For many people the saying, “Home is where the heart is,” could not be truer. And while we find comfort inside its walls, it is what is at the center that one can find true purpose and warmth. But one day, you could wake up, and it could all be gone. At the age of 7, Natasha Cartagena Spencer and her family lost their home — but they did not lose heart.

Instead, this tragic loss would later become the fuel that would ignite Spencer’s lifelong passion to pursue a career that fulfilled the dream of home ownership for families around the U.S.

“I think that’s why I’m so dedicated and believe in the dream of home ownership. When we were living in those tight corridors we went from Long Island to Queens. I think that’s why I am in the career I am today – helping people get residential home mortgages,” she said.

Blazing New Trails

When she was 12, Spencer’s family moved to Orlando to restart their lives. A self-proclaimed “nerd,” she attended the University of Miami to pursue a track in pre-med in hopes of one day being a doctor. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and three minors in biology, chemistry and business administration. But the next steps she would take weren’t into the medical industry at all. In fact, a small interest in the real estate market would later lead her to switch to the mortgage industry, and in her own words, “it just clicked.”

After years at Dellwood Mortgage as a Fannie, Freddie, FHA DE, VA underwriter, Spencer joined Shelter Mortgage as its operations manager in August 2000, bringing a well-rounded skill set and understanding of the mortgage industry. But by 2005, the market was beginning to tank and to her surprise came a promotion – she became the youngest in the company to be promoted to vice president branch manager.

Anything But Predictable 

When Shelter opened its Florida branch in July 2000, it was focused on being a builder’s lender. Even as the market began to plummet, Spencer led her team fearlessly to the top. When people began cancelling their contracts, she realized that Shelter needed to reinvent itself, and that’s precisely what she did with a strategy that separated them from the rest of their competitors.

“That’s when we really started getting involved in the community – knocking on doors, pounding the pavement and asking people for their business. We could no longer rely on just those builders to carry us through … I had to learn how to be a public speaker and to travel. It’s been seven years of just learning and reinventing ourselves.

“I think that’s what has allowed us to survive the market – we didn’t stay stagnant. We actually got out of the box that we were in. Although we were very successful and very profitable, that money stopped…just like it did for many. We all had to get out of our comfort zones.”

Training CEOs

By 2008, Spencer was overseeing and maintaining sales production in numerous offices across the states of Florida, South Carolina and Texas and flying to a new city every other week. Looking back, she said, “Oh, my gosh, Natasha, you are growing the company and diversifying the pool of business, but who is going to be your successor? I actually burned out.”

After a solo trip to Kauai, Hawaii and hike along the Na Pali coast, she came back with a restored vision and fierce focus. “As an operations manager I was very type-A, but as a branch manager I learned how to delegate and truly manage my team. There was no possible way I could physically do everything anymore. I started coaching my team on getting out of their comfort zones. I needed them to become their own CEO – I like to call them ‘Chief Energy Officer.’ They needed to become their own business unit – and if they weren’t willing to become that, then they weren’t going to stay,” she said.

Strong Partnerships, Strong Business

While many bigger banks are more transactional, Spencer prides Shelter on being relationship-based. For her, it’s never about over-promising, it’s always about over-delivering. And when she has her eye on a market, she goes after it treating every client uniquely and differently like they are.

“We truly get to know and accommodate to their culture. With one account, I might have to wear this hat, and with another account a different hat. We have to because they all run their shops differently. I think that’s what sets us apart – we have to get to know them…get to know their strengths and weaknesses and then start complementing each other and building from there. That’s why throughout the company we have some partners for over 28 years.”

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Spencer’s team survived the market by breaking away, diversifying, and having a sharp focus on fostering the relationships that Shelter built with its partners – and its numbers prove that their work has paid off. Spencer laughs as she points to a mortgage magazine and recalls its depressing statistics and says, “The mortgage industry is not going under, at least for us it’s not.” She then pulls out her large accounting book and starts clicking away at the calculator before she says, “I’m about to do $1.1 million in net profits this year.”

“The doom and gloom is just sad – shame on you for not focusing on your purchase business. Shame on those companies; our applications are only going up,” she said.

Because of a new partnership in Tampa, which encompasses 18 real estate offices, next year she expects to grow about 26 percent and should achieve a net profit of $1.8 to $2.1 million. With a smile on her face, she slams her big book of numbers and says, “In 2014, we’re just going to close even more loans!”