Stephanie Kohl hated sales: The artifice, the brown-nosing, the quotas.
So real estate might seem like an odd career choice.
And yet, two years after launching Kohl Realty as a full-time business, she’s loving her life.
“A lot of people look at real estate as being a sales industry, and I don’t,” she said. “I look at it as more of a customer service. … I don’t have to convince somebody that they want to buy or sell a house. They already know that. They’re coming to me to help them do it and help them do it in a smart way.”
It took a while for Kohl to find her passion.
After growing up in the Milwaukee suburb of Elm Grove, she moved here in 2002 to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She followed that with a culinary program at Madison College, where she met her husband, Dustin.
“I think what we bonded over is we were in culinary school and neither of us wanted to be chefs,” Kohl laughed.
She worked in restaurants for a while, then began an eight-year stint in sales for a wine and spirits distributor — a job she hated, for a company she liked.
In the meantime, her husband went back to school for engineering, and the couple had two children – -Hazel, now 4; and Henry, 3.
“But then, when it was kind of my chance, my husband finished school, he got his solid job that he’s doing now, I was, like, “Now’s my chance! What am I going to do?” she said.
A realtor friend suggested a real-estate business, Kohl researched the industry, and loved it.
So she (surreptitiously) prepared for a career change — getting her real estate license, getting a logo, setting up a website — all while sticking with her sales job.
“It was scary to leave something that was so steady and that I’d had for so long, the paycheck was steady. I knew how to do it. I knew everybody, had worked to a management level. It was scary to up and go,” Kohl said. “So I wanted to make sure I had everything established, I had everything how I wanted, how I wanted my image to go.”
Running a one-woman real estate business fits Kohl’s personality — she always liked the business classes best — and it fits her life.
Hazel and Henry are in child-care full-time from January to June (the busy real estate season), and then Kohl keeps them home part-time during the second half of the year.
She particularly loves that her “down time” begins in October/November, just in time for the holidays.
And she’s learning to accept the ebb-and-flow of the real estate business.
“(My realtor friend) says every single winter you get, like, a little bit of an anxiety attack … You start doing all these ‘what if’s’: ‘What if I get zero clients next year? What if … .’ You just don’t know. And I think everyone goes through that.”
That stress, however, is offset by other little moments.
Like, for instance, seeing her first client rave on Facebook about loving her house and posting pictures of the fun little home projects she’s doing.
“And that’s, like, the biggest success,” Kohl said. “If someone buys a house and then the next month they’re, like, ‘I hate this thing,’ that would be horrible. That’s what I’m trying to prevent happening. It’s never happened (to me), but that would be terrible, right? For them, and I would feel that, too.”