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MaryAnn and Brad Whittaker opened Realty One Group Pacifica in Long Beach in June.

How long have you worked in real estate?

Brad: “I am five years in and my wife is three years in.”

How did you get your start?

Brad: “I was a lender for eight years and she was in her last years of being an elementary school principal. I could see that lending was quickly becoming a place that was no fun for me anymore. I had been working around real estate for two decades and finally decided to jump in. I started out as a single agent, while my wife was still a principal. She decided that the stress of that job wasn’t good for her health, so she retired. She was watching me do my stuff and keeping all the dates in my head. I missed an inspection contingency and I was staring down the barrel of giving my client $5,000 back. After that she suggested putting a couple systems in place so it wouldn’t happen again. It revolutionized the way I had done business. It was fast and loose up to that point, just working all kinds of transactions but not really being organized in the compliance side. She was the master system guru and buttoned our business right up. Our volume doubled within the next year and gave us the funds to start considering opening our own brokerage and buying a franchise. We ended up talking to someone at Realty One and their core values at the corporate level matched up so well with ours that we were drawn to it. We have morphed that concept into real estate. We can have a positive impact on our 40 to 50 families we help buy or sell for each year. If we can do that with 20 or 50 agents, how much impact can we have in our community? That’s why we’ve opened this. There’s a need for proper training and a lot of managing brokers don’t train. They hire people as a money source and it doesn’t do our industry any good.”

How did those previous experiences influence your approach to real estate?

Brad: “I worked about eight years in lending and seven years for Adair Homes. Before that I worked five or six years managing a manufactured homes center. I had been dancing around real estate a long time and got to bring different knowledge points with me. Now I can share that information with my agents. From the teaching side, there’s not much that MaryAnn can’t teach somebody.”

MaryAnn: “Part of my education background included being a library media specialist, essentially the technology person. Matching the tech pieces with the teaching and coaching allows us to walk an agent through a transaction. It gives me that joy teaching again that I had lost for a while.”

What’s the most important concept potential brokers gasp?

MaryAnn: “When I was principal I would always say, ‘I can teach anybody how to be a better instructor, but I can’t teach how to love kids and interact well with parents.’ Those kinds of things you either have at your core or you don’t. When we bring agents on, that’s really what we’re looking for, because we can teach just about anything, but those relationships — and how to have them in a positive way — you either get or don’t. Our agent’s ability to take care of their clients and participate as a team is probably the most important.”

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Members of Realty One Group Pacifica were joined by Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips for a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 24.

Brad: “Our industry in general tends to hire agents based on their volume, how much money they can bring into the company. That’s the last question we ask. The first question we ask is: Where’s your heart? Are you service minded? What are your core values and characteristics? We want to know who they are on a much more important level. We’ve made every hiring decision based on that criteria. You would have thought we would’ve grown slower, but people enjoy working for us so much that they’re now referring us agents who fit the mindset. We don’t have to do a lot of outbound recruiting.”

You have an original location in Longview. What motivated you to open another office in Long Beach?

Mary: “We were invited (Ha-ha).”

Brad: “We prefer to be in small markets. We don’t need to be in the big Portland or Seattle market, where they make all this money. We know people work there because it’s huge money, but we’re not necessarily driving after those people. We would rather work in small town America because that’s usually the place were nobody gets any training, because they’re smaller offices. The bigger, mega corporations won’t come into a small area like this. That’s why there’s only one national chain (RE/MAX) in town. The big dogs won’t come play here because there’s not enough money for them. We know we can slide into small markets, offer first-class training and all the technology agents could want — and still pay them better than anyone else is paying them in town. Those are things that make people decide to come over. They don’t start for the money, they start because they’re like, ‘Why is there beer in your cooler?’ It’s a little weird. When you walk into a real estate office you expect Airpot coffee, but it’s just not how we do it. It’s not a family-owned business, it’s a business family. You want to have a business that’s welcoming for people to come and work in, because they’ll bring their friends in, who are also clients. Realty One Group takes care of us franchise owners, we take care of agents and our agents turn around and serve the consumer.”

MaryAnn: “It’s all been referrals and word of mouth. When we bought the franchise in Longview, the Realty One Group corporate office allowed us to have first right of refusal in Lewis and Pacific counties. We asked for that because we knew it was going to grow.”

“Earlier this year, in March, our corporate office was getting phone calls from agents on the Peninsula asking when we were going to have an office here. We had just opened one in October in Longview, so it wasn’t our immediate plan. We were invited to come talk to a group of agents about Realty One Group and that was the beginning of it all. Three of the five at the kitchen table joined us and we had our soft opening on June 1.”

How did you hook them?

Brad: “In Realty One world they call it ‘Coolture.’ It’s a mixture of culture and fun. When you walk into either one of our offices, it doesn’t feel or look like a stuffy office. The vibe in the office is usually much more light-hearted, almost electric. That’s really what we’re going for because if people work for you for the money, as soon as someone who offers bigger or better money comes along, they’re gone. But if people work for you because they love being here and they love the reason we get out of bed in the morning or why, people will bleed and die for you because it’s working for a cause. We instill that as one of the most important things we can do. We’ve let some people go because they didn’t get it and it became more about the money for them, and that’s just not the vibe we want to send out. You have to be careful who you hire. One wrong person can spread through the organization like a cancer.”

What area of real estate do you consider your specialty?

Brad: “Out here we don’t typically see a lot of people moving around inside the Peninsula, there’s a lot of outbound and coming in. The specialty here, with our agents, is the base of knowledge of all the properties on the Peninsula. It’s phenomenal. I was listening to realtor Doug Knutzen rattle stuff off yesterday and wondered how he even knew that. We have a lot of people who are invested in the community and that’s our secret sauce.”

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People gather outside of the Realty One Group Pacifica building at 511 Pacific Ave. in Long Beach before a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 24.

What’s the biggest difference that distinguishes Realty One Group from other real estate offices?

Brad: “Agent first, client first,’” is the most important part. Our ‘Coolture’ is something we work hard to foster.”

MaryAnn: “Our teaching and training. We’re finding in a number offices that’s not something that’s very common.”

What are the unique challenges of the real estate industry regarding the Peninsula?

Brad: “It’s cycle. In the wintertime it’s pretty dead. You rely heavily on people walking up and down the street for your purchase. Everybody is maxed out all summer, then October rolls around and it’s like someone rolls the sidewalks up. Our goal, to help our agents get past that, is to make sure they’ve got a lot of listings they can carry on through the winter because other agents will then help them sell those. In our industry, if you want to last, you’re going to have to list. It’s a lot of work up front, for the first four or five days, then when you get it on the market, then the buyer’s agent basically takes over after it’s under contract.”

What are the unique benefits of the real estate industry regarding the Peninsula?

Brad: “The challenge is also the benefit. The challenge is the tourist cycle, but the benefit is the tourist cycle with the number of people that walk by one any given day.”

Is there a particular demographic moving here or people moving from a certain place with a higher prevalence?

Brad: “It tends to be the four corners of the state: Seattle, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver. It’s funny. The one transaction we’ve had is a business owner out of Oregon. We typically see a lot of business owners who have a little more capital than an hourly employee. It’s definitely people who have more disposable cash who are buying these second homes. Sometimes they just want to a lot to park their fifth wheel.”

Is it more of a buyer’s or seller’s market?

MaryAnn: “Sellers right now.”

Brad: “It’s a strong sellers’ market right now. Real estate always follows jobs. Any time a job market is strong, real estate is strong. For example, in 2007, when the rest of the country went down, there were pockets around the country that didn’t ever feel a blip. Tri-Cities was one of them, the only spot in Washington, because Hanford was hiring like crazy at that point. There were homebuilders building subdivisions non-stop for the entire time the rest of the country was in housing upheaval. We’re a seller’s market right now, but just like everything, there’s a cycle.”

MaryAnn: “This up cycle has been a stronger and longer than we’ve seen in a while, but it will come back down, just not as hard.”

Brad: “The school of real estate at the University of Washington has gone back and found that there’s about a 10-year cycle. In 2011 was the peak, so 2021 is going to be the bottom, but you’re not hardly feeling it because we’ve got a strong jobs economy. There’s a slowdown but it’s not catastrophic like it was in 2007. In 2007, you had thousands of buyers and thousands of homes they could buy. It was the perfect storm tied in with unrealistic lending that was being allowed. That unrealistic lending was allowing people to buy way more expensive homes than they should have. Some think we’re headed for a housing crash but we’re not because we have all these people that want homes and no inventory to give them, this gap is what stops the crash. We don’t have those crazy no-income, no verification loans out there anymore. I was a lender when they were doing those. Someone could walk in and say they want to buy a $500,000 home. They might drive a garbage truck for $60,000 a year, but if they told me $160,000, well that’s what I wrote on the application. We never verified it because the rules from the government never made us verify. This was the lending we were offering in 2005 through 2007, which led to the crash because it wasn’t sustainable. There was no reality behind it; it was all smoke and mirrors. We don’t have that anymore or a huge amount of product for people to buy and sell.”

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A digital readerboard, pictured, and Matterport 3D walkthrough tours allow potential homebuyers to browse properties worldwide without ever physically visiting the Realty One Group Pacifica office in Long Beach.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned through experience?

Brad: “Hiring the right people is absolutely critical. If you realize you haven’t hired the right person, fix it immediately. The problem with real estate is you learn most of the time from making a mistake. It’s not a business you can learn theoretically. You just have to do it and bump your head a whole bunch of times and learn your lessons.”

What are some experiences that resonate with you?

Brad: “One of our first agents in Longview had been out of the workforce for 28 years raising a family. She decided to get back into the workforce and entered real estate with no background whatsoever. She was a great student and becomes wildly successful in her first six months. When she got her first commission check (for about $10,000) she just looked at the check with tears rolling down her cheeks and said. “I’ve never had this kind of freedom in 28 years. You have no idea how this makes me feel because I now know I can earn my own money.” She was always dependent on her husband for her income. You have those kinds of moments with agents, and then you have moments with clients who are sometimes reeling from the death of a loved one and have to have to sell a home or their super excited about a birth and have to buy a home. We get these amazing stories of people living life and we get to be a part of it.”

MaryAnn: “It’s walking through one of the most difficult and joyous processes of a person’s life. I just closed on a first-time homebuyer who was 53-years-old and needed to get out of apartment because she needed a provide a place for her kids and grandchild. I paid to help her get into a house and I would do it again. She didn’t have the $500 needed to get the inspection done in 10 days because she was on a fixed income. It’s those kinds of things.”

What gives you the greatest satisfaction?

Brad: “Watching our people grow and be successful. The challenge is it’s a 90-hour course to get your real estate license, but 95 percent of what’s in the test you never use. It’s important to know those federal and state laws, but not what you use on a daily basis. They don’t tell you how to talk to people or show a home properly.”

MaryAnn: “It’s fun to watch them going from having no idea to helping coach other new agents. There’s enough real estate to go around for everybody, so why not work together to help each other be better? If an agent calls at 11 at night, we’re going to answer the phone. The agents know we have their back, and that’s important.”

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