Jack Fowler saw the potential growth coming to Boulder County and started the Fowler Group down a path that has enabled it to be a powerhouse in Boulder County three generations and 64 years strong. The Fowler Group has since been crowned northern Colorado’s largest real estate agency and Jack’s son, Tom Fowler, was known as the “Condo King,” even hitting the $1 billion mark in sales and peaking at over 300 agents representing the Fowler Group along the front range.
The early 1960s saw Evadean Turner blazing her own trail becoming the first full time female real estate agent in Longmont. Evadean and her husband Carl established Turner Realty in 1962. While Evadean was a pioneer for women in her time, 64% of realtors today are now female and Evadean’s son, Arnold, attributes that largely to the fact that real estate has no glass ceiling and thus the opportunities for women have abounded compared to other professions. The Turner’s focused on residential, commercial, and farmland, and they later attributed their diversification to the over 60 year success of the agency, but the Turner family has also focused on preserving historic buildings, open spaces and ensuring the history of farmland is passed from landowner to landowner. In fact, the Turners are still in the same former telephone company building where Carl and Evadean opened their doors in 1962.
And therein lies the juxtaposition in Boulder County—this Game of Homes which has raged over, at least, the past 65 years between realtors who have embraced the rapid expansion of growth versus those who help their clients hang on to Colorado’s small-town past. Given the diversity of the types of residents of Colorado, it is easy to see that neither approach is wrong nor better. This bifurcation represents the two, clear target markets of buyers in our state as property and development has evolved over the past 65 years.
These two families represent dynasties in Colorado real estate that are not at all common. In fact, realtors rarely make it past the two-year mark these days. A look into some of the successful realtors in Boulder County exposes some fascinating themes about how to stay in the game and how staying in the game has changed over the past 65 years.
Seasoned agents speak about hearing folks say, “I love houses so I am going to go into real estate,” as the number one worst reason to ever consider a career in real estate. As David Scott, a 15-year veteran, 2017 Boulder Area REALTORS® Association Realtor of the Year and 2019 Boulder Area REALTORS® Association Distinguished Realtor, put it “the biggest reason people drop out in the first 5 years is because they didn’t assess what they were getting into and it didn’t work out the way they thought.” Brandy Unruh, a 10-year veteran, notes “there are a lot of myths about being a realtor,” that it isn’t a get rich quick kind of career, it takes “a lot of love, blood, sweat and tears to survive.”
Brandy and David both emphasize that the key is solving problems for their clients—finding out what is going on and making connections for them to get them what they need when they need it. Brandy describes it as focusing on being a valued resource to get her clients everything from plumbers to hairdressers because that is the need; she cares about the little things and believes when her clients will need to make the life-changing, big decisions, they will come to her as well.
Diane Stow, a realtor since 1976 who got her start with the incredibly influential Longmont residential and commercial developer, Ken Pratt, points out that as a realtor you have to realize you cannot be good at everything and you have to make connections for your clients to deal with the things you aren’t good at (or just can’t do), like lending. She says, eventually, they may come back to you for the thing you are good at; it may be tomorrow or it may be further down the road.
Caring is at the core of this long term success. Arnold Turner, has been guided by the words of Theodore Roosevelt as he and his brother took on the family business. Roosevelt famously said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” and Arnold has made listening to his clients and caring about meeting their goals the top priority of Turner Realty since day one of coming into the family business.
There are simply two types of agents in this business: those who are in it to serve themselves and those who are in it to truly serve their clients.
Paul Dart, a realtor for 27 years, who served on the Boulder Area REALTORS® Association board of directors from 1999-2010, won 2007 Boulder Area REALTORS® Association Distinguished Realtor, Boulder Area REALTORS® Association 2007 Realtor of the Year and Colorado Association of REALTORS® 2004 and 2008 Distinguished Service awards, calls it out pretty plainly. He says “there are simply two types of agents in this business: those who are in it to serve themselves and those who are in it to truly serve their clients.” His motto is that he will be his clients’ “knight in shining armor as well as their unchained dog” and he notes that clients are really looking for integrity, that they can tell the difference. He doesn’t strive for simple referrals from clients, he aims to make storytellers of the experience he provides his clients.
The second theme that emerged from this group was the importance of community. Community means different things to different people and the diversity of the Boulder County area is rather expansive, even while not being obviously so. Successful realtors have adopted unique strategies for getting their clients to immerse themselves in the microenvironments of the various neighborhoods to get a taste for what their lives might be like if they purchased a home there. The homework assignments of spending the day shopping, enjoying the local restaurants and walking the neighborhood streets has been complicated by COVID-19, yet these intrepid realtors persist even among the ever changing restrictions.
Pat Murphy, a realtor of 40 years in Niwot, has been hosting an annual Easter Egg hunt in Niwot for the past 40 years. In 2019 between 700-800 people attended. Pat sees this as her way of thanking her clients, thanking the community and continuing those small town memories that she had growing up in the Midwest. The Easter Egg hunt had to be cancelled this year due to the pandemic and with many residents feeling stir-crazy this time of year, she organized an impromptu holiday motorcade around Niwot a few weeks ago to lift spirits while still remaining safe. Pat loves selling real estate in Niwot because she loves her community in Niwot and is thrilled to be sharing that small town lifestyle with others. While not all realtors focus on their own lovely communities, they still share that when it all comes together and the stars align for their client, it means more to them than just the commission. As Brandy Unruh put it, “when my clients follow their homework and they check out a community, that is great but when it also gets them the results they wanted and they end up connecting and finding their dream home, it is amazing.”
Finding the perfect community is only part of the story, once you are there, settled in that home you coveted, realtors are often doing a lot to keep it feeling like a community. In addition to the incredible holiday events that realtors like Pat Murphy hosts, realtors like Paul Dart provide services for their community that help entire neighborhoods understand their homes, their yards and the metrics of the markets impacting their home values. Paul cranks out two monthly, paper newsletters – newsletters that are actually mailed – to his community and his former clients to help them understand everything from winterizing their yards to what home improvement projects really add value to a home. Paul sees this as a community service to help people make better decisions about the enormous investment they have made.
The third theme that emerged is a willingness, or at least ability, to adapt to change. Of course, real estate markets have seen changes over the course of 65 years, but the changes in Colorado have been nothing short of dramatic. Jack Fowler signed one of his first contracts on a brown paper bag that he pulled from the trunk of his car because contracts just weren’t that big of a deal in the 1960s. Jack, who is the oldest active real estate agent in Boulder County, also finds it particularly odd that home inspections ever became a thing. In his day a house was sold as-is and if something broke the day after the sale, well, that was the new homeowners issue. Arnold Turner reminisced about starting out his career with three-carbon copy paper contracts and the day they got carbon-copy-less contracts. Today, real estate contracts are generally in excess of 20 pages in length and require the realtor to be able to educate their clients on what all of the legalese means and how to properly and legally execute the contract on behalf of their clients. David Scott, noted that technology has brought a lot of efficiency to the contracting process because it is all done over the internet now, but these contracts are immensely more complicated and thus one must keep up with their continuing education to be able to be the best resource possible for their clients. The biggest downside to the contracts going electronic is one lamented by Tom Fowler –the loss of personal negotiation. It used to be that realtors from buyers and sellers would meet and present the offers and negotiate in person. Wonderful personal and professional relationships were formed this way. Today realtors often never meet in person at all as everything is handled electronically making a profession that is highly dependent on relationship building, cold and impersonal.
A number of other changes have kept the industry on its toes over the years. The introduction of the buyer’s agent made it clear for consumers whose interests were being represented when they were speaking with an agent. The economic downturn in 2008-2010 changed a lot of real estate agent behavior regarding the discussion of lending topics and shifted that responsibility entirely to the professional lenders. Interest rates are cheaper today than they were in 1962, which is great for consumers – meaning more money is going toward the principal payment every month rather than to interest. But by far, the biggest change has been the advent of technology, specifically the internet and the impact that has had on the real estate industry.
The initial prediction was that the internet would be the end. Winter was surely coming for realtors, especially for the small agencies. For as long as anyone had been buying and selling, the secret details of homes and lots had been being kept in giant three-ring binders that were updated monthly and clients were able to peruse the books with their licensed agents. The internet destroyed that paradigm and spilled those secrets to anyone and everyone, available 24/7, just as fast as the realtors got the information. The industry was terrified.
However, the opposite happened. The increased transparency and availability of information led to more informed consumers. Buyers weeded out homes they weren’t interested in more quickly and came in more educated and ready to buy. It did mean realtors needed to be more on top of things as information changed more quickly than the previous monthly cadence, but the efficiencies far outweighed the negatives.
For small businesses, the internet was also a blessing rather than the foretold death knell. It actually leveled the playing field and gave them just as much marketing power and visibility as the large companies. But it continues to change and for third-generation Fowler realtor, Brie Fowler, she sees the internet as the differentiator that will take her family’s business into the future. Brie has caring at her core having had a previous career as a nurse but when she transitioned into the family real estate business 4.5 years ago she did something that not everyone agreed was the right move – she dedicated herself to learning to be a social media influencer and a video expert. Her gorgeous home tours and social media posts got her notice but many thought it was overkill and then COVID-19 hit and the Fowler Group was perfectly positioned to help their clients sell homes site-unseen while other agents scrambled to not only learn the technology but also try to find teams to help them produce the content. 48% of real estate companies report that keeping up with technology is the biggest challenge they see facing them in the future. Brie notes that “one of the most challenging things about being in real estate is that you have to wear so many different hats – you have to be an SEO expert, a FB ad expert, you have to be your own marketing team – or you have to invest in them and invest in your business and online presence.” However, many of our successful realtors have attributed their success to personal touch and local knowledge. Recent surveys have found that 93% of realtors prefer to communicate with their clients by email and 92% prefer text communication – which is quick but can certainly be sometimes perceived as impersonal. Both David Scott and Paul Dart discussed taking middle of the night calls from nervous clients as being a major differentiator for them. As Paul says, “you have to be absolutely and totally committed as a realtor in order to be successful and so you do whatever you can do to make your clients happy and fulfill their goals.”
As this Game of Homes continues to play out in Boulder County two tales of caution were weaved by these seasoned veterans.
First, Arnold Turner reminds us that we are lucky to live in a “good funds state” thanks to the Conway Bogue law which passed in 1957 and requires us all to show up to a real estate transaction closing with real funds. In other non – “good fund” states the funds at closing are held in escrow, in some cases up to 60 days, which can put everyone involved in a Never Never Land with no sense of immediacy. Thus, keep that nugget in your mind if anyone should ever try to repeal it.
Second, numerous agents raised concerns about so-called “discount” brokerages and how they may negatively impact the consumer experience. When you deal with an agent who is designated a “realtor” vs. a “real estate agent” the difference is that the realtor has been through additional training and is required to uphold a Code of Ethics and they really focus on service according to Arnold Turner. Discount brokerages have agents that work there who may or may not be realtors. You may not always get to talk to the same person every time you call in, so as Brie Fowler put it, “you don’t have an agent’s cell phone, you get passed through customer service people and you don’t have an individual to call and talk to to figure out the next step in the plan.” Arnold Turner suggested “these may seem cheaper, but they may not be as safe, stable or better.”
Diane Stow points out that through all of her years and all of the changes, the one thing she is most impressed by is that hasn’t changed is that her fellow realtors still maintain a balance of competition between one another and cooperation with each other. The first broker Paul Dart worked with back in the 1990s impressed upon him then that realtors really need to cooperate even though they are technically in competition with one another. He reminded Paul that you never know when he might have to bring an offer to that other realtor and when you have a good reputation with the person on the other side of the table and there are multiple, competing offers, a good reputation can go a long way – that other realtor might just tell the seller, “Hey, I know that realtor and a deal with them will be really smooth.” Paul’s broker called maintaining this balance co-opetition.
While market fluctuations, economy, changing laws and policies, technology and even a global pandemic might have caused Boulder County’s real estate industry to see some interesting times over the past 65 years, the true Game of Homes tournament lies within how hard a realtor is willing to work, how much they care, how much they work to meet the goals of their clients and find that perfect whole package of a community for their clients and how well they can adapt to the one constant in all industries – change.