New York City is a hypercompetitive market to originate mortgages in, but Kenny Cheung hasn’t let that stop him. His subtle, old-school approach to the business netted him $439 million in closed loans in 2021 and the No. 35 spot in Scotsman Guide’s 2022 Top Dollar Volume rankings.
“New York is a hub where a lot of clients like to invest, both to live in as well as for their investment purchases,” Cheung said in a recent conversation with Scotsman Guide. “But of course, the challenge is that there’s a lot of competition. We work out of the five boroughs, and on every other corner there’s another lender who’s always going to be in competition, always trying to grab market share.”
Cheung said he’s spent the past two decades organically building up a diverse client base, mostly through word-of-mouth referrals, and has preferred to grow gradually and sustainably. This meant a heavy focus on the purchase loan market, which makes up about 65% of Cheung’s business.
“We don’t try to go after the refis,” Cheung said. “Refi clients come to us because we have previously helped them or they’re in the process of cashing out to do other investment purchases. But our main drive is really purchase focused. So, in 2020, we didn’t capitalize on refis as much as some of our competition did, but we also didn’t get impacted as heavily (when refinances dried up).”
He said that there’s a unique cycle for homebuyers in the Big Apple as many will move from the five boroughs to the suburbs to raise their kids. When the kids are grown, they’ll often move back to the city to be closer to everything — work, shopping, retirement homes and medical care.
If a client runs into a problem, I really want to solve it within the hour. We don’t want to let the problem sit and marinate.
“I’ve been in the business long enough where I have actually helped clients through that cycle, which was very rewarding,” Cheung said. “And of course, that’s just the first generation — the parents bought their home and now the kids are buying a home, and I’ve been fortunate enough to take on that role as well, to help the kids with their financing needs.”
His philosophy is to serve one client at a time and to provide them with high-quality service and lightning-fast responses. “Don’t procrastinate,” Cheung said. “If a client runs into a problem, I really want to solve it within the hour. We don’t want to let the problem sit and marinate.”
His brand is known not only by clients but also by the Realtors and attorneys on the other side of a deal. They know if they see his name on the paperwork, the financing will come through smoothly. Building that reputation took time and Cheung said that his two decades of experience gives him a major advantage in closing deals.
“We’re in a very diverse marketplace. … Every scenario you can think of, we’ve probably come across through the years,” he said. “That’s really our biggest advantage: Clients feel that their situation is a little unique, but when we look at it, it’s something we do every day anyway.”
Experience, branding and philosophy count for a lot, but Cheung stressed that the center of his business is all about client relationships and the service he provides. “At the end of the day, they’re looking for service,” he said. “Service, honesty and being available, working around the clock.” ●
Tips of the Trade
Service one client at a time and do the right thing. It’s OK to make a little less on a deal if it means you’re going to build that relationship. Don’t keep that mindset of trying to make as much as you can on every deal. Focus on value for the client. The relationships built along the way will last throughout your career.