“What makes me tick is my family,” says Boomer Foster. “They are why I get up in the morning.”
For Long & Foster’s Larry “Boomer” Foster, who was named president of its general brokerage business three months ago, these words ring true. His uncle is the legendary P. Wesley “Wes” Foster, Jr., who founded the 46-year-old real estate business. “I always wanted to be part of the family business,” says the younger Foster, who started as a real estate agent at the Ashburn office in Loudoun County in 2006. “Wes made me no promises.”
Centered around Washington, D.C. – its headquarters is a huge Chantilly, Va., office building near Route 28 and Dulles Airport – Long & Foster Real Estate is the largest independent residential real estate company in the country. It has more than 11,000 agents, with 180 offices from New Jersey to North Carolina.
Foster works in partnership with Long & Foster Real Estate’s President Gary Scott. “Appointing an additional president to our general brokerage business is about staying as close to our agents as possible, and that becomes even more critical as we continue to expand,” said Jeffrey Detwiler, president and COO of the Long & Foster Companies.
For Foster, it all began in Jonesboro, Ga., where his family lived for decades. While youngsters his age had sports heroes like Muhammad Ali, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, he says, “Growing up I had two heroes: my dad and my uncle. And my dream was to either practice law with my dad at his office in the suburbs of Atlanta or to go to Northern Virginia for the family business in real estate.”
Since he is a junior, Larry Allen Foster, Jr., has kept the nickname his mother gave him before he was born: “Boomer” (because he kicked around in her womb).
The name made perfect sense for Foster as a tight end on the University of South Carolina football team 20 years ago, when USC won its first bowl game ever. Then, as a trial lawyer in Columbia, S.C., “the judges knew me as Boomer,” says Foster, who was wearing cufflinks resembling USC’s Gamecock mascot the day we interviewed him in his office.
At Long & Foster, the affable 42-year-old president draws on his legal skills of negotiation and strategic thinking, but one can also see his football position as a metaphor for his current position. A tight end can play the role of offensive lineman and wide receiver: big enough to hold the territory, quick enough to expand upfield – just like Long & Foster.
Indeed, with the company’s larger presence in Philadelphia and New Jersey and new offices in Charlottesville and Delaware, it is on the move.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve enjoyed significant growth along the beaches,” says Foster, explaining that the company has focused on connecting clients in metro areas with shore communities from New Jersey to North Carolina – for investment and vacation properties and rentals. As for Charlottesville, where he and his family live, “We opened three offices last fall in a matter of months . . . around 70 agents.”
“We’ve always grown conservatively,” he says, adding as an aside: “South Carolina is next.”
Like others in the Foster family, he sees the company’s agents as an extension of the family business. It is a business about relationships – caring about the clients and the agents. “It’s not something you can fake,” Foster says.
Whether it is “training, mentoring and coaching,” he adds, “Long & Foster makes sure our people are taken care of . . . When they need us, we’re there. You can call me . . . you can get Wes Foster on the phone this afternoon.”
Foster says the big competitors are franchises, which are predominantly “mom-and-pop shops that pay for the right to put an entity’s name on their door.” He sees Long & Foster as something more: “We’re invested in our people.” While he says he knows that may sound like a predictable answer, it also sounds authentic coming from Foster. “When somebody tells me, ‘You’re so not corporate,’” he says, “I take that as a compliment.”
To that end, Foster spends a lot of his time in the field – ideally, he says, 80 percent outside, checking firsthand, and 20 percent at headquarters. “Seek first to understand,” he likes to say. “If we try to run this company in a vacuum, we’re going to fail.”
With Scott directing the other offices – in New Jersey, Philly and the Virginia Tidewater area – Foster covers metro D.C., Montgomery County, Northern Virginia, West Virginia, southern Maryland, Charlottesville and Raleigh.
So, where is the Washington area’s strongest sales neighborhood? “For 2014, D.C. proper fared better than the suburbs,” Foster says. Doing well were upper-bracket-priced properties in the city. The West End and Foggy Bottom stood out as top-performing, with a nearly 18-percent increase in average sale prices in 2014.
Last year, he says, “First-time home buyers were not a big part of our marketplace.”
Nevertheless, he expects that situation to improve for those 34 or younger, the so-called millennials, as mortgage-lending restrictions ease and more credit becomes available. Interest rates, now at such a low, are looking to go up, he adds. “The historically low rates we are enjoying undoubtedly benefit buyers and sellers in the near term.”
Foster is bullish on the company’s Logan Circle office and its environs: “I think there is a ton of opportunity there. Long & Foster can handle the upper-bracket and the condo markets, and everything in between.”
“Our business has changed so much,” he says. “The agent’s role has changed – going from being a keeper of information to becoming a skilled negotiator, market expert and trusted advisor.”
At the end of his workweek, Foster leaves his Leesburg townhome and goes home to Charlottesville to be with wife Kathryne, daughter Mattie and son Larry.
His wife was very supportive of the move from their comfortable life in South Carolina, he says. “We took a leap of faith.”
It looks like it’s turning out all right for his young family – and for the family business.