Realtor Spotlight: Kathy Helbig-Strick

Kathy Headbig Headshot

How I got started in 

Real Estate

Kathy Helbig-Strick was a stay-at-home mom looking for a little extra money when a radio interview promising a big return with minimum hours caught her attention. Kathy then pursued becoming a real estate agent and quickly realized the depiction she heard on the radio wasn’t quite right. Her “part-time” gig turned into 50+ hours. Within two years, she had more business than she knew what to do with and decided it was time to start her own team.

Today, Kathy owns Experience Realty Partners and leads a team of 30 people out of St. Louis, MO.

While females dominate the real estate industry, leadership roles continue to be dominated by men. A National Association of Realtors study found women hold 63% of the realtor positions in the U.S. yet only 22% lead organizations with more than 21 employees. Kathy is sharing her knowledge and experience with other women through mentorship and coaching, hoping to one day see a change in the industry. 

We recently caught up with Kathy to learn how she launched her career and what advice she has for others who are considering making the move into real estate.

Why did you get into real estate? 

After having my first child and spending two years at home with him, I decided it was time to re-enter the workforce. But with a second baby on the way, a two-year-old and a husband who frequently traveled, I wasn’t sure what I could commit to and excel at.

We also decided it was time to upgrade our home and build a house in a nearby community. Around that time, I heard a radio ad about a New Construction Seminar that a small local broker was holding. My husband and I attended and ended up using this agent to sell our home. During that process, the agent suggested I consider a job in real estate. I say a job, not a career, because at that time I was looking for something part-time and flexible. He assured me I could secure a lucrative outcome while working part-time. So off to get my license I went, with the intention that it would be more of a side hustle to my stay-at-home mom job. Little did I know, that decision was about to change my life in a big way!The Experience Group logo

My part-time intentions lasted about a month. My business quickly took off, and within two years, I had more than I could handle. Realizing I was losing opportunities due to lack of time to follow up properly, I took my first step toward building a team. This was uncharted waters back in 1998, so it was trial and error. But I was quickly figuring it out, and it was working! In just a few years, I went from working part-time to having the highest selling team in the Missouri region. That success came with more opportunities. I was offered a partnership in a National Real Estate franchise to help them grow their brand in the St. Louis area. Over the next nine years, I continued to run my team. I was successful in establishing credibility and helping  grow a new brand in town while achieving great growth for our individual market center. But it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Behind the scenes, I knew I had to find a new direction for our business.

My team and I were courted by every major franchise. But, being so disillusioned by my prior experience and the terrible process of becoming untangled there, I was gun-shy about jumping into more legal agreements and multi-year commitments. So, with the current climate and rise of the independent in mind, I decided it was time to launch an independent boutique brokerage. At the end of 2016, I opened Experience Realty Partners, and today, I have a team of 30 real estate agents who are creating a positive experience around buying and selling homes.

What was your first year in real estate like?

My first year in real estate was much different from what someone might experience today because it took place in the pre-internet and social media era. Information wasn’t abundant and the MLS was a floppy disk DOS system that only a licensed agent had access to. We were the gatekeepers of the inventory. There was no online tech-driven search process available like there is today. Marketing yourself and available homes was all done through print.

In my first year, I quickly realized the importance of building and maintaining relationships. We didn’t have the ability to “buy leads,” so I was connecting with and meeting people at open houses and neighborhood events. We had to get our business leads from door knocking, mailings to our farm areas, writing and mailing newsletters, advertising in the local papers and real estate magazines and hosting community events. The key was building a strong local network, establishing trusting relationships in order to secure future opportunities and capitalize on referral business.

How has your lifestyle/schedule changed?

zillow-flex-main photoFor years, it was all-encompassing. It cost a lot in both time and money to be a successful agent back in those days because it was almost exclusively solo work. The agent was the “Jack of all trades.” To become successful, it took every minute of every day. I was on call 24/7 with no real back up. I never really got to be off the clock. Sacrifices had to be made in order to build a successful business and gain trust in the St. Louis market.

Looking back, I can see how it cost me the opportunities to be present in my relationships. It was difficult to build deeper friendships and spend quality time with my children while always working, no matter where or what was going on. This business can definitely add additional pressure on marriages as well. During my first few years, without a solid team in place, I had to be able to drop everything on a dime to serve my clients. I loved what I did. I just hadn’t figured out balance quite yet!

I felt like most of my time was spent keeping up when I needed to be getting ahead. I knew I needed leverage and to also change the mindset that no one could do it as good as me. I needed help if I wanted to grow my business and maintain the real estate experience I’d created for my clients. I was at capacity, and when you reach your capacity with time, you reach your capacity with income! I recognized at that time that a team of real estate agents providing a high-touch customer service experience, each with specific talents pertaining to the process, could grow my business and take the industry to the next level.

What advice do you have for those considering a career in real estate? 

First, aspiring agents need to know that success usually doesn’t happen overnight. Real estate is a business that relies heavily on respect, knowledge and trust. Those things come over time, with experience and by building a strong network of support within the industry and with clients.country neighborhood

A common misconception is real estate allows you to have a much more flexible schedule. While you don’t technically have to clock in every morning, the real estate market never sleeps!  When your client’s dream home hits the market, you need to be ready to drop everything to help, even when it’s outside traditional business hours. So yes, you have flexibility, but it’s flexibility around your clients schedules. Successful real estate agents work incredibly hard and are prepared to be ‘on-call’ around the clock day and night to deliver for their clients. If you want to be successful, then plan on real estate being a lifestyle not a job. In order to make it in this business, you need to have consistent motivation and self-discipline. 

My biggest piece of advice is to find a successful mentor in your market who will hold you accountable and allow you to learn. You can gain immediate credibility and inherit a trusting network by associating yourself with a successful agent and their team. Joining a team in the early stages of your career lets you hitch your wagon to a brand with a track record of success while gaining valuable opportunities to learn proven marketing and real estate strategies.

What steps did you take to overcome any challenges/setbacks in your real estate career?

After so many years of around-the-clock work, the biggest step I took was establishing a strong team and empowering them. I boiled down my best practices from decades of experience in the real estate industry and dialed in on a system of consistent, repeatable procedures I could use when training the new members of my growing team. Hands-on training includes shadowing, role-playing and strategy sessions to name a few.

drone neighborhoodI realized that providing an exceptional experience for the consumer starts with providing an exceptional experience for my agents. Properly training and mentoring new real estate agents not only helps them succeed, it makes a better experience for the customer and it helps our industry as a whole. It’s a pretty low barrier to entry to become an agent. Two weeks of classes, two passed exams and you’ve arrived! 

There is no requirement to apprentice. You can start working with consumers and legal documents with no real training whatsoever. Most agents are left to learn from the mistakes they make on each transaction. The process is seriously flawed. Not many new agents are trained properly on how to provide a great experience to the consumer. This flawed model of launching agents without the proper education and training is what has tanked consumers’ opinions of real estate agents over the years. I set out to change that, one “experience” at a time!

I know that when I provide the agent with a better support system and more thorough education, they’re able to give our clients the best service possible. Our team-based model helps provide a more balanced life for the agents. With everyone trained and sharing the same systems and procedures, our agents are able to step away for a minute to take a vacation or attend a school program knowing their client is being taken care of by the team. Every touchpoint at Experience Realty Partners allows us to handle all of our clients needs, while at the same time serving the needs of our agents.