Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen D. Curran.
Karen D., can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The brick-bow front-black-antique-lantern signature look of Boston has always been within me. I grew up in Roxbury in a brick town house built in the late 1800s that was 20 feet wide. I lived in a very racially diverse neighborhood long before anyone coined the phrase. We had one thing in common. We were all poor. I was fortunate enough to graduate from Girls’ Latin School, and learned there how much hard work and determination could propel you if you did not have a lot of other advantages.
After college, I worked in downtown Boston for a major accounting firm preparing feasibility studies for some of Boston’s major new developments in the 1980s including Rowes Wharf, The Four Seasons Hotel, Lafeyette Place, Copley Place and many other mixed use developments. I met Norman Leventhal, Anthony Pangaro and a host of other developers who played in the very high stake game of Boston real estate development. I decided that I too wanted to work in the development of commercial real estate. I got my MBA from Boston College so I could better understand the financial concepts needed for real estate, and then moved on.
I landed at Liberty Real Estate Corporation a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual. As part of their investment product line, our group was responsible to renovate historic office buildings for the tax credits. I learned a lot because I managed the developer, the architect, the general contractor and the leasing agent. I became a vice president before I was 28-years old. But after a while, I began to question my own suitability for corporate life. With two young children, I needed a more flexible schedule. It was tough to give up a nice salary, bonuses, 401K, etc…. But my father always said to me, “You will never get rich working for someone else.”
I started looking for land and created KMC Real Estate. I knew I would need my contractor’s license and broker’s license so I completed the course work, took my exams (I was the only female in the room for my contractor’s license) and obtained my licenses. I needed a job to help carry me through while I tried to get my business going and was lucky enough to wiggle my way in to writing for the Real Estate section of the Boston Globe. I continued to interview big developers and even did a piece of on the sale of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s summer residence in Brookline.
Soon, I was able to find three parcels of land and put them under agreement. Since I did not have a dime, I had to take on a partner. Together we subdivided the parcels into seven lots and built all the homes, financially, we hit a home run. I still live there today.
I took my earnings and kept rolling by myself. I have built dozens of homes from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Completed many renovations from $40,000 to $2.5 million. And loved my job.
I don’t know why more women do not consider the profession as it allows great flexibility to working moms. I followed my passion and still was able at every turn to put my kids first.
Today I continue to take on challenges and hope someday to achieve my dream. To renovate an historic Boston home on Beacon Hill. Of course, with an unlimited budget.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Construction is never a smooth road. It is fraught with hurdles and bumps. You have to learn how to go over the bumps or get out of the business.
I once built a home on spec. My husband at the same time lost his job. The market took a terrible nose dive and the home would not sell. I begged suppliers to give me more time. Many did but some did not. My cabinet company loaned my home. My bank began making noise about calling the loan. At the darkest hour, the house finally went under agreement. I made about $20,000 for a year’s work. I learned about risk management from that job.
Monitoring subcontractors is always important because if you do not, you may miss something and have problems. I could write a book about the guys I have encountered. When I first started as a GC, I was afraid to make anyone mad at me, so I was timid about telling them how to do things. Now, I tell subs how I want things done.
You have to be super careful no one gets hurt on a job. I once had a partner in a big Boston law firm fall backwards in his home while under construction. Thank goodness he was just bruised.
I have found snakes in walls, bats and mice. I have been up to my knees in mud. Opened walls and found mold and asbestos. I once had a Nor’ Easter blow in when I had taken the second floor off a home. Talk about soaking wet. I often say, how I did I end up in such a glamorous profession?
Please tell us about KMC Real Estate.
I am a visionary. I have ideas that set me apart from other builders. I am one of the longest running general contractor clients in the area.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My grandparents. Every Sunday we sat down and ate a big Italian meal. Those are memories I will always treasure.
- Website: kmcproperties.com
- Phone: 617 480 4697
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen D. Curran