Clayton High School (CHS) graduate Kelly Mittelman Hager is building a team that will help her capitalize on what she thinks is the start of the turnaround for real estate.
"The real estate market is getting incredibly hot," Hager said. "And I know that that is a little bit different than what has been reported."
Hager, 39, has strong family ties to Clayton and its business community. Now, the budding entrepreneur has overcome personal adversity and is making a name for herself in the St. Louis real estate market.
She founded Chesterfield-based The Kelly Hager Group in March 2005. Last year, the company performed $12.2 million in real estate transactions. She's also part-owner of two Keller Williams real estate offices, one in St. Charles and the other in Chesterfield.
From Wydown resident to real-estate entrepreneur
Hager grew up off of Wydown Boulevard. She attended Wydown Middle School and CHS. Her parents owned and operated Clayton's Library Ltd. bookstore, which operated at 7700 Forsyth Blvd. The store has since closed.
The business served as an integral part of the city, she said, and she loved growing up in a smaller community where residents knew one another.
After graduating from high school in 1990, she attended Lake Forest College near Chicago and finished her education at Maryville University, where she earned a degree in political science and pre-law.
In 1998, she moved to Los Angeles, CA. She spent that year and the next living on the West Coast with stints in Australia. She later returned to the West Coast, where her parents had retired. But she loved St. Louis and wanted to settle and start a family.
She returned in 2000.
"This is what I know," she said. She lives in Dardenne Prairie but plans to soon move farther east into St. Louis County.
In St. Louis, she got a job with Verizon Wireless and worked through the ranks to become a major account manager, handling clients such as Ameren, the Missouri State High Patrol and Laclede Gas Company. She left Verizon to work at other companies.
After five years, Hager realized she wanted to work for herself, and real estate held a special attraction.
Her grandfather worked in the market; one of her uncles, a Frontenac resident, is involved in commercial real estate; and her parents bought investment property.
Hager founded The Kelly Hager Group in 2005. In 2008, she joined Keller Williams Realty.
"I really learned a ton about business development," said Hager, describing the training offered by Keller Williams.
But two years after expanding her work in real estate, she was struck with a life-threatening emergency.
The turning point
In July 2010, a virus caused her to go into a coma. She was placed on a ventilator. Doctors did not think she would survive.
She became unable to see or walk, experienced hair loss and went through extensive therapy.
But she managed to recover.
The next year, Hager said, she got very focused on the things that were most important to her—her son, her colleagues and her business.
"When I turned that corner and understood, 'Oh my gosh, the world is just in front of me, and I love what I get to do every day,'" Hager said, "that was really the a-ha moment."
Building a company
Hager continues to build her own company's staff. She has between 10 and 15 team members and is looking to grow to 30 by the end of the year.
She wants her staff to be trained so they are qualified to work with clients and knowledgeable about their respective neighborhoods. Having a large staff will enable greater analysis of available properties as compared to analysis that can be completed by a single agent.
With the housing market looking to improve, Hager thinks people who have been holding out on buying a house should act before prices rise too high. Interest rates are low—"It's so close to free money that it's just obscene," she said—and tax benefits are "tremendous."
Hager said while most real estate agents might complete 12 deals per year, she predicts that number will rise to between 18 and 24 this year.