May 8th, 2018

HDF provides free counseling and education for first-time homebuyers, and this cannot happen without the dedication of our Homeownership Advisors! Today, we chatted with Jerry Morgan to talk about his path to this position and how his experiences with counseling clients have been like.

What’s your typical day like at HDF?

My job is to help prepare people for homeownership. I do direct work with clients, so I have about 1 to 3 appointments with clients per day. Yesterday was a typical day. I had two client meetings, one counselor team meeting, data entry work from client files, contacting with lenders and past counseling clients who want to buy a house now, reviewing and submitting loan applications – those can all be part of the day. The clients dictate what my schedule is going to be.

How did you become a homeownership counselor in the first place?

When I was in school, I saw a poster for Public Allies, which is an AmeriCorps program. Public Allies have you work full-time in a nonprofit agency for 10 months. I was chosen by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, which is a nonprofit law office that deals with housing laws, discrimination, and lending. It was in 2008 during the predatory lending crisis. That’s how I started working in the housing nonprofit sector. But one of the people I worked with over there left to become a homeownership counselor for foreclosures in Hartford. The person recommended me to a foreclosure counseling job at another company, which I did for 5 years. In that job – because you never have just one job in a nonprofit sector (laughing) -I also did work in housing and credit counseling at the Housing Authority of New Haven for 8 years. Through the job, I ended up meeting HDF at a conference. I mentioned to HDF people that I was looking for a full-time position as I was only working part-time at the time. They introduced me to Deb, HDF’s Director of Homeownership Development. It was a coincidence that HDF was looking for new counselors too, so that’s how I got here. The timing was great.

What do you think is the most necessary skills a homeownership counselor needs to have?

Patience. You have to be able to breathe and make time for yourself, because otherwise you will be inundated by clients’ demands. You have to live up to certain checklist that has to be done as a requirement of government agencies like CHFA and HUD. And you have to work on data entry stuff patiently – we even have a whole team of people here who work with data entry. They will send you reports of the things that you forgot to do, so a part of your job is satisfying other people’s jobs. Another example is that lenders might send a client to us because they find out that our financial products are amazing. In the beginning of the counseling process, most clients also have an attitude that “Oh, so I’m doing this because I’m getting money” rather than be truly interested in the homeownership education that we provide. So you have to be patient on the counseling side to win them over. Some other clients are long-term clients, which means they receive a homeownership counseling with HDF and wait for a long period of time before deciding to buy a home. As a homeownership counselor, you have to be patient with them too.

Now, you deal with the lending department after that. You are the intermediary, and the lending side has so much to do before clients can get a mortgage. You also have to deal with clients’ lenders and realtors too. It also takes effort to demand complete documents from clients, so you really have to be patient – especially with troubled clients. With clients, you have to prove that you know what you’re doing. Sometimes people can be pretty nervous about buying their first homes and need a lot of reassurance. One client has called me 10 times in the past day and a half. 

It seems like your position requires excellent people skills, have you always been a people person? I heard that you’re also a standup comedian!

Yes, from when I was a kid, I would be able to figure my ways to talk out of troubles (or talk my way into trouble for making jokes). And growing up, whenever there was tension in the household, I always ended up being a mediator. For some reasons I was just able to do that. That somehow overtime led to a decent sense of humor and easy going nature. As for the standup, I always did a little creative stuff with my brother – he is into film stuff. When we were younger, we would have a little camera with VSH tapes. We would do comedic fight animations with that. That grew into doing skits and standup comedies for fun.

Before I got this job, I was traveling the country doing standup comedies. It was during the time that I lost my job as a foreclosure counselor. Like most people, I decided to throw myself into my passions doing what I love. Although I didn’t get paid very much from doing standup comedies, I had the luxury of “alright, I’ve got no overhead or employment coming in, me and my buddies are going to hit the road!” I think I did it in 29 different states. We had a little Nissan Versa, and we drove that poor car for some 230,000 miles before it was done. I’ve been to New Orleans, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, the whole Midwestern states basically – just nothing but corn fields for forever. I’ve gone a lot to West Virginia. Just because they’re still small towns – they must want entertainment, right? There’s  not much of a scene in such places, so I can go to bars on a Thursday night doing comedies. My buddies and I would make a couple hundred dollars and get a free hotel room and then move on. It was a secret life that you can live – you’re not going to be on anybody’s radar. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, we just found groups in certain states, like Indiana State Comedians. We just networked as much as possible, sending them our sample standup comedy videos and negotiating the deals. We played on a tour for 2-3 weeks at a time. In the 3 weeks, we would go up and down the entire coast, stopping every day doing 21 shows in 21 days or something like that. You have to do a show on each day, because you have to have money to stay at the hotels at night. That’s how we did it.

What’re the differences between working freelance and working in an office job for a company, and what’re the pros and cons?

The pro of working for a company is that the company already exists, so I can come in as long as I believe in what it’s doing. It’s easy to sell the ideas, which in this case is counseling, and to sell myself. That is saying that “I’m a member of this team. This is what we do. And this is our mission.” It’s easy. I play team sports all the time and I want my team to win. But at the same time, like in team sports, you also want to shine within the team, so there is also independence even within the team. In my situation, it’s great that I have an independence to do my own things in general. Also, you get benefits from being part of a company and a steady paycheck (laughing). You can live a better lifestyle and have a little bit more stability to your life.

As for doing the standup comedies, it was thrilling and the traveling was fun. You are out at night and wake up whenever you want, traveling the country and entertaining people, which for your own ego is amazing. Freedom is yours. If I can earn as much income from doing it as from working for a company, I would choose to do standup comedy. But at a certain age, you want to make a certain amount of money and want people to respect you. You don’t want to be a mid-thirty person living in your parents’ basement (laughing). Without stability, if you have a life goal that you want, living that kind of lifestyle will not be as easy. My brother and I still doing standup comedy on the side, though. I can still stay involved and do it whenever I want to. I do a couple of podcasts as well. I set up a studio in my basement where I make podcasts and videos. I usually go home and spend 2 hours doing podcasts with other comedians to keep myself still being creative and connecting with someone.

I can work for a company for a living and pursuing my passion at the same time. I somehow have an on and off switch at the back of my mind. You need to have it otherwise you will probably not give 100% to either one of them. Imagine the torture of thinking that “Oh, I want to keep pursuing your passion as much as I possibly can, because that stardom is out there” meanwhile I have to spend 50-60 hours a week at a desk! So that’s when I knew I have to be able to switch. I can’t be happy from simply dropping it entirely. If I don’t have something else to do and come home from working in an office all day, I would feel miserable. But at the same time, I’m also being realistic because having kids is on the horizon. I can’t set up the lifestyle which will suffer immediately when some of those things come. And I can’t have an expectation that I can still hit the road and drive to the middle of nowhere not making any money when I have a wife and kids.

Could you name one person at HDF that you really enjoy working with especially people outside of your department?

I enjoy working with Katye because I have to interact with her every time I make a loan submission. She is very open, quick, witty, and funny, so we can get along very well making jokes about difficult work we were going through. If it was a boring and difficult person that you literally have to hand off your client to, that would be awful. It’s pretty fun to make jokes with her. Mary Dinho is also sneakily funny actually.

What are your work goals or what do you want HDF to become?

I would like to see our success in the geographic expansion, that is expanding to new areas and having more new clients from those areas. I want to see us expanding our influence to the middle and eastern part of Connecticut before trying to reach clients in Massachusetts. I do have some clients from those areas in CT but there are that many as of now. 

Thanks Jerry for a fun and insightful interview! Keep up doing the great work!