Carolyn Warren’s Personal Story, Part I: “I need a better income.”

I lost nearly everything in the space of a week.

My teaching job, my dream house, my marriage: all were gone.

It was never my life plan to be a single mom of two elementary-age kiddos; but here I was, and there was no time to waste.

I found an 800-square foot apartment to rent that was within walking distance of the kids’ school. My son got one of the bedrooms, and my daughter and I shared the other. Our room was too small for two beds, so I became a mama sleeping in a bunkbed.

We desperately needed some joy in our lives, so I adopted a kitty She was so cute and made us laugh every day. We loved her dearly. My daughter named her Vanessa.

Since I needed an income asap, I went to an employment agency. I did not have many marketable skills. At that time, the fee was $1,500 for a minimum wage job, a small fortune. I called my brother three states away and asked for his advice. “Take the job and I will loan you the money for the fee,” he said.

It was a full-time position working as a receptionist for The Southland Corporation. I handled phones and mail. It paid $7.00/hour. By the time afternoon rolled around, I was bored half out of my mind and feeling trapped behind the switchboard. I drank bad coffee to get through the rest of the day.

Fifteen months later when I had completed paying back my brother’s loan, I realized I was not getting ahead, I was barely getting by with nothing extra for my future. I needed a better income. But how?

My best friend suggested going back to college, something she herself was doing. But she wasn’t a mom, and I couldn’t see how I could do both work and school and still devote time to my children. So I did what I thought was the next-best thing.

I applied for a commission-based sales job. I knew nothing about sales, but I figured I could be good at it. The position was for Enrollment Specialist at a local diet and nutrition center. The commission structure sounded lucrative and would be a big boost in pay. I was so enthusiastic in the interview–having recently lost 12 pounds myself — that I got the job. New Year’s was just around the corner and with all the resolutions people make to lose weight, I was sure of having a better life soon.

The sales training was thorough and intense. Nothing less than 100% would satisfy the boss. Anything less than 75% meant you were fired. My sales were 89.9%, which was very good — except for one thing.

I hardly had any appointments. The company had over-estimated their advertising campaign and had over-hired. There were not enough prospects to go around, and we were all basically starving. Since it was commission-only, there was no base pay. My income had plummeted to an unlivable and unsustainable situation. I no longer had enough money to get by.

I was left with no choice but to swallow my pride and visit DSHS. They gave me food stamps for my children’s sake.

I went back to looking for work. A woman I knew was a manager at a retail closing shop. She took pity and hired me. It was a miserable situation. We were under constant pressure to sell a minimum of five items per customer with the cash register keeping stats. The pay was minimal and if we made a misstep, she’d get out a wood ruler and whack our hands. I remember shivering in the back room with a raging fever from influenza, because she did not allow time off for illness. “Come to work or get fired!” she’d say. I couldn’t walk away; I had children to support. I had to find something better. I began interviewing again.

This was before the days of personal computers when jobs were advertised in newspapers. I found another sales job and faxed in my resume, which highlighted my 89.9% closing rate, and that I had won a coat-selling contest at the retail shop.

I have always been a good interviewer. Here is my secret:

I ask the question, “What would be your ideal candidate for this position?”

In response, the interviewer tells me the traits and skills they are looking for. It’s like they have showed me the Answer Book! It was the same technique I’d learned in my sales training: ask the prospect what they want and then build the bridge from the product (or yourself) back to them.

It worked, and I got the job as Sales Consultant for a social and activities club. It was fun and my sales were great. I simply asked the prospects why they needed a better social life and then built the bridge. Then one morning when I arrived at work — it was an upscale office in a downtown high-rise — the company president asked me to step into his office. The other employees were already there.

“Here’s a company sweatshirt,” he said. “Take it and go home. I’ve sold the company to (our biggest competitor).”

Nice for him to make a big profit. Not so nice for any of us. I went back to looking for work and even signed up with another job placement agency, but this time, it wasn’t so easy.

I went out on scads of interviews, but there was always a candidate with a lot more experience than me who got the position, or else it wasn’t a good match. After one interview, the hiring manager told the job placement agency, “She is nice, but there was no chemistry.” It was true. I could not imagine anything more dull than selling their Xerox machines.

In the meantime, I signed up for a size hustle. I knew this was going to be an amazing opportunity. People were making big money and changing their lives, I was told. I was all in! I attended every meeting and followed every instruction to the T. At the end of the year, I wrote out my Profit and Loss Statement. I had earned $34 for the year, selling Amway. I decided not to waste any more time making the upline richer. I felt disappointed and disillusioned, both with work and with my life.

Why hadn’t God given me a job that worked out? I wondered. Why had all of these bad circumstances come my way? Why did I feel so alone?

It was about this time that Vanessa got an illness that three veterinarians could not fix. Vanessa died. I cried and cried. Why should such a beautiful, innocent creature die?

Why was life so hard and filled with sadness? Why didn’t God, who is all-powerful, help out? I got out the phone book and made an appointment to speak with the pastor of a nearby church. I needed some counseling. At the appointed time, I went to the church and walked in. It was so quiet you could reach out and touch the silence. I finally found a secretary in a back office and explained I had come for my appointment. She looked surprised and went to check.

“I’m sorry, the pastor is not here. I think he forgot,” she said. That was all. She said nothing more. I went home.

I prayed and prayed. But there was no answer and nothing came. I continued to interview and continued to lose out to people who had more or better experience. My savings was running out.

I searched for answers and came to the conclusion that even though “God so loved the world,” God did not personally love me. God was not answering my cries for help. Evidently, God was not seeing me. Or maybe he did see me, but I was too big a sinner to deserve an answer. That was probably it.

In my dark hour, I felt like the only one who was a failure in life. I had forgotten that many of God’s most famous people went through hard times. Like the widow of Zarephath with her son who was ready to die of starvation until the prophet Elijah showed up on her doorstep. Like Ruth, who was picking up scraps left behind by the harvesters to barely keep ahead of starvation, before she met her kinsman redeemer. Little did I know that my next job would turn into a long-lasting career in a brand new field that was complex, crazy, stressful, and yet such a blessing that I would fall in love with it, and it would love me right back.

You will suffer for a short time. But after that, God will make everything right. He will make you strong. He will support you and keep you from falling. He is the God who gives all grace. He called you to share in his glory in Christ. That glory will continue forever. All power is his forever and ever. Amen. ~ I Peter 5: 10-11 (ICB translation)

Thank you for reading this snippet of my story. Feel free to leave a comment. You can also reach me here.

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Five Good Questions to Ask Before You Choose Your Loan Officer

I was working next to a newly hired loan officer. He was brand new in the business. A potential client asked him, “How much experience do you have?” Not wanting to say “two weeks,” he replied, “Five years.” Later, I asked him how he had five years experience when he was brand new and had not yet done his first loan.

“I was counting my experience playing baseball,” he said. Then he laughed.

The take-away is that it is important how you phrase your questions when interviewing loan officers. As a professional who has worked in both retail and wholesale lending since 1998, and as the author of Mortgage Rip-Offs and Money Savers, here are my suggestions.

Questions to Ask Your Loan Officer

  1. Tell me about your experience in the mortgage business. (Leave it open-ended so you can get the most insight into their experience.)
  2. How long does it take to close a purchase loan (substitute that with refinance, if applicable) with your company? (It takes longer to close a refinance, so be specific.)
  3. Everyone says they have “great service.” What do you do that is better than other lenders? (If they are truly great, they should give you a very specific answer, not simply dance around the subject with meaningless rhetoric.)
  4. What will you do if something unexpected happens in the middle of the process that threatens to sabotage my loan? (This is an excellent question to ask, because getting blindsided is no fun, and it happens more often than anyone likes to admit. It’s also a question I’ve never seen on anyone else’s list of questions, probably because the writer is not in the business himself/herself, or because they don’t want anyone asking that question.)
  5. Will you please give me an estimate worksheet that shows the terms of the loan? (This is an entire chapter in my mortgage books, so I won’t repeat the how and why here. Suffice it to say all the writers who tell you to call and ask what the interest rate is, are wrong. That approach will lead you to the biggest liar.)

If there is another important question you’d like to see on this list, please post it in a comment by clicking on comment at the top of this post.

I would like to say thank you to all of you who share my posts on Facebook and Twitter, because the more insight we can pass on, the better off we all are.

Cover.3D.Mortgage Rip-Offs