Emeritus Geary Jones: Getting Through Tough Times
REALTOR® Emeritus Geary Jones understands what it's like to work in challenging markets. Learn from his tips on finding new business and staying upbeat.
FEBRUARY 2009 | BY WENDY COLE
With 50 years of experience in the real estate industry, REALTOR® Emeritus Geary Jones, 81, has plenty of knowledge to share on coping with market downturns. Though he sold his Santa Cruz, Calif., brokerage, Coast Counties Realty, 10 years ago, he still works occasionally as a real estate consultant to buyers and sellers. Here, he recalls some of the rough patches he survived during his long career and offers advice on how to excel when the market doesn’t want to cooperate.
What was your most difficult period in the real estate business?
JONES: I remember 1966 as the worst year. Interest rates jumped from 4.75 percent to 7.5 percent within months. I made $3,000 for the whole year (equal to about $20,000 in 2008, according to MeasuringWorth.com). My wife was ill and not able to work and we were raising three sons. It wasn't easy. People had just stopped buying. I don't know if that downturn was as severe as things are today, but it was hard for families.
How did you manage?
JONES: I just kept at it seven days a week. I talked to as many people as I could to look for business. I have always been a walker. I still walk about three miles every morning. I'd stop people out in their yard and I would introduce myself and tell them what I did. It was amazing the response I would get. Someone might say, ‘Well, my folks are thinking about selling.' It taught me to get out and meet people. You can't sit in the office and expect to be successful.
Your independent brokerage employed five or six salespeople. What was it like running a company during market slowdowns?
JONES: I always encouraged optimism and preparation. Your conduct is always more convincing to people than your language. People notice how you behave and perform. You always need to do what you say you're going to do. I don't believe in luck. I was always believed in prospecting.
Did you ever have to make significant cutbacks to your business?
JONES: No, I always operated in a cutback position. There was never any extra money during those rough years in the 1960s and I was never extravagant with money.
How would you advise practitioners who are struggling now and having trouble envisioning brighter days for the business?
JONES: I encourage people not to complain. Peaks and valleys are part of the real estate world. That's easy to say, I realize. But my deepest worries are with home owners who are losing their property. I hate to think about the sleazy loan practices that were going on.
When your market was slow, what did you do to boost sales?
JONES: I never took more listings than I could serve, and I wouldn't accept overpriced properties. If I thought sellers were being stubborn, I wouldn't take the listing. I'd never lowball a property or go over the top in pricing it. And I would tell sellers: ‘If this doesn't sell, I will buy it at the listed price.’ I had to do that only three or four times in my career, and I probably overpaid, but each time I'd rent it out until the prices caught up. I never lost money, and I always stayed in touch with the people I was dealing with. And the homes turned out to be good investments.
Did you do anything specifically to help buyers?
JONES: Once or twice a year, I'd loan money to buyers for a down payment. Or I'd take a note on the commission until they could pay me in cash. People remember that. I knew they were good for it, and I wanted them to have the home. People always paid me back.
What were your criteria for recruiting new salespeople?
JONES: I always wanted to know how long they'd been licensed and where they’d worked. I'd check with the previous brokers for references. I wanted my salespeople to know me and I wanted to know them. If they had the slightest thoughts that they didn't want to come with me, that was fine. It was nothing personal. It was just business. I knew brokers who had quite a large sales team and there were always problems, among the salespeople and with customers. I wanted what I could control. I never had more than about six. I had people that I personally trained and they knew they had stick to my policies. I never had a lawsuit or any questions about my team. Now you can get sued for looking at someone the wrong way. You never know what a salesperson is saying to someone out in the field.
What were your expectations for salespeople who worked at your brokerage?
JONES: I encouraged them to save money and consider buying property, rather than leasing a Cadillac or whatever. I didn't like having agents who didn't know how to handle their money. It's more important to save some money and put it aside so when times get tough you have something to lean back on. I was in the Marines, and so were my two older boys who also got into the real estate business. That offered some good lessons. During hard times you learn to adjust. It's mental discipline. Even during the good times you need discipline.
Did you ever want to throw in the towel?
JONES: Never. After college I went work for Standard Oil, and when I realized I was never going to be president, I went into the real estate business. I never got too despondent even when things were bad. I never had time to think about other careers. I always felt that regardless of the nature of the economy, you have to stay positive and keep prospecting to let people know who you are.
What did you like best about real estate business?
JONES: The people. I got a lot of satisfaction helping people get into their first home. Even now people come up to me and say: 'You made me a wealthy person.' And I say: 'I don't think I did. Why do you say that?' They tell me that I talked them out of selling their place and that if they waited it would be worth their while. It makes you feel good that people remember you.
Any final pieces of wisdom for today’s REALTORS®?
JONES: Don't be discouraged. Keep prospecting. But don't prospect when you're feeling sorry for yourself. It reflects badly on you and it shows. The person you're talking to is going to say: 'This guy is a loser.' Have a good attitude. Be positive. During one slow period, people would ask, 'How's business?' and I'd say 'Unbelievable.’ If you want to think things are bad, then they will be bad. But don't say anything that is untrue. Life is better when you tell the truth. You can sleep at night. If you get a reputation for not telling the truth, you might as well walk out the door.