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Laura Brandao | President and Partner | American Financial Resources

Laura Brandao: Leading with Optimism and Perseverence

Out of all the essential qualities that are applauded in a leader, the one that helps a leader the most in times of adversities is optimism. When a person manages to keep a positive attitude and sees opportunity even in the most challenging times, they are able to come up with creative and effective solutions to deal with complex problems.

These optimistic people are the ones that not just persevere to achieve their own goals but also inspire others to do the same even when all odds are against them.

One such inspiring name in the mortgage industry is Laura Brandao. Apart from being an influential voice in the business world, Laura is the President and Partner of one of the nation’s top privately-owned full-service residential mortgage companies, American Financial Resources, Inc.

In the following interview, Laura talks in detail about her journey in the mortgage industry and how she has helped her company reach its goals through her role in the organization.

Laura, please give us a brief overview of your journey as the President of American Financial Resources.

In 2007, when I launched AFR Wholesale, just as the industry started crashing, I remember thinking, “This is my moment. This is the time when I can build a company my way. This is the time when I can use my womanly instincts – my empathy, my compassion, my energy, my personal touch, my uniqueness to bond with people, and put those people first – and change the industry as we know it.”

Fifteen years ago, the mortgage industry was extremely male-dominated, and beyond that, the way people managed in the 80s and 90s was completely fear-based. It was your boss micromanaging you, hovering over your shoulder, threatening you, and if you didn’t do what you were told, you were yelled at…in front of everyone.

When I had the opportunity to create my own company culture, I knew I had to take it, despite the industry’s current climate. I knew I would never treat people like that, but instead foster a company culture that was collaborative and caring. I had the confidence in myself that if I build the right team, provide them with the best tools, and treat them well, then they would believe in my mission. They would want to see the company be successful, and so we would be. And we are.

Tell us more about American Financial Resources, its vision, and the key aspects of its stronghold in the mortgage industry.

Since the beginning, AFR Wholesale has always focused on unique mortgage products targeted towards low to moderate-income families and first-time homebuyers. From renovation loans to manufactured housing loans, there are so many options available to those who think owning a home will never be a possibility for them.

When I started AFR Wholesale in 2007, I had never worked with manufactured homes before. But when one of the largest wholesale lenders that handled manufactured homes went under in 2009, consumers were looking for a new expert to fill the void. AFR Wholesale became that expert.

From that moment on, AFR fully leaned into manufactured housing – rolling out every program we could think of to help the families on the other end of the deal. These programs – renovation loans, one-time close, Down Payment Assistance, the list goes on – are the core of what AFR is all about. We’re about providing first-time homebuyers and those with low to moderate-income the ability to build generational wealth through homeownership, when otherwise, it may not have been possible.

From a leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the pandemic on the global mortgage industry, and how did you aid American Financial Resources to overcome the challenges rooting from the pandemic?

 The pandemic has provided the mortgage industry with record-breaking low rates that eventually will go up, but that doesn’t change the thousands of families that are still looking to purchase their first home, downsize, or move up.

Despite the unprecedented times we’ve faced, I still believe now is a great time to buy a home or refinance. There are a ton of different loan program options out there for families, whether they’re looking for new construction or an existing home, to take advantage of the still very low rates. That being said, property values have also gone up, making it a great time to refinance and cash out.

With all of the current pros to buying real estate and refinancing your mortgage, of course, that meant more work at AFR than ever before. We navigated this increase in business by managing the reality of what’s going on right now and rising up to the occasion! We’ve weathered ups and downs for years, and it’s taught us to embrace the ups!

Being an experienced leader, share with us your opinion on how the adoption of modern technologies in the mortgage sector has transformed the industry and what more could be expected in the near future?

When I started AFR Wholesale, it was all paper files. There was a young woman that would literally drive the files from the office in New Jersey to my office, and once they arrived, the underwriters would get to work.

The day after Taylor, Bean & Whitaker—a huge lender—went out of business, she must’ve gone back and forth a dozen times, bringing more and more boxes full of files of manufactured home families that needed our help.

It’s so easy in today’s digital world for things to be out of sight, out of mind, but that image of our office stuffed to the brim with boxes of manufactured home families who needed help is forever burned in my memory. All of that said, being a good business leader means adapting to the changing market and being ahead of the curve. Modern technology is here to make our lives and the lives of our customers easier, so why not take advantage of that!

My team is constantly looking to improve our digital platform and suite of services to make the mortgage experience efficient and seamless. Soon enough, no part of the mortgage process will be paper anymore.

I’m excited to build on the solutions we currently offer our clientele to always ensure our tools are assisting first-time home buyers and those with low to moderate-income navigate our unique products.

From the AFR Loan Center, our Loan Origination Portal, which allows you to efficiently manage your mortgage pipeline from start to finish with ease, to our Alexa Integration helping you to manage your pipeline hands-free. I am proud to say that currently, all of our systems work harmoniously from platform to platform. To appease millennials and Gen-Z homebuyers still to come, of course, there are so many more digital advancements still to be made!

If given a chance, what is the one thing that you would change about the mortgage industry?

Interestingly enough, I have taken matters into my own hands to actually transform the one thing I would change about the mortgage industry. It’s so easy to judge mortgage professionals like the used car salesman stereotype – trying to stick you with the highest rate, charge you points, cost you more money – so in 2019, I started a podcast called “What’s Your Why.”

I did this because I wanted to show the world that mortgage professionals care about their clients. We have an impact on the families we serve, and we LOVE that about our jobs! To drive this point home, I started the podcast asking each guest I interviewed, “Tell me a story of when you realized the monumental impact that you have on the world by being a mortgage professional.” Every single one was able to immediately note a moment in time as if it happened yesterday.

Whether it was a single mother that they helped, an elderly woman that they consolidated after her husband passed away – saving her from losing her house, a child that finally got his own bedroom – there are countless stories mortgage professionals carry with them every day as motivation to continue changing the lives of individuals who didn’t have any other options. Mortgage professionals wake up every day and change the world – we are so much more than salespeople looking to make a quick buck, and it is the number one thing in the mortgage industry that I want to shed light on.

As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs aspiring to venture into the mortgage industry?

 The most important advice I can give to budding entrepreneurs thinking about entering the mortgage industry is that you MUST know your “why.” If the answer to that question is money, my response is simple: don’t do it.

Through the dark times, money won’t be there to catch you, and it won’t be enough to keep going. But your kids? Your spouse? A better tomorrow for yourself? The families you work, day and night, to help put a roof over their heads? THOSE are reasons to get out of bed in the morning and keep going no matter what. When you know you’re making a difference in the lives of others and that your loved ones are relying on you – you will fight through the hardest of times.

How do you envision scaling American Financial Resources’ operations and offerings in 2022 and beyond?

As I mentioned when discussing modern technology, AFR is constantly looking for ways to improve our digital platform and suite of services to make the mortgage experience efficient and seamless. Beyond our current offerings – AFR Loan Center, MyLoanCenter®, AFR Renovation Portal – this year and in the future AFR has plans to continue to expand and grow more opportunities for first-time homebuyers and the underserved no matter what.

This group of people in our nation aren’t well-represented and are unaware of the programs available to them that will allow them to become homeowners despite their financial situations. They think they wouldn’t qualify or don’t know about Down Payment Assistance or our other programs – but if AFR has anything to say about it, with each passing day, more and more individuals will know they have options and be able to take advantage of those options.