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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, January 5, 2018

Realtor Cooper cuts a bigger ‘piece of the pie’




Kelly Cooper has never known her purpose in life, but says she believes everything happens for a reason. This conviction has led her down different paths and helped her experience things she would have missed had she stuck to a master plan.

Cooper, 41, points to her career as a Realtor in Chattanooga as an example of how this principle has worked in her life.

Cooper was fresh out of college in 2004 and working at a boutique shoe store on the North Shore. Although the real estate market was booming, she had discarded the notion of becoming a Realtor, saying she believed it would be a difficult line of work to enter and that relying solely on commissions would be a risky way for her to live.

The husband of the owner of the shoe store, Realtor Scott Gossett, saw potential where Cooper did not. When he approached her about becoming an agent at his real estate firm, The Professional Group, her thinking shifted.

“I was living and working on the North Shore and was caught up in the growth there,” she explains. “It sounded like a great opportunity, so I took the leap.”

Cooper took to real estate like a duck takes to water, and six months later, The Professional Group offered her a job selling new construction in Greenville, South Carolina.

Just like that, Cooper was packing her bags and moving. “The idea of watching new buildings go up and seeing master-planned neighborhoods take shape was exciting,” she says. “And, I was going to be working on site, not driving clients around. It sounded fantastic.”

It was fantastic. Cooper did well enough that The Professional Group moved her to another up-and-coming project in Atlanta a year later. This led to a door opening at a leading national builder, McCar Homes. She stepped through it and continued to thrive.

Then the market face-planted. Cooper started to feel the pinch in 2009, around the time her sales manager said she believed the crash had bypassed Atlanta. It simply hadn’t arrived in full force yet, and McCar soon closed its doors.

Cooper switched to survival mode and began applying for any and every kind of job. There was just one problem: she was competing against thousands of former housing industry colleagues who were out of work, too.

“I couldn’t get a job waiting tables because every former lender, Realtor and builder was vying for the same spot,” she recalls.

As Cooper watched her savings shrink, she made a tough decision: it was time to go home.

Cooper didn’t simply return to Hixson, where she grew up; she went back to the house in which her parents raised her as an only child. Fortunately, they hadn’t converted her old bedroom into something else.

Once settled in, Cooper resumed her job search. Surprisingly, she didn’t pursue residential real estate. “I believed my success had come from new construction, so I never even considered listing and selling houses,” she points out. “I thought I might return to Atlanta after the market improved, or that my real estate career was over.”

Cooper’s days in real estate were not over, although she was unaware of this as she took an entry level position at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. She started to get an inkling, though, as her days working in a cubicle seemed to grow longer and real estate started to bounce back in Chattanooga. Before long, her friends in the industry were encouraging her to return.

“There was very little new construction taking place in Chattanooga, so I was moving on,” Cooper adds. “Then I realized I couldn’t spend one more second in a cubicle.”

Cooper returned to the realm of real estate in January 2015. She chose Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty as her professional home due to the company’s strong presence in Chattanooga and elsewhere, and to be able to take advantage of the training the company offers its agents.

Since her comeback, Cooper has doubled her sales every year. This culminated in $7 million in sales in 2017. Her target for 2018 is to double her take to $14 million. Cooper admits it’s an ambitious goal, but she has confidence in herself and the marketing systems she’s put in place. These include grassroots social media campaigns, generating pre-marketing buzz and making her listings shine with home staging and professional photography.

Cooper also uses other techniques she declines to reveal. Whatever they are, they’re working. Her average days on market in 2017 was 10 (one luxury listing went under contract for the asking price in one day) and more and more of her clients are either returning customers or referrals.

“Getting your piece of the pie is challenging because everyone knows a dozen Realtors,” Cooper says. “So, you’re always competing to stand out, and that takes doing things differently than everyone else.”

Cooper, who operates under the Kelly Cooper Homes brand (www.kellycooperhomes.com), has cut a big enough piece of pie for herself that she’s hired a transaction coordinator. In 2018, she plans to bring on a full-time administrative assistant. “I need someone to handle the things I don’t have time to do when I’m showing homes, acquiring new listings, or negotiating deals,” she explains.

Cooper’s comeback has hit a few bumps as she’s learned the ins and outs of a complex industry (she confesses to being unaware on one occasion that a tenant in a leased building would not be moving out once her clients bought the place, but that by law, the lease would remain intact), but as someone who sees the sunlight behind every cloud, she’s learned her lessons and moved forward.

“These things season you and teach you how to either address those problems or prevent them altogether,” she acknowledges.

With each obstacle overcome and goal achieved, Cooper’s love for her work has grown. Plus, she’s seeing the diverse pieces of her real estate career come together in a purposeful way.

“I’ll draw on my knowledge of new construction to help someone who’s building a custom home and then shift gears to guiding first-time home buyers through the process of purchasing an older home,” she says. “I love helping people achieve their goals.”

As Cooper considers where she is today, she can’t help but think about where she began and how she couldn’t have predicted what followed.

After graduating from high school in Hixson, Cooper moved to Knoxville to take classes at the University of Tennessee. She started with a semblance of a plan – pre-med – but biology and chemistry cured her of that impulse. Instead of choosing a new path of study that would prepare her for a specific career, Cooper took the classes she found interesting, including psychology, sociology and anthropology.

“I didn’t graduate from high school thinking, ‘This is my passion and this is what I’m going to be when I grow up,’” she says. “I have friends who are like that and happy in their careers. But I’ve never that kind of person. I’m thankful for that because it’s led me down different paths to experience different things.”

Cooper also became a Lady Vol as a member of the crew, or rowing, team. She smiles as she remembers the daily 5 a.m. practices at the boathouse and weight training three days a week. “I loved being on the water, and I loved the competition. I also loved being treated like a VIP on campus,” she says, laughing.

Cooper excelled at rowing, lettering in the sport and earning a scholarship that helped to pay for her education. Today, she attempts to return each year for the Letterman’s Weekend at UT, where “Kelly Cooper” is inscribed on the wall containing the names of every UT athlete who has lettered in a sport.

Cooper graduated from UT with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology in 2000 and returned to Chattanooga. She flirted with the idea of going to law school – to the point of taking the LSAT – but during a brief stint working at a local firm learned the idea of practicing law was more exciting to her than actually doing it.

From there, Cooper went to work at the shoe store on the North Shore, where her boss’s husband saw a future Realtor in her. “Everything happens for a reason,” Cooper says, laughing.

Cooper laughs a lot, and when she isn’t laughing, she’s either smiling or close to it. Although real estate consumes her life – she’s never married or had children – she loves her work and the people it brings her way.

If there’s one thing that diminishes Cooper’s smile, it’s the thought of another market crash.

The expression on her face is not one of worry or concern, though; it’s one of determination. Although Cooper has been content to allow her circumstances to reveal her purpose in life, she will never allow herself to be caught off guard again. Instead, she’s keeping one eye on the future and planning accordingly.

“Our current boom cannot and will not last forever,” she notes. “But experience and maturity have taught me that I can plan for the future and adjust my business as needed.

“I don’t see another major crash happening in our lifetime, but there will be peaks and valleys, and if I have a strong enough client base and maintain a good network of Realtors, mortgage professionals and financial advisors, I’ll know what’s coming and be able to prepare.

“I don’t ever want to find myself in the place I was when I left Atlanta.”

Cooper attends to these concerns but doesn’t dwell on them. Instead, she wakes up each day excited about where life has led her and believing in the wonderful, mysterious purpose behind it all.