Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, August 10, 2018

Avoiding real estate train wrecks

Focus is the key for Jooma as she works to keep her new team on the right track

Photograph by David Laprad Realtor Kelly Jooma has more on her mind than real estate. She has a 12-acre farm with several retired horses. - David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Realtor Kelly Jooma’s day begins at 5 a.m. with a peaceful stroll from her house to her working farm.

The 12-acre grassy sprawl is quiet at that time, save for the clucking of a few hens and the chattering of her Guineafowl, Boy, who’s usually hungry.

Mattie, a fluffy white Pyrenee, will quietly appear alongside Jooma at some point along the way. As the pair approaches the barn, Jooma will be greeted by a snort or two from one her horses.

Maybe Bit, a brown and white quarter horse, will see her first, or perhaps Bit’s daughter, Kit, a mixed Arabian, will beat her mother to the punch.

Other horses will rouse over the next few moments, including Vegas, a retired Clydesdale that used to pull the buggy at the Tennessee Aquarium, Stanley, a 41-year-old hunter-jumper from Florida, and two miniature horses.

Dressed in blue jeans and muck boots, Jooma will carefully inspect her aging stable, looking for anything she’ll need to tend to.

It’s work because it must be done, but it’s also quality time with family. Jooma’s smart phone is still silent, and the many moving parts that make up the day ahead of her have not yet begun to churn, giving her a brief span of time for easing into the day.

It’s just Jooma and her horses.

By 7:30 a.m., though, Jooma has shed her farm clothes, slipped on her professional persona and is off to the races.

Pressure cooker

The first thing Jooma, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices J Douglas Properties, sees when she strides into her office is the large dry erase board that’s leaning against the left wall.

The board contains three lists, arranged in neat, handprinted rows: listings; upcoming listings; and closings. There are currently dozens of addresses on the board, which stands as a visual testament to the hard work of Jooma and her team.

“Everything today is on computers, but I need to lay my eyeballs on success,” she says, her buoyant Southern accent infusing her words with charm. “We hit 34 listings at one time, which was a record for us. It was only for a day, though, because six of them fell under contract.”

Jooma has breezed past a startling fact as casually as one of her horses might swipe its tail at a fly: six of her listings fell under contract in one day.

Suddenly, the reason for the rest of the women in the room becomes clear: Jooma has built a bustling real estate business.

She’s only scratched the surface of the complexity of what she orchestrated, though. Each of those six listings was intimately tied to another deal, with the closing of one being contingent on the closing of another.

It’s all in a day’s work – or insanity, she says.

“We’ll start working with a buyer who has a house to sell, but until we find a house they want to buy, they’re not going to put theirs up for sale,” Jooma says. “They wouldn’t have anywhere to go. So, a lot of the contracts we’re writing right now are contingent upon the closing of another house.

“That’s scary. Just in the last week, we put six of our clients’ houses on the market after we put another house under contract.”

Jooma calls these chained deals “trains.” Experience has taught her to watch them with a careful eye.

“A couple years ago in Cleveland, I had assembled a big train, and everyone’s stuff was either in storage or on a truck. One day before closing, it fell apart,” she remembers. “Someone went against our advice, and the entire thing derailed. We found ourselves with six families that had packed and lined up movers. It was devastating.”

Jooma emerged from the wreckage understanding that no situation is perfect and has since learned to proceed with caution.

“I look at who my lenders are and how much faith I have in them,” she says. “And I try to use the same title company for everyone because I want that process to go smoothly, too.”

With Jooma at the controls, things usually stay on track. She hopes this will be the case with a train she’s currently assembled and that’s about to pull out of the station.

“I have a buyer who’s buying a house we listed and selling their house. We brought in another one of our buyers to buy their home, and one can’t close without the other,” she explains. “On Aug. 15, everyone is going to start closing these houses at 9 a.m.”

While stressful, this is where real estate is, Jooma says.

The biggest challenge in the current market, she says, is keeping buyers calm. “I can write contracts all day long, but when I ask my buyers to go through that process four or five times, they start to get frustrated,” she says.

“At the same time, that teaches them to make a good offer when they finally find a house they want. I’ve seen houses go four or five thousand dollars over list price. It literally turns into a bidding war.”

A new home

Given all that’s on her plate, Jooma is grateful for her team, which includes eight buyer’s agents, two administrative assistants and one virtual assistant. She started assembling the group, which she dubbed The Jooma Team, in 2017 after eight years of working on her own.

“I’m married to a builder and am his exclusive listing agent. As his business grew, I couldn’t keep up, so I started a team,” Jooma explains.

Jooma brought on one buyer’s agent, thinking that would lighten her load. But the floodgates opened and the waters that rushed through them were threatening to carry her away.

“Past clients were coming back, they were referring their friends to me and I was picking up more builders,” she says. “I was starting work at 5 a.m. and stopping at 10 p.m., and I needed more help.”

Before long, Jooma brought on an administrative assistant, and then started adding buyer’s agents like clockwork as her business continued to swell.

The numbers tell the same story. Although Jooma doesn’t provide specific figures, she does say she did as much volume during the first four months of 2018 as she did during all of 2017.

Jooma expects this trend will continue, so she’ll be adding more team members as the market dictates. “I’m going to let my business continue to grow. I don’t think there are limits; I want to see how far we can take it,” she says.

“It’s not about the money; it’s about feeling proud of myself and being successful. It’s about going home with a full heart after I leave work.”

While Jooma was adjusting to the upswing in volume earlier this year, she also moved her business from Keller Williams Realty Chattanooga to J Douglas Properties. She says she made the switch after making a commitment to pursue more education in real estate.

As Jooma traveled to conferences and training seminars, she kept running into Doug Edrington, who was in the process of launching J Douglas Properties. The more they talked, she says, the more she realized she was looking at a growth opportunity.

Leaving wasn’t easy, though, as Jooma liked Keller Williams. She also describes herself as a “planted soul.”

“I don’t do change. In the ‘80s, I was with the same company as it filed bankruptcy several times before closing the doors,” she says. “Leaving Keller Williams and coming here was like jumping off a cliff, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I had reached a point where, even with my team growing, I didn’t know where I was going.”

Instead of traveling to seminars, Jooma now receives mentoring directly from Edrington during one-on-one weekly meetings. The knowledge she’s gained from these sessions has not only helped to refine her business processes, it’s enabled her to crystallize her vision for The Jooma Team.

“Doug’s expectations became mine and then became my team’s,” Jooma says. “Now I have direction and I know what I’m doing. I’m excited to be here.”

The early days

Jooma was in retail when she had her first child and quit working to be a stay-at-home mother. She and her husband, Mark, co-owner of K&M Homes, had three children three years apart. When their youngest was 12, the economy crashed, which pushed the family’s financial stability to the edge of a cliff.

“My husband was sitting on eight houses he had built, and we were wondering what if we going to lose everything. So, I put together a plan and went to work,” Jooma says.

Jooma rented each of her husband’s houses to someone who had lost a home. By giving these victims of the downturn a newly built house in which to live, Jooma was able to avoid becoming a victim herself.

When the economy rebounded, Jooma was hooked. “I came into real estate out of necessity when things were bad, and then I fell in love with what I was doing,” she says.

Jooma took her first step toward expanding her business beyond her husband’s homes while hosting an open house. As a pair of first-time buyers toured the house, they decided they liked Jooma and asked her to be their agent.

“They told me was I was an old Southern gal,” Jooma laughs. “I took them to East Brainerd and sold them a home that wasn’t my husband’s. It was magical.”

Like the early days of building her team, Jooma’s initial foray into the real estate business arose out of need instead of a well-conceived plan, but that’s who she is.

“I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-britches girl, and I usually land somewhere good,” she says. “I’ve fallen on my knees, but then I stood up and went on.”

Back on the farm

Jooma’s days usually end where they began: on her farm.

She laughs again as she thinks about the reaction most people have to her fam life. “They usually look at me in disbelief and go, ‘What?’” Jooma says, drawing out the “what” to turn it into an exclamation of surprise. “I tell them I just dress fancy for work.”

Jooma can trace the evolution of her farm to buying a fish for her children. A hamster came next, then a Guinea pig, and then a rabbit. Then one day, her daughter asked for a ferret, which Jooma said would stink up a house.

“When Mark and I said no, she turned to my husband and said, ‘Daddy, I want a horse.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Find her a horse,’” Jooma recalls.

Jooma was a city girl who grew up Memphis, so there are no horses in her blood. But when she and her family traveled to a farm and met Bit, it was love at first sight.

Although Jooma thought the quarter horse was out of their price range, her husband surprised her by producing the extra cash he’d set aside for that very eventuality.

Four months later, Bit gave birth to Kit. “Horse owners will never tell you when a mare is pregnant,” Jooma says, smiling. But that’s OK; she fell in love with the baby, too.

In the years that followed, Jooma’s children began training and showing the horses. When they came off the show, Jooma learned what happens to horses after they have won their ribbons and earned their money – and her heart broke.

“You’re not cared for anymore,” she says. “You’re not loved after you no longer serve a purpose.”

But Jooma loves them. “They’re all my sweet loves,” she says. “And they’re spoiled rotten to a horse.”

None of the horses work; Jooma simply takes care of them. “They wouldn’t be around if they weren’t here,” she says. “Once they retire, people think they’re not worth anything.”

Jooma has a heart for animals, especially the aging and homeless ones. Her second Pyrenee, Murphy, is 17, and offers little in the way of excitement, but Jooma loves him as much as Mattie. She adopted them both from McKamey Animal Center and gave them a home and a purpose.

“They made sure coyotes didn’t come onto the farm and hurt the chickens,” she says.

Maintaining the farm is hard work. There are stalls to muck, horses to feed and water, manure to spread across two pastures and plenty more.

Jooma is also worried about Stanley, who’s looking thin. “We put him in a stall and feed him several times a day,” she says. “If we don’t put some weight on him, he won’t survive the winter.”

But Jooma doesn’t mind the added responsibility. It’s her “me time.” It grounds her, recharges her batteries and prepares her to build trains.