Chris Freck is president of EstaR mortgage in the San Francisco Bay area. A licensed mortgage professional with more than 14 years of experience in residential lending, Freck was one of the first loan officers to receive an NAMB KickStart grant to open his own mortgage broker shop in October 2016.

Personally, I’m not that different than a lot of loan officers out there. I’ve got a support system that I want to thank right now, they know who they are, you can’t do it alone.

I take pride in doing my job well. I’m detail-oriented and always try to under-promise and over-deliver, all with the aim of making sure my clients and referral partners have a positive experience working with me. I’d call myself a life-long learner, committed to staying fresh, pursuing knowledge and additional education that ensures I’m able to differentiate myself in the mortgage business. 

For the first 14 years of my career, I was a loan officer and manager at a variety of mortgage banks. I got my real estate broker’s license in 2004 to give myself options. One of the companies I worked at even required me to have that license in order to serve as a branch manager.

The mortgage business has kept me busy. Even in times with low inventory, people need a mortgage lender they can trust. Like a lot of people in the industry, I always had an entrepreneurial itch. I have had real estate investments throughout the years, but never as a primary source of income. In the past, working as a mortgage banker for a mortgage bank seemed like the best combination of choices and control of the process. I felt comfortable with income and benefits that mortgage banks provided.

But part of me has wanted to run my own business for quite some time. The timing was never quite right. I felt like it was too risky to pass up the stability I had as a mortgage banker to pursue my dreams of being an entrepreneur. When you have a family to provide for, it’s easy to err on the side of caution.

My priority as a loan officer has always been providing great service to my clients. I’ve always put an emphasis on quality over quantity. In taking a look at the changing landscape of the mortgage business, I began to realize that the wholesale side of the business would enable me to give clients the service that I demand of myself and that I truly want them to expect. 

It’s undeniable that technology has reached a tipping point where a mortgage broker can meet or beat the service levels that a mortgage banker dreams of having on every deal. All of the investment in technology by wholesale lenders over recent years has made this possible and it keeps getting better. 

The ability to open my own independent mortgage brokerage in today’s environment is an ideal opportunity for me to accomplish two things at once – run my own mortgage business and have access to a wide range of technology and pricing to best serve all my clients and referral partners. 
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I finally made the switch to wholesale in October 2016, after NAMB launched its KickStart program, providing up to a $10,000 grant to help with startup costs. KickStart wasn’t my primary driver to starting my own business, as I had wanted to do it for quite some time, but it was the boost I needed to make it happen.

To apply, a full business plan was required, which turned out to be incredibly helpful as it crystallized my priorities, given all the details necessary to start a new business in California. It gave me the road map with the details necessary to get it launched in a timely manner. I believe everything you experience in life prepares you for something in the future, and I’m living that future right now.

One of the scariest thoughts about starting a business is the upfront costs that are required to get it off the ground – and the possibility of that money essentially being thrown away if you fail. KickStart alleviates that fear by providing start-up capital that you aren’t required to pay back. I’ve since learned that the initial sponsorship for the program came from United Wholesale Mortgage. It is part of UWM’s goal to provide independent mortgage solutions in the United States. I understand that NAMB is now adding more wholesale lenders around the country to support KickStart, as well.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy a good deal of success since opening my business at the end of 2016, as our team funded 39 units for $15.1 million in loans in the first six months. That’s pretty good for a startup. I didn’t go into it with a ton of existing business as my last few years were more on the management side. My goal now is to fund 90 units for $30 million in loans this first year, then add one or two quality people to our team and have sustainable growth to fund 120 units in 2018.

It has been a gratifying feeling thus far, being able to live my dream of running a successful business. There hasn’t been any “secret to success”. It’s just been a matter of focusing on the basics: have good systems, be an expert, be good to your word, hit your timelines, and then ask for more business.

Getting started, I had a clear vision for what I wanted to do. We’ve maintained continuity with the systems we use, with some key improvements by taking advantage of available technology and we continue to strive for quality at every step. We turn in well-packaged files and we close on time. Now, with quality being rewarded over quantity in the market, we can compete with the big banks and retail lenders just by doing a good job.

Make no mistake, the broker/wholesale space isn’t necessarily for everyone. But loan officers who are motivated by sourcing their own business (and the risk and reward associated with that) can do well. Technology levels the playing field and in fact helps you differentiate yourself from bigger shops with too many hands touching a file during the process.

If a retail-oriented loan officer is already on a commission-only pay structure, why wouldn’t they want to give themselves the flexibility to get the right products and competitive rates by being a mortgage broker instead of limiting themselves to one bank or point of access to products for their client base?

I’m not that different than other loan officers. My focus is on doing the little things very well, working hard and doing the right thing so my clients have a great experience.

For loan officers looking for an excuse to pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams, let KickStart be your starting point.