It started in fifth grade, when he wrote silly slogans such as "fuzzy hot dogs" and "green bananas" on masking tape affixed to rubber bands. He sold the novelty wristbands for 25 cents each to his classmates at Cedar Wood Elementary School.
"I liked seeing the expression of people's faces when they got what they wanted," he said.
Houvener's move to Cedar Park Christian School in junior high brought a new enterprise. Think Jamba Juice for the eighth grade.
"I would take orders for Houvy's Smoothies, which I would bring for students the next morning," he said.
The endeavor didn't last long. School administrators shut things down just a couple of weeks after he started, but he was undeterred.
"It kept feeding the fire, growing my desire to be selling things," Houvener said outside a Starbucks.
He spent a couple of years helping his father, Paul, a real estate agent, rehabilitate investment homes. That gave him seed money for his next venture as a sophomore at Jackson High School in Mill Creek: shopping garage sales for stuff that he could fix and sell on Craigslist.
Houvener said the venture let him buy his own car and pay for his own insurance and other expenses.
It was a learning experience. He grossed "a little over $10,000," he said, but he didn't make money on everything he bought and sold. The worst purchase was irreparable ultralight camping gear.
"I made a lot of mistakes," he said. "Any $100 to $300 slip-up really hurt. It was up and down."
After graduation, Houvener spent a semester at Calvary Chapel Bible College in Hawaii but hankered to work in sales. He returned home after his parents visited and he started 60 hours of online testing to become a licensed real estate agent.
Houvener passed the exam Jan. 9.
He's just 18, making him one of the youngest licensed real estate agents in Washington state.
Houvener is a broker for the Bellevue office of The Force Realty, a paperless company whose agents work primarily online. His territory stretches from Bellevue to north Everett. His parents are also agents with The Force Realty.
"We encouraged him to do a lot of different things," said his mother, Gale Houvener. "We didn't try to pigeonhole him into real estate."
"Kids these days never do what their parents do," Paul Houvener said. "The decision to go that route was his own."
It's kind of funny to talk to Houvener about the two months he's spent working full time in real estate. When he earned his license, January marked only the second consecutive month of year-over-year price increases in Snohomish County. He was 12 when the real estate bubble burst in 2007 and prices started their long decline.
He said it was hard then to see how the market crash and recession affected his friends and their families, but now he says he's thankful he can enter the business at an opportune time.
Houvener's working hard to get listings and close his first sale, mostly working with friends and through his Facebook page. He helped get occupants into four high-end rentals, which gave him some income. Now he said he's "trying to beat the odds" of getting his first commission before the year is out, since most new agents need more than a year to close their first sale.
Houvener exudes a teenager's confidence, but he's trying to be realistic about his prospects for success in light of his age and experience.
"I want to shoot for the stars, possibly get into commercial buildings, hotels, fitness clubs, houses. Which of those will happen? I don't know," he said. "I thrive off the unknown, but it's also so daunting."
Mark Bornstein, Houvener's supervisor at The Force, said the new agent has a bright future because of his positive attitude and integrity. Bornstein said he relates to Houvener since he also earned his real estate license at age 18, 46 years ago.
"Oh, I love the enthusiasm a young person brings," Bornstein said. "Caleb has a very fresh and aggressive approach to do the right thing for people."
Houvener said he'd be happy making $25,000 while he builds his reputation and clientele to make that first sale.
Meanwhile, he's making another move -- out of his parents' house to his own place in Bothell by April 1.
"I think I'll like the independence, but I owe a lot to them to help me get on my feet," Houvener said of his parents.
"He's finding some creative, innovative ways to raise money," Paul Houvener said. "He gets dressed up in a tie five days a week. He's doing some things I never thought of doing in real estate."
"He is simply a winner," Gale Houvener said. "I'm excited for him. He has layers and layers of ideas."
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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