REALTOR® Kelly Carlson with Engel & Volkers, Chicago, pivoted from civil engineering to real estate in 2020 and hasn’t looked back. This year, she took home the 2023 30 Under 30 Web Choice Award.

Attending the two-week Discover Architecture program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while in high school was all it took for Kelly Carlson to develop a lifelong love for architecture and homes.  

“That’s what I planned to go to college for,” says Carlson, salesperson at Engel & Volkers, Chicago.  

But at the time, the country was still coming back from the recession, so she decided to choose a major which had a better chance of landing her a job after graduation. She pivoted to the more technical side of things and earned her civil engineering degree in 2016.  

Carlson worked in that career for about four years, but decided she wanted more. That’s when she went all in and earned her real estate license in 2020. That gutsy move was not the last for her. After a little more than two years in the business, she applied for REALTOR® Magazine’s 30 Under 30 class of 2023. It paid off for her. 

“I didn’t know if I even had a shot, but this was my last chance to apply because I just turned 29,” she adds. 

When Carlson was chosen as one of the 50 finalists in March, she decided to put her efforts into the weeklong online voting March 24-31 to find the Web Choice Award winner. Again, her efforts paid off. In addition to rallying her own sphere, leadership at Engel & Volkers reached out to agents and brokers company wide. That helped Carlson accumulate 5,277 out of a total of 57,881 votes – that’s a whopping 9.16% of all the votes received by all 50 candidates. She was named the Web Choice winner, solidifying her place in the 30 Under 30 class of 2023

“It really started at our brokerage level,” she says. “They were posting messages on Facebook with the link to the voting page. I was blown away by the support. Even though it is a global company, it is tight knit.”   

Carlson says that she was taught from day one in the profession, under the leadership of Jennifer Ames, CEO of Engel & Volkers, Chicago, that real estate professionals are not just salespeople. “We are advisors helping people through a pretty significant life change,” Carlson comments. “[Jennifer] and I immediately hit it off. Her work ethic, integrity, and kindness stuck with me.” 

While Carlson’s company was helping her gain 30 Under 30 Web Choice votes, she was reaching out to her family, friends, and past clients. 

“I am pretty active on Instagram and Facebook. Honestly, I was bugging the crap out of people, reminding them with daily postings and putting out the voting link to everyone,” she says. “At the end of the week, I remember posting, ‘I promise only one more day.’ People were so excited for me, and they were sharing It on my behalf. It really helped to get the word out. I am still so surprised I won.” 

Carlson was in a yoga class when the email notifying her that she received the most votes arrived in her inbox. She recalls her hands trembling as she opened it and read the news.  

“I was really trying to focus on yoga, and then I saw the email right after I got out class,” she says. “I kept rereading it. I called my husband and then my mom, and I said to them, ‘Did I read this correctly?’”  

Besides being excited, she felt humbled and grateful for every client, friend and family member who cheered her on—not just during the 30 Under 30 Web Choice voting week, but over the three years she’s been in real estate so far.  

“Their support means everything to me. With so many ups and downs in this field, it’s pretty easy to doubt yourself sometimes,” she says. “But this is an exciting moment to celebrate, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me.”