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"I think I heard Donald Trump say, 'The only way to be wrong in real estate at that time was to not buy something,' " Crawford said.
It worked well for about four years, until Crawford saw the real estate bubble bursting before his eyes. Major lenders were dropping out of the mortgage business.
"What we saw in 2007 and 2008 was absolute chaos out in the marketplace. Guys like Countrywide, American Home, Washington Mutual, Wachovia … big national mortgage providers were absolutely getting wiped off the face of the scene," Crawford said.
Crawford, though, never lost faith in the American homebuyer. In fact, he sensed an opportunity to build a better mortgage business that would help keep people within their means and smooth the mortgage process. He aimed to cut an often unwieldy application process that can last months down to just about one week.
Here's the kicker: To find out where to begin, Crawford Googled, "how to start a mortgage bank."
He cofounded a firm, based in North Carolina and Virginia, that aims to smooth out the mortgage process for customers, often cutting the time it takes to get an approval from months to about a week.
That kind of speed might remind some of the bubble days, but his company, Movement Mortgage, is trying to protect its business and its customers, by doing a better job of figuring out how much home a customer can afford before they go shopping.
Crawford said he believes that simple formula represents a stark contrast to what was happening 10 years ago, "They (mortgage companies) were defined by a lack of integrity, by putting families into loans they couldn't afford with very convoluted paperwork. They really didn't understand. At a core level, we wanted to serve the American public in a better way," Crawford said.
It's not the first time Crawford has made the best of a very tough situation. In fact, dramatic turnarounds are kind of Crawford's thing.
As a football player, he went undrafted out of the University of Virginia, but the tight end managed to get signed by the Carolina Panthers.
In 2001, the Panthers had a 15-game losing streak. The coaching staff was changed, and Crawford was cut after two seasons with the team.
He was picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, a season that ended with a Super Bowl win.
Similarly, Crawford's timing in the business world appeared to be a mistake, since his company opened for business about a month before the real estate market crashed.
Since the financial crisis, the big mortgage banks have been more interested in taking advantage of historically low lending rates to refinance for existing customers. Crawford believed they left an opening for lenders looking to work with home buyers.
Nonbank lenders have gained traction with homebuyers, growing in market share from about 14 percent in 2011, to nearly 40 percent in 2014.
Abby and Matthew Ridenhour bought their second property in Charlotte earlier this year. They received preapproval from Movement Mortgage in less than one day. "You're not getting the last-minute, 'Oh, by the way that signature was a little bit smudged,' or, 'You know we need a different year tax return," Matthew said.
Real estate agents can also benefit from Movement's speedy process. Charlotte agent David Hoffman has worked with Crawford's company since it started. "We will win bidding wars when there are higher offers on the table if I have Movement on my side…. They have a reputation for closing what they start," Hoffman said.
Not everyone, though, has welcomed Movement Mortgage with open arms. Currently, the firm operates in 40 states, but expansion has been an uphill battle. Crawford compares the reception to being a football player in an away game, "You know pretty much every city you went into you were hated, right? Nobody wanted to see you succeed except for your hometown. That's really what we've experienced, too. Every city we go into, they'll tell us why it won't work," Crawford said.
Movement is on track to do $8 billion in business this year. It now has 2,200 employees, and 600 new jobs are slated to open when the company moves its headquarters to South Carolina in early 2016.
—CNBC's Andy Rothman contributed reporting.