Kath Hammerseng has never been afraid of change — or a career challenge.
As a kid she sold candy in school, started a lucrative babysitting business and in the 1970s she “got some excellent customer service training at McDonald’s,” she said.
In the early 1980s she ran a disc jockey company, wrote curriculum for a Montessori-based preschool program and taught adult education and public speaking. In the mid-1990s, she got into the real estate business, which she did while devoting two decades as a volunteer firefighter before retiring as a lieutenant in 2013.
Today, she’s running a team of four agents that includes her son, and is now in the first weeks of her yearlong term as president of the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR).
Q: Where have you found the time for all those careers?
A: If you add up all the years, I am about 112 years old. There is a lot of overlap and, until the past five years, I have never done just one thing at a time going back to about 12 years old. Hopefully, this practice will serve me well at MAAR.
Q: Why real estate?
A: I initially looked at real estate to invest and thought getting my license would be a good way to do that. After having purchased two homes and selling one before getting in the business, the idea of helping others navigate the process was very appealing. First-time home buyers are still some of my favorite clients.
Q: How did that job/those jobs prepare you for a career in real estate?
A: Real estate is a small business, so the business side is very familiar. Since my background is business and much of that work had to do with education, that is my style as a Realtor. My job is to educate my clients so they can make good decisions for themselves and their families, and then help them navigate this very complicated process.
Q: Are there any ways that being a firefighter is like being a real estate agent?
A: Actually there are a lot of similarities. In both real estate and firefighting, when the call comes, you drop everything and respond. Both myself and my family got used to my needing to step away from dinners or skip outings to run to a fire call, go show a house or take a quick call. In both situations, you have the opportunity to be there for people during a very stressful time, and you are lucky enough to be in a position to be their hero every now and then. That is a pretty rewarding experience.
Q: What are your top three priorities this year at MAAR?
A: I hope to build on work that our previous leadership so gracefully left us. This year we will grow as a resource for our members, communities and homeowners by enhancing our advocacy efforts.
This will include a first-ever Economic Housing Summit, featuring Lawrence Yun, chief economist and senior vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors, as well as our own director of research and economics, David Arbit.
Members, civic leaders and community partners will be invited to hear from us on the state of housing, and projections for the future. It is initiatives such as these that will strengthen our position as the industry leaders and the go-to resource for real estate data.
We are also focused on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and efforts to help our leadership, membership and homeownership reflect our greater communities.
Our education and member engagement is creating demand for more training, meeting and staff space. This year we are working on space and use studies and our board is creating reserves for the day when our building space is no longer sufficient.
Q: Do you think that underwriting standards are now too stringent?
A: I think the pendulum might have swung a little bit far. … It puts a few more wrenches in the process, and makes the process a bit more complicated. I have mixed feelings if that’s beneficial or not.
Q: What keeps you awake at night?
A. Worry that over-automation will take the experience out of buying and selling homes. Technology has done great things for this industry in making the process more efficient and allowing consumers to take part in their process more than ever, but I don’t recommend trying to do it all online.
It is easy to get way into it before you realize just how complicated the process and forms can be to navigate. If you get too far, you may lose the opportunity to secure someone to protect your interests.
Q: With median house prices at a new high, do you have any concerns about the risk of another price bubble?
A: While prices are at an all-time high, they are rising at a more moderate pace compared to what we were seeing back in 2005 and 2006. We have better regulation in place in lending and appraisal practices to keep a check on this as well.
Most importantly, though, we are currently on a trajectory of steady home value increase that goes back to the 1960s. So home values are not, by that measure, overinflated the way they were in 2005 when they spiked way off of this same trajectory.