Risha Kilaru jokes that her journey in the mortgage business has been akin to that of the title character of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a character who ages in reverse. Kilaru started at the end of the business — handling foreclosures — and worked her way to the beginning by originating loans.
While it’s a whimsical line, Kilaru credits it as one of the reasons for her success. Working on foreclosures allowed her to watch loans fail, helping her to understand the ramifications and difficult choices that need to be made. “All that background, that experience helps me originate,” Kilaru said. “If I don’t think you qualify for a loan, if I don’t think you may be able to make payments in the future, I would recommend you don’t buy a house.”
I was working late. My team was working late and, of course, rates were awesome. Housing was still on fire and the stock market was on fire. And it was the perfect storm.
She said that attitude has bolstered her reputation, especially with real estate agents and other referral partners. If she offers a preapproval, she said these partners know that “it’s as good as cash because it’s been fully vetted.”
“I write out the app — I’m old school — and as I’m writing, I’m literally looking at, ‘Can this guy make a payment?’” said Kilaru, who works in the Bay Area. “‘What’s he got in the bank? What does the wife make? How long has he been working?’”
For many years, Kilaru has ranked among the top producing mortgage originators in the country. In 2021, Kilaru originated 862 loans (most of them were classified as jumbo loans) for a total dollar volume of $834.8 million. She landed at No. 1 on Scotsman Guide’s Top Women Originators list and was No. 10 for Top Dollar Volume.
She notes that everyone in the business experienced a great year in 2021. But her production jumped by 54% from 2020 when she originated $539.6 million in loans. And that was up 124% from 2019 when she produced $239.9 million in volume. Besides the strong market, Kilaru also points to another reason for her strong production over the past couple of years. She travels the world every chance that she gets, but she’s reduced her travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s meant spending more hours working.
“I was working late,” Kilaru said. “My team was working late and, of course, rates were awesome. Housing was still on fire and the stock market was on fire. And it was the perfect storm.”
An immigrant from India, Kilaru started working in 1989 as a teller at Bank of America in Southern California, making $4 or $5 an hour. In 1991, one of her mother’s friends, Kamal Lala, helped her get a job as a foreclosure technician at Countrywide Home Loans in Simi Valley.
Kilaru continued working for Countrywide until 2008, rising to underwriting manager. During this period, she moved to northern California when her husband, a plastic surgeon, joined a practice in the Bay Area. In 2008, she became a mortgage originator, taking a job at Metrocities Mortgage (which eventually became Prospect Mortgage and is now HomeBridge Financial Services). Metrocities was the in-house lender for Keller Williams Realty. That’s where she developed relationships with real estate agents in the Bay Area.
When she moved to Guaranteed Rate in 2018, the marketing department came up with the tagline, “Relax, it’s Risha.” It’s an effective line. Kilaru recently had a prospect vacillate between her and another bank. He decided to go with the other bank until his agent talked him out of it.
“He called me back this morning,” Kilaru said. “‘His agent told him, ‘It’s got to be Risha. I won’t stress out if it’s you.’” ●