolved—as she gained more referrals and was exposed to different deal types and lenders—she started to gravitate toward what she likes to call “transitional” (“B”) clients.
“Most B clients are very urgent,” she says. “They want to go to more experienced brokers. It’s hard for a rookie broker to break into the B space. But now that I have the experience, I find this space very rewarding. It’s nice to help clients improve their situation by building their credit and equity. This space is also nice because there’s less competition—you don’t have to compete with bank specialists and newbie agents.”
For anyone thinking about trying out the B world, Xu encourages them to eat and breathe customer service. Most of her business comes from referrals and repeat customers—the products of positive client experiences.
“It’s important to set realistic expectations—don’t overpromise. If someone walks in your door with no credit and no income, don’t tell them you can help them get your lowest rate. That’s giving too much hope to the client—and leaving yourself with impossible expectations to fulfill,” she says.
“Second, be professional. Know your business. Learn about the different lenders and their products, respect your client’s situation and don’t take advantage of them. Do that and you’ll get repeat clients.”
Vanessa Chris has been a professional writer and B2B content specialist for 13 years. She began covering the Canadian mortgage market as a journalist in 2006. You can reach Vanessa at firstname.lastname@example.org.