Staying Afloat In The Competitive VA Niche With Blake Bogese


One of the prominent pieces of advice by many who have made it in the real estate world is to find your niche. Branch Manager at Arcus Lending Inc., Blake Bogese, is one of those people who believe in this. In this episode, host, Jen Du Plessis, sits down with Blake to talk about his career as a business coach and real estate broker. Diving deeper, he takes us into the world of VA loans in his marketplace and how he managed to stay afloat and become successful in this niche that is known to be highly competitive. He goes further and talks about helping veterans and the importance of developing great relationships in the business. Blake then shares his plans in the coming 2020 and his business growth hacks.

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I am excited that you joined us because my special guest is Blake Bogese. Blake, I’m excited to have you on the show, welcome.

Thank you so much for having me.

I’m happy to have you. Let me tell you how we met. We were both at Mile High Mastermind and I was getting sick at the end of that. That’s why I can’t remember exactly when it was, but we were both attending Mile High Mastermind in Denver. Did you speak? I can’t remember. Maybe you spoke after I left.

I didn’t speak. I was the guest of Adams. I was there.

We saw him speaking. We get to chat in one of the breaks and I said, “Blake, I want to have you on the show.” Let me tell you a little bit about Blake and then you can tell us more about yourself. He’s a UVA grad, which for those of you who don’t know is the University of Virginia in Richmond. It was founded by one of our founding fathers, which was Thomas Jefferson. I know this because I sent my money there for my son. I love that. UVA is a nice school. He’s been in the lending business for a few years. There’s a story behind all this that he’s going to share with you. I wanted to bring him on to talk about one of the niches that he has in the business. We’ll talk about all kinds of things as well. Why don’t you share with us a little bit about your history? I recall telling you to tell people that you’ve been in the business for 32 years from the womb. That’s what my son used to say, “I’ve been in the business for 27 years from the womb,” because he’s always been in the business. Share with us a little bit about your history, your family and how you got into the business and we’ll go from there.

I’m a native of Virginia, Richmond area, more or less. Growing up, my dad has been in real estate. He was more on the building development side of real estate. Early in the mid-2000s, my mother had a career change. The company she worked for a while moved to Florida. There’s a period of time she didn’t work and then she found mortgages. My aunt and a cousin were in the business and she started working with them in the mid-2000s and rode the wave big up. I was in college at the time when everything crashed. Mortgages weren’t a thing you were going to get into in that industry and it was tough sledding for everybody. I graduated in 2009 and found a local job in Richmond. That was a good opportunity, but it wasn’t what UVA had trained us for, which was like big, high-end finance consulting jobs. That took me to Houston, Texas. I had a cousin who was trading energy down there for a big hedge fund.

There was a broker shop that was old school matching electricity and natural gas, deals up over the phone and instant message. That was an interesting career that allowed me to develop customer service skills, relationships, account management. It taught me how to be fast. I speed solved everything in that business, speed mattered. You’re only as fast as you could type an email. I did that for a couple of years but grew tired of being in Texas, my family is in Virginia and my life’s from this area. I sat down one day and I had a coach down there. I started making a list of what could I do in Virginia that would be what I wanted to do in my field and what interests me. The number one thing was mortgage lender back with my mom. He has some details. I came back and started in 2016. I started working on the mortgage business and on September 15, 2016, I closed my first deal. I remember it was $80,000. It was a VA loan that somebody else had messed up. It came to us with the listing agent.

That’s my career in the business and that’s how I got here. Knowing what I know now, I wish I would have gotten into it in 2009 or 2010 when I graduated college and had ridden that wave when mortgages weren’t nearly as popular and it was a tough industry then. In the few years, I’ve done this, I’ve grown to learn the business. I feel like it’s a career for myself now. It’s not a job that I’ve had in the past. I’ve had a lot of success being focused on one or two things that I wanted to be good at. Everybody can do everything in this business. We all have a lot of products. We all have great rates. We all have them, whatever. I want to be very specific on a couple of things. With the real estate agents I work with, I want to go deep in those relationships.

Being successful stems from focusing on just one or two things that you want to be good at. Click To Tweet

That’s how my business was in Texas. I don’t want to necessarily work with 50 people and only know them a little while. I want to have five people that are my friends that are realtor referral partners. I’ve had some of those channel accounts that aren’t realtors as well like financial planners, corporate bankers, lawyers. They’re your friends and you also have business relationships. I wanted to be known in our marketplace for VA loans. I got in and had that first taste. My mom had always done a lot of VA loans and I had one. I’m like, “This is a great industry.” I started researching a lot about VA loans. I found some groups on Facebook and I became a certified instructor with an organization. I started teaching classes and perception became a reality. I told everybody this is what I wanted to do and I started hosting. The next thing I knew, I started giving a lot more VA referrals and that business has blossomed for me. That’s been a huge focus of mine.

The profit margins are good for the company unless you’re acting as a broker. Are you now a broker?

I’m a broker now. The broker world is completely different. That’s something new for me. When I lived with my mom, we were in a retail operation. I never thought about that necessarily. Now I’m in a lot more than I did then but that wasn’t any reason behind it.

I used to own a company for many years. I was a broker and I loved it. Thankfully, I got out before the crunch, not knowing the crunch was coming. It was a whole different reason that I got out. What’s great for you is that you’re doing well for someone who’s been in the business for a few years. That’s comparative and quite frankly even better than some people who’ve been in the business for a long time. You’re doing well, so congratulations on that. Let’s talk about your niche. Let’s go a little bit deeper into not VA loans because those that are reading know about VA loans and we don’t need to know about that.

Why did you decide to go into a niche when many people in the industry try to get every deal that they possibly can? They want a living and breathing deal, good, bad and ugly. They want the opportunity to take a shot at it. It seems different that someone who’s brand new in the business decides to take on a niche that quickly. I love that you did because I believe in niching to grow rich. I believe in niches. I had niches when I was a lender and one of them was VA. What made you decide to take on a niche given the competition that’s out there?

I don’t think I’ve necessarily decided that it was going to be the beginning. I’m still making deals that aren’t VA. When I got into fancy people on Facebook, honestly they’re in the mortgage business and they all came through some digital advertisers that had used the right keyword search and got us all into a certain place. I would have these nights where you can’t sleep and you’re in a new business. You’re not making any money. I’m doing commission-only since 2012. I had ridden the wave, but I’m sitting there thinking and I would get on these Facebook groups. I start scrolling and there is so much information about not just guidelines, which most loan officers do a terrible job of understanding. It’s not just guidelines but how we run the business, how to market, how to sales talk. All of these things I started consuming so much information that I was like, “There’s no way I could ever be the expert on all of these things.”

I didn’t think of the 800 credit score conventional borrower that had a ton of options. I thought I was in a place that I wasn’t sure if my rates were the best. I lost a couple of customers in the beginning that I’d already thought of my commission check, and then they shot me at the end and I lose the deal. I didn’t want my niche to be there. I didn’t want to be the first-time home buyer guy. I started to think deeply about, “What would I do?” I listened to some podcasts and YouTube videos talking about who is your perfect customer? What does your perfect customer’s perfect day look like? I started thinking about that. It was a 38-year-old active-duty guy who got PCS at Fort Lee, who’s in my local town. He’s retiring and he wants to keep his family here. I’m like, “That’s my perfect customer.”

I started to research the VA market and realized Virginia has the fourth-highest number of veterans of all states. One out of eight people over the age of eighteen in the State of Virginia is a veteran or active duty. We have over 100,000 women veterans in the state. You start looking at the demographics of where you are and you’re like, “I think this is where I could be successful in.” I started getting these deals. I started noticing the deals coming through the office that are turned down by some other big VA mortgage companies. I’m like, “There’s a huge niche where people are doing a bad job. If we can do a decent job, then we’ll be much better. If we do a great job, we’re going to blow the lid off the thing.” It happened to be a VA loan. It came about a little organically through my thought process but I got there pretty quick.

VA Loans Niche: Virginia has the fourth-highest number of veterans of all states. One out of eight people over the age of eighteen in the State of Virginia is a veteran or active duty.

You organically got there. Do you have veterans in your family?

Not in my immediate family but grandfathers certainly were. In my community, all of the kids that were from the local fort base went to my high school. I played a ton of sports and all those kids will be playing sports, and then they would go to Huntsville or they would come from Germany. You always had these families that are always around you. I guess it was a natural thing but not in my family.

Let me ask you about you being in that specific niche because I want to highlight something here having this as my niche as well. Ironically, what’s interesting about my particular niche in VA, it was jumbo and super jumbo VA because I did a lot of congressmen, senators and people at Pentagon. I got tapped in and away I went with it. There was a lot of partial entitlement, double entitlement, things that a lot of loan officers don’t know. They think you have to have it all or nothing. I don’t want to go into product details or anything like that. What niche are you working inside of VA? I worked at a mortgage company division of a bank. We couldn’t do a VA loan less than a 640 credit score. That might be one of the reasons why you think some of the lenders can’t get it done is that’s what the banks’ overrides are. What niche are you finding that is separating you from everybody else when it comes to VA?

It’s not a particular niche in terms of I’m not in the jumbo market at all. Credit score requirements, I would say that I’m at 600 to 620 above. It depends on the complete picture. Now that I’m in the broker world, I have a little bit more options. That’s the field that I play in, but all the niches are normal people buying and selling houses and they happened to be veterans in the VA loan. They’ve been told it’s not a great loan product or the loan company. They’ve gotten hooked up with the realtor, if not, maybe they’re not well-versed. What I see a ton is that’s heavily advertised to these big companies out there. They have their car insurance through your card notes that they bank with.

Mine has been a real-life person that they can meet or they can video and I’m not a call center. I will tell you that I’ve read the 26-7. That doesn’t mean I have everything memorized but I’ve read it. I know what we should be doing and I understand that it’s a different loan product than FHA. A lot of people lump stuff together. It’s being that human person and knowing the guidelines. That’s the niche. For me, I’m not in that jumbo market. It’s a lot of first-time home buyers. We do have people that are active duty and we’re using their bonus entitlement because they own a house somewhere else. It’s educating the clients and the real estate agents honestly are the niche.

Let’s talk about the real estate agent because I can tell you many years ago, this was a problem with realtors going, “It’s a VA contract. The appraiser is going to be a pain in the butt. They’re picky. They’re this or that.” How have you learned to work around that or work with that or educate people right from the get-go so that you get more opportunities and your clients get more opportunities when they’re making offers?

I first started a business like everybody else. I added 1,000 real estate agents to my Facebook friend list. I started doing videos on Facebook about myths. Thirty seconds to one minute about mortgage myths. I started knocking those out. This was my first year of business. They were of terrible quality, but they were something. I was putting that out there and I finally got enough courage to host my first event and had 40 or 50 real estate agents come to a 2-hour lunch and learn where we talked about all those myths and detail. I have the PowerPoint slide. I’m shaking in my boots because I had no idea what I was talking about. I had my mom in the background. I was like, “If they asked me a question, I don’t know, dive in.” That was the big thing.

What we found is that real estate agents don’t go to a school to teach you everything. All of their education and knowledge is coming from past experiences. Every real estate transaction has a different house, a different seller, a different buyer and different loan products. There are 1,000 variables that could make that experience be great or make it not great. I don’t know if everybody knows exactly what those are. If I hit him with the bat about exactly the process, exactly how it’s handled and why this is not worse. I have found that they want to listen. They want to be educated and they go, “That’s how it used to be but now Blake’s the expert.” I get tagged on Facebook all the time to ask me questions. I get to bring them calls from listing agents. It’s this little bit word of mouth I’ve taken off. There are 5,000 real estate agents in Richmond. I love to talk to all of them but you are trying to hit as many as you can and Facebook has been great for sure.

Real estate agents don't go to a school that teaches them everything. All of their education and knowledge came from their experiences. Click To Tweet

We have a lot of reasons why we could be doing videos every day, a daily digital deep dive where we’re going online talking about a lot of things. I love that you focused on myths in the transaction that are not myths for clients but for realtors to understand. I always know when a realtor says VA is fussy about whatever. I know that they either haven’t done a lot of deals or they haven’t done a lot of VA. They’re going back off of that history of what they’re doing. You said you’re working a lot with financial planners, attorneys and things like that. How did you go into that particular market? Where does the niche of VA play in there? Does it play in there? Is that a secondary niche or is it not even a niche but secondary revenue?

It’s secondary. I make it pretty well-known with all my groups of friends and relationships that VA is what I’m known for. That is always in the back of people’s minds. I have done a good job of getting deep with my clients. We don’t talk about the rates or the fees of those transactions. The first-time homebuyer, we might have a more basic conversation but as I progress my business and I worked with more first-time home sellers who have options, what I’ve found is that a lot of people aren’t asked that question. They think they need to have $1 million in the bank to get a financial advisor. They have an IRA or they have a 401(k) but they don’t have someone they’re talking to. They have maybe a parent, maybe a friend.

I’m able to ask some questions that I know from my background and from the people that I’ve associated myself with that are thinking this way. They’re basic questions and we start asking those things and undercovering, “Should we put more money down? Should we maybe put less money down to pay this off? How are we saving appropriately? What does this do for our cashflow?” We start looking at a holistic picture. If I can get to people to have that conversation with me, I don’t ever lose those people. I’m an advisor to them at that point. I am not an advocate of their financial well-being.

If you run the numbers about home appreciation in Richmond, Virginia versus renting, I tell you that this is why people build wealth. It’s owning a home and that makes sense. I have those same conversations with financial planners. It’s like, “I’m already talking about this. I don’t want to do your job. I don’t know it as you do. If I get people like that or you have somebody like that and we can have a deeper conversation on how to take care of them.” Honestly, I have not been getting leads from passing out referrals. I’ve done a terrible job of taking my personal clients and giving them to financial planners, but it’s talking to a handful of people that I know they have a good clientele base and tell them my story and why. Nobody else has approached it on. I’m not doing seminars but a handful of people that I’ve known previously or have coffees with. You catch those refinances. You catch divorces. You catch big life events that the financial planner doesn’t know about.

Because they don’t call enough or your insurance agent whom I was on the phone with. We were catching up from a few years ago. I have been all the time thinking at the back of my mind. He never calls, he sends the stupid birthday thing that he isn’t even signing it. He’s not nurturing his database. He’s neglecting us. He got the insurance policy and now it just sits there. I love that you’re doing that. I love that you’re doing that sooner rather than later because when I was practicing, 33% of my business came from financial planners and divorce attorneys. The rest of it came from others like realtors and clients.

Financial planners, divorce attorneys, CPAs, they’re thinking of a client with a long-term basis as a relationship. Unfortunately, a lot of real estate agents, because of the nature of the business is transactional and working with those financial planners, you think relationship too. You don’t think transactions. It’s a mindset for the long-term. I’m not saying we don’t want transactions. I want to do fifteen deals every month. That’s my number that I would love to hit. I’m thinking about how is this client the client for life? I don’t want to win them back again in five years because they’ve never heard from me.

I love that and I love that you’re already taking that early on in your career because that’s something a lot of people have missed in this particular go-round of refinancing boom. Everybody’s excited as they’re getting a lot of business.

I’m guilty too.

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

That short-term gain for the long-term pain because if you only do well because the market does well, that’s not good. You want to do well all the time and think about how much money is left on the table by not nurturing your database and having them call you all the time. Thankfully, maybe some of them called you into but where are the rest of them? I want to ask you about what’s coming up for you in 2020? What does it look like for you? What changes are you making in your business or switches? What are you trying to do in 2020? What is going on there?

I hired an assistant/marketing/learn officer/I gave them your team checklist. I said, “This is all between us.” Everything is us. It’s a new person. I’m working on that. I’ve been working on the house. I have the office that I signed the lease on. I’m hiring my processors. I’m not using a corporate or company processors. I have a lot of teams, thinking about how I can be a great leader and delegate and be able to grow my business and not be hustling. I love the hustle. I love winning. Every phone call gets me jacked up. I’ve been able to sustain this business for the long-term and not get burnt out or not want to kill yourself when you lose a deal. You have to build a team and you have to have something greater than that. That’s our big focus on 2020. I want to build that up and be able to focus on the marketing and prospecting our pipeline at the top. To grow the business, I need support behind me. That’s the big change for me going forward.

That’s great because you have the background, having gone to the School of Commerce, which is at UVA, which is the Business School. That helps too because it puts you in a good situation right out of the gate. I’ve learned probably more than you have at Comm School but it took me 35 years not 4 or 2 years at Comm School. Being able to be a real advisor to people is key and critical. I’m sure that you see that with your family as well. Tell me about the growth hack. You’re going to grow your business or if somebody’s reading and they want to grow their business, give us a hack on some type of growth, something you do that you haven’t talked about yet.

The video is staring us on the face but that is the easiest way to get in front of more people at a quicker period. My other growth hack for me is organization. I have to have a checklist and a process. A few months ago, I took every application on a piece of paper that went into a file cabinet, and then I had to find that piece of paper and type it in. I’m not doing that anymore but I know that I have leaped somebody else to do in that. Those are going to be the two things that are going to be the biggest bang for my time and money. I’m going to be getting more videos on because of the masses it can hit. Also in that regard, the BombBomb videos to clients so that I can talk to them and they can see my face, but we physically don’t have to meet somewhere. I am hyperfocused on the organization and it’s hard for me because that’s not who I am. I know that’s where I have to focus.

It’s a perfect time to be considering getting organized. If you didn’t get organized, you want to get organized.

You talked about the refinance boom. I’ve had my fair share of it. I hit my entire database and the people that raised their hands and the opportunities. I’ve talked to them, but when I looked at my yearly goals, I’ve already hit my yearly goals because of refinances and I feel that I see someone’s needs. I’m okay if I can invest back in the business. I don’t need to buy a new watch, car, shoes or a new house. I’m going to take this money that I probably shouldn’t have because rates should be higher and try to use that as the gasoline that I pump on my business. I’m assuming the blessing.

It’s funny because I’m asked quite often on podcasts when I’m a guest, “What advice would you give to yourself as a younger person?” The advice would be, “Save, save, save.” We have a tendency because we make so much money in this business that when we have the money we, “Spend, spend, spend.” We get the fancy this and the fancy that. I love that you have your values in play. You know exactly what is going to work for you and your family. That’s going to take you a long way. It’s great that you’re putting it back into your company and your practice so that you can continue to grow. What is your favorite quote or a book that you are reading or that you have read that you would like to share with everyone that you feel would be beneficial for them? Either in personal or professional growth.

I’ve read Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership. He’s this gung-ho former Navy SEAL. They’ve lived in the day where it doesn’t matter where you are in the chain of command or where you are in the process of life, but everyone takes extreme ownership of why things aren’t correct. That’s how it works. Things are going to be a lot better. There’s no blaming anybody else. You point at yourself first. It’s not that I didn’t do that but you take it to the next level. You’re like, “I’m not happy in my current situation. That’s on me.” I don’t like where I am right now. That’s on me.” If you’re not doing anything, it’s still a decision you’re making. I read a long time ago the Rich Dad Poor Dad. Everybody else talks about how you invest in assets. That book makes you think about how you need to buy rental properties right away, which is a great strategy for long-term wealth as an asset. I could never get there. I don’t want to put my money in the market. I didn’t have it saved up. It hit me this past year that my greatest asset is my business. That’s back to my other thing like this is an asset that I can own that’s bigger than me hustling. Let’s figure out how to make it into the business. It’s not just, “Blake’s calling a lot of real estate agents so he gets leads.”

That’s a transformation that I’m hearing and seeing with everybody at all the conferences I’m at and all the calls I’m on. It’s a transformation that we’re seeing. It’s the transformation that we’ve had over the last several years because of tread and all the messiness of all the compliances that loan officers need to be loan officers, everybody needs an assistant, let them make sales. Someone else can do something. Now, it’s starting to transform into how do I be a better leader? How do I be a better business owner? It’s not through attrition that I happened to be the lead of a team. I’m excited about that because for years and years, I was a manager and a corporate trainer for a major national mortgage company on this topic.

I’m excited about that because it bothers me that many people don’t have any leadership or management skills and yet they’re leaders. It’s one thing that I’m excited to see us transfer to. Thank you for sharing the book. I appreciate it. I appreciate your time. It’s been great getting to know you a little bit better. I love having people that are sharing something that they’re doing that’s unique and different. If you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Maybe that’s something I could do. Maybe I still haven’t bought into this whole niching opportunity,” this could be a great example. The catalyst that makes you go in that direction that says, “Maybe I do need to be an expert in one area instead of trying to be an expert in a multitude of areas and not getting any business as a result of it.” Thank you, Blake, for joining us. I appreciate it. I hope you had a good time.

Thank you so much.

Thanks for sharing your story. For our readers, please be sure to rate us. Give us a five-star rating. Please be sure to write a review for us so that we can continue to grow. I hope you make it a fantastic week and we’ll talk to you next time.

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About Blake Bogese

Blake is an experienced project manager with a background in finance, client relations, marketing, brokerage services, negotiation and internal operations. He is a graduate of the prestigious University of Virginia. My focus is mortgage loan originating primarily in conventional, FHA, VA, and USDA residential loans.
His work is a blend of financial strategy and relationship building. He truly enjoys crunching numbers to solve business problems and also understands what it takes to gain someone’s trust.
While he works in finance and marketing, he recognizes that he is in the people business. It all starts with relationships.

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