One-On-One: Agave Home Loans CEO Talks About Building A Successful Team

Having a team of motivated mortgage professionals has helped Agave Home Loans grow since it was founded at the beginning of 2020.

Co-owners Marshall Gottlieb and Douglas Wang conducted business that year from two bedrooms at Wang’s house during a time when the Covid pandemic disrupted the traditional work from an office model. They had a list for cold calls and if they connected with a potential client on the phone, they would have to sprint to a quiet place to talk to them.

Today, Agave has 70 team members and was listed as a 2023 top performing partner for wholesale and correspondent lending by Rocket Pro TPO.

Gottlieb recently sat down with Editor Kimberley Haas to talk about their success. He shared how they recruit and retain team members, as well as his predictions for the 2024 selling season.

Haas: So Marshall, start by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got into this space. I understand that you have some experience as the former director of mortgage banking for Quicken Loans, but tell us firsthand how you got into the mortgage space.

Gottlieb: I was graduating from college at Northern Arizona University. This was in 2013. I was working in hospitality.

My mom said, “Hey, you should hit this guy up.” He moved from Detroit, Michigan, out to Scottsdale, Arizona, to help open the Quicken Loans Arizona office at the time.

I decided to go in and meet with him just to pick his brain about career advice. In my mind, I wanted to be a financial planner and I had no interest in mortgages.

I walked into this office and there were Nerf balls and footballs and all sorts of stuff flying around, and the energy was pretty crazy. I really liked the energy.

I was a mortgage banker at Quicken Loans for about a year, and then got promoted into leadership and ran a team there for another six years after that. And then we started Agave about four years ago.

Haas: It seems to me like you, as a young person, were attracted to not just the product, but the overall environment. How do you bring that into Agave for your newer employees and the people that you’re trying to recruit?

Gottlieb: I was really lucky early in my career when I was facing adversity and stress and doubt about whether I wanted to sell or be a loan officer or really just do mortgages for a long period of time. I had a ton of doubt and I had great leaders that were just authentic and kept it real with me.

They would just come over and say, “Hey, do you want to go get lunch?” Then we would talk about nothing related to mortgages and business, and they would just tell me some of their stories about the adversity that they faced.

I just felt like they were really real with me. I just sort of lucked into a lot of people at the right time telling me the right thing that I needed to hear that kept me in the industry long enough to where it sort of struck a match.

And then I found success. Once I found success, I saw that maybe there was some opportunity to pay it forward to people that were also having those doubts.

I found an enjoyment in leading other people in the same way that I was led. So that’s the culture we have at Agave. We just try to keep it real with people, be authentic, and truly try to help them accomplish their goals.

We hope that if that provides them enough value they’ll want to do the same for their clients, and they’ll want to do the same for the people that work around them.

Haas: It’s a very competitive market. How do you recruit people in this market? How do you retain people in this market?

Gottlieb: There are tons of mortgage companies in Phoenix, Arizona, where we’re based. And so you just meet a lot of people that know a lot of people. I think a lot of the people that have come to work with us just call up a buddy that works here and say, “Hey, what’s it like over there?”

We look for new talent that maybe doesn’t come from the mortgage industry. People who understand hospitality and communication and really just rolling out the red carpet for a client, and people that are resilient.

We do a lot of recruiting on Indeed. We do Handshake, which is sort of the college recruiting platform. We’re on ZipRecruiter and we just interview a lot of people. And it’s pretty obvious when someone jumps off a page during an interview and is aligned with the things that we’re trying to do and build here.

Haas: How do you keep your people on the forefront of the cutting edge of what’s happening in the business?

Gottlieb: I think one thing is we invest in leadership so every person that works for our company has a team leader, and the teams are not that massive.

The leaders are huddling possibly daily. If not, three or four times a week to convey information.

People aspire to be knowledgeable, and when they’re very knowledgeable about all the different products and technology and prices and all those things, they can confidently convey that to the client and keep it simple.

Rocket does a really good job of that. They give us access to an SOS team where you’re not waiting on hold and you’re getting the answers to very niche underwriting guidelines quickly. Sometimes you don’t even have to call because you can go to Pathfinder.

Haas: You mentioned Pathfinder, and that’s something that I’ve been really curious about, hearing it from somebody on your level. How is this AI helping?

Gottlieb: I think just searchability. When you go into Pathfinder and type in, “Get more income out of a self-employed client,” it’s going to give you a list of all the things that you are allowed to do and what questions you need to ask.

A lot of lenders, what they have is a PDF, and you can control find inside this PDF to go read about self-employment income. But that’s a lot of information. There could be 20 pages about self-employment income.

Whereas if you just type in a keyword and Pathfinder pulls up all the things you actually need to know to help the person get qualified, it just provides a better client experience. It allows team members to move way faster so that they can get back to people fast.

You can turn around a really strong pre-approval within 30 minutes as opposed to waiting a day or two days to find out from an underwriter if the person does or does not qualify for a new mortgage.

Haas: How are loan officers reaching out to people? Are they making videos that they’re posting online? Are they engaging in the community?

Gottlieb: We have a media room at our office. We don’t give canned content to our whole team. Once or twice or three times a month we send out a financial tip, the loan officers get the tip, and then they can go into the media room with a buddy and they can film pieces of content for their own social media platforms.

One of the philosophies we have as a leadership team is, “How do you make it easy for people to do what you want them to do?” And what we want our people to do is put out free content, network themselves, and get referrals. I would love for my entire company to generate all their business through referrals.

Now we also are kind of old school. We call a lot of people and we cold call a lot of people.

If we call them and rates have gone down in the last three months and we say, “Hey, it looks like you might’ve closed a mortgage maybe five or six months ago, sort of at the peak of the market. And interest rates have come down a lot. It looks like you’re at 175 Main Street. Is that correct?” you’re going to get people that are like, “Yeah, I actually was thinking about calling somebody about this.”

We do that every day and find people that we can save $350 a month for and then they do a loan with us. We hopefully deliver the white glove experience and the red carpet. They leave a review and they refer a friend or family member.

That’s the goal of how we intend to build and have built this business.

Haas: Do you think that the home prices will go back up when interest rates drop?

Gottlieb: I don’t have a crystal ball. I do follow a decent amount of economic data and we’re licensed in 14 states. We’re big in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and we’re really across the country now.

I think there were less people buying homes in November and December in general, especially in states where it is been a tough winter. But the holidays are over, and there are a lot of affordability programs that have come out that have made it easier for people to buy and get back in the market.

Interest rates are down roughly a full percentage point from where they were at the peak in November and December. So the combination of all those things is allowing, I think, more people to feel comfortable to come back in the market.

Maybe they’ve been putting off a move for a year and a half, but you’re seeing them come back in and as demand kicks up, as seasonality improves as winter subsides, I think we’ll see a busier next few months and summer.

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