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Anne and Dave Jones got their first hint that 2020 wouldn’t be a normal year back in late January, while traveling to New York City for Inman Connect.
“It was on that flight,” Anne said, “and hitting the ground in New York, where you first started to be aware of people wearing masks.”
The coronavirus was only just barely starting to make headlines in the U.S. at the time, but Anne said that traveling in January gave the couple a “heightened feeling about it” as they headed back to their native Tacoma, where they run Windermere Abode. Weeks later, when communities in the area began having some of the first COVID-19 cases in the country, the Joneses “were tracking it really closely.”
“We pulled our kids out of school, and shut our office down preemptively,” Anne recalled. “We sent our people home.”
Like pretty much everyone, the Joneses didn’t know what the coming months had in store. But as the outbreak spread, the couple stepped up. Among other things, they constantly worked to make sure they were always supporting their team. They distributed food to a local Rescue Mission. And as protests over race rippled across the country months later, the Joneses took a stand and publicly spoke up about the need for greater social justice.
None of these things are necessarily part of the job description for agents. But they also highlight the way many members of the real estate industry this year have gone above and beyond, especially at a time when new crises lurked around seemingly every corner. And because the Joneses epitomized the best the industry has to offer, Inman has chosen the couple as 2020’s Person of the Year.
Inman announced Person of the Year Thursday at Inman Connect Now. At the same time, Inman also announced that Give Back Homes will be the first organization highlighted as part of the Inman Gives program. Give Back Homes works to build houses for people in need, and most recently has been working to help victims of California’s recent wildfires. Inman Gives will now help promote and fundraise for Give Back Homes.
The Joneses appeared Thursday during Connect Now as well, and also spoke to Inman in recent days about their leadership strategy during this chaotic year. They expressed surprise and excitement at being chosen as Person of the Year.
“I’m not going to play it cool,” Dave said about winning, adding that he was flattered and honored.
Here’s the Joneses’ story:
In the beginning
Dave and Anne Jones’ path to owning a Windermere brokerage was decades in the making. The couple first met in elementary school, when they were in a class that was split between fourth and fifth graders.
“I was the fifth grader,” Anne said.
At such a young age, the duo wasn’t romantically involved, though Anne said that by high school they were “more like rivals than friends.” Nevertheless, Anne and Dave both ended up at the same college and shared a mutual best friend, who eventually helped them connect and become a couple. In 2001, they got married and today they have two kids.
After college, the couple eventually moved back to the the Tacoma area. Dave got a job as a school teacher, while Anne went to work for her parents construction company. When the recession hit the area hard, Anne got her real estate license and joined Coldwell Banker Bain.
“Getting my first several years of selling in that crazy down market,” she added “that’s what made me hungry.”
Dave was in education at the time, and eventually worked his way up from teaching to administration. He stayed in education for several more years, while Anne switched over to Windermere Professional Partners.
In 2017, Anne’s broker Kevin Mullin pulled her aside and told her someone else in the area was thinking about opening a brokerage in her part of Tacoma. If she ever wanted to take the plunge and start her own company, in other words, she had to act. Soon thereafter, Dave left education and the couple founded Windermere Abode.
“So we just took the leap and made the decision,” Anne said. “We opened with eight people. Most of whom came with us. We just had this vision, had this business in mind.”
The business the Joneses had in mind wasn’t your typical brokerage. Yes, they planned to do a lot of deals. But they both told Inman that from the start they also wanted to build a place that could take stands on social issues like racial justice. Which is to say, they had a perspective and weren’t going to hide it.
“Our approach from the very beginning was to dismiss the idea that a business should be politically neutral,” Anne said. “And we’ve been able to weave this focus on community and social justice into what we do.”
During Inman Connect Thursday, Dave further explained that even before entering real estate he and Anne were invested in working to make the world a better place. So when they started a company together it was a natural step to make that attitude a part of the business.
“We just kind of ramped it up and it became a core value of what we do here,” he said.
That approach has apparently worked. The couple told Inman that 2019 got off to a “really fast start” and by the end of the year their company’s more than 20 full-time agents collectively did $123 million in sales.
When COVID hit
If the Joneses first got an inkling in New York that 2020 was going to be different, it was on March 6 that reality started fully sinking in.
“It was a Friday afternoon,” Dave told Inman. “It was the day we got the first case in Pierce County and we were just like, ‘It’s here.’”
As schools and other facilities in the area began shutting down, the Joneses decided to close their own office. Though they had previously gone paperless and generally had technology to keep the business running, opting to have everyone go remote wasn’t exactly easy; they had built a strong culture that depended on face-to-face interactions.
“I know there are lots of businesses where no one comes in,” Anne explained. “But our whole vibe was, ‘This is a place where you want to spend time.’ To be going through something like this was such a shift that it took all of mine and Dave’s energy to make sure we were staying connected.”
“I was scared,” Dave added. “Not scared in the sense of, ‘what are we going to do.’ But I cared about our people and laid up at night thinking, ‘How are we going to help our people through this?’ That was what kept us both up.”
To solve the problem of connectedness the Joneses began doing more one-on-one calls and FaceTime with their team members. Dave said he fell back on the skills he honed as an educator, when talking to students occasionally meant dealing with trauma. The result was that sometimes calls with agents were about real estate. Other times, they weren’t.
“I was trying to keep in contact with all of our people,” he said. Every single one. Just hearing them out and being there for them.”
Dave also doubled the number of podcasts he was doing, going from one a week to two. The recordings were meant to capture the informative-but-casual conversations that would normally happen in person, and which serve as a kind of informal education for agents.
“For me it served two purposes,” Dave explained. “First, how can we stay connected with our people. And second, how can we create something that other want to listen to.”
The Joneses have been producing an “Inside Abode” series of videos this year that also offer insights and behind the scenes interviews.
Staying engaged with their agents was a first step, but that didn’t necessarily mean the Joneses and their company were out the woods. Though they still had enough deals in the pipeline to stay afloat during the initial month or so of the pandemic, after several more months of lockdown the pipeline was beginning to run a bit dry.
In the end, Windermere Abode was one of the numerous real estate businesses that managed to secure aid from the Paycheck Protection Program, and new regulations also allowed agents to collect unemployment — both vital lifelines for many in the housing industry this year.
And then, even with the pandemic still raging, the pipeline started filling up again.
“There was a lull there that was a little scary,” Anne said. “And then the business came back.”
“I feel like we had a very good year because we were keeping everyone engaged,” Dave added.
But business wasn’t everything.
Prior to lockdown, one of the agents at Abode had been making sandwiches for the local Rescue Mission, which provides services to people experiencing homelessness. As the pandemic worsened, the Joneses joined the effort, and it quickly grew into a group effort.
“When the lockdown happened, the only safe way to continue was to prep the sandwiches remotely,” Anne explained. “So I asked the Abodies if they would help make this a weekly thing. We set up a pick up point behind our offices, and met there every Friday at 4:30. Some weeks that was the only time our team would see each other in person.”
George Floyd and Black Lives Matter
Even as the pandemic was raging, a second news story leapt onto U.S. headlines this summer: In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, protests over racial justice took place in numerous cities.
The issues raised in the protests struck a cord with the couple; Dave has been navigating challenges associated with being Black and in real estate for years, and he had spoken out in the past following high-profile police killings. He told Inman that be became particularly concerned about the issue after the police shooting of Philando Castile in 2016.
“For me it’s not anything new,” Dave said of this year’s events. “I always post any time a black man gets shot. But for us, I felt like when I saw how people were responding, we had to figure out how are we going to address this. So I brought it up at a meeting and I was really transparent.”
A few different strategies emerged from those efforts. For starters, Dave said that in the wake of Floyd’s death he ended up on late night phone calls with mostly white community leaders, counseling them on how to think about and deal with the situation. The couple also used regular coaching and training sessions as a time when people, including Dave and other minority members of the team, could share how they were feeling about the situation.
They also took a public stand.
In early June, the couple posted a 15 minute, unscripted video to Instagram about racial justice. The video highlighted the paucity of black leadership in real estate, and noted that the industry needs to do better on racial issues.
“We’re going to help further the cause in any way we can,” Dave said in the video.
Several days after posting the video to Instagram, Dave published an article to LinkedIn titled, “It’s Time We Pull Back the Racist Curtain in Real Estate.” The article offered concrete suggestions for addressing racism in the industry such as addressing implicit bias and improving access to demographic data, among other things.
The article generated more than 130 comments, most of them thanking Dave for sharing his perspective. And he called it a “tipping point” for his public comments on the topic.
This fall, the company also debuted a Windermere-branded Black Lives Matter hoodie. The hoodies were for sale, and some of the proceeds were earmarked for a local nonprofit.
The conventional thinking is that speaking out this way represents a certain amount of risk for a company. If you want to work with the most number of clients, taking a firm stand on a controversial issue could theoretically alienate people.
But the Joneses said they’ve only benefited. Their agents — who were aware all along that the company and its leadership had a perspective — have been supportive and according to Anne “their business seems to be prospering.” The lesson the Joneses take from these experiences is that, according to Anne, “you don’t have to compromise on those things, you don’t have to subjugate your feelings about humanity to run your business.”
“I really want to amplify the fact that we’ve been more outspoken this year than ever and I don’t see any impact to our bottom line,” she added.
During Inman Connect Thursday, Anne added that some brokers do try to kept politics out of their companies, but doing so can mean missing out on opportunities and falling behind as the world progresses.
“I don’t think theres a business risk,” she added.
In total, Abode is on track to do more than $162 million in sales this year — significantly higher than what it did in 2019.
Anne also argued that this year showed how smaller brokerages such as hers can play an important role in making the world a better place.
“We’ve had a few people telling us that we’ve got to get bigger to have significant impact, and I wrestle with that,” she said. “But you can have a big impact right where you’re at. We’re a little brokerage and I think we’re making important waves and starting essential conversations. And we do great on the real estate side too.”