How Jesse Abrams, CEO of Homewise, is changing the mortgage game

Here at Sonnet, we’re all about convenience. Gone are the days of having to call someone to buy insurance or filling out pesky paperwork with complicated questions. Which is why it made sense for us to partner up with our friends at Homewise. Homewise is an online mortgage-approver that does all the hard work for you and matches you with the best mortgage. Naturally, we had a lot of questions about mortgages and how they work, so we sat down with Jesse Abrams – the mind behind it all. Jesse walked us through how Homewise works and how they’re working to change the broken system that is getting approved for a mortgage.

What is Homewise? How does it work?

Jesse:

Homewise is modernizing and simplifying the mortgage process by bringing it online. Right now, there are big banks or classic mortgage brokers, which include a ton of paperwork. Our goal is to make it easier to get a mortgage than ever before. Basically, clients can apply online in about 5 minutes – we use simple language, because we know nobody learned about mortgages in school. From there, we use technology along with real mortgage experts to negotiate our client’s mortgage with over 30 different lenders to find them the best three options. Then, they’re set up with their own personal advisor who will take them through the set-up, get them approved, etc. We’re there every step of the way.

The overall goal is to be faster, easier and all online; we get our clients the best mortgage by doing all the work for them, getting them approved and saving them money.
Do you find having the personal advisors is key?

Jesse:

One of our core demographics is the first-time homebuyer. These are people who expect everything to be online, but they still want help. We try to cut out all of the admin time and focus on the advisory side by helping people through the process. One of the first things we say to our customers is “don’t be afraid to ask questions” – mortgages are difficult.
What inspired you to change the way people got approved for mortgages?

Jesse:

I had worked in the mortgage industry with one of Canada’s largest banks for a few years. I learned how broken that system was, and how the client wasn’t always put first. And then I actually purchased my own home and I realized that the marketplace was so fragmented. I felt so lost in the process; there was a ton of paperwork, and I didn’t have time to go bank-to-bank and haggle for the best mortgage.

It was one of those classic situations where I realized this was an old-school system that had to be changed. We just saw this big opportunity to make the mortgage process easier, faster, and more transparent. Because I had felt so lost during my mortgage process, transparency was a major factor. When you buy the most exciting thing in your life, the last thing you want to worry about is understanding your mortgage.
Everything is online these days. Why was it important for you to keep up with new customer expectations in this industry?

Jesse:

At our core, we’re a service company. The client comes first in everything we do. One of the first things we noticed was around 75% of our applications happen between 5pm and 2 in the morning. People are busy during the day at work. Right at 5pm, people are applying on their phones on their way home from work. We needed to make our application easy and available to them.

Mortgages aren’t simple, so we also needed to create content for people who don’t understand mortgages. I remember when I first looked for a mortgage, the first question was fixed versus variable – and I called some friends and nobody knew how to explain it. Homewise’s content had to resonate with this changing demographic. We’re the Twitter era – we want things a lot more quick, simple and to the point.
Simplifying information, whether it be about insurance or mortgages, isn’t always an easy task. How do you distill information down so it’s more understandable?

Jesse:

By bringing things online, we’re simplifying things right off the bat. It created transparency around the questions we ask and why we’re asking them. At each step, we list the question, the explanation, and then we have an option to “read more” if they want more information. When I was buying my first home, my mortgage broker asked me if I was a first-time homebuyer, and I didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing. I wasn’t sure if that increased my risk as a homebuyer. I had to Google it and I found out it was in fact a good thing. In our application, we actually tell first-time homebuyers what these benefits are. We provide full transparency into what the questions are, why we’re asking them, and use plain language.

On top of that, because we have 30 lenders, we don’t just provide one option for our clients. We always provide three options, and explain why these are specifically tailored for them. Once they choose, everyone gets a dedicated mortgage advisor to work with, who they can call, text, email any questions they might have.
Are the three options you provide a key differentiator? Do standard mortgage brokers usually only provide one?

Jesse:

Actually, one of the things I liked about Sonnet was that you provided me with three options. Some mortgage aggregators provide you with tons of options, which creates confusion. And most mortgage brokers will only provide you with one option, because they’re usually only working with a few lenders. At Homewise, we’re lender-agnostic, so we don't have a preference as to which of our 30 lenders are chosen – as long as they provide the best three options specifically for our client.
In your opinion, what are a few things that people should know about mortgages that aren’t always talked-about?

Jesse:

There are a few things I think people should keep in mind:
  • Bank doesn’t mean best. We work with banks, credit unions and monoline lenders and they all offer different products. A mistake people often make is that they only go to the one bank they’re familiar with. If they get turned down, or the mortgage doesn’t have the features they want, they think they can’t go anywhere else. Monoline lenders focus only on mortgages, and credit unions usually offer really competitive rates and features. My mortgage is actually with a credit union as it was the best mortgage for me.
  • The cost of your home and your level of down payment affects your mortgage rate. Many people don’t realize that if you put down less than 20%, you actually have to pay mortgage insurance. This can cost anywhere from 1-3% of the cost of your home. It’s important to know that yeah, you might be able to put down 5%, but that actually increases your costs in the long run.
  • You might be able to afford more than you think. There’s so much media coverage with messaging like “you’ll never be able to afford a home”, or “Millennials will never be able to buy a home”. We have so many people apply and realize that they can afford more than they think. Now, sometimes this might not be the right route for some people (you never want to be house-poor), but don’t think you’re out of the market until you try it.
Buying a home is arguably the biggest financial leap you could make – why do you think it’s important to have the right insurance?

Jesse:

It’s not only important to protect your largest asset, but also everything that you have inside of it. Having the right insurance will ensure that in the worst-case scenario you’re covered. This is your home – your most cherished items are in this home, you want to make sure you’re fully protected.
What has your experience with insurance been like with your home? Have you ever had to make a claim?

Jesse:

Luckily, I’ve never had a claim. However, with my wife’s engagement ring, I called my insurance company and they told me that I can add coverage to it under my home insurance policy. And it’s only costing me something like $3.00 on top of my monthly premium. I think people should know that some of your valuables can be covered under your home insurance.
How was your experience getting a quote with Sonnet?

Jesse:

So easy. I’m a busy guy and I don’t have time to make long phone calls or worse, go into a physical location. Sonnet’s quoting process took me minutes and really provided transparency into the offerings available to me. Other insurance companies ask way too many complicated questions, making the process take too long. So, I had a great experience with Sonnet. I actually recommended Sonnet to my grandmother and aunt who both switched over. Yes, my grandmother who’s 88 years old got a quote online.

Got your mortgage and your dream home? Protect it with Sonnet Get a quote and buy your insurance all online.