The Tough Cookie

At or away from the closing table, Kristin Stark is in it to win it

Sarah Wolak
The Tough Cookie

Kristin Stark isn’t just a loan officer. She was a world traveler – an Air Force brat who graduated high school in Germany. Now she’s a mother, a leader of an all-female loan team, and a solutionist.

But Stark’s most prominent attribute – one that she doesn’t brag to you about – is that she’s a tough cookie. The mother of two children with special needs, Stark can tell you what it’s like in and out of the office to have patience, attentiveness, and strength. She’s had intense encounters like when a customer threatened to find her and kill her and her children – all over a change in property taxes. She’s dealt with colleagues making fun of her appearance, and she once held a job where she cried daily in the parking lot before going in.

Stark hasn’t given up through it all. And now she can add overachiever to her list of attributes, being within the top 1% of women loan originators. Stark and her team closed just over $40 million last year, and in the first six months of 2023 has $24.01 million under her belt. “I don’t have a niche,” Stark affirms. “I say yes to whoever needs me; I say yes to $67,000 loans as much as I do with $3 million contracts.”

Ashley Watson, Stark’s business partner, has worked alongside Stark for just over three years. She paints Stark as being an underdog who continued to focus on the purchase market during the big refi boom of 2020 and 2021. She was pregnant, on bed rest, and still finding a way to crank out loans or harness a referral relationship.

“She had just become an independent loan officer and had a poor pipeline, so she just focused on forming good relationships and narrowing in on purchase while everyone else made it big off of refinances,” Watson explained. “Now her business has absolutely taken off. We’re thriving from word of mouth and agent relationships … we put the hard work in [during the boom] to get the business that won’t ever die.”


Breaking Free

But it took a long time for Stark to branch off and become independent in her business. Following her graduation from West Texas A&M University with a degree in public relations and advertising, Stark picked up and moved to Oregon. What she had assumed would be a state flush with new job opportunities turned out to be a sluggish job market – one that was not looking for her PR expertise. She took up a job at American General, a subsidiary of American International Group (AIG), which hired her to do loans. But her life got flipped upside down when 2008 happened. Stark was told to handle foreclosures and got her title as a senior LO ripped away.

When the market picked back up she took on being an LO again – this time, in Lubbock, Texas. “I started at Prosperity Bank as an LOA and worked for only men,” Stark said. “I was very belittled and felt like a servant and paid terribly … In a primarily male industry, jokes are thrown about how you look and about other women. I felt inadequate. As much as I hated their behavior, I learned a lot about strategy and negotiation.”

Ashley Watson

CMG Financial

Stark experienced a Stockholm syndrome-esque feeling while at Prosperity. Through therapy and realizing her self-worth beneath the guise of who she tried to be at the bank – accommodating, selfless, and present – Stark was able to move on to Movement Mortgage and work as an LOA. “Therapy helped me realize that I was a good person and could do business the way that I wanted,” Stark said.

But Stark’s work ethic was noticeable beyond her assisting five loan officers at the same time. Customers liked her, and she was approached about the opportunity to become a preferred lender for a real estate company. Her team initially told her that she would fail; Stark responded by switching to work for CMG Financial. “I knew that now I had the opportunity to be my own business, and my first goal was to build an all-female team,” Stark said. “I narrowed in on females because we’re slinging loans while making it happen at home for our families and kids. We are dedicated and passionate moms! And I noticed with females that stuff is always going to go wrong but we have a completely transparent dialogue about those issues.”

That was back in 2019 – Stark’s first time working completely on commission. “I was scared to leave my W2 safety net,” she admitted. “But I started building my business on trust. I think I was born to do this. I’m a solutionist, I wanted a team that helped and harnessed each other, not compete.”


Puttin’ Down Roots

Even though Stark’s first goal at CMG was to build a team of powerhouse women to do loans alongside, this was an adverse environment for her. Stark says she spent a lot of time alone as a kid. Her earliest roots were planted in Amarillo, Texas, living with her mom. But Stark took the opportunity to live with her father who was in the air force. Stark went to Albuquerque, New Mexico for middle school and her first year of high school.

Colorado Springs claimed the next two years of high school – what Stark says was the longest time she spent at a school – and finally, she graduated high school in Germany. “It was so hard to nail down relationships. But it conditioned me for what I do now. When you move so much, you have to become a chameleon. I really didn't know who I was until I was in my 30s,” Stark admitted. “When you go to all these schools you don’t want the other kids to know that you’re lonely and depressed and haven’t laid down one root. I never decorated my walls. By the time I would start to have a friend, I would have to move. I struggled to have roots.”

But Stark says she’s changing that by putting roots down in Texas – both for her and for her clients. “I swear every town has my signature on it,” Stark joked.

Kristin Stark, Senior Loan Officer

CMG Financial

Stark doesn’t make it sound easy. In fact, she’s open about the stress that comes with being a full-time mom and an even more full-time LO. “This job is stressful … You will have highs where you’re celebrating and five minutes later someone is slapping you back to reality. I’ve wanted to quit mortgage more times than anyone knows. The highs are high and the lows are low,” she said. “You can’t have it all either. I’m lucky to have a phenomenal nanny. I want to be around my kids but I also love working. When I was an LOA I hardly saw my daughter, so now I work from home so I can see my children but someone can help me with taking them to therapy and things like that.”

And Stark’s motivation for being a workaholic is for her children to live comfortably. “You can’t teach hunger. Hunger is something that you have to find within yourself. What drives me is that I was raised and lived my life very poor,” Stark explained. “The sacrifice to me is worth that. I never want to live like that again.”

Even though Stark has a bootstrapping attitude, she’s conscious of how she can help her team strike a balance in their professional lives and with their families, because she went without balance for so long. “I used to be scared to take off work for doctors appointments,” she said. “Everything that I wish I had when I was on the operations side I try to provide for my team.”

And Watson says that Stark’s understanding attitude comes through in every part of her job. “She’s always making sure that she doesn't push us too far,” Watson said. “Kristin puts everyone else above herself in a good way: colleagues, borrowers… she treats everyone like family.”


Innovating Lending

For Stark, old lending practices aren’t her forte. Stark – and Texas– are welcoming a new era of homebuyers: millennials. “Mortgage lending is historically known as boring old men,” Stark joked. “Even look at marketing: I’m always fighting with my compliance department about putting out things that don't look like a 70-year-old man is going to read it.”

Stark says that her technique, or what she calls her playbook, involves lessons that she learned from her day-to-day life. Stark’s daughter has frequent outbursts, and her stress level is similar to some of the reactions Stark has seen from customers. “These people are emotionally charged and you are the path to least resistance for an emotional outlet,” Stark explained. “I use lessons from my parenting classes and help to validate their emotions. You’re frustrated, tell me more about that. How can I make you feel better about this? If something is bothering them it should bother me.

But the playbook doesn’t stop there. “​​I focus on customer service and above and beyond communication,” Stark said, citing that she sends out videos every week and gives real estate agents a marketing booklet she designed. She also wants to start a podcast alongside other successful women in the industry.

Kinta Wendt, another Austin-based loan officer for CMG, is a close colleague of Stark’s and a top-producing officer. And even though they are essentially competitors, Wendt says that Stark has become her soundboard. “If Kristin can’t give you the answer she will find someone for you,” Wendt said. “[We have] the commonality of being women in the industry. There’s not a lot of very smart women in the industry or those you can bond with who are in it to win it like we are.”

Wendt says that Stark’s knowledge of the business is what drew her to her. “She isn’t just great at one task, she knows the “why” of the business,” Wendt said. “She’s worked in what I call cradle to grave, meaning that she’s worked at the beginning and end of the loan, which makes her a better LO. I call her the blonde version of me.”

For Watson, it’s no surprise that Stark’s methods have earned her recognition and respect. “We can all do a good job, but it’s about how you do the job. Kristin’s business has grown because of how she treats people. It’s not just a transaction, it’s our brothers and sisters who we’re helping,” Watson said. “Her and I are the dream team because we excel in what the other doesn’t, and vice versa. She’s trustworthy, honest, and open to her clients. And she’s creative, which balances out my analytical side.”

This article was originally published in the Lone Star LO August 2023 issue.
Sarah Wolak
Sarah Wolak,
Staff Writer
Published on
Aug 29, 2023
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