Closer to Home

How a former FHC student went from student athlete to reality television star

HOUSE+HUNTING%3A+Lauren+Risley%2C+FHC+Class+of+2002%2C+shows+clients+around+a+home.+Lauren+Risley+owns+her+own+realty+business+and+recently+starred+in+her+own+HGTV+show%2C+Call+the+Closer.

Courtesy of Lauren Risley Realty

HOUSE HUNTING: Lauren Risley, FHC Class of 2002, shows clients around a home. Lauren Risley owns her own realty business and recently starred in her own HGTV show, “Call the Closer.”

By Rachel Vrazel, Francis Howell Central High School

Beginning in November of 2021, the face of Lauren Risley could be seen across the country with the click of a remote or the tap of a thumb. But before she could be seen by the entire world as she showed clients houses to buy, ripped out old carpet or designed new interiors, her smiling face could be seen in the halls of FHC as a high schooler, walking to and from class and celebrating wins with the soccer team.

Risley, now a real estate agent with her own HGTV show, “Call the Closer,” graduated  in the class of 2002, back when the school was in its first few years open.

“[My freshman year] was the first year [FHC] opened, and we had freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. We didn’t have any seniors, which was crazy… because they were building the school.”

In her four years, Risley played soccer and basketball. Some of her favorite memories from high school were the camaraderie and spirit of being a part of a team.

“It was just fun to be competitive. You grow a lot of close relationships, being on a team … It was always fun on game days, [to] wear our jerseys to school.”

Risley admits that when in high school, she didn’t have much of a direction for where she wanted to go or what career she wanted to pursue, but she ended up going to college for her business degree. It wasn’t until her junior year of college that she knew what sort of career she wanted to pursue. Her various business classes helped her decide she was interested in finance, a profession that had been important in her life since the age of 19 when she first met her own financial advisor.

“A friend or family gave my name to their financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual. And that person reached out and said, ‘Hey, do you want to talk about investing?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m 19 years old, like what am I going to invest in?’ And I sat down with them and I think I put one hundred bucks away a month and then every six months I did a little bit more and a little bit more.”

This foundation helped Risley begin developing a foundation of financial security and helped her learn more about the importance of financial literacy and what it takes to build a strong financial future. Graduating college, she used her business and marketing degree to start her first career as a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual.

CAMERA READY: Lauren Risley stands in front of a house on the cover art for her HGTV television show. (Courtney of Lauren Risley Realty)

“I was there maybe four years, and then I went into mergers and acquisitions,” Risley said. “I worked for a company called Douglas Group, and we sold privately-owned companies … so I did that for another five or six years and just knew I did not want to work in corporate America. I traveled a lot, I wore a suit every day. It was great … I just knew that wasn’t where my passion was.”

It was then that Risley entered her career as a real estate agent. While she has enjoyed this career for seven years, she notes she’s truly been in realty for 17. In the time she spent with other companies, one of her hobbies had been buying and renovating houses to sell for profit. This process, called “flipping” houses, became a hobby and passion when she bought her first home at 19.

“A friend of my sisters [who] rehabs houses… said ‘Hey, what are you paying for rent?’ and at the time I think I was paying like $850.00 a month for rent. And he’s like, ‘You know, you could own a house for that …’ So he kind of walked me through the process and you know, got my first house.”

With already such a passion for home renovation along with buying and selling, real estate was an easy transition to something Risley already enjoyed. She would take on clients looking for a new home, and help them through the process of buying and fixing up a place to live.

“I have probably 10 clients a year that buy with me that I can’t find what they’re looking for. So they buy something and then I renovate it for them, and then they move in,” she said. “Which is the show called ‘Call the Closer,’ and that’s what we do with those clients.”

Reality TV wasn’t an opportunity that Risley pursued herself. In fact, it wasn’t even a possibility in the back of her mind. It all started when Risley began making videos to market her business and posting them on YouTube with a friend.

“I said, ‘Hey, I wanna do some marketing for my business as a real estate agent. I’m kind of bored, I want to do something cool. But if I’m going to do something, I want it to be cool, and not just weird selfie videos that everyone’s doing,’” Risley said. “And he’s like, ‘I do photography and videography… why don’t we make some cool videos?’ And that’s what we did.”

It was then that a production company reached out to Risley, saying that they had seen her YouTube videos and felt she had potential for reality TV. They asked her if she would want to make a sample episode, called a “proof of concept,” and see if any channels would be interested in taking her on to make a new show. While initially not interested, they were able to persuade her.

“‘[I said, ‘The idea of being on TV] just makes me uncomfortable, I just don’t know if that’s something I want to do.’ And [the producer said,] ‘Let me pitch this, it’s probably not going to get picked up, and if it doesn’t I’ll sign over all the rights to the video and you can have it. We’ll even edit it at a super discounted rate and you can use it for marketing.’”

This persuaded Risley, but she never thought it would go anywhere. She found herself surprised and shocked when the production team told her that HGTV liked the proof of concept enough to fund a pilot episode.

“That was pretty ‘Wow, this is crazy!’ It still didn’t feel real,” Risley said. “We filmed [the pilot] and… then in November of 2020, the network called and said, ‘Hey we’re going to give you a series, you guys will start filming in March.’ So we filmed in 2021 from March to August.”

Courtesy of Lauren Risley Realty

In that time, Risley grew to love the crew and everyone she filmed with, forming lasting bonds.

“We became this family,” Risley said. “You know, if you spend six days a week with each other, 14, 16 hour days, you grow pretty close. Even though they were super hard days, you grow pretty close.”

The filming process truly was long and difficult. Renovating a house is already difficult work, but when you add hours of making sure camera angles are right and all of the complications that filming adds in, it becomes even more straining.

“My knees hurt, my hips hurt, I was getting shin splints. [It’s because] you’re standing… all day long. And it’s not like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna take 20…’ it’s constant doing something.”

However, despite the neverending work, Risley greatly enjoyed the filming process.

“Even though they were super hard days, there’s so much fun,” Risley said.

While the first season was generally well-received, it hasn’t been decided if “Call the Closer” will continue on for a second season. However, the good reviews bode in the show’s favor. One review from IMDb gave the television show eight out of ten stars, remarking on how authentic it seemed.

“[Risley’s] energy is genuine, and she’s comfortable with the camera. Her contractor counterpart is also good on camera, and the usual problems that emerge on camera aren’t particularly contrived, such as with ‘The Property Brothers…’ this is a good start.”

However, while Risley has loved the experiences “Call the Closer” has given her, she admits that she will be happy and grateful regardless of it being renewed for another season.

 

More important than anything else, Risley wants to ensure she leaves an impact on her community. She works with multiple charity organizations, including Unhoused STL. As a Christian, Risley finds helping others to be of the greatest importance and sees it as a personal responsibility.

“I just look at the ways I can help and [realize] God has given me gifts that I’m extremely grateful for, and I just want to use them the best way I can,” she said. “He didn’t give me these gifts so that I can have this awesome, happy, successful life, He gave me these gifts so that I could impact other people… it’s just important to make the most of what I’ve been given.”

Reflecting on how far she has come since her time at FHC, Risley admits that she never would have imagined being where she is now at the time she graduated.

“My high school self looking at where I am today would say, ‘No. Freaking. Way. No way, just like no way,’” she said. “[I] would be completely shocked. Very proud, but completely shocked.”

Risely acknowledges that her mindset in high school versus now is very different. She’s more focused and career-oriented and thinks a lot about how she can serve others. She’s glad that she spent her high school years more carefree and believes you shouldn’t try to grow up too fast.

“As an adult, I still have a lot of fun, but I’m more looking at how I can help and serve people. It’s just a different mindset, and that’s totally okay,” she said. “When you’re in high school… you’re a kid, you should be focused on having fun. You should start learning responsibilities as you grow older and become an adult, but you should have fun and that should be your focus.”

Risley encourages high school students not to worry about their future and to know they have time to find something they’re passionate about and be successful in a career.

“Real estate is where I’m supposed to be… I love it, it doesn’t feel like work,” Risely said. “And I didn’t come into this career until I was 30. So from 18 to 30, I was just figuring it out, and that’s 12 years. That’s a long time. So I would say to [high schoolers] who don’t know what they want: that’s totally okay. Just don’t give up. Don’t say, ‘Well, I’m not what I thought I would be so I’m nothing.’ It’s never too late to be who you want, and you’re never so far past a second, third or fourth chance. If you have a passion, stick with it.”

This story was originally published on FHC Today on May 25, 2022.