By Kevin Lambert
Thirty one year-old Kia Gostovic never expected her unique life story to take a twist into mortgage lending. But here she is at a busy office in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, actively working the phones to follow up on leads that came in over the weekend. She is aglow with energy, but it is not the forced enthusiasm of some brainwashed sales rep—it’s clear she truly loves her job and believes in what she’s doing.
Kia is part of Guaranteed Rate’s elite online sales training program, Liftoff, and after spending five minutes with her and her colleagues, it’s apparent that some of the best and brightest professionals in the area are flocking to its doors. Their backgrounds are as colorful and varied as their personalities, but there are two things they all share: an internal drive for limitless success and a sincere desire to help people improve their lives.
Monday, June 26
Reviewing and ramping up
Monday morning is when Kia and her teammates evaluate business from the previous week and follow up with customers. “Clearing out emails, scrubbing applications I’ve received over the weekend, checking for anything outstanding that might require more documentation, that sort of thing,” she explains. “When we receive leads, they’re in the form of completed applications but often we’ll need more information. So I’ll give the customers a call to discuss things like credit reports, multiple mortgages, self-employment status, missing paystubs, tax returns, what have you.”
An elite long jumper who attended Southeast Missouri State University on a track scholarship, Kia’s approach to each customer conversation is not unlike her approach to the takeoff board—precise, polished and consistent, each practiced step propelling her to the next with increasing purpose.
“I really enjoy helping people—it’s what inspired me to get into this business,” she says after ending a friendly exchange with a client. “I watched The Big Short about a month before I interviewed for Liftoff, and was horrified at the predatory practices of lenders. How many lives were ruined because of that dishonesty? I told my husband, ‘I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I want to make sure people know exactly what’s going on when they’re buying a new home.’”
Tuesday, June 27
In college, Kia studied mass communication with a focus in radio production, and when the Joliet native moved to Chicago after graduating, she worked for KISS FM. With this education and experience, Kia knows well the influential power of effective messaging. Tuesday night after work presents a great opportunity to apply her expertise: Liftoff is hosting a recruiting event on the modern rooftop facility at Guaranteed Rate’s corporate headquarters.
“I’ve been in sales for a while now, so I know that aspect of things, of how to relate to people and just talk to them,” Kia says confidently. “Most of the people we recruit also have sales backgrounds, so it won’t be hard to have great conversations. They’re coming for a reason, so it’s up to us to show them the possibilities and potential for success, and help them decide if Liftoff is the right fit. And help us decide if they’re the right fit for Liftoff!”
With roughly 80 prospects attending, the event is a huge success. The Liftoff recruiting team is highly active throughout, floating around the rooftop and engaging partygoers with questions, compliments and smiles. Pizza, wine and beer make up the informal fare, while a bags tournament and prize wheel attract players looking to win White Sox suite tickets and other gifts.
“It was a wonderful group—a lot of smart, talented, driven people,” says Kia. “I think there are definitely a few who would thrive at Liftoff.”
Wednesday, June 28
Being a competent and reliable loan officer demands complete knowledge of lending rules, regulations and loan requirements. Being an all-star loan officer, however, demands the ability to initiate, build and nurture client relationships with people from all walks of life.
Though Kia is relatively new to the mortgage industry, she is far from a beginner when it comes to providing impeccable customer service. After graduating, she worked as a district manager for Abercrombie & Fitch, opening new retail stores in culturally diverse cities like Chicago, London and Paris.
Today she is following up with customers who filled out loan applications either incorrectly or incompletely. Though this is a phase of the process that can be frustrating for loan officers and infuriating for clients, Kia handles each call with a calm, encouraging tone, never once breaking from her roles of partner, guide and concierge.
“It’s sometimes difficult to get a good handle on the beginning piece—setting up the file and preparing it for underwriting—because the customer is new to the process and needs some extra support,” Kia explains. “It can be a struggle, but I think that actually makes it more satisfying when the loan closes. Helping them achieve that goal of homeownership is the ultimate reward, and it’s even sweeter when they had doubts in the beginning.”
Thursday, June 29
Living and learning
Kia is well trained because her training never ends. Every Thursday, she huddles with her manager for a regular review of her loan pipeline and activity. Subjects include delayed files, additional underwriting requirements, and communications with the mortgage coordinator, among others.
Kia is eager to build relationships outside the office as well. The Ravenswood neighborhood that Liftoff calls home includes hip spots to eat, drink and hang out with friends. Today it’s the Brownstone for lunch with a couple colleagues. The discussion centers on current mortgage rates, which up to this point have not reacted to the Fed’s decision to hike interest rates a couple weeks ago.
“One of the things I was taught early on is to constantly keep an eye on rates,” Kia says. “It’s not just about being an expert for your customer—it can really make an impact on the options you present. Knowing the market, knowing the trends and patterns, is just as important as knowing the rules and regulations.”
As the workday draws to a close, rumor spreads that happy hour is going down at Begyle, the small pub right next door to the Liftoff offices. A healthy work/life balance is one of Guaranteed Rate’s core values, and Kia embraces it fully. Working for a company like this, in a neighborhood like this, paints a pretty horizon for someone so capable and committed.
Friday, June 30
The last day of the week can sometimes be the most intense, because loan officers don’t like loose ends when the weekend rolls around.
“On Fridays I like to touch base with my pre-approvals, ask whether they need anything updated, how the home search is going, that kind of thing,” Kia says. “I also want to contact every borrower who’s sent in an application, help them get to the next step. Sometimes the AUS (automatic underwriting) has been run, credit and RESPA look good and I have great news for them. Basically, I want to know where everything stands come Monday so that there are no surprises.”
After work, Kia is off to Guaranteed Rate Field to watch the Chicago White Sox take on the visiting Texas Rangers. Complimentary game tickets are regularly offered to elite Liftoff performers, and tonight’s seats are right next to the Sox dugout. Kia and her husband watch the Sox win in dramatic fashion, 8 – 7, as slugger Melky Cabrera belts a walk-off, 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.
As she and her husband walk back to their car, Kia reflects on the incredible opportunity Liftoff has afforded her. “I’m definitely in this for the long haul,” she says. “This is no stepping stone. With the tools and resources I’ve been given, I really feel like I can have an incredible career. I’ve learned more in the past six months with Liftoff than I have in the past ten years.”