By Lisa A. Beach
When a couple gets married in a RE/MAX Balloon and writes their wedding vows to read like a California purchase contract, you know they’re committed to their company, their careers and each other. That commitment built a business still thriving 30 years later, despite market fluctuations, a recession, and sweeping changes in technology.
Back in 1988, Jack Williams and two partners opened RE/MAX Tehachapi in a small inland California community between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. Through big ups and big downs, the office crafted its success story firmly on the shoulders of its founder, Jack, who passed away on May 15.
What does it take to build a long-standing, successful real estate business?
“Jack did whatever he needed to do to keep the office going,” explains Diana, his wife of nearly 28 years and his sole business partner since 1990. “As much as Jack loved me, I think he loved his office more.”
A Fairly Rosy Beginning
When RE/MAX Tehachapi opened in 1988, the market was fair, and the average house price hovered at $85,000. But a big boom in 1989 increased the sales volume dramatically. “We sold a lot of real estate,” Diana recalls “I made over $100,000 in annual gross commission selling $89,000 houses.”
In the early 1990s, Diana remembers a dip in the market, where the average sales price dropped into the $60,000-$70,000 range. Business took a hit during that time, and Diana notes her $100,000 income sunk to $40,000 at times.
By the late 1990s, the market picked back up and continued strong until another boom in 2005. By then, RE/MAX Tehachapi was rolling again, with houses now selling, on average, for around $225,000.
Tough Times Ahead
Dealing with market fluctuations is one thing. Rebuilding a business from scratch is another.
“One of our agents left, opened her own office, and took every agent with her. Jack and I were by ourselves,” Diana recalls. “I would have closed up shop. But not Jack. This is a testament to him.” Jack simply told Diana, “Let’s move on.” And they did. They recruited again, hired more agents, and built the office back up—just in time for the recession to hit in 2008.
“The recession separated the men from the boys in the real estate industry,” Diana says, recalling how the downturn battered the industry and put the local average sales price in a nosedive to $175,000.
Still not ready to call it quits, Jack and Diana endured major personal sacrifice to keep the office going. “Jack loved the office so much that we decided to invest every penny of our retirement money and every penny I earned into keeping the office open. To Jack, the real estate office was everything, and RE/MAX was everything.”
As the market began to recover around 2011, Adonae Faris joined RE/MAX Tehachapi.
“I looked at other offices, and they were woefully lacking compared to RE/MAX Tehachapi. The fact that they had an in-house server and wanted to do paperless files was something I didn’t think I could find in a small community,” notes Adonae, who came from an escrow background in Los Angeles. “I was very surprised at how forward-thinking RE/MAX Tehachapi was and impressed by their commitment to the technology and their commitment to me.”
Commitment is an understatement. Because it was still a slow time for the market, Adonae struggled in the beginning. “In my first year of business, I sold one piece of land! I know how expensive it is to keep an agent on board who’s not producing,” Adonae says. “But Jack and Diana stuck with me, encouraged me, believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, set goals with me, and steered me in the right direction.” That experience really developed her loyalty, not only to the RE/MAX brand, but to Jack and Diana and this office.
“Their personal commitment, their history, what they continued to invest in their business—you don’t see that in real estate,” explains Adonae, who praises the couple’s sustainable system. “They stuck it out, and they stuck by me, which was transformative for me. That’s single-handedly why I am where I am today.”
And that agent who left, taking every agent with her? Jack and Diana welcomed her back about 10 years later—just further proof of their commitment to their people and doing what’s best for their office.
Looking back over those rollercoaster years, Diana and Adonae cite a few underlying themes that helped sustain the business.
“Jack’s legacy was that he was always forward-thinking in technology. He wanted to be the leader,” Diana says. From being an early-adopter of “bag phones” in those pre-mobile phone days to investing in a sophisticated server system to buying the latest office equipment, Jack never wanted to be left behind on the technology front. “We created our own paperless system before anyone else. We bought the very first RE/MAX Agent 2000 program—there was no cloud at that time. And every time we went to a RE/MAX convention, we came back with the latest and greatest,” Diana explains.
Volunteering, serving the community, and taking on a leadership role also served as a cornerstone of Jack’s legacy. Jack regularly volunteered with the Lion’s Club and the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce. It was important that his agents do the same. Not only did they get involved in serving their community, they followed in his footsteps at the Tehachapi Area Association of Realtors. An association member since 1987, Jack served as president in 1991, as did many of his agents over the past 26 years.
Another recurring theme: Training and personal and business development. “Jack was always fostering improvement in the office,” Adonae says. “He wanted to educate and develop agents both personally and professionally, to be that second family for everyone as he has been to so many agents.” To honor his legacy, Diana and Adonae will transform Jack’s desk area into the office training center, calling it Jack’s Corner.
From a small start-up with four people to a thriving office with 15 agents, RE/MAX Tehachapi is ready for the next chapter. At the recent 30th anniversary celebration, Diana announced that Adonae is now the broker-of-record and co-owner of the business.
“In our community where a lot of old dogs are running the show, we feel this partnership of new energy, new life, and that fire that Jack had in 1988, we’re bringing it back to the office,” says Adonae. “I’ll continue to do what Jack did, but in my own way, and always with his principles and his values. Jack left a foundation that can’t be broken, and I will honor it and serve it well.”
Author’s Bio: Lisa Beach is a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Florida Realtor, Eating Well, Good Housekeeping, ASAE’s Association Executive, and dozens more. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.