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Real Estate Spotlight
Sanchez: Streamlining With Style
Whitney Saupan • January 17, 2014
“When I was a little girl, my girlfriends and I would play Barbies. They would dress them up and I would make Barbie furniture and Barbie houses,” said interior designer Victoria Sanchez.
So began a design career, which was on exhibit at the 2012 D.C. Design House.
Sanchez grew up around D.C. and has always lived here. She graduated from Marymount University in 1984. She has been designing for 30 years and has had her own business for 12. When she’s finished her designing career, she says, “I would like to be a college professor and teach interior design.”
“I’ve always been observant and had the gene and disposition to identify the basic principles of design,” Sanchez said. “My grandmother would take me antiquing. She would try and teach me how to point something out.”
She also said that her father helped her fine-tune her skills. “My father bought a lot of real estate. We would go to open houses, and I would say that this house would be better if they moved the wall, or they need a bigger kitchen.” Sanchez explained that these experiences helped her grow as a designer. “It’s my gift,” she said with a laugh.
What a gift it is. Her Teenager’s Getaway room in the D.C. Design House showed off her talent to a tee. The room is filled with bright colors, unique fabrics and intriguing furniture. Sanchez said her inspiration for this room came from her two teenage children and from Missoni patterns. “I saw the fabrics, and the light bulb hit me. I worked the design and it snowballed and grew, and I got very excited about it.”
She found items at antique shops, on eBay and at retail stores. “That was part of my inspiration, working outside the box, pushing myself, trying something new,” Sanchez said. “I put myself in a position like a client would. I bought some retail pieces, some used pieces and I put it all together and came up with a high-end, really fashionable room. I feel that more people are interested in reusing things. That they are interested in pieces that have a little bit of history. All new isn’t necessarily so fabulous anymore.”
In general, Sanchez gets her inspiration from her daily life. “Inspiration is really everywhere that I go every day. It’s all around us all the time. But until there is really a need for it — it doesn’t click or register.”
She also gets inspiration from other designers and from fabric and furniture manufacturers. “They work to identify the trends,” she said. “Then, when I’m exposed to the trends, I’m inspired to experiment with them and incorporate those trends into my design and my work.” She is also moved by classic design elements and architecture found in classical art. She said she believes that if a design has the basic elements then it will remain both timeless and spot-on.
When asked about the Washington style, Sanchez says that she sees a changing trend. “The traditional, federal, stereotypical designs seem very passé. All generations seem to be more interested in streamlining their interiors. There is a nod to the classic designs but not as heavy as in the past. Less is more seems to be the trend.”
For Sanchez, the best part of designing “is that I can fulfill my designer fantasies in other people’s homes. I love always being able to try new things all the time.” Sanchez also says that helping the client is a great part of the job. “My job, as a designer, is to take my clients’ wishes and turn them into their reality. I have the skills and resources, which is why they come to me. At the end of the day, I make people’s homes beautiful for them.” ? [gallery ids="100876,127386" nav="thumbs"]
With Charity in Mind, Real Estate Agents Become Agents of Change
“It’s amazing when our people can group together and do anything to make a difference,” said Dana Landry, principal broker at Washington Fine Properties. “The power of teamwork is remarkable.”
While real estate agents deal with powerful clients in their day jobs, many find it gratifying to help with local charities that range from national or neighborhood projects to individuals needing help with food or shelter.
“There are so many good causes out there, and we like to support as many as we can,” Landry said. “As a company, we believe that supporting the charities that are important to our agents is important to us.” Some of these charities include the Georgetown House Tour, Trees for Georgetown, Georgetown Ministry Center, Friends of Rose Park and the Washington National Cathedral.
Coldwell Banker, one of the nation’s most recognized and oldest real estate company, gives back to the community through the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Cares Foundation and by teaming up with the Washington Humane Society.
Among these charities, Coldwell Banker has introduced a program in 2005 called the Cornerstones of Life Program, which aims to strengthen the cornerstones needed to create a successful life. Coldwell Banker is also involved in Harvest for the Hungry, Golf Tournament, Heart Walks, Toys for Tots, Habitat for Humanity and Go Red.
TTR Sotheby’s International Realty works actively with Charity Works, USO, and the See Forever Young Adult Center. All of these non-profits work together to provide families, children, and troops the necessary help they need within the community — including the Washington Luxury House Tour.
“Some of the causes where we are most involved in Georgetown include the Citizens Association’s Trees for Georgetown, Georgetown Jingle (benefiting Georgetown University’s Pediatric Oncology Center) and our many parks, including the Friends of Volta Park, the Friends of Montrose Park and the Friends of Rose Park,” said Michael Rankin, co-founder of TTR Sotheby’s International.
Long & Foster Real Estate, one of the largest real estate companies in the nation, supports You Feed Others (UFO). On June 6, Long & Foster employees spent the day creating food kits for its annual Community Service Day. They donated food kits to school systems thanks to the You Feed Others program.
“This annual event, now in its 15th year, is a vital and important part of Long & Foster’s culture,” said Wes Foster, chairman and CEO of the Long & Foster Companies, which also donates to Levine Music School, Washington Ballet, Studio Theatre, AmeriCares and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. “Many charities and local organizations are struggling as a result of the continued pressure on the economy.”
“We aim to be involved locally at least once a month by bringing the office into areas where our efforts are needed,” said Stacy Berman, branch manager of Long & Foster’s Georgetown office. “Last week, we hosted a lunch for the Georgetown Senior Center. It was such a great experience for both the seniors and the realtors.”
There are others, of course, but these four real estate companies contribute by working with local charities to create a change for the better.
With their donations and volunteering, Coldwell Banker, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, Washington Fine Properties and Long & Foster Real Estate have all made a difference.
Beasley Real Estate
Beasley Real Estate, the boutique property brokerage firm that started up Feb. 1 this year, has a clear vision of how it can give its clients the best service.
“Our clients come first, and our brand comes second,’’ said founder and managing partner Jim Bell. After only three months in business, Beasley has already sold more than 40 properties in the Washington area. The properties sold range from $300,000 condos to $6-million houses. Already, with the launch of its new mobile application and a strategic partnership with auction house Bonhams, Beasley Real Estate has expanded its client services in old and new ways.
Jim Bell’s background is in banking and finance in addition to a number of years in real estate brokerage with Washington Fine Properties. Bell said he believes that it was time for a company model to be focused on the client and the client’s properties.
“We want to be the foundation for our client’s success and absolutely everything we do is based on that,’’ Bell said. Beasley’s advertising is a perfect example of how they do things differently compared to other companies, he added. Instead of having the brand name on top, with many small photos under with the same size for each property, Beasley Real Estate have chosen to highlight two or three properties in its ads, using larger photos and only having the brand logo down in the right corner. ‘’So many of my clients in the past has come to me and said, ‘Hey, Jim, where am I? Where’s my house? I can’t find it.’ I had a really tough time with that,” he said.
“Now that it’s not about the company but about the client, you visually see our client’s properties in our advertising,” said Bell enthusiastically. “I feel very strongly about that, and that’s one of the core reasons why Beasley was created.’’ Beasley was his grandfather’s name. “I didn’t want the name to be about me,’’ he said, emphasizing the importance of putting the clients interest first. Although it cost more to advertise fewer houses in each ad, Bell pointed out that in doing so they make their client’s houses shine.
“The best agents, the best properties, the best results’’ is the company motto. To ensure that all clients get top-quality services, all agents at Beasley must have a minimum of ten years experience before they start and a minimum of $10-million annual production.
The company has a worldwide presence as well. At the moment, 60 percent of its clients are actually from Europe. Beasley currently has four agents based in Washington. ‘’We will also have a London representative soon, hopefully by the fall. We want a person there to help our clients in the United Kingdom with their needs,’’ Bell said.
To tune with its international connections, Beasley and the auction house Bonhams celebrated their partnership at the George Town Club April 5 with a Bonhams exhibit, “The Mapping and Discovery of America.” Antique maps, manuscripts and books were on display at the club before heading to New York. Martin Gammon, D.C. regional head of Bonhams, said he was more than pleased to partner with the real estate group and its clients.
“I love Bonhams,” Bell said. “When I really started strategically mapping out the company, a lot of my clients over the years have always come from London. So, it was logical for the number of people in Washington that had properties in and around London and the U.K. to have that connection. Bonhams is worldwide partner of us, they branded very well with the opening of our Washington office.”
“I’ve been a Bonhams client for a number of years,” he continued. “We have the same client base. So, it’s a real treat for our clients to have direct access to an auction house. We introduce our clients to Bonhams and our clients are very much using their services. At the end of the day, that’s what the collaboration is there for: to be another service for our clients.”
Also, an online presence has always been a big part of what Bell does. “Making it visually appealing to people is really important,” Bell said. The website has had 240,000 hits since Feb. 1. “We’re only three months old,” he added. “So, that’s incredible. We’ve got 3,400 unique visitors, which is an incredibly high number. Those are people who are on our site every 48 hours looking for information.’’
A couple of weeks ago, the company launched the Beasley Real Estate application for smartphones and tablets. The app combines information about properties with Google Earth technology. If you are walking around with the map function on, the map will populate the neighborhood around you as you walk. First of all, the map will show you which houses are for sale around your location. Then, you can click on it and view information and photos. Second, you can also see what other properties in the same area sold for. The map will also show you rentals and commercial properties. “It’s not just information about Beasley properties,” said Bell, who appeared on Fox 5 Morning News a week ago to explain the app as he stood in front of a P Street house. “With this app you can become a market expert. It’s a great tool for consumers to help them know what they’re doing and to make the best decisions.”
84th Georgetown Garden Tour:
Some of them are grand. Some are architecturally intriguing, some full of plants with exotic names, like chocolate mimosa (you don’t drink it) and Cambodian buddhas. The 84th Georgetown Garden Tour takes place Saturday, May 5, and it is all about the eight paces, large and small, tucked behind high walls. One of the recurring themes of the tour is how inventive Georgetowners can take a tiny space and turn it into a dynamic and interesting outdoor “room.”
The garden tour, which is, after all, an urban garden tour, focuses on the problems inherent in small, enclosed gardens: the neighbors, their trees, their children, sun, the lack of it. It is impressive what people can do with small gardens. They create spaces on different levels, they “borrow” views, install marvelous statuary from exotic lands, put in charming water features, plant masses of very dark purple foliage (almost black). All of these are on show in this year’s tour.
One such garden is 3200 P Street, according to long-time garden tour organizer and local tyrant Edie Schafer. “It is extremely interesting, it has everything in it, they’ve got a water feature and they’re really into the plants. It is a small space, but they’ve done a lot with it,” she says. That’s part of what draws a crowd to the tour.
These gardens don’t necessarily start out with beautiful bones and knockout views; their owners have to work to turn them into something special.
There are plenty of big, grand gardens as well. Bowie-Sevier house, which stretches from Q to P Street, has old boxwoods, a pool and a play area for the young family which lives there. You could get lost there, the space is so vast. The garden on the corner of 28th and Q is also attached to a stately old house, and the trees there have probably seen more intrigue than your average member of Congress.
Some houses interact so well with their gardens that you can’t really see one without engaging with the other. A house on 28th Street boasts a low curving wall, a windowpane mirror and a terrific, multi-trunked Kousa dogwood. But what’s really alluring about the space is the way the big light-filled living room opens into the
garden. It makes you want to grab a book and sit in the sun, though the house’s owners might have other ideas.
For a Georgetowner, one of the best parts of the tour is the authorized snooping. The neighborhood is full of pleasant little houses and vine-covered walls. But when you get behind the front walls, it really gets interesting. Spectacular secrets lie in wait, swimming pools, Balinese dancers, rare cacti. To the outsider, Georgetown is closed up, has its street face on. To tour goers, all is revealed.
Gardens are always changing, Schafer says. “When you put a vine on a house it often has its own plans, like taking off all over the place or refusing to climb where you want it to climb, and ends up somewhere you don’t want it to be. This is also true of low-growing perennials and groundcovers: you put them in a bed and the next thing you know they are all over the lawn, not what you had in mind at all. So, then you dig them up and put them back where they should be. Do they stay there? Not necessarily.” That’s the reason why the garden tour is so interesting, she says.
Some of these homeowners are “fearless gardeners,” Schafer adds, happy to try new ideas, new plants, new ways of looking at the world in their backyard. After all, the word, “paradise,” comes from a Persian word for walled gardens.
The tour runs Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can get tickets for $35 at (http://GeorgetownGardenTour.com)[GeorgetownGardenTour.com], or call 202-965-1950.
Christ Church, 31st and O Streets, N.W., will serve as headquarters for the tour. In addition to purchasing tickets at the Church, you may also peruse the unique Garden Boutique which will offer beautiful topiaries, fine porcelain vases, and unusual gardening tools for sale. Included in your ticket price is an afternoon tea served at Keith Hall, Christ Church, 2 to 4 p.m. The not-to-be missed tea features cookies, tea sandwiches and sweets, all handmade by members of the Georgetown Garden Club. [gallery ids="100770,123483,123469,123478" nav="thumbs"]
Long & Foster’s Detwiler: Strategist in a Reviving Economy
From his Chantilly, Va., office near Route 28 and Dulles Airport, Jeffrey S. Detwiler, president and chief operating officer of the Long & Foster Companies, sees the dynamism and traffic of Northern Virginia. Here, he keeps tabs on the company’s wide-ranging real estate activities and checks updates on his iPad as he speaks confidently about the national and local real estate market and a company that has become a real estate icon.
“The epicenter of housing recovery is Washington, D.C.,” Detwiler says. Centered here, Long & Foster operates offices from Pennsylvania and New Jersey down through North Carolina and tracks the trends, such as seeing Richmond nine months behind the Washington area.
“The Mid-Atlantic region is the best performing region in the nation,” he says. “The real estate market is so local, and Long & and Foster is the best place to be during tough times.” One thing is for sure: Other corporate real estate giants have come and gone and have tried to buy the company, co-founded by chairman and CEO P. Wesley Foster, Jr., in 1968. Indeed, the legendary Foster is the one who has bought other firms adding to his army of 12,000 sales associates with 170 sales offices.
In a competitive field during an economic downtown, Detwiler says he knows that agents need any extra edge they can get. We are in “a never-before-seen real estate market,” says the 50-year-old president. “It is harder today than ever before. From the agent to seller, we have to be 24/7 business-ready. We have an e-real estate team to help.” And he is well aware that the “next generation is using social media to find agents, too.”
“The years 2003 through 2007 were an anomaly,” he says. “There was a mortgage bubble.” The additional agents who jumped into the market are gone now. As for the housing economy, he says, “The banks are scared to death and don’t want to make mistakes. Appraisers are scared, too, and people are scared to buy. Consumer confidence affects sales.”
Detwiler lists four fundamental issues affecting housing: overly tight credit; negative equity; consumer debt, especially sub prime loans; distressed assets. “They complicate the system,” he calmly says. “The government can do more. So many loans are dinged up. In January 2010, we began to adjust to the new world. . . . It will return to normal in 2015 or 2016.”
Nevertheless, “spring has been a great selling season,” relative to business last year, Detwiler says. In Georgetown, specifically, number of units sold is up 24 percent over last spring. Median sale price is down roughly 15 percent year-over-year, but inventory continues to tighten, which leads to a more balanced real estate market, and sellers in Georgetown are receiving about 95 percent of their list price when they sell, on average.
Long & Foster made the biggest neighborhood and D.C. sale of 2011 with Evermay, the estate on 28th Street, going for $22 million. Right now, it is listing a 31st Street historic home, across from Tudor Place, for $6.75 million. Over near Massachusetts Avenue, it has two listings within four blocks of each other: one on Benton Place for $12 million and another on Whitehaven Street for $6.95 million. A different company holds the highest-price listing in D.C.: a Chain Bridge Road property across from Battery Kimble Park for $16 million.
Luxury home listings and million-dollar-plus homes have become a greater part of Long & Foster’s strategy; it already has almost 30 percent of all the million-plus sales in the Mid-Atlantic region. Aware that local sales can go global, its Extraordinary Properties group includes exclusive affiliations with Christie’s International Real Estate, Luxury Real Estate and Luxury Portfolio International. More worldwide connections mean more sales.
For these efforts as well as for Long & Foster’s mortgage and insurance entities, Detwiler has at least 25 years of finance and real estate-related experience to draw upon. “My previous businesses share the same model,” he says.
In fact, when Detwiler arrived at Long & Foster in 2009, the charming, down-to-earth, yet tenacious co-founder Wes Foster appeared incredulous. “At first, Wes could not fathom a non-real estate guy running the show,” he says. “What I brought to the table was a different view. The company is at a different point in its life: it has more structure and financial discipline.”
A Princeton graduate, who majored in psychology, Detwiler brought 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry along with his other work in traditional banking, insurance and portfolio management. “Detwiler has benefited from having direct responsibility as the senior executive for all facets of the mortgage business that included sales and production, capital markets and trading, finance and risk management, operations and technology, and servicing,” Foster announced at the time.
According to Long & Foster, “Detwiler was the chief production officer for the Correspondent Channel at Countrywide/Bank of America. The Correspondent Channel included correspondent lending, warehouse lending and Landsafe origination services. In this role he was accountable for all revenue-producing activities. Prior to Countrywide, Detwiler worked on Wall Street for Credit Suisse First Boston in the mortgage trading and finance group. While at CSFB, he built and managed the warehouse lending business, and reengineered and oversaw the servicing operation. In addition, he designed, built and managed the mortgage conduit. Before Detwiler moved to Wall Street, he spent ten years at GMAC/RFC and was the chairman of the Conduit Operating Committee.”
For a firm which began in a single, 600-square-foot office in Fairfax, Va., and became the largest privately-owned real estate company in America, Detwiler looks like part of its continual plan for more firepower. Long & Foster has that developing foresight and zeal — and well-regarded, connected executives. Detwiler’s predecessor was David Stevens who left Long & Foster to become head of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and is now president of the Mortgage Bankers of America.
Long & Foster’s headquarters in Chantilly opened five years ago just as the housing bubble burst. It is a massive Williamsburg-style office building, built with handmade, rough-hewn bricks and filled with art, sculptures along with murals depicting a developing Washington in the mid-1800s. There are other tenants in the five-story structure with adjacent land available for new construction in a healthier economy.
In 2011, Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., sold more than $22 billion worth of homes and helped more than 69,000 people buy and sell homes. The combined sales and equivalents for the Long & Foster Companies in 2011 were in excess of $42 billion.
After Detwiler came from California to head the parent company — it includes Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., Prosperity Mortgage Company, Walker Jackson Mortgage Corporation, Long & Foster Settlement Services, and Long & Foster Insurance Agency, Inc. — one corporate trait stuck him. “It was eye-opening to me,” he says. “People have been here 20 to 25 years. It makes a big company seem small.”
Such staying power is owed in no small part to Wes Foster himself, now in his late 70s, and known for his honest, personal touch as well as hard-driving spirit. And you can bet that Detwiler with his ready smile and business acumen has a similar competitive glint in his eyes. Just what Foster ordered. [gallery ids="100719,120646" nav="thumbs"]
20 Years of CORE Building the Cornerstones of Georgetown
For the team at CORE Architecture and Design, their story of success began with Dean & Deluca.
Twenty years ago, the fledgling practice was building its business in the middle of a recession, finding most of their projects redesigning corporate interiors.
When Dean & Deluca hired the company to redesign the historic market house on M Street, a landmark piece was added not only to Georgetown’s growing pedigree, but also to CORE’s.
“That’s what really launched our retail and restaurant practices because, once it was built, we had immediate credibility,” said Dale Stewart, managing principal of CORE. “People said, ‘Well, if you can do Dean & Deluca, you can certainly do my retail.’”
That project lead to increasingly creative ventures in retail, restaurants and historic renovation and adaptation. Fast-forward to the practice’s 20th anniversary, and CORE has grown to hold one of the largest and most diverse resumes in the District.
Some of the company’s most recognizable projects include Mei n You, Ping Pong, Georgetown Cupcake and the Bank of Georgetown’s multiple locations, among others.
Located at 1010 Wisconsin, just a couple blocks away from Dean & Deluca, CORE’s office is a sleek, modern space conducive to the firm’s collaborative nature, one of the keys to its many achievements.
In the back room where all of CORE’s members can see them, idea boards are filled with pictures, fabrics and trinkets that will eventually grow to inspire the architecture and design of spaces across D.C.
“The great thing about us right now is that we have this diversity of projects and also this diversity of talent,” said Guy Martin, CORE principal. “We have people who will work on some place the like Sweetgreen for two weeks, then switch to an office building, then switch back.”
The practice consists of over 30 architects and designers. Many of those people will work on multiple projects simultaneously, and communication about projects is encouraged throughout the office.
“I think the culture of our office is very casual. We’re a very collaborative office so there’s not a lot of hierarchy,” said Allison Cooke, a senior designer at CORE. “We’re lucky to have a lot of people who are very talented but also very self motivated.”
Over the 17 years CORE has been located in Georgetown, it watched the community grow around it.
“Georgetown is still a very design-centered community. The sheer number of architects, interior designers, show rooms, furniture retail – it’s kind of marvelous,” Martin said.
“It’s definitely our home,” Stewart added.
For Martin, who joined CORE in 2007, moving to the firm was a true homecoming. He was raised here, and his father, now at the healthy age of 101, still resides in Georgetown. He remembers the replacement of biker bars with French bistros, the migration of antique dealers up and down Wisconsin, and the old storefronts of hardware and tack stores on M Street.
On many occasions, CORE aided that transformation. Sweetgreen, for instance, used to be a Hamburger Hamlet.
The projects Stewart, Martin and Cooke enjoyed most are those that tested them in their abilities and acted as catalysts for the expansion and growth of surrounding communities. Dean & Deluca was one example, along with the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street.
Their restaurants, retail stores and other venues draw people in, helping businesses grow their brand and communities profit.
The ultimate goal of the practice, according to Stewart and Martin, is to take on a project that will converge all of the firm’s talents in one building: a boutique hotel that they would build from the ground up.
Such a space would challenge their knowledge of the restaurant, hospitality and retail industry, it would draw on their experience building luxury apartments and hotels, and would stretch them further by combining them in ways they haven’t faced before.
The business itself, however, does not want to build up too far.
“We don’t ever want to get awfully, awfully big because I think the success of the firm rests on this collaborative effort,” Martin said. “You can’t do that with 100 people.” Stewart agreed, saying that he never wanted to grow so large that the principals couldn’t be involved in every project.
“I think that high level of quality,” Cooke added, “is something that we’ll stress overall.” [gallery ids="100518,119188,119180,119160,119173,119168" nav="thumbs"]
Long & Foster Celebrates 45 Years — and Wes Foster’s 80th Birthday
Robert Devaney • December 2, 2013
Over the last couple of weeks, Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc., the largest independent residential real estate company in the United States, has been celebrating 45 years in the real estate industry. Today, Nov. 25, it also celebrates co-founder Wes Foster’s 80th birthday.
Well known in Washington, D.C., and Georgetown. Long & Foster prides itself as a company that was “founded on the principles of integrity, innovation, honesty and good old-fashioned customer service—values it continues to support today.”
Here are some detailed from a company news release:
Long & Foster was founded in 1968 by P. Wesley (Wes) Foster, Jr., and Henry Long in a 600-square-foot office in Fairfax, Va. The company then comprised Foster, Long and one employee. It provided residential and commercial real estate services, selling about $3 million in volume in the first year. Since then, Long & Foster has grown to more than 11,500 agents and employees in seven states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and it is now part of the Long & Foster Companies, which also includes Prosperity Mortgage Company, Long & Foster Insurance, Long & Foster Settlement Services, a corporate relocation services division and one of the largest property management firms in the United States. The companies’ combined sales for 2012 were in excess of $48 billion, about half of which resulted from the real estate business.
“From the time I started this company, our goals were to provide the best service possible to our real estate clients, create wonderful career opportunities for real estate professionals, and do better today than we did yesterday,” said Foster, chairman and CEO of the Long & Foster Companies. “It is with great pride that I can now say Long & Foster has been doing so for more than 45 years. It couldn’t have been done without the support of my family and the many real estate agents and employees who have worked so hard to make Long & Foster such a successful company.”
“We are thrilled to be celebrating 45 years of success at Long & Foster as well as Wes’s 80th birthday,” said Jeffrey S. Detwiler, president and chief operating officer of the Long & Foster Companies. “As a company, we’re greatly looking forward to continuing to provide top-notch real estate services and the total homeownership experience for clients across the Mid-Atlantic region for the next 45 years and beyond.”
See the March 13th Georgetowner for a profile of Wes Foster and his company Here
Life & Times In Real Estate: Wes Foster
Robert Devaney • November 25, 2013
Once upon a time in America, a boy left Georgia to become a Virginia Military Institute cadet, then a soldier, and later an aluminum siding salesman. He turned to selling real estate in Washington’s booming suburbs in the 1960s and now commands the largest privately owned residential real estate company in the United States. The story of P. Wesley Foster, Jr., is the story of 20th-century American success.
Foster is the chairman and CEO of Long & Foster Companies, headquartered in Chantilly, Va. His easy manner tells a tale of an American life we hope can still happen today. Georgetowner editors got a chance to sit down with the real estate legend.
As his executive assistant offered us coffee, Foster greeted us in his modest—at least by Donald Trump’s standards—office. The space immediately telegraphs his main loves — real estate, VMI, America, football, art, his family and especially his wife, Betty.
Feeling casual with Foster’s disarming charm, one of us flippantly began, referring to Long & Foster. “I know all about you guys.” Foster shot back, “I doubt it.”
No doubt, Foster has built a real estate and financial services empire step-by-step, agent-by-agent and office-by-office for longer than four decades. Who has not seen a Long & Foster sign somewhere during a daily drive? Such effort to build the top independent real estate company in America is not for the faint of heart, short of time or low of aim.
These days, however, Foster can take it a little easier: “I get up around 7 a.m. and read the paper,” he said. He doesn’t arrive at the office until just before 9 a.m. Foster and his wife—a sculptor who taught at the Corcoran and was on its board—moved to a townhouse in Old Town, Alexandria, after spending 32 years in their McLean, Va., home with almost four acres. “I go for a walk with my wife when the weather is good in the afternoons,” he continued. “So, I leave the office around 3:30 or 4 p.m. … I’ll be 80 in November. I don’t work as hard as I used to.”
Fair enough. He deserves that, although he still visits the branch offices and sales meetings as often as he can. In Foster’s early years, the opposite surely was the case. His long hours involved a six-day work week.
It’s this sort of discipline that Foster needed to build his company, but he has had some vices along the way. The first of which has been a sweet tooth. He manages his love for chocolate, and even turned to candy while he quit smoking when he was 30. “I was dating my wife and carried around a little bag of chewing gum and lifesavers,” he said.
As to the impact of the recent economic recession on the housing industry, Foster is clear. “We went through about five years of challenges in the market. Our production went down from 2005 to – I don’t know where the low point was, 2008 or 2009 . . . and now we are fortunate to see growth once again. As tough as it was to do, we continued investing in our company and our people. That’s what makes us so optimistic going forward.”
Not that Long & Foster itself was immune from such miscalculations. Its huge Chantilly headquarters building is an unexpectedly imposing Williamsburg-style building that has a similarly styled garage with more than 1,000 parking spaces, which Foster has dubbed “the best-looking parking garage in Washington.” He is pleased that the company has just negotiated a lease for 50,000 square feet and looks forward to welcoming new tenants to the building. “It’s a beautiful building and we are quite proud of it,” he said. “I think our headquarters represents the stability and confidence of our company and our agents.”
Still, the economy appears in recovery—with the stock market hitting an all-time high and unemployment numbers lowering March 8—but Foster remains cautious: “I’m not sure that it’s going to be that great [a recovery] because the Federal government has to get its house in order. The good news is that our company is well positioned to succeed in any scenario. I learned early on that if we lead our team to focus on the basics – really taking great care of every single client, one transaction at a time – then together as a team, we can weather any kind of market and emerge even stronger.”
Regarding the economy, Foster added: “We still have some work to do.” And as far as a true recovery in real estate? “We are working our way through and are beginning to see a real shift in the market.”
For Foster, such an approach illuminates his life. At VMI, he was on the football team. “My playing wasn’t that great,” he said. “But I played, played all four years. I was a slow, small guard.” Working his way through, even then. Foster has never truly left his beloved VMI. “I’m on the board there,” he said. “I go down there three or four times a year …” In 2006, VMI’s football stadium complex was dedicated as the P. Wesley Foster, Jr., Stadium.
So, what brought Foster to Washington, D.C., and specifically, its suburbs?
“When I graduated from VMI, I took a job,” Foster said. “I didn’t go directly into the military. You could take a year off and work in those days. So, I delayed my military duty for one year, and worked for Kaiser Aluminum. They put me in the Chicago office. When I got there I hated it. I mean, it was a place a little southern boy didn’t want to go to. But, by the time I left the next spring, I nearly left with tears in my eyes. I had a great time.”
Foster served his military duty as many young American men do and served for two years in West Germany. He was in the 8th Infantry Division—“Pathfinder”—and served as a special weapons liaison officer to the German III Corps. (Begun in World War I, this army division was inactivated in 1992.)
When his time was up, Foster said he toured Europe, thus igniting his love of travel. “They’d let you get out of the army over there and for up to a year, they would send your car and you home for free,” Foster recalled with a smile. “You could get out and travel if you wanted to. . . . Well, I got out, and a buddy and I … drove my Volkswagen to Moscow. The United States had an American exhibition that year and [Vice President Richard] Nixon was over there speaking. Got tears in my eyes watching him speak.” (This was the famous “kitchen debate” between Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in July 1959.)
Soon enough, our American GI returned home, with no money to his name. Foster got his old job back at Kaiser Aluminum and sold aluminum building products to homebuilders in 15 cities across the United States. Foster ran the program for a year. “Boy, did I get tired of that. I’d get up in the morning and have to think for a while about which city I was in that day.”
Nevertheless, one thing does lead to another. “All the guys I had been working with at Kaiser Aluminum got interested in the real estate business because we were working with builders, and I thought I’d become a builder,” he said.
This English major seemed still to be undecided on his career path. “I thought about law school,” Foster said. “My two brothers were lawyers, and had I never made it in real estate. . . . I would have probably gone onto law school and become a mediocre lawyer.”
So, why think that way and why the success in real estate? We asked.
“The guys that really tear it up are very bright. … I think I have a knack for this [real estate] business and see things that other people don’t see. In college, I graduated in the middle of my class. I may not have graduated at the top of my class, but I think I was the most persistent and worked the hardest – that’s what, after all of these years, has driven the growth and success of Long & Foster.”
Foster admitted that he sees “opportunities that other people don’t pick up,” and said a large part of his success was due to the “companies we acquire, and the people we hire and team up with. We choose to associate with people that share our values – teamwork, integrity and a drive for results. A team like this can be magical.”
Before that powerful recognition was a beginning: “I happened to meet a young fellow by the name of Minchew, who was also from Georgia and was a good builder here in Northern Virginia,” Foster recalled. “I went to work for him selling his homes. Worked for him for three years.”
Foster lived in Annandale, “sold a lot of new houses . . . and met my wife here,” he said.
“I had a roommate at VMI who was a Navy SEAL doctor and had come to Washington to do his deep sea diving training, if you can believe it, at Andrews Air Force Base,” Foster said. “He went skiing one weekend and rode up the ski lift with a pretty girl who became my wife. He introduced me to her and said, ‘Man, I’m leaving town, call her.’ ”
From Connecticut, Foster’s future wife moved to Virginia to be near her brother, an Episcopal priest. “We raised our family right here in Virginia,” Foster said. He is a father to three, and now a grandfather to six, ranging in age from teenagers to a four-year-old, all boys, and all of whom he takes delight, especially the youngest.
Today, of course, some of the family is involved in the business: son Paul Foster looks after offices in Montgomery County and D.C.; son-in-law Terry Spahr runs the New Jersey and Delaware offices; and nephew Boomer (Larry) Foster oversees offices in Northern Virginia and West Virginia. “Even as a large company, it’s important that we remain a family company. That way, our commitment to our agents and their success is unwavering,” Foster said.
Before all these company positions were possible, Foster had to meet Long. While working in Annandale on a new development, called “Camelot,” a name which Foster still dislikes to this day, he met Henry Long, an Air Force bomber pilot. The two worked together in a firm and then decided to start their own. And what of those good-looking homes in “Camelot”? They sold very well despite that name.
“We both went to military schools,” he said of Long. “He went to VPI [Virginia Tech]. I’d gone to VMI. He had flown B-47s. I shot rockets. He was commercial, and I was residential. We’d start a company, and we flipped a coin. He won and got his name first. I got to be president. We took off. We were partners for 11 years until 1979. Merrill Lynch came along and wanted to buy us, and he wanted to sell and basically do what he was doing and that was being a developer. So, I bought him out of the company.”
Foster has been asked the question again and again. We asked again, too, if he would sell the company. He folded his arms, leaned back and said: “I don’t want to sell . . . We have brought together some of the best business minds from inside and outside real estate to take our firm to the next level, and that gives us a solid succession plan as a family-owned company. Not many firms like ours can say that.”
“Family members play an instrumental role in the company,” Foster said. “I’ll be a large part of this as long as I can, but my three children own practically all of the company now. So, that’s all set. They will keep the family company spirit and leverage our management team to make sure we are on the right path.”
Things may be set internally, but elsewhere, competition remains for Long & Foster. In one of the nation’s hottest residential markets, that’s a given. “Good competitors drive us to better ourselves every single day,” Foster said. “It’s a great incentive to stay on top of your game and advance your business.”
“For example, luxury real estate, particularly in the D.C. area, is huge. Everyone out there today is vying for luxury business – and while we do sell more million-dollar-plus homes than anyone, our competitors keep us on our toes. That’s why we leverage our affiliation with Christie’s International Real Estate for our agents and their clients. The Christie’s brand really matters – it’s immediately recognizable as ‘high end,’ and it gets us in front of the most exclusive buyers and sellers from around the globe. Only our agents can market with the Christie’s brand.” Indeed, the biggest D.C. sale in 2011—the Evermay estate in Georgetown – was sold by Long & Foster.
How do you deal with all the egos? We asked. “The best you can,” Foster wryly replied. “We give them all of the tools and the backing of a great brand – and they do what they do best – work with buyers and sellers.”
“I will tell you this,” he said. “What we look for, especially in managers, is good empathy and a drive for results. When we achieve this, it is a winning combination for our company, and most importantly, for our agents and their clients. That is the key.”
From start to finish, Foster can easily detect that. “I grew up fairly poor and went to college on a scholarship, and my brothers also went to college on scholarships,” he said. “We’ve had a fair amount of drive. Two were lawyers and one is a developer now in Atlanta. I am truly humbled by the success of the company and my team. It is an honor that so many clients put their trust in Long & Foster and our team of agents.”
At a Glance:
Long & Foster is the largest independent residential real estate company in the United States.
Long & Foster represents more than 10,000 agents at approximately 170 offices across seven Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, plus the District of Columbia.
For 2012, Long & Foster’s sales volume exceeded $24.8 billion and with more than 74,000 transactions; this is up from $22 billion and 69,000 transactions in 2011. 2012 marked a year of significant growth for Long & Foster, seeing an increase in volume of 14 percent and a 9-percent increase in unit sales.
While Long & Foster was founded as a real estate company, today its family of companies offers everything customers need as it relates to buying selling, or owning real estate – including mortgage, insurance, settlement, property management and corporate relocation services.
Long & Foster Companies’ combined sales volume and equivalents for 2012 were $48.7 billion, a $6-billion increase from 2011 figures.
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New Condos in Georgetown
Corrie Dyke • November 7, 2013
While future condominiums’ designs are debated, here are some in and around town that are selling now or are about to be.
1045 Wisconsin Ave.
Developer: EastBanc has broken ground
Expected Completion: mid-2014.
Unit Sizes: 3,000 to 4,000 sq. ft. at the site on the Misc.: ground level retail, a green roof and below-grade parking
2251 Wisconsin Ave.
Developer: Altus Realty, Chesapeake Realty Partners and Ellisdale Construction
Expected Completion: Late 2014
Unit Sizes: Unknown
Misc: The $39-million project will revamp the building occupied by the Washington Sports Club and Glover Park Hardware and put up a second building on what is now a parking lot.
Adams Mason House
Expected Completion: Late 2013
Misc: One, two and three-bedroom condos, as well as approximately 3,500 square feet of office or retail space.
1072 Thomas Jefferson St., NW.
Developer: Duball LLC, Buvermo Properties and Stanley Martin Companies LLC
Expected Completion: Complete
Unit Sizes: 2,100 – 3,500 sq. ft.
Misc: Townhomes, $1.5M – $1.9M
MacArthur Boulvard between Foxhall Road and Q Street, NW.
Key Bridge Exxon Site
Expected Completion: TBD
Unit Sizes: 1,800 – 2,200 sq. ft.
Misc: The five-story building will be 50 feet tall with 72,000 sq. ft. of building area.
3601 M St., NW.
Developer: Argos Group
Expected Completion: Late 2013
Unit Sizes: 1,300 to 2,500 sq. ft.
Misc. $969,000 to $2.6 million
3050 R St., NW.
Ari Post • November 6, 2013
As I wound my car up the long driveway at Langley Ordinary, my tires crunched against the loose gravel, kicking up a small cloud of dust into the sunlight. I pulled up beside a porch of whitewashed pine that wrapped around a sprawling colonial home with an adjacent outdoor living area, stone fireplaces, a guesthouse, a vegetable garden and a wide lawn that rolled down a hillside, scattered with neat stacks of salvaged antique lumber waiting to be used on future construction projects.
Built in 1842 as a drovers rest, Langley Ordinary sits just north of Key Bridge in McLean, Virginia, and over the past 150 years it has been used as everything from a public meeting house to a command post for a Civil War Union general. This historic property is not a typical company headquarters—but owner Doug DeLuca and his business partner Matt Bronczek are not typical company men. When they bought Langley Ordinary just over two years ago, it was in a state of near desolation. They set about repurposing the property as a palette for their ambitious vision for historic home renovation and construction. They wanted to do more than build beautiful houses—they wanted to create warm, livable and sustainably built modern homes with an eye toward our collective American heritage.
A third-generation builder who grew up in Northern Virginia, DeLuca founded his flagship venture Federal Stone and Brick in 2001, crafting functional outdoor living spaces for Washington homeowners. Before starting his business, he spent five years in New York City, working at the Rhinelander Mansion, Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Madison Avenue.
DeLuca is quick to give credit to his time at Ralph Lauren, where he worked under Mary Randolph Carter, now Lauren’s senior vice president of advertising. A fellow Virginian, Carter had a tremendous influence on the young DeLuca, instilling in him the value of lifestyle over any other tenet in the home design industry.
“Above branding, above all else, she taught me that it all comes back to lifestyle—understanding how people live,” he says. “When she was rolling out Ralph Lauren Country, she came into the store and gave everyone a copy of ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ to read over the weekend. She said that this was the way of life we are promoting.”
“It’s the idea of how you could ever be able to trust someone to design your kitchen if they don’t have an understanding of how to cook,” says Bronczek, who came onboard with Federal Company after working as a legislative correspondent on Capitol Hill and an account executive for FedEx.
DeLuca imagines himself in any space he is designing, and he has even been known to live in his unfinished houses during the construction phase to get a better understanding of how his clients will make use of it.
“This leaves open the opportunity to stay inspired during the construction process and face challenges and adjust details as they occur,” DeLuca says. The result, as exemplified by the Langley Ordinary estate, is a home built with the same love and attention that it will receive once it is inhabited.
As part of his design process, DeLuca makes a point to host dinners for clients in his home kitchen and theirs. “I went to Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family I was doing a kitchen for,” he says, “and it was eye-opening to see how a kosher kitchen is organized. Not only was I able to make a kitchen better suited to their needs, but it made me a better designer in the long run.”
His attention to beauty and function in kitchen design has not gone unnoticed. In 2007, he won a highly coveted award from Viking, the acclaimed American-made range and stovetop producers. He is now a featured designer for the company and is frequently retained to design Viking kitchens.
“Kitchens are particularly close to my heart because that’s where everything happens,” says DeLuca. “It’s the heart of a home—where you spend the most time with your family, cooking, telling stories and just building on your traditions. I was raised in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother—the recipes they taught me are still what I go back to when cooking with my clients. So, it’s important for me as a designer to make a distinction between a beautiful kitchen, and a beautiful functioning kitchen.”
DeLuca’s personal home has a unique feeling—a farmhouse atmosphere of historic Americana interwoven with highly textural and contemporary aesthetics, with zero molding and clean architectural lines. He has a tremendous reverence for light and functional space, reminiscent of the architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, if he were designing such traditional spaces. His interiors and exteriors are not designed separately, but as harmonious counterparts, and the results are among the most nuanced and fully realized living spaces imaginable. They are strikingly modern homes that pay homage to the history of American craftsmanship, becoming a part, if not the forefront, of its evolution.
While working in New York, DeLuca spent countless weekends rummaging through flea markets and swap meets, a source of frequent inspiration to which his superior Carter frequently turned to keep the rugged American branding of Ralph Lauren looking fresh and interesting. Taking that practice to the next level, DeLuca has made salvaging reclaimed building materials a major component of Federal Company.
“My free time is all about traveling now, because there is so much to see and find,” he says. “I blog about design, food, independent businesses that I find, and basically anything that interests me across the country. I will try to go relax and just hang out on the beach, but I honestly have more fun waking up, jumping in my car and finding three small, family-owned businesses. And if I can get them a couple orders, then I’ve developed an opportunity to get unique products for myself, I’ve gotten them some work and I have promoted American small business.”
Over the last decade of traveling, DeLuca has also amassed a community of some 90 pickers who act as his eyes and ears around the country to seek out rare building components, wood, stone and other salvageable materials that he purchases and employs for his unique style of home building. Recently, they helped him find a 200-year-old oak barn in Michigan, from which they reclaimed wide antique planks for use as walls and flooring in a home library renovation.
“This is who we want to work with, and this is the kind of work we want to do to help carry the torch of traditional American small business and specialty craftsmanship,” says Bronczek. “Salvage businesses and family-run supply companies are dwindling communities because we are so used to going to some big-box corporate hardware store and buying whatever they have available, as opposed to exploring other options—unique or custom options better suited for our homes.”
DeLuca’s multifaceted interests and all-inclusive home design services have given Federal Company something of a multiple-personality disorder (though in keeping with American style and design), which makes it difficult to sum up in one sentence. Reclaimed America, one of their ventures, was born from DeLuca’s journeys through the American countryside, where salvaged wood and materials that he finds are repurposed to create harvest tables and other custom products. Susan Sarandon recently became the first owner of their new line of clutch bags, made from repurposed wood handles and vintage leather.
Meanwhile, Federal Home is the moniker for the company’s interior and exterior home design, while Federal Stone and Brick covers their comprehensive landscape and outdoor living services. “Having these three distinct components to our business gives us the ability to provide a 360-degree approach to our projects,” he says. “We can provide consistent and holistic design, from the front walkway to the back porch, and all the way down to the paint and the rugs.”
When asked if there is anything that he does not do, DeLuca replies unblinkingly: “No.”
He is on the board of the Washington Animal Rescue League and West End Cinema. He frequently donates his time and services to a number of societies and organizations around the Washington area, including Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center. His most recent project is called Urban Orchard, which aims to plant fruit-producing orchards in inner city neighborhoods.
Speaking with DeLuca, however, his multidisciplinary approach to life and business seems to coalesce rather naturally, and even simply. For him, it really comes down to love: his love of people, service, nature, small businesses, community and American heritage. And that is the secret to his success.
“Creating a home betters your life, and that’s what is really important to us,” he says from across his desk at Langley Ordinary, which is cluttered with personal snapshots of clients whom he simply calls his friends.
“I want to build things with integrity and with solid materials for people that I care about. I want to make something new and sustainable that’s infused with history. That can’t be confined to a singular business plan. It’s a way of life, and one that people deserve.”
Most recently, DeLuca and Bronczek’s Reclaimed America was nominated for the Martha Stewart American Made Award, which celebrates the American designer. Reclaimed America placed second out of 478 companies in a nationwide competition.
“It was an amazing experience for us,” DeLuca says. “We had no marketing or budget, no production warehouse. We just had our small carriage house, our reclaimed wood and our passion. Along the way, I traveled throughout the East Coast, meeting some amazing people who gave me hope in the future of our country, which I think I was able to return. If you ask me, that is winning.” [gallery ids="101536,150041,150044,150023,150027,150032,150037" nav="thumbs"]