Cheese-It Referral: Brian Barkowski, Mortgage Broker

If I saw an ad for a mortgage broker with this photo of said broker, I’d a) do a double take, b) raise my eyebrows, and c) head to his website cause yas Queen yas. Who is this low-key, obviously fun loving dude with real world, adulting know-how?

I’ll be honest, when someone introduces themselves as a “mortgage broker,” I prep myself to not know or care what you’re about to talk about, I don’t know what you do — I mean, sure, broker mortgages, but … —  and I’m looking around for the nearest Community Manger, Travel Hacker, Entrepreneur In Residence, or Chief Innovation Officer. You know, my tribe. “Mortgage broker” is like the baby aisle at Target and moving trucks at the end of the month. Things that when I see them I think, “THANK GOD that’s not me and I can ignore and quickly bypass you on the way to live my life that isn’t filled with Desitin and packing tape.”

Well, let me amend. Because I have now been through the home-buying process and gotten to know an actual mortgage broker. “I prep myself…” “I don’t know what you do” and “I’m looking around…” are now “I prepped myself…” “I didn’t know what you do” and “I looked around…” I get it. I now (sadly? happily?) know and care about things like PMI and best & final and escrow. And Brian is lovely, interesting, and many-dimensional and it’s a joy to chat with him about anything and everything.

Brian, wife Debbie, and doggie Patty

Assemble The Team Before You Need The Team

When Best Friend and I went through our emotional, unexpected housing saga and ended up purchasing our first home two years ago, the thing that saved us was having a real estate dream team already in place. Not by strategic planning on our part. I wish I could say, “We sat down one night after a dinner of kale and fresh-squeezed beet juice and made a Life Emergency Plan, where we listed out all the horrible things that could happen and their solutions including the people whom we’ll reach out to for HELP!” You know, locksmith, mechanic, doctor, HVAC repair folks, plumber, handyperson, contractor, insurance reps (business, home, health), dentist. The people you don’t ever want to see but if you have to see them, you’re over the moon that your first step isn’t having to Google or Yelp or “Can anyone recommend…” on Facebook. When your car won’t start, your tooth is throbbing, or you have sewage backup, you want that fixed. Now.

First off, you know I’m lying to you if I set the scene by telling you about our kale dinner. Golden Oreo dinner is more like it.

Secondly, we had a real estate dream team already in place by luck. Friends who happen to be wonderful realtors. Who happen to know all the good people in Chicago. The people we had Target Baby Aisle’d cause why do we need them?! We’re happy renters and will be for the rest of our lives. Welp, turns out, life doesn’t always go to plan and housing attorneys and home inspectors and mortgage brokers become people you want and need.

All this is to say, if you don’t yet have a Life Dream Team, assemble one! Before you need one.

As I’m known as a connector — connecting people to people, people to opportunities, people to themselves — it brings me great joy to connect Cheese-Its to a mortgage broker. Even if you don’t need him. Or know what he does. Or aren’t excited by his non-sexy title. Get him on your Dream Team.

Brian and happy clients

Why Brian

One of my favorite things about Brian is that he’s so willing to support you and answer all your questions and never make you feel stupid because of your “So um, like what do you do?” questions in your journey to deciding if you want to buy and enlist the services of a Brian. Meet with him. Chat with him. No pressure. Just a guy wanting you to feel comfortable making a potentially huge decision. And the best part? If you do decide to buy a home and to use Brian, now or down the road, you’ll be in wonderful hands and can get started without Asking Jeeves.

Like these friends after they saw Brian talk at my I Can’t: Buy A Home event —

Formula for 😍 in life

Bring good people together who don’t know one another +
Good Person A hire Good Person B +
Good Person A net an adorable home and Good Person B net a happy customer =
Bonus part of the equation: based on Good Person A’s review and Mac & Cheese Productions’ thumbs up, YOU hire Good Person B. Then it’s  😍 😍.
Life is so much easier with referrals! Find Brian and a gazillion other Service Provider referrals on my FAQ page. Realtor, mechanic, dentist, web designer, financial planner, personal trainer, career coach…

Mortgage Brokers are people too

I loved Brian’s answers to my nosey questions because I too learned about him, just as I want you to. Plus he solidified my “Great guy!” sentiment. I love how transparent he is about his career journey, something I know many of us struggle with. Its twists and turns and scariness and leaps makes me feel less alone in my own twists and turns and fear and oh my god, what am I doing?!

What jobs have you held since you graduated college?

After college, I attended MLB Umpire School only to not make it past the original camp. A couple months later, I found myself working for the Beloit Snappers, Class A Affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.  I started out as the Merchandise and Sales Director, transitioned into running Food and Beverage and finally became the General Manager. After 5 years, I took a Fundraising position at Brother Rice. After a couple years, I transitioned into leading the school’s Marketing efforts and then eventually added fundraising back to my duties.  I left as Vice President after 12 years of working, teaching and coaching at Brother Rice. In July of 2017, I completely changed direction and began working for The Ironbank Mortgage Group. I currently help people secure financing for a home purchase or refinance and walk them through the entire process.

Have you always had a clear idea of what you wanted to “do” in life?

Never. I wanted to be a Game Show Host when I was a kid. I kind of got to do that while working for the Snappers, but that’s for another time. I always told my students to realize that there’s never a day we wake up and just get it.  It being life. We always have to work through the ups and downs to take what life gives us. I’ve been fortunate enough to choose my path but still not sure if I know what I want to be when I grow up.

What’s most important to you professionally? Would “ten years ago Brian” have answered differently? How?

Retiring is my focus professionally.  I only have a limited number of years to save remaining and hope I can spend some of my time not having to answer the bell on a daily basis and more time with my wife. 10 years ago Barko was worried about climbing the ladder, and was only career focused and not life focused.

What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve taken?

Leaving my salaried position to take a 100% commission job brokering mortgages.

What’s something at which you’d like to be better?

Playing music

You’re a mortgage broker. If someone, hypothetically, doesn’t really understand what a mortgage broker does, how would you explain it to them? How do you fit in the real estate equation?

I fit into the equation by helping secure financing for your home. As a broker, I do not lend you the money, but have a number of lending partners so I am able to provide different options.  

What’s a question you get all the time in your line of work?

What is debt to income? Most people understand that our credit scores are important when it comes time to buy a home, but many are unaware of debt to income.  Most loans require a ratio of under 43% DTI, meaning that your housing payment, along with any other liabilities (credit cards, student loans, car payments) cannot exceed that percentage when divided by your gross monthly income.   

What’s a favorite aspect of yours of your job?

Being there for my clients all the way through the process. Starting with the initial conversation, all the way to the closing table, I am there to assist my clients.

What’s a challenge in your job?

Learning all of the different products and guideline and overlays that go along with each product. Guidelines often change and are updated so it’s just a matter of staying on top of those updates and new products.

What makes you different than other mortgage brokers?

How I price. I sit down with each of my clients and show them all of the product and rate options available to them. Many home buyers are unaware that they have options on the rate and monthly payment and I make sure my clients are aware of all their options.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give someone considering buying a home?

Take the time to understand your living expenses and what it would take for you to buy a home now. Do not wait until you think you are ready to buy a home, do it today. Learn what it would cost to purchase a home so that you are better prepared for when it does come time to buy. Even if you are not planning on buying for a couple years, learn what it would take to own a home so that you can better prepared when the time is right.

Spitfire Time

  • Movie you love: Field of Dreams
  • Book you love: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Song you love: Divided Sky by Phish
  • Chore you love: Grilling
  • Chore you loathe: Raking Leaves
  • “Let me cook for you” dish: Grilled Cheese Sandwich
  • Memorable trip: Get me to the beach: My trips to Jamaica and honeymoon in Mexico
  • Yet to take dream trip: Australia/New Zealand
  • How you met your spouse: Through Nancy Bonk – Fellow Cheese-It
  • What would your spouse say they love about you: My sense of humor
  • A fear: Snakes
  • A guilty pleasure: Fantasy Baseball and Chewy Sweet Tarts
  • A quirk: Walking like I have ants in my pants.  Always on the move.
  • A skill: Dancing
  • Something you can teach others: That everyday is a gift
  • Something you’re proud of: My work while at Brother Rice
  • Physical item you can’t live without: My phone
  • Someone famous you’ve met: Tony Gwynn
  • What are the best things you owe your parents: Honesty and Work Ethic
  • If you had to write a book, what would you write about: You’ll be one of the first to get a preview once it’s finished.  (I have always wanted to write a book and want to keep the idea for myself for now)
  • Quote you love: Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime

For those of you who need a “professional” looking mortgage broker

Think of this Brian, not Rooftop Brian. Though, c’mon. I’d love to roll into a very serious meeting on the very serious topic of real estate with Rooftop Brian.
If you’d like to contact Brian or learn more about him and Ironbank Mortgage Group, head here. For whatever my thumb is worth to you, highest thumbs up for him!