The Wisdom of the Mountains
My wife and I recently went for a beautiful winter hike in Squaw Valley, CA, and I'm not quite sure if it was the quiet fresh snow, the freezing waterfalls in the canyon creek, or the granite cliffs framed by cerulean sky that brought to mind the many experiences I had in some of the world's high ranges years ago when I was an aspiring alpinist. Though we come here at this time of year to relax, reflect and plan for the year ahead, I could not help but notice how the wisdom of the mountains translates so well into what I do now --- helping California home buyers and homeowners achieve their goals through mortgage financing. In particular, there are three mountaineering maxims that strike me as being so relevant in today's exacting real estate environment:
"If there is any doubt, there is no doubt." Simple and true, I first heard this one as we prepared to rappel off the side of some Andean face. What if we weren't 100% sure about the anchor point's strength --- the same one that would hold our fate? Change it, fix it, reinforce it or whatever, but don't leave it as is. The same holds true for building a loan application. If you have a doubt about some aspect of the borrower's profile, get to the bottom of it now. Don't let it kill you later.
"The more sh*t you carry, the greater likelihood you're going to need it." Back in the day when Everest and K2 were first being attempted, there would be these massive, military-style expeditions waged against them. Oh, they'd have trains of yaks to carry in tons of gear; stoves, beds, med tents, you-name-it. The endeavors took months and required herculean efforts. Because the teams were on the mountain so long they, not surprisingly, ended up needing nearly everything they brought. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. But by the 1980's, a handful of bold alpinists bucked conventional wisdom and took on the world's most daunting peaks using a fast, lightweight style that bordered on the insane. Because these guys could race up and down the mountain so quickly and weren't laden with the kitchen sink, they exposed themselves to less chance of storms, avalanche and other perils. Again, not surprisingly, it worked. Similarly, I often have conversations with my clients about NOT including certain asset accounts or NOT including the spouse on the loan application. "But why?!?" they exclaim. "Don't you want the underwriter to see my total net worth?" "Don't you realize that my spouse will be living there too?" Yes, I know. But for every variable we introduce, over time, we increase the likelihood something will happen or be called into question. We are working to get you a home loan, not to exhaustively list your liquid and illiquid assets. Let's get to the summit and back down safely and quickly. "Light is right."
"Accidents are not isolated incidents." Indeed, the American Alpine Club actually publishes an annual edition of North American climbing accidents in which they forensically reconstruct tragedies in the hills. While the circumstances of each differ, even a quick thumbing-through of the chapters will reveal that it's always a sequence of (usually) small, sometimes imperceptible actions and events that culminate in the undesired outcome. Maybe it's leaving high camp 15 minutes too late on summit day. Perhaps it's disregarding the weather forecast. Or maybe it's as simple as wearing the wrong pair of gloves. Any of these alone might have had the climbers glissade right through with nothing but some good stories and mountain-top selfies to show for it, but combine them all and it could just as easily be severe frostbite and a turned back summit bid that are the result. This is the way it goes down in the big ranges and it's not at all unlike what we call "layers of risk" in underwriting. Let's say our borrower has poor credit. This is surmountable. Now let's add in a low down payment. Can you feel some more air under our feet? OK, finally, let's throw in an unstable job history. At this point, we are asking for a dicey loan approval, wouldn't you agree? It's not to say that it can't be done, but in my line of work, it's my responsibility to recognize the layers of risk, plan for them and set expectations properly. While the outcome won't entail literal life or death, it can still feel that way to the buyer, the Realtors and everyone else in the transaction. Those of us who do our job best are most perceptive to the sequence of events that is always unfolding as we work towards close of escrow.
So what started out as a pleasant hike revealed itself in this case to be an insightful recollection of the wisdom of the mountains --- things that we can apply every day to make us better at what we do and to continue to improve and grow in our fields of expertise. We live in a complex world. We all make mistakes and many of us strive to do better each time. This last quote, fittingly, comes courtesy of Sir Edmund Hillary:
"I will come again and conquer you because as a mountain you cannot grow, but as a human, I can."
Per aspera ad astra,
Robert J. Spinosa
Executive Loan Advisor
NMLS: 22343 CalBRE: 01297944
Cell: 415-367-5959 Fax: 415-366-1590
1058 Redwood Highway, Frontage Road, Mill Valley, CA 94941
RPM Mortgage, Inc. – NMLS#9472 – Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the Residential Mortgage Lending Act. Equal Housing Opportunity.