Are you considering a career in real estate, finance, or insurance? Are you already scrambling to be seen in the industry? In a field of 18,000 brokers, Dustan Woodhouse was ranked in the top 20 for five years in a row. With everyone asking him for his secrets, he decided to write the Be The Better Broker series.
By the end of this episode, you’ll have a much better understanding of what it takes to become a top producer as a mortgage broker.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why some of you will decide not to become a broker.
- How Dustan avoids being a salesperson.
- How to approach the world of real estate differently.
What got you into brokering?
Dustan Woodhouse: Virtually nobody grows up as little kid saying, “When I grow up, I want to be a mortgage broker or a loan officer!” That’s just not a thing that happens.
Most of us fall into the industry backwards or sideways, and it’s usually through encountering somebody in our orbit who says to us, “You’d be really good at this, you should get into this business.”
In my case, I had a number of people around me saying I should look at this brokering, or I should get into the mortgage business. I didn’t even really know what it was, despite having purchased several properties. At one point, we had a portfolio of five properties, a few years before I got into the business. I’d done all that directly through banks and hadn’t dealt with independent brokers. So I didn’t really have an awareness of the industry, which was pretty common ten years ago.
It’s a lot less common today. In Canada, where I’m based specifically in Vancouver, brokers actually enjoy about a 50% market share with first time home buyers. Because first time home buyers do their research, they find this independent advocate that works for you and gets compensated exactly the same way.
“Why wouldn’t I get somebody who can represent 30 different lenders working for me rather than one?”
And that was a lot of the appeal that drew me in to the industry when I started to learn about it. At 36 years old, with a significant mortgage, a couple of kids and a wife who had been largely focused on staying at home raising the kids: the pressure was on.
When I got in, there was a pretty big fire burning at my heels, so I had to make things happen. That always helps. And I had the benefit of significant life experience at that point as well, which also helps.
How was your experience as a broker different from industry norms?
Dustan Woodhouse: I enjoyed what I thought was typical success and found out very quickly was highly atypical.
Well, when you start in the industry, you’re often told not to close a file for six months and not to expect to replace your previous income for three years. Those things aren’t wrong by the way.
“I struggle with setting expectations that low.”
Instead of waiting six months to close my first mortgage transaction, it closed in four weeks. In the first six months, I closed 14 files. I replaced my previous income in the second six months basically.
I closed up my first calendar year with 95 files behind me. In the industry, average is 24 files a year. In my second full year, we leveled it up to 177 files.
By then, I realized, “Okay, I guess I’m doing things differently than other people are doing.”
What’s Dustan Woodhouse’s approach to brokering?
Dustan Woodhouse: Well, it’s like they say, you can have the best product in the world, but that’s not going to get you there. You can be the hardest worker in the world, and that’s not going to get you there. You can be the most personable person out there—that’s also not going to get you there. If you have all three of those things, you got a reasonable shot, but even having all three of those things is still not going to get you there.
One of my working titles for the book was “A Hundred Steps to a Hundred Million.” Because in my fifth year, we were turning a hundred million dollars, my one assistant and me.
“We were turning a hundred million dollars’ worth of mortgage volume per year.”
A good friend of mine said, “You can’t call it a hundred steps to a hundred million. Nobody wants to take a hundred steps.” That’s not reality, of course, but to his point, most people don’t want to live in reality.
I was getting these emails and phone calls from people saying, hey, I heard you’ve had a lot of success in the industry and you really hit the ground running—have you got time for a coffee, a lunch, can I pop by your office and sit down with you?
At first, I was the yes man, right? Yeah, sure, of course. Because that is part of what I did [to succeed]. I went and sat with the ten top producers in our company within my first couple of weeks, and almost all of them were gracious enough to meet with me and give me a half an hour to an hour of their life. I came away with some really good stuff. Why go reinvent the wheel? These guys are already successful, let’s just go find out what they’re doing.
The interesting thing was, they were all doing things a little differently than each other and they all had sort of different approaches to the business. As far as the number of hours they would put in, the type of marketing they would do, from zero marketing to blitz campaigns.
There were all these different ways that people were finding significant success. Which was kind of frustrating on the one hand—there’s no one secret—but also inspiring because I could come at this from any number of angles.
What led you to write a book?
Dustan Woodhouse: As I got busier and busier, giving brokers that half hour, that hour, started to become challenging. I was largely having the same conversation. And also, I mean, I’ve laid down 200,000 words on the topic between the three books, and I’ve got at least one more book in me.
In the space of a coffee meeting or a lunch, I couldn’t ever really say all that I wanted to say. Because again, it wasn’t five simple steps. It was a great deal of things. So I put together a presentation to give to our network and was lucky enough to travel back and forth across the country and speak to collectively about 1,400 brokers.
“If you want to tighten up your processes, put together a presentation and imagine that you’re going to get up in front of 1,400 of your competitors or people you work with.”
You quickly realize—wow, I can’t get up and say that. Wow, that’s a gaping hole in my process. I’ve got to fix that.
I gave that presentation in the spring of the following year, and we jumped from 166 transactions to 237. Mathematically, it was about a 35% jump over the previous year’s production. That had to do with just mapping out my process, realizing where the problem areas were and fixing them.
It was a very beneficial exercise, putting that presentation together. And then, of course, I looked at the presentation and 175 slides and I realized that’s the outline for a book.
If I put this book together, instead of having to go for a coffee or a lunch, I can just hand somebody the book and say, you know what? Read this book, if you’re still interested, then we can have a conversation that will be on a whole other level because of your first hundred basic questions.
My father—I had him proofreading the book—he said to me, “Jeez, kid, you say brokering is difficult once, you say it 25 times.”
“It’s a very difficult industry with a very high attrition rate, and not enough people learn enough about the true sides of the industry.”
It’s multidimensional. Can it be lucrative? Can it be rewarding? Absolutely. How can your neighbor drive a Porsche and live in a big, fancy house and not seem smarter than you but still be this successful loan officer? Well, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. So I sort of wanted to pull the curtain back and say, this is what you really need to be considering.
Tell me one critical thing about brokering that readers should remember.
Dustan Woodhouse: Well, this will be a distillation of a conversation I had recently with a top producing realtor. He was in his third year and knocked it out of the park as rookie of the year, in his first year. He’s been number one in his office all three years running. He just came in and dominated.
We kind of had a few things in common, we connected on a few levels, and we were talking about the topic that we get asked all the time: where does all your business come from? That’s the number one question, right? Because people are starving for business, they’re starving for clients.
A lot of realtors, financial planners, insurance agents—they’re sort of discovering the first book because it’s not really specific so much to the mortgage world as it is to commission sales in general. I mean, we’re all kind of looking for the same client when you think about it. The realtor is clearly looking for the exact same client that the mortgage broker is looking for. That client demographically tends to be the perfect fit for the life insurance salesman for the certified financial planner, as well.
All of those industries, not coincidentally, have extremely high attrition rates.
“People don’t realize the fundamental basics that they need to be practicing.”
So to go back to the point I was going to make—how do you do what you do? Where did all these clients come from? I thought the realtor really hit the nail on the head when we got talking about conversations we have with people.
First off, we have conversations with people. If I’m standing in line at the Starbucks and my barista asks my name, I ask for her name. When she asks how my day is going, I ask how her day is going, because she’s not just some coffee slave, put there to give me my java. And then the people behind me in line and the people in front of me in the line—those aren’t obstacles.
The people ahead of me aren’t delaying my day, and the people behind me aren’t clogging my exit out of the store after I get my drink.
“Every single person around you is a potential client.”
Every single person is interviewing you for the job that you don’t even know you’re being interviewed for all the time.
The thing is, if you’re a realtor, if you’re a broker, whatever you’re into, every conversation is about what you do for a living. If you really think about it, within four or five questions, that person is then asking you questions.
Vancouver real estate is a sport. I mean, it’s ridiculous. It’s talked about to death. That’s largely to do with some extreme price increases we’ve had and of course, all these people that rant and rave about it. Inflation is a thing that has happened all over the place but we really tend to zero in on it when it’s real estate more than anything else. It’s an easy conversation to get started. Every conversation you’re having is you positioning yourself as an expert.
How should brokers change the way they present things to their clients?
Dustan Woodhouse: Lately, my mantra has been know your numbers.
I could write an entire book on knowing your numbers in our industry because there are so many different numbers to know. To give you a very simple example, people typically, when they first phone or email a broker or mortgage originator, the first question is, “What’s your best rate?”
That’s their frame of reference. When you hear mortgage, you think rate, but when you hear mortgage, you also think payment. We take clients away from the rate conversation because there is a wide variety of rates.
Now, the range might be very narrow, it might be two tenths of a percent. But people just get obsessed, is the rate going to be 2.49 or is it going to be 2.47? When you dollarize that .02% difference, they always are amazed.
That’s the difference? Like a .05% difference in the rate on a half a million-dollar mortgage is $13 a month. A 30 year amortization. It’s 13 bucks a month that we’re talking about. If you’re talking about .02, now you’re down to like under five bucks a month we’re talking about. Why are we getting ourselves wrapped in knots over rate?
“I don’t talk rate with my clients, I talk payment.”
I know my numbers. I know that mortgage money today in Canada costs $400 per month per $100,000. The clients are putting less than 20% down then it goes into an insured product, and there’s an amortization restriction, so then it costs $450 per month per $100,000.
When I veer off there, I am going into linguistic territory that people glaze over, so I don’t go there. I don’t talk about amortization, insured, uninsured, insurable, uninsurable, all the lexicon of the industry. Clients don’t need to know that.
At the end of the day, a client needs to know how much money is going to be taken out of my bank account? How much mortgage money do I qualify for? I can say “Well, you make $60,000 a year, that means you qualify for a $300,000 mortgage, and that will be $1,200 a month.”
And I do that in the ten seconds that I just did it with whatever income number they give me versus the down payment. I just do that little matrix and people are blown away.
“I have done this 1,521 times before.”
That’s the current number of transactions I’ve processed.
Who should absolutely read your book? Is it only for brokers?
Dustan Woodhouse: It’s for anyone in a commission industry who is working with a homeowner. So whether you’re a mortgage loan officer, a mortgage broker or even as I say, if you’re a realtor, a wealth planner, a life insurance agent…I think that there is a lot of benefit for anyone in those industries because it’s very foundational.
So the book is targeted initially to people thinking about getting into the mortgage business.
Here is what the industry is really about, and they say you are going to make this much money but actually this is how much money you are going to make on a per file basis. Because there’s always the gross and then there’s the net and then there’s the net-net. So I dig into a lot of that information.
What do people usually take away from your books?
Dustan Woodhouse: I think I am up to 67 reviews on Amazon. Somebody gave me a three star, a couple of people gave me a four star, but the rest of them are five star reviews. And a lot of them, you’ll see—I’ve been a broker for 19 years, I’ve been a broker for 21 years, and they got a lot out of the book because it was sort of back to basic things that they used to do that they’ve drifted away from.
So whether you are currently in the mortgage business or contemplating the mortgage business, it’s been extremely well received.
My all-time favorite email I’ve had from a reader and I’ve had three now of these very similar responses was, “Holy smokes! Thank you so much for writing this book! I picked it up Friday or Saturday, and I read through it in the weekend.” Most people power through it all in one sitting. Lots of people have read it on one flight. So it’s a pretty quick light read, especially if you are interested in the topic.
But they power through it in one weekend and they’ll say, “I was actually going in to quit my job on Monday because I was getting into this industry, and after reading your book, I realized I am so not ready to do that.”
“In the province here that licensed 5,000 new agents this year, only 250 of them will renew their license next year.”
A 97.5% attrition rate because people don’t realize what they’re getting into. They don’t realize that they probably won’t get a paycheck for six months or it might be 12 months, and so they are just going to be drifting backwards financially for a year or two. It is usually that third year when people get traction.
So those are my all-time favorites, because disaster averted, right? I mean, major crisis averted. It’s not that they’re turned off by the industry or anything like that.
They are just saying, I realize I need to actually spend another three, six, nine months regrouping. I can still be studying the industry, I can start implementing a lot of these basic techniques that you talk about for building my database and this sort of thing and I can pay off a little bit of my debt, build up a little bit more savings, put myself in a better position, wait until my partner goes back to work, whatever the case is.
And then again, how cool is it when somebody who’s five, ten, fifteen, twenty years in the business, hundreds, some of them thousands of files of experience saying,
“Hey, I really got some good stuff out of your book!” That’s pretty validating.
How has writing changed your life or your profession?
Dustan Woodhouse: A year ago, I was working on volume two and volume three and still cranking away on mortgages. Monday to Friday, clients were my life. I didn’t think about the book, I didn’t work on the book. Saturday, Sunday I shifted gears and it was all book, all day Saturday, all day Sunday.
I thought that when I wrote that first book I wouldn’t have to go out for lunch and coffees all the time. I could just give people this book, they could read it, it would be great if some people were tobuy it on Amazon. It might have cost me a few thousand dollars to have put this thing out there, but that’s cool. I have done a service.
“Hopefully mom and dad would be proud because hey, their son is an author. That was as far as I thought it would go.”
And then the second and the third book—which I just felt compelled to write, and I am going to knock a fourth book out no later than the end of next year—that’s where I did start to get a little more passionate about spreading the word.
People ask, “How do you do what you do?” And most of us in the industry who are doing really well just have a blank look on our face when we get asked that question.
I just do the job. Doesn’t everybody do what I do? I am not doing anything special. There is such a lack of training in the industry. That’s where the second book goes, and it has a couple of thousand copies out there.
The third book is actually a little over 3,000 copies out. It’s like a textbook on brokering. The first two are pretty light, pretty easy reads. The third one really does get into a deep dive of process scripts, the whole nine yards.
So my business has morphed a little bit from my clients being those in need of a mortgage to my clients being brokers in need of better tools and deeper knowledge on how to gain those clients and how to retain those clients. And not just through the end of the transaction but how to convert them into referral sources and grab them back up at renewal or refinance or that when they move, etc.
“There’s been a shift where people are starting to realize that the value of that client lasts for their lifetime.”
If you do a truly great job, that person should be a referral source for life. Why should that relationship ever change? It’s not a hunt and kill mentality. It’s a farming mentality. It’s a nurturing mentality, and that’s why I often say this isn’t a sales business.
I am not in sales. I advise and clients instruct. I give advice and then they tell me what they want to do. I don’t tell them what to do. I don’t tell them what they should do. Maybe that is also part of the secret to the success, right? I am not a super salesy guy. I’m not out there putting business cards in everybody’s hands. It’s not my thing.
What parting piece of advice do you have for aspiring authors or people who might be experts in their industry?
Dustan Woodhouse: Well, I am an author but it’s not like I’ve written some amazing literary piece. It’s business focused, it’s a small niche. I’m a non-fiction author, and I am writing about a subject that I know intimately.
I would say to people out there that you’d be surprised, however small the niche you might be in, how many people are interested in reading about it. There’s only 18,000 of us in this industry in Canada, and one in three of them have a copy of the first book in their hands. That’s pretty remarkable, in my opinion.
I often say there is no money in books other than the money that an actual, physical $20 bill I stick in one or something. Especially for a niche author, especially for a non-fiction business focus book, you shouldn’t look at the book as a profit center. That’s not what it’s about.
“It’s got to be a tool that you are going to use to leverage yourself to another level.”
Rather than doing a mail out, rather than doing some big promotional day, rather than running a magazine advertisement, you are going to use it as a marketing tool. You are going to put the expense of it in that marketing expense column. Look at that as all that money is gone, and should I ever sell any copies and actually recover some of that money—hey, bonus!
If you go into it expecting to earn a profit on the book sales themselves, I think you’re going to be let down for the most part.
So I heard it’s referred to as a business card on steroids, and it absolutely is. Event planners love people with a book giveaway, right? So if you want to get up and speak at industry functions, if that’s something that interests you, the book is going to be a ticket to make that happen, without question. You have obviously got something to say. You said it in 40,000 or 50,000 words. So from your book, you can build multiple presentations.
“If you are looking to become that tall blade of grass, there are few better ways to do it than by having a book.”
Don’t be shy. Don’t hide from the fact that you wrote a book. Don’t keep them hidden in a box under your desk. Put it out there, beat the drum, right? I have been too conservative; I haven’t done a lot of Facebook ads or really pushed it in any big way, shape, or form. That’s one of my resolutions for this year is I am going to make a bigger effort through the end of the year to really beat the drum and say, “Hey this book is out there.”
Who can access your materials, and where can we find them?
Dustan Woodhouse: Stateside, the feedback I get from the people that pick it up or stumble across it on Amazon is phenomenal. All three books. There are a few things that are Canadian specific, in the third book in particular. But the first two books, I’m told you can be in any state in USA and it all applies.
I’ve got a website by the same title—Bethebetterbroker.com—and I do have a blog that I try and update about every three weeks or so with mortgage related materials.
So if you’re a loan officer, a mortgage originator, a mortgage broker—we all go by all kinds of different names, but if you are in the business of helping people with their residential real estate financing, it’s content that you might find interesting.