Title firm employee now owner
After her employer shuts the doors, woman opens one and she's the boss.
Brian J. O'Connor / The Detroit News
Remember that wise old saying, "When one door closes, another opens?" Well, Kate McCarty lived it.
The 52-year-old Livonia women first found herself on the wrong side of that closing door in 1994, when she faced the world as a divorced mother looking for a way beyond her $6-an-hour job.
Ten years later, after she'd built a career in real estate, the doors slammed again -- literally -- when the title company she worked for closed down with no warning.
"On a Friday afternoon, I was told I no longer had a job," McCarty says. "I had built the business and worked over five years to make money for everyone but myself."
She used her car as her office for that weekend. By Monday morning, she was back in business, and taking the first steps toward building her own successful real estate title operation. McCarty's Embassy Title Agency has been operating for two years in Livonia, despite the local downturn in the real estate market.
Looking back, she says, "It really was a case of, hey, Kate -- sink or swim."
In the pre-computer age, she typed up spec sheets for projects and handled other paperwork chores. After marriage and two kids, McCarty went back to work, first for a credit bureau, then a mortgage firm and a real estate company, before getting divorced in 1994.
"I was making six bucks an hour as a secretary in a real estate office," she says.
Knowing she would have to do better as a single mother, McCarty set out to learn the title insurance business, which involves making sure properties being sold are free and clear, and handling many of the details of real estate closings. McCarty moved from job to job, learning as she went along.
"I just worked my way through that decade," she says. "Every step I took was a step higher, jumping from company to company in the title industry. That's the school of life: You're thrown into the lion's den and you're either going to survive or not."
"I brought all my business with me. I ran the company and I built the business," she says. "Then in 2004, they closed the doors. On Friday afternoon, they came and said, 'The doors are shut.' Everything I built was gone, and I was devastated."
Through a friend, McCarty found another agent willing to let her work under his agency's license. But she didn't come on board as an employee. Instead, thanks to her large book of business, McCarty engineered a deal to work as an independent contractor who would split the proceeds of her work evenly with the agency owner.
"Everybody else was like a vulture," she says. "I probably got phone calls for a month after the old place closed. Everybody wanted me to be their employee. But I wasn't going to go back and make money for someone else again."
And, of course, there was plenty of red tape.
"It was hard, of course," she says. "Just going through the regulatory procedures, getting underwriting, getting the building and everything. But because of what I had learned through years, it wasn't as hard as would be expected. That's why it only took six months."
"The people who work for me have just as much experience as me," McCarty says. "I had good people with knowledge. That's why I'm open in this economy. Everybody always says, 'I can't believe you're open,' and I say, 'Hey, the only way for me is up.' "
Besides hiring good people, McCarty stresses the importance of building on a good reputation.
"That's what success is," McCarty says. "First show that you're treating people well, then you're going to make your money afterwards."
But her strongest advice is not to be afraid of taking a risk
"Each individual is going to have their own fears, because every business is different," she says. "My thing is, if you're thinking about it, then you've got to do it before something happens and your pins are all knocked down. Otherwise, you're going to wind up like I did. The doors close and it's, 'Whoa, baby, I gotta do something!' "
You can reach Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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