Founder and President Kay Cantrell with Cantrell Properties joins the Atlanta Real Estate Forum Radio podcast as the sixth Legends of Real Estate guest to shar her vibrant history in the homebuilding industry. Cantrell joins host Carol Morgan on the All About Real Estate segment and touches on her role as the second female president of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and first female president of the Home Builders Association of Georgia.
Growing up under the shadow of Williams Brothers Lumber Company, Cantrell begged her father at 12 years old for a summer job at the successful lumber business. Firmly believing in hard work, her father gave her a position. Throughout several summers, Cantrell developed a love for the homebuilding industry and was fascinated by all the moving parts of the business. Every afternoon on the way home from work, her father would pass through subdivisions to speak with clients, this allowed Cantrell to learn how the housing market functions.
Cantrell said, “It really interested me – what goes together to make a house and how much it impacts a family or an individual in their whole life.”
A force in the Atlanta market, Williams Brothers Lumber Company eventually started Williams Brothers Concrete, where Cantrell held a bookkeeping role.
Cantrell’s first-hand experience and education allowed her to develop a deeper understanding of the homebuilding industry. A natural person of business, her father used his intelligence and work ethic as his driving force, providing her with a stellar example on which to base her career.
Cantrell said, “I appreciate his contribution to my success.”
While working at Williams Brothers, Cantrell held several positions. One role Cantrell particularly noted was her task of photocopying every invoice the company received in the company’s basement. Recognizing the stark contrast between the industry then and now, Cantrell commented on how much the homebuilding sector and her career have evolved in comparison to her humble beginnings and her previous role as a builder.
When Cantrell took her first steps as a home builder, her husband Jack worked in the field while she took care of the bookkeeping and planning side of the company. As the recession approached, her husband searched for another job to accommodate the unsettling times. As her husband stepped away from the company, Cantrell took on his previous role in the field.
Cantrell said, “After that experience, I came back and said I’m not going back…It was so interesting getting to know my subs…developing relationships of quality. [I] treated them with respect which many builders I watched did not.”
During the transition, the internet took the industry by storm, allowing her husband to take over her previous administrative role while she embarked on her exhilarating journey in homebuilding.
Realizing that Cobb County had a shortage in lots, Cantrell was in a bind as her company was in the process of developing a subdivision. Her father came across an opportunity to learn the inner workings of the development business and proposed entering this venture to share his expertise with Cantrell to benefit her company.
By spending time on the 50-lot site and working closely on the project, Cantrell learned how to develop land. Following this, she purchased land and began the development of a project that consisted of multiple phases. At this point, Jack Cantrell acquired a few wallpaper-lining stores. While Jack ran the stores and managed the bookkeeping responsibilities of the company, Cantrell was out in the field building and developing.
Founded in 1984, Cantrell Properties saw many changes during its impressive tenure in the Atlanta market. Cantrell remarked that in the beginning, the company produced homes priced between $80,000 to $150,000 to accommodate the move-up buyer market. The company’s most recent product presents a collection of homes priced $500,000 to $700,000, its most expensive community to date.
Not a company to service the entry-level market, Cantrell shared that operating a homebuilding business that accommodates this particular market utilizes a less hands-on approach.
Cantrell said, “To be able to produce those projects, they have to run it differently than I ran my business…I wanted to deal with my customers [and] draw my own plans.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Cantrell to meet with a client directly, allowing her to personally connect with them and determine what plan would best suit their lifestyle and needs. As Cantrell walked them through the customization of their future home, she would use the meeting as an opportunity to get to know them and be transparent about the home’s cost requirements for each adjustment.
Cantrell said, “It helped them be realistic from day one and we had a better chance at meeting their expectations.”
These personal meetings prompted Cantrell to begin her work on what would become the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association’s homeowner handbook to answer the question, “As a builder, how can we control a homeowner’s expectations?” This literature helped home builders across the region meet their client’s wants and needs while delivering the home of their dreams.
With thought processes that mirror each other but personalities that starkly contrast, Cantrell shared that it was an incredible experience working with her husband. With Cantrell’s talent at facilitating paired with her husband’s analytical mind, each year saw a candid conversation regarding the company’s future, goals and more. This honest approach to business allowed Cantrell Properties to consistently grow over the years to become a dependable, driving force behind the Atlanta housing market.
One piece of advice shared by Cantrell’s father helped her navigate the marketing and building business through decades of upturns and downturns – never spend your seed money. In case of an economic disaster, it is always prudent for a company to have funds to start over, according to Cantrell.
A previous member of the women’s auxiliary for the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association, Cantrell and her fellow members assisted in home show organization, hospitality, donations and more. During her time as treasurer, Cantrell reevaluated her position and expressed a wish to make waves in the industry. This led to her position in government affairs as chair, giving her a seat and a voice as a woman on the board.
Following this incredible moment in her career, Cantrell continued moving upwards on the ladder, spending two years as president. She then served as the first and only female president of the Home Builders Association of Georgia.
Cantrell said, “You’ve got to be at the table…Everybody has to win.”
When asked what her shining achievement was during her time serving for the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Georgia, Cantrell immediately responded with the homeowner handbook. Implemented immediately upon completion, the homeowner handbook saves unnecessary frustration and unhappiness for both homeowners and homebuilders. Cantrell also shared that she required her homeowners to read the homeowner handbook at the beginning of the homebuying process.
Cantrell said, “We wanted them to understand that is what we would do.”
During her career, Cantrell fostered many relationships and created homes for individuals searching for the perfect place to settle, two shining achievements in her career. A home is an important place and throughout her career, Cantrell supplied thousands of homes to the metro Atlanta market.
Building mostly in Cobb County, the Cantrell Properties portfolio also notes projects in Gwinnett, Rockdale and Henry Counties, both in the residential and commercial sectors. The company’s past commercial projects include a banking facility, corporate offices, medical spaces and more. The new venture required Cantrell to start from scratch, building relationships with county offices, subs and more to build lasting connections in new locations.
Cantrell said, “It was a great life. I gave back a lot and had good business and I feel comfortable at this place in my life. I hope the world is a better place because I helped someone have a good home to be able to have their life in.”
Cantrell’s movements in the homebuilding industry have not only allowed thousands of homeowners to build better lives in well-constructed homes but changed the way builders view business practices to narrow the liability of building.
One of her favorite constructions, Cantrell remarked on a home she built and designed in East Cobb inspired by a trip to Charleston, North Carolina. Moving around every two-and-a-half years, Cantrell experimented with each construction, creating beautifully unique residences and taking inspiration from her travels.
For women entering the industry, Cantrell advises protecting yourself and avoiding stretching yourself thin as you embark on your careers.
Cantrell said, “You’ve got to protect yourself and don’t let yourself get over your skis.”
Cantrell wrapped up this week’s episode by sharing that while the homebuilding industry can be a difficult sector to be a part of, she ultimately possesses a strong love for building.
Tune in to the full interview above to learn more about Kay Cantrell’s incredible story and Cantrell Properties. To connect with Kay Cantrell directly, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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