D'Ann Harper: A Passion for Real Estate
A Passion for Real Estate
By the time D'Ann Harper got licensed in 1978, she had already been helping her father-in-law manage rental properties and fix up houses to sell.
"My husband had a small family. His father was blind, and he made a living selling and managing real estate," says Harper, president and broker-owner of Coldwell Banker D’Ann Harper, REALTORS®, in San Antonio, TX. "The whole family would pitch in. As a stay-at-home mom of two daughters, I became his partner," she says.
"I like to say he provided the money, and I provided the brawn," she laughs. "I mowed lawns, painted and collected rent. You name it!"
That hard work and commitment paid off huge dividends when, encouraged by another family member, Harper got her real estate license. "I really didn't intend to make it a full-time job, but I absolutely loved it from the minute I started," says Harper.
At the time, Harper was working with a small company and focusing heavily on corporate relocation. The problem, says Harper, is that no brokerages were really working the corporate relocation angle as anything more than an added value to agents.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Harper decided it was time to go into business for herself. She opened her first brokerage in 1986. Specializing in corporate relocation, with a busy asset management department handling the 1980s foreclosure boom, Harper’s brokerage quickly went from six agents to 18.
However, it wasn't until 1989, when Harper purchased two Coldwell Banker-owned offices in San Antonio, did her business really boom. "We went from 18 agents to 100 agents overnight," she says. Today, Harper has seven offices and 350 sales associates and, through it all, she stayed true to her business model.
The Agent-centric Model
"We're an agent-centric business model that focuses on the basics," Harper says of the company. "Our model is built on relocation, but we added marketing, technology and property management divisions to set our company apart.
"Our business model is our advantage, and we continue to tweak, but hopefully, never change it." It’s her dedication to staying on this track that recently earned her the "Entrepreneur of the Year" award for Women's Council's San Antonio Chapter.
As her brokerage has grown, Harper’s met the demands of the new market head on. "We focus on partnerships. What can we give to our agents that will make us all stronger in the marketplace?" Access to technology and marketing are two ways, she says.
"It's a challenge to stay up with technology. We have a five-person tech team that does everything from setting up agent's cell phones to trouble shooting," she says.
Challenges Persist but Opportunity Reigns
Regardless of the challenges of the market, Harper remains upbeat that there are opportunities out there for brokers. She stresses that brokers must build a core business then add on slowly to maintain a strong foothold in the market. With a clear business plan in place, handling changes in the market won’t be so difficult. That’s why Harper continues to focus on corporate relocation.
"Our area hasn't been hit like other markets. We’re highly military." However, even that landscape is changing. "More and more Fortune 500 companies are considering San Antonio for their corporate offices. We're a very business-friendly state, and it's a challenge to meet the relocation needs of these companies. But, that’s a great challenge to have," says Harper.
Words of Advice
For decades, men dominated management roles in the real estate business despite the fact that most sales agents are women. Harper sees that landscape changing. "There are many great women role models in our industry right now," says Harper, who says she became so successful because she got herself involved. "I think the opportunities afforded by Women's Council are incredible," says Harper, who is also active within her franchise. "I belong to two different Coldwell Banker groups and am the only female in the multiple office broker group. I learn so much for the other brokers," she says.
So what are Harper's tips for long-term business success? "Start small and work your way up, but always remember the basics of your company," she says. "And, always maintain your integrity. You must be able to look back and say, 'I made the right decision.' Fast dollars are your enemy. It’s OK to say no."
Tracey C. Velt is an Orlando-based freelance writer.
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