The Rookie All-Star

Rafelky Antigua carves a quick path to success through hard work and reputation

Sarah Wolak
Rafelky Antigua

Rafelky Antigua is a rookie, but she has all-star numbers. A Georgia-based loan officer for NEXA Mortgage who started in October 2022, Antigua closed $1.2 million in her first month of originating.

How did she do it? The 30-year-old mother of three describes herself as being a risk-taker and a go-getter. With now over 50 loans under her belt, Antigua’s current pipeline is over $12 million.

Antigua keeps climbing up the lender ladder, adding new states left and right to her roster. But it’s not her first gig that has to do with housing. An experienced Realtor, Antigua worked for Keller-Williams Sugarloaf for three years where she made her reputation as being an over-achiever. In her first year, she sold 27 homes and was crowned rookie of the year in an office of about 400 agents. Antigua even convinced her husband, Garry Cotto, to join the real estate business, and they started working together as a real estate team under Keller Williams called Best Life Realty.

For 2022, the couple was awarded the title of being a top 5% producer at Keller Williams and during the first quarter of 2023 the number one top team of closed units.

The couple now operates as a dynamic duo, with Antigua moving to mortgages and Cotto sticking with realty.

But Antigua and her husband didn’t always have it all. The son of a doctor and a nurse, Antigua grew up in the Dominican Republic and graduated high school when she was 15. At age 16, she immigrated to Georgia — a place her family had been visiting for years.

After a brief relocation to New Jersey, Antigua spent the next two years attending Hudson Community College to study accounting and English as a second language. But after having her first daughter, Antigua was unable to finish school, which led the young family to move back to Georgia with $200 in their pockets. (The couple now has three children ages 11, 10, and 5.) Antigua took on the role of a stay-at-home mom while Cotto worked as a barber. Things began to align for the couple when Antigua took up a job as an operations manager for a dental group, while Cotto opened his own barber shop. I moved the reference to the kids.

In 2015, the couple decided to try their hand at house flipping and investing. “We’ve always been risk-takers and I like that about my husband, we’re the same,” Antigua said. “We put everything that we had into our properties and the barbershop [because] we know that things will work out one way or the other. We’re both hard-working and our model is that if we do good, good will come our way.”

Samantha Suarez, mortgage broker, NEXA 

Being In Control

In 2019, Antigua got her real estate license. Even after teaming up with Cotto and selling an average of 50 homes a year, Antigua still felt like she needed to do more; she wanted control over her schedule and transparency in the loan process. So in August, Antigua started studying to become a mortgage loan originator. “I had a series of bad experiences. There was poor communication and my borrowers weren’t given a lot of options and I saw a lot of disorganization that led to late closings,” she explained. “At first, I just wanted to get my license to help my clients. But then I started getting referrals from real estate agents I had worked with.”

Antigua says a loan officer she worked with named Steve Feliciano inspired her to apply at NEXA where he worked. “Steve brought me to NEXA and I had heard very good things about the company. I knew I wanted somewhere I could be independent,” she said. “He was my preferred lender when I was an agent … I saw how he worked with my customers and how he could offer them great rates.”

Antigua explained that NEXA has a training academy for all new loan officers. “You are supposed to close six loans with NEXA before you ‘graduate’ and that usually takes about six months,” Antigua said. “New LOs tend to close one or two deals a month. But I already closed five deals in November and seven in December.”

Antigua says by the time she had closed two or three deals, she was becoming frustrated with the demands of the academy. “I told [Mike Kortas] that it was difficult for me to manage the requirements of the academy, all the phone calls, and having to submit every loan through the academy so they could review it,” she explained. “I felt that I had enough experience to check my deals and make sure they reached the closing table.”

Kortas made a one-time exception.

But it wasn’t a quick decision, Antigua elaborated. “They had never had someone leave the academy so early,” she said. “I finished in 59 days. But I had already registered 70 clients in the first two months, gave 20 preapprovals, and had 12 loans in the pipeline.”

Rafelky Antigua and family
Rafelky Antigua with her husband Gary Cotto and their three children ages 11, 10, and 5.

Reputation And Trust

Antigua never anticipated that she would have an easy time finding business, especially as she jumped into the market right before a downturn. “Realtors have been my success, they know that I have an honest reputation and good work ethic and won’t give a client away to my husband,” Antigua said. “I thought that I wouldn’t get referrals since I have a background as a realtor and my husband is a realtor. But it pays to have a good reputation.”

And reputation is what got Antigua her first loan. “I had a friend of somebody that I did business with reach out on Facebook,” she explained. “This person had gotten denied with another lender; they lost the house and their loan got denied the same day of closing. As soon as I looked over the application, I kept wondering why the people they had worked with didn’t help them or present them with a better option.”

Antigua said that the borrower wanted not just her help, but Cotto’s help, too. “We got the client into a house in 30 days,” Antigua said proudly. “And this client continues to refer people to me. It was definitely a challenge for me because my first deal was essentially a save, too.”

Rafelky Antigua, mortgage loan originator, NEXA

Antigua says that it’s special when she gets the chance to still work with her husband. But she also understands that this is the biggest financial transaction of a borrower’s life and there’s a trust element involved with the deal. “We always give [clients] the option to use us as a team, but if not we let them shop around. A lot of our clients feel comfortable with us. We sign non-affiliate agreements too,” she explained. “We are able to control the whole process and our clients can work with both of us, with one of us, or none of us.”

Trust is a big factor in Antigua’s success, which is why she recruited her best friend, Samantha Suarez, to become her loan officer assistant (LOA). Suarez, who also has her real estate license at the same company as Antigua and Cotto, was a natural fit for Antigua’s team. “I needed somebody that I could trust to help me get the job done,” Antigua said.

Suarez says that she met Antigua over a decade ago, as her husband went to Cotto’s barber shop. “We found that we had a lot in common, and since we’ve known each other so long it’s an easy transition into a working relationship with Rafelky,” she said. “When we come to work it’s strictly work. We know that we’re in an industry of professionalism, and we’ve built those boundaries of trust and respect.”

Suarez touts Antigua for being a great mentor in the workplace. “We help each other balance so we never feel burnt out or alone,” she explained. “[Rafelky’s] always there to break concepts down for me or give me tips no matter how busy she is. She’s focused, goal-driven, and gets it done.”

This article was originally published in the Mortgage Women Magazine September 2023 issue.
Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak,
Staff Writer
Published on
Sep 18, 2023
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