Real property, nonessential? Realcomp CEO Karen Kage disagrees
Realcomp II Limited: Karen Kage, the CEO of Realcomp II Limited, still makes no forecasts after 42 years in the real estate business. Who would have thought what happened after the Great Recession? And how could she have anticipated the effects of a pandemic on the housing market? Kage, who has worked for the Farmington Hills-based multiple listing service since its inception in 1993, has been CEO since 1997. Although the coronavirus-induced economic downturn brought a number of challenges – including a sharp drop in the number of real estate agents – she said Realcomp’s 18,000 customers are now the most the service has ever had.
Can you explain to me what the coronavirus did to the industry?
March 2020 we had to close our doors here. … Later that month the entire state was closed and real estate was deemed unnecessary. So there was no real estate brokerage. Our customers were completely out of business.
How long did it take?
I think it was May 6th that we were allowed to reopen. But there were a lot of limitations. … We had to inform our subscribers very carefully about these restrictions. And at some point these were gradually removed. And it was like there was this pent-up desire to buy houses. And when it was all, OK, you can now show real estate and you can now sell real estate, it went like crazy. … And it stayed crazy. … We are finally seeing things – I don’t really say slow. Maybe just a little. We’re getting more offers – not many, but more new offers. The days in the market are just insanely low. This is usually a time of year when things slow down for us. Not so much last year. This year I think it’s going to return to a more normal year and we’re seeing things weaken a little.
Was it ever a fight?
It was always a struggle. … people are emotional. It is difficult. You’d have to be a robot not to care. It was hard, it was very hard.
What did you think when you were told that real estate is immaterial?
Well, of course I disagreed. Because I think it’s essential. They speak of people’s houses. I knew we had to follow the rules. So we did everything we could to hold the line and I think that helped us a lot. We had a lot of people who went to our state government and said, “That’s why we think it’s important. And we followed all of your rules and we did everything and we will continue to follow them, we carry the disinfectant around, whatever you have to do from us. ‘ And I think that helped. Nobody wants to be labeled immaterial, I mean my gosh.
Can you tell me something about Realcomp’s values?
I’ve been part of a leadership group called C12 for 15 years, which is made up of different types of business owners and CEOs from all types of industries. We meet once a month and talk about how we run our businesses, our business with Christian foundations, Christian integrity and ethics and that is very important to me. … you work really hard to build that culture of how you treat people the way you would like to be treated.
Are there other ways C12 is driving the business?
I think it’s just all we do. I just try to live these values every day. Be friendly and honest and be there for people. I hope it’s all my life.
Can you tell me something about your family and how it fits in with it?
My daughter calls Realcomp her little brother. My family always comes first. I try to keep business and family separate just because I don’t want business to disturb my family because my family comes first. Well, first God, then the family, then the work, these are the rules. … I want them to see that you have to be dedicated and that your job is important, but it is not your life. Your job is not your life. And you have to keep that perspective or your family will suffer.
How easy is it to keep this perspective?
It’s not easy at all. When you are the breadwinner and you know that you have to do what you need to do to support your family, you have to make some tough choices, some tough choices. … It can be difficult. It was a constant struggle.
I understand that when you are not at work you are a great reader.
I am a huge Michael Connelly fan. My favorite books are the CIA, espionage, and detective books.
What do you like about them
I like intrigues, I like to find out. And I just enjoy the secret of it, the stories of it. And Fredrik Backmann. I love his books. I read to be entertained. I like it as an escape from the day.
I understand that you write a little too.
My motto is that there is a song for everything, and if there isn’t one, I’ll invent one. … When we had our annual work meetings, I would write a poem about the year. Or sometimes I would write the poem about each employee. Each stanza would be specific to that employee. And it was always great fun to read. … At the end of the year, I write a separate note for each employee to say that I appreciate that about you this year. You really did everything here and I am so grateful to you. … Everyone needs to know that they are valued. We all want to know.
You mentioned earlier that you are frustrated with the perception of the Detroit housing market.
When someone hears that one negative thing, they just stick with it. I don’t even want to say it out loud because I don’t want people to think about it again. But we had a very difficult time when this recession was ongoing, and Detroit had an even worse reputation at the time. … I’ve been to national conventions and I’ve had people talking about it and giggling about it and I always think, why do you think it’s funny? It’s not funny. You know, I’ve lived in Michigan all my life and I’m proud to live here. And we’ve made tremendous strides on our comeback. And it can be very hurtful.
Do you feel that your perception has changed?
I think a little. But it’s been around for so long that it will be difficult to get rid of it completely.