The power of "No"

by Ephraim Vecina08 Apr 2020

Halifax is not a bad place to be selling mortgages. One of Canada’s most attractive housing markets – strong population growth, massive education and healthcare sectors, plenty of interest from investors to keep pressure on prices – there is, pandemics and quarantine-in-place measures aside, ample business to go around.

Haligonians are also decent folks to deal with. Unpretentious and straightforward, and honest in the best ways. To succeed as a mortgage broker in Halifax, these are the qualities you either need to possess or emulate.

For the past 22 years, Craig Spicer of Spicer and Vo Mortgages has embodied that Halifax spirit. What that means in a mortgage context is never shoehorning a client into a deal that doesn’t fit. It means saying no.

“There were times in my career I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh. Because I didn’t do this deal for that agent’s client, they’re never going to give me another deal,’” Spicer says. “But I can’t jeopardize my morals to do a deal. From time to time, you think that puts you at a disadvantage.”

Rather than damage his reputation, however, Spicer says turning down deals burnished it. His colleagues and referral partners came to know him as that rarest of creatures: a broker who refuses to do bad deals.

“Making those choices builds respect for you. People know, first off, their clients are going to get taken care of. Second off, they know it’s going to get done right. Third off, they know I’m not going to b.s. their client,” he says. “I’ve found, time and time again, what goes around comes around. If you’re good with people, they refer people to you even if you didn’t do the deal.”

Ups and downs
Spicer and his new partner, John Vo, joined forces on February 14; kind of a Valentine’s Day gift to the homebuyers of Halifax. Almost immediately, COVID-19 announced itself and ground business to a halt.

Spicer and Vo have adapted ably to the new reality of e-closings and coffees over Zoom. Spicer says it’s been challenging – “I can’t just poke my head in an office and ask where we are with so-and-so’s file,” he says – but nowhere near as difficult as his first few months as a broker, way back in 2001, when, as an agent with Home Loans Canada, he couldn’t even get the city’s real estate agents to sit down with him for coffee. Now he’s invited to their private meetings and group chats.

“It didn’t come over night, that’s for sure,” he says. Turning his business around involved that classic recipe: a gallon of desperation and a steady supply of will. “We were at a point that I was burning through my RRSPs. I had to make money, so I just put my head down.”

After becoming one of the city’s most dedicated doorknockers, Spicer soon found himself with a trickle of business. Across his years with Home Loans Canada and Premiere Mortgage Centre, that trickle eventually became a flood that forced Spicer to expand and bring Vo on board.

“He works the way I work,” Spicer says about Vo. “We’re both worried about a client’s confidentiality. We’re worried about what a client’s best interest is.”

Spicer is looking forward to the end of the coronavirus pandemic, and not simply because it will mean new business. Having lived and worked through the 2008 financial meltdown, he has witnessed firsthand just how much good can come out of a crisis.

“I found that each time you come out of these types of things, it actually makes you stronger,” he says. “It makes your relationships tighter because you’re going through things with people and they understand you’re there for them not just at the time of want, but at the time of need.”


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