Torn between a hankering to own an interior design business and her father’s insistence that she choose a more practical career, Auburn University freshman Kathy Boehm came up with what she thought was the perfect compromise: an international business degree with an emphasis on French.
“In my 19-year-old brain, I thought, ‘I’ll just go abroad and I’ll go to flea markets and barter and haggle for antiques and furniture and have them shipped back to the States,’” she recalls.
That youthful dream never materialized, but after a few twists and turns, including several interior design jobs in her hometown of Dothan, Auburn and Chattanooga, Boehm now runs her own business as an independent contractor at the Signal Mountain office of Real Estate Partners.
Personable and laid back, she sets potential clients at ease with her down-to-earth disposition while using the design skills she’s acquired over the years to help her sell homes.
A few years after graduating from Auburn in 2000, then working at St. John’s restaurant in downtown Chattanooga, the outdoorsy cheerleader who grew up fishing and four-wheeling on the family farm earned her real estate license. But with two small children, the timing just wasn’t right to pursue that career path.
“I kick myself sometimes. I should’ve started sooner,” she admits. “But I just needed to be a mom for a little while. Especially when I was younger, I really just felt like I didn’t want to be so distracted.”
So, she says, “I got some really great exposure and experience with high-end luxury product, how to sell it, how to talk about it and merchandising,” primarily with Revival and Amanda Pinson Jewelry, both in Warehouse Row.
In 2016, she was ready to spread her wings and joined Keller Williams. “Once (my children) got to a certain point where they were more interested in playing with their friends than what mom was doing, I felt it was time for me to take back some time for myself.”
The extensive training program at Keller Williams was a godsend for brand-new agents like herself; it offered not only the structure she needed but a solid foundation for building a business in real estate.
Boehm’s design experience, she says, “ended up transferring very well to real estate because it’s a high-end product and you’re having to get into those details. … I have a stager that I work with as well, but I’m able to do at least the first layer of simple things with decluttering, tidying up things, editing out what you don’t need. I’m consulting about what they can do to prepare, because that preparation, especially with listings, is huge if they’re going to try to get top dollar.”
Although she enjoyed her job at Keller Williams, she says, the entrepreneurial itch never went away. So in 2018 she joined Real Estate Partners and went solo. “It felt amazing, but also really, really intimidating. I needed a challenge. I needed something that felt like a big move.
“It felt right immediately.”
Her business has steadily grown every year, and the projects have gotten bigger, with the pandemic only accelerating her sales. “When COVID came, I started writing contracts unlike anything I’d ever learned in the beginning. What I thought was going to be a plummeting market ended up being an escalating market. I had to learn new tricks for contracts, how to be more competitive on paper. I just had to dig in and get more education and find mentors that could help.”
Last year was her best, she says. “The numbers in 2022 were phenomenal,” she says. “This was one of those years where the stars sort of lined up for me. I feel like the right clients came along at the right time.”
The sales, of course, didn’t just fall into her lap. “It was a very competitive year, because every house had three or four offers on it,” she notes. “So you had to really know how to write contracts well and stand out.”
A Signal Mountain resident, Boehm sells properties from Red Bank to Ooltewah but tends to do the most business in her own backyard. Tenacious and dedicated, she delights in helping people, she says, and doesn’t mind putting in the extra time that kind of attention requires. “You have to want to add a lot of value to the relationship. I have a service heart anyway and I’m a good listener. I try to approach people like they’re my family members.”
She’s even been known to bind a real estate contract on Christmas Day. “It’s not about you,” she says. “It’s about your client and trying to make sure that you’re hitting whatever their goals are.”
While helping one couple search for their dream home on Signal Mountain, Boehm had to deftly maneuver around their price point and a lack of availability for the type of house they were shopping for. “We really had to dig,” she says. “We lost the first one, but I found one off market just kind of beating the bushes and talking to people, that they fell in love with, a beautiful cottage right near the golf course. And they were thrilled. I feel like that was a good success story. We were able to find them something they liked better but beat the competition doing it.”
Despite her busy 7-day-a-week work schedule, Boehm still spends as much time as possible with her 19-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. Cooking “decompresses” her, and gardening is grounding and cathartic – a healthy counterbalance to her fast-paced career.
Real estate, she points out, is “almost like playing a strategy game and you just have to be really good at that. It’s also a people game. I don’t get bored. I wear a lot of different hats and I get to do a lot of different things. And I think that’s what keeps me intrigued and challenged and wanting to keep growing and doing more.”
After all these years, Boehm has no regrets about not living in France, scouring the countryside for chic finds. “Well, that would have been cool, too,” she adds. “Maybe next time around.”