Boe Boe's family fled Myanmar when he was 7. He remembers fleeing from soldiers to a refugee camp in Thailand.
Maybe that's why he's long been interested in houses — learning how to work on them and discovering the stories behind them.
But the graduate of St. Paul's Guadalupe Area Project (GAP) might never have turned to helping buy and sell them if blood didn't make him squeamish. He wanted to become a police officer. That is, until he went on ride-alongs.
Eye On St. Paul sat down with Boe, 33, who recently helped sell a home built by students at his former school, to learn more about his path to real estate and the American dream. This interview was edited for length.
Q: Where were you born?
A: Burma [Myanmar]. We moved to St. Paul in 2008.
Q: When were you at Guadalupe Area Project?
A: Back in 2011 and 2012.
Q: What did you learn there?
A: Math, English. A lot of speaking. And construction.
Q: What projects did you work on in construction?
A: I worked on the yellow house right by the GAP school. Also, we were working on a shell, like a car garage. And then I went down to help paint a house.
Q: What did you do after you graduated?
A: I went to Century College. I studied law enforcement.
Q: Did you go into law enforcement?
A: I decided it wasn't for me. When I was in the program, I'd seen a lot of stuff. All the things they have to deal with. I also learned that you see a lot of blood. You see people who were fighting each other. I don't like blood.
Q: It's probably hard to be a cop if you can't stand the sight of blood.
A: No. [laughs]
Q: Then what?
A: I looked at medical technology. Then I studied to become a medical interpreter. I was an interpreter at a clinic and also an interpreter at a school. I did that about eight years.
Along the way, I got married. And we decided to buy a house. I met the listing agent and then I got interested. I like to get to know houses. I like to sell things. And I like to get to know people. So, I went to real estate school and I became a real estate agent.
Q: How long have you been a real estate agent?
A: Two years now.
Q: And you just helped sell the house the students at Guadalupe Area Project built?
A: Yes. It sold and closed. It was my first listing. I do not list the houses. I find people who want to sell and when they put the house on the market, I do a dual agent.
Let's say you want to sell your house. I go find you a buyer. Then you don't have to put it on [Multiple Listing Service]. It's a lot easier. If you put it on MLS, you have to still live in the house, right? So you have to show it to buyers. Spend a lot of time getting it ready.
Q: Off market is better?
A: Well, it's a lot quicker. You don't have to deal with all the people coming inside your house. Where you have to wait in the parking lot while people are going through it. You don't have to clean it up every time someone wants to look at it.
Q: Do you have any children?
A: Yes. Four children. The oldest one is 8, then 6, then 4 … then 1 month.
Q: What do you like about real estate?
A: I like to meet people. And I like to help people. And I like to help people understand what the process is for buying and selling a house, all the laws and regulations. Most people don't understand [the process]. Me being Karen is helpful for the Karen community as well. They can understand it.
Q: So, in a way, you're still interpreting?
Q: Are there many Karen families buying houses now?
A: Yes, and yes. When [the Karen] first got to Minnesota, we just rented apartments. Or we [rented] old houses. Now, years later, they've started buying. [There are] a lot of first-time homebuyers.
Q: What was it like to sell the GAP house, working with the school you went to?
A: I know the teachers. I've been a GAP student. I still feel like they're my friends. They look after me. They watch me. I feel really connected to them.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: I live in North St. Paul.
Q: How long do you want to do this?
A: I think I'm going to do this for a long time. I started two years ago. And I'm hoping to get into listing. And then I can get into new construction. Then I can help people build a new house.
Q: Does knowing things from all sides — construction, buying, selling — help you?
A: Oh, it helps a lot. I can have clients who are building. Who are buying and flipping.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: [Pauses] I don't know. The way it's going right now, I'm doing better and better and better.
Q: When you're not working, what do you like to do?
A: Go fishing. I like to go fishing and I like to go hunting. I fish a lot. I like to catch bass, and crappies. And walleyes.
Q: And what do you hunt?