Our Real Estate Finance Specialist Talks about First Months on the Job

In this space The Apple, Peeled usually features an expert that has made their mark on our industry. We’re constantly looking out for guest experts that our team and our readers can learn from. And in so many instances, our subjects have become our trusted resources and guides in their areas of expertise.

We always choose someone from outside of Douglas Elliman. Certainly, it’s someone from beyond the walls of our own office. But for this month’s edition, we decided we’d try something different. Early this year, our team created a position that seems quite unique to our industry. We added our own “Real Estate Finance Specialist,” a role designed to provide our clients unlimited access to an unbiased, unaffiliated mortgage expert.

How It Happened

Almost 6 months ago, Matthew Jablonski made one of the scariest decisions of his life. He was a mortgage originator for 15 years, entrenched in the industry, consistently placing in the top 1% of loan officer in the country every year.

But then he quit! And he joined our team.

Matt told us that the mortgage industry changed, the people he was surrounded by changed, and just about everything else in his life was changing, so the timing was spot-on to change careers too.

“I decided it would be better to change everything all at once,” he said. “I needed a shot of adrenaline. Something more dynamic with more possibilities. Something that was new on a daily basis.”

During the train ride from his house, Jablonski opened his notebook and double-clicked his mechanical pencil. On his way into the city to see our team at our weekly meeting, he got all of his ideas down on paper, and then he created an outline and a specific job description.

A few times before that morning he thought, “What if I quit my job and got my real estate license and I joined Marie and Jeff’s team?” he said. “I had absolutely ZERO days experience as a real estate agent, but I played a role in over 2,000 real estate transactions during the course of the last 15 years. Surely, I thought, I brought something to the table.”

On a page inside his composition notebook, not lost inside all of his other thoughts, there’s a bullet-point list that says:

  • I’d be completely unaffiliated with a mortgage lender or a bank, so the clients might be more at ease if I gave them mortgage advice.
  • I’d use my experience to help these clients find the mortgage program that best suits them.
  • I’d be able to hold lenders accountable, both in the efficiency of their process and with all the numbers.
  • I could translate things that may not have been made clear by a loan officer.
  • I could help a client understand how to negotiate for the best terms.
  • I could vet pre-approvals for anyone that makes an offer on one of the team’s listings.

Even though he was confident in the idea, and he thought it was a completely unique position that could give our team a leg-up on the competition, Matt later told us that he was really afraid to pitch the job to us.

“What if (Marie and Jeff) weren’t interested,” he said. “Over the years, (the Espinal Adler team) referred a ton of business to me. As soon as I pitched the job, everyone would be completely aware that I wasn’t completely happy with being a loan officer. That could have been bad for business.”

The Beginnings

Nearly a dozen years ago, Matt and Marie sat next to each other at a Manhattan closing. Matt helped the buyer with her mortgage, and Marie listed the property for the seller. Marie and Matt spoke very briefly once or twice during the process. But while their clients were signing the massive pile of documents on the closing table, they discussed strategies for refinancing Marie’s personal home.

Soon after that, Matt closed the refi for Marie and her husband. Then the team started referring a lot of our clients to him because he was such a good hand-holder. We’ve worked on a lot of complex transactions over the years, and all of our buyers that worked with Matt made it to the finish line and he always gave them all the time they needed. And he always kept us in the loop too.

“At every bank or mortgage company I’ve ever worked at, there’s always been a manager around to remind me to go to my closings,” Matt said. “Face-to-face time is always good for business. It’s kind of crazy what can happen if you put everything aside and show up to your closings! Luckily, I showed up that day.”

In an interesting twist, the Espinal Adler team very recently helped a client close on the sale of her property and on the purchase of a new, bigger and better unit. The client was the same one who Matt helped get a mortgage when she was buying Marie’s client’s apartment. The stars were aligned.

Pitching the Job

Despite his fears, Matt pitched his idea because he said getting referrals from us would force him to stay in the mortgage industry longer. Logic dictated that he share his idea.

Marie’s jaw dropped.

“I was kind of in shock because the same idea was sitting and stewing in my brain for at least a year,” Marie said. “I thought it would be great if Matt could run a ‘Mortgage Desk’ for our team. But I always dismissed the idea because I didn’t think he’d want to leave.”

In theory, we were on the same page as Matt, but there was still so much to work out. He still wasn’t licensed. We still had to further define his role and figure out if we could make it work financially. And Matt had to be 100% sure he was ready to take a leap of faith.

“I had to overcome the fear of failure and the fear of leaving behind a job that provided for my family for so many years,” Matt said. “And, the hardest part was leaving behind an amazing colleague that worked alongside me and helped me achieve amazing success over the last couple of years.”

We kept an open line of communication. All of the pieces started to fit. Matt took his real estate courses, passed his tests, and joined the team when he got his license shortly after the new year.

Typical Client Interaction

The very first client that Matt assisted in his new role comes with a success story that will be difficult to duplicate.

Our client Sachin, who is a busy executive at a well-known accounting firm, already called three different lenders before he spoke with Matt for the first time. He chose a loan officer that he was completely comfortable with, whose bank offered a very low interest rate.

Sachin and Matt spoke several times while his mortgage application was ongoing. discussed loan program options and about the city and state taxes that Sachin would ultimately be responsible for at closing. The application process was running smoothly and Sachin received a commitment well in advance of the contingency date written into his contract. But when Matt reviewed the commitment letter, he noticed that the low rate came with a sizable origination fee approaching $30,000.

Sachin let Matt know that he wasn’t aware of the fee. So, Matt called the loan officer to find out if there was an error or miscommunication. There was no error. The only hope to eliminate the fee was to obtain a loan estimate from a competing lender the documented they were offering the same rate without the origination fee. Armed with that information, Sachin’s loan officer could request a pricing exception to reduce or eliminate the fee.

“I called all of my contacts within the industry to see where they would “price-out” the loan,” Matt said. “Sure enough, one of them was able to offer the identical rate without charging the extra fee. Sachin could have switched gears and applied with this new lender. But instead, he passed along the competitive data I helped him to obtain.”

Sachin’s loan officer’s request for a pricing exception was granted. The fee was eliminated and the deal closed right on-time, without the fee.

“Matt’s insight into financing options and their implications, given my unique deal structure and circumstances were invaluable,” Sachin said. “I secured the right product for my needs at an optimal rate and cost and managed the timeline to a timely close.”

Getting Creative

Our client Rick is a self-employed resident of California who was in search of a Manhattan apartment that he could use as a second home when he was in New York on business, or if he was in town to watch a St. John’s basketball game (he’s a huge fan).

We connected him with Matt before he flew in with his wife Anita to look at properties. Apparently, Rick did his homework on the team and he notice that Matt was a St. John’s alum and he covered the basketball team when he was Sports Editor and Editor-in-Chief for the student newspaper. They had an instant connection.

Shortly after they made contact, Rick sent to Matt a very complex set of corporate tax returns and they reviewed them over the phone. Matt told Rick that because he was self-employed, the way his income was calculated would be open to interpretation, and unless they obtained specific clarification from Rick’s accountant, an underwriter might use less qualifying income than what he deserved.

Matt and Rick decided that the best course of action would be to submit an official mortgage application and seek an official approval in lieu of a pre-approval, even before a specific property was identified. That way, we would know exactly how much income the mortgage underwriter would give him credit for. Having a commitment letter would put Rick and Anita in better bargaining position, but just as importantly, the proactive measures would provide our clients with additional peace of mind.

About 10 days after they applied, they were issued a commitment letter. Rick and Anita had no preference between condo or coop, but Matt and Rick spoke at length about how a coop board is even more strict than a lender — A board would insist that his debt-to-income ratio be significantly lower than what a lender called for, and the board might not calculate his income exactly the way the underwriter at the bank did.

During a trip to New York, we helped Rick and his wife find an Upper-West-side co-op that they loved. The monthly maintenance was higher than the estimates the bank used to obtain the mortgage commitment. We were all concerned that a co-op board might balk at Rick and Anita’s application if they didn’t take the time to properly analyze the corporate returns.

Matt walked Rick through all the numbers. He saw that if Rick and Anita refinanced their California property, they could take advantage of better, more flexible terms compared to what was in place. Ultimately, it would result in numbers that even the strictest co-op board would love to see. An action plan was implemented and Rick and Anita applied simultaneously to refinance their California home while they applied for the mortgage for the New York property. During the first week of June, the co-op board approved their application.

“The Espinal Adler team afforded us advantages not available in other real estate offices,” Rick said. “There is little doubt that we would not have been successful in our Manhattan Co-op search and ultimate purchase had we been with another brokerage team.  The Espinal Adler team is truly unique in having Matt Jablonski, a real estate finance specialist, as an integral part of the team. Matt shepherded us through the process, minimizing our time commitment as our particular situation was quite complex.  Moreover, as Matt’s loyalty is to the Espinal Adler client, not to a particular bank or lender, he was able to arrange the best financing options for us. Having Matt as part of our purchase team, we believe, was one reason we were successful in our co-op purchase.”

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