Blaine County Beacon: Taking a Leap of Faith Requires Belief and a Fundamental Trust
August 26, 2020
Living the life you want often means making some big changes. For Cassie Johnson, that meant a change of career. Regardless of how outside the boundaries of reason others thought her decision to give up a steady paycheck and trade it for a commission-based income sounded, Johnson trusted in the vision of who, what, and where she wanted to be in the future and took the leap to sell real estate full time.
Last August, Johnson was taking online classes through UM-Western and teaching K-2 students at Zurich Elementary School. She was on a path to becoming certified as a teacher, believing that working with young people was meant to be her purpose. Despite the passion she had for her students and the joy they brought her, something was missing in her life.
Johnson already had a Bachelor's Degree in Kinesiology (Exercise Science) that she wasn't directly applying to a career and she was about to abandon another. Backing her decision, she had Michael Winchell, owner and broker for the Havre-based Lodestar Land and Home Real Estate Agency who believed in her. Winchell noticed how quickly Johnson caught on to the sales process when Lodestar was arranging to sell her family's ranch south of Cleveland on Lone Tree Bench in the spring of 2019. He noted her enthusiasm and her approachability, calling her a natural, which is in part true since Johnson grew up on real estate stories.
"My grandpa Kirkendall, who passed away four years ago, owned and operated a real estate business in Iowa for over thirty years. He taught me so many core values, like 'Always be honest in your dealings with people' and 'You have to show up when people need you.'
"He also told stories of showing people houses in the middle of the night-one time even at 3:00 a.m.-because a client's job kept him or her from looking at more traditional times and Grandpa was the only agent willing to be that flexible. He received the Governor's Leadership Award three times in his life, and I always looked up to him as someone I wanted to strive to be like as an adult."
To honor his memory and to remind her of his lessons, Johnson hung one of her grandfather's signs on her office wall that reads: "Offered by Kirkendall Real Estate; Independence, Iowa."
In addition to her grandfather's inspiration, Winchell kept encouraging her. So, Johnson enrolled in and paid for an eight-day pre-licensing course and passed the course's final exam. Winchell began expressing a desire to open a branch in Chinook and cajoled Johnson to be the area agent. He used projections, past sales, and compliments about her sales ability to coax her, so she started to work in real estate last August as a side job along with her teaching position.
The more she engaged with the work, the more she found that it gave her immense satisfaction. Like a lodestar-some force was guiding the course of her life, but when she sat for the state and national real estate licensing exams, she didn't pass. Knowing the information but also recognizing her own test-taker's anxiety and her tendency to psych herself out with things like the unfamiliar computerized format and the on-screen clock distracting her with its ticking away at her time, Johnson was undeterred and signed up to take the test again. The results were the same.
After having a minor meltdown in the test center parking lot, cursing her wasted investment and convinced she was on the wrong career path, Johnson ordered Chinese takeout. The fortune tucked inside her cookie read: "You're going to be unusually successful in business."
"How's that for a God-link? I took that as a sign and combined that prediction with my mom's mantra that women can do anything in the business world as long as they're willing to work hard and adhere to a code of ethics: do the right thing, be honest, practice integrity, and treat people with respect."
Both Johnson and Winchell are pleased with her persistence. With positivity and passion, Johnson struggled through the difficulty, trusting that her perseverance would pay off. Now, one year later, she has an office at 217 Indiana Street in Chinook and she loves her new career and the path she's on.
"Although a commission-based job takes hope and work ethic, selling real estate has been really good to me. I got out of my comfort zone and pushed for my goals. I am my own boss, I set my schedule, and I can walk away prideful at a job well done," Johnson declared.
Still, the days are long, as Johnson often works weekdays from 7:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. and even puts in hours on some weekends. While the schedule is demanding, she claims to enjoy the challenge.
The hardest part of the job for her was setting boundaries. "Some people are quite needy and call at odd hours, and I get that, because they're working on making a really big decision: home or land ownership. I take care of as much as I possibly can for them because I'm honored that they've selected me to help them."
She also considers her extra efforts as a way to give back to the community.
"When I bought my house in the spring of 2018, I had no idea what I was doing. I just walked into Guild Mortgage and said, 'I want to buy a house.' Thankfully, Branch Manager and Loan Officer Sheri Pexa was willing to guide me through the process of first-time home ownership."
Now, in partnership with people she knows and trusts, Johnson provides the advocacy, helping people buy and sell land or a home. Along with her clients, she agonizes over an inspection or an appraisal. "Because even the day before a closing something can fall through, Closing Day is the most satisfying of all. Being able to guide people into a home or into taking a step towards a new chapter when selling produces such a good feeling."
When asked what surprised her the most about her new career, she replied, "The amount of paperwork is immense, and everything is time sensitive and carries a deadline."
She was quick to add that she works for the best team. "The team at Lodestar is so hardworking. We spend our marketing meetings encouraging one another and considering strategies to make our company better."
Taking pride in her work ethic and giving back to the community define Johnson, who contends that it's easy to sell property in Blaine County. "I can honestly promote this area because I believe in it and believe we live in the best community in the country!"
One strategy that the Lodestar team devised for community philanthropy is through a nonprofit donation. "For every major real estate transaction, we are letting our clients choose a nonprofit organization to donate $100.00 to. This money comes out of our commission, and the clients will get their picture taken with the 'big check' at closing. Presenting this money to a qualifying organization is a great way for us to give back to the community while letting our clients be involved in something they care about as well, essentially at no cost to them."
Wise beyond her years-since she's still under 30-Johnson shared advice for others considering a leap of faith. "The leap involves a belief that good things will happen when you choose to change your life. I feel that life sometimes is about taking risks to get where we want to be. I want big things, and I have worked so hard in so many different jobs to finally have a career that is getting me closer to my goals financially and career-wise. I get to go to a job every day that I love and where I find peace when I walk through the door."
Although that satisfaction doesn't take away the stress and frenetic pace of the rigorous schedule, Johnson finds contentment when she sees satisfied and appreciative clients. It isn't just helping people that feeds her. "It's more about building relationships and being able to use my skills and hard work to get people to their end result-whether that is buying, selling, upgrading, or expanding," she said.