Old School Ties and a New Worldview
The Collegial Quartet of Washington Fine Properties
We’re sitting at a round table in the conference room at the offices of Washington Fine Properties on New Mexico Avenue, next to Chef Geoff’s restaurant. Four men stream in and settle down, a cupcake box in front of them, sales charts and flat screen photos of high-end properties on the wall. We could be in for a staff meeting or a power-point presentation.
What we have is an interview with the managing partners of Washington Fine Properties, the city’s premiere and one of the country’s top-ranked quality real estate firms per recent sales statistics and honors. All of the men — Tom Anderson, Bill Moody, Dana Landry and Marc Schappell— are wearing Hermes ties, which is about the only way you can outwardly tell that they’re closely united in a common and unusual commercial endeavor.
The Hermes ties may be trademarks, but the bearing, personalities and look of the four men couldn’t be more different. These differences appear to be as much a function of what they do at WFP as of their unique personalities.
Right now, they’re also surrounded by an air of almost kinetic confidence that comes from two things: being involved in the sale of two of Washington’s and Georgetown’s most historic and high-profile properties and being honored with having the highest average sales production per agent in America and the highest average sales price by firm in America by 2011 Real Trends. In addition, Washington Fine Properties is tops in sales of properties valued at more than one million dollars, nearly twice its nearest competitor.
You wouldn’t be surprised if they come in and did a little dance around the table, whisper-singing, “We’re No 1.”
That wouldn’t be their style. They have a style and, more importantly, a business model that seems to go against the grain of traditional real estate organizational models. It’s based in a word you don’t hear all that often in the world of residential real estate: collegiality. What you hear in the clichéd world and sometimes pop culture conception of real estate is fierce and ruthless competitiveness — wars for listings and sales, both within and without companies, described so vividly if fictionally in David Mamet’s classic play about the real estate game, “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
The rise of WFP and its four managing partners has its roots in Sam Pardoe Real Estate, which was the successful D.C. high-end, carriage trade company in the 1990s, until it was bought up by a corporate conglomerate in 1998. “That’s pretty much when it all came together for us,” says Anderson, clearly the savvy, public and visionary face of WFP. “I had been working for years at Sotheby’s, and Bill was at Pardoe. We, along Mark and Dana, knew each other. So, there was a niche available, an opening in the high-end carriage trade, and we formed WFP initially as affiliated with Sotheby’s.”
But it wasn’t just any real estate company. “I know this pretty well, because I was part of the real estate world the way it operated back then,” Moody said. “There wasn’t a sense in many companies of being at the center of something, of working together. It was agents as stars, that kind of thing, the agents were often independent of the company they worked with, or acted like it. That’s not how we do things.”
“It’s about collegiality and about the client," said Anderson, who repeated, "It’s all about the client.”
WFP does, of course, have star agents in the sense that they’ve managed to persuade a number of high-powered, high-profile agents to come to them and work with them, such as Nancy Taylor Bubes and Mark McFadden, not to mention Moody himself. “But here’s the thing,” said Schappell, who has a bit of a handsome, WASPy bearing, befitting a man who’s most recently worked with Egon Zender International, a global leader in executive search. “We all have different talents, the four of us, and that’s complementary. That’s the way we want the agents to work also. We have — rain, shine or whatever — weekly staff meetings of the partners with the agents right in this room. The agents share information, we look out for each other and the whole. That, I think, is a fairly different outlook in our world.”
“While other companies are expanding in terms of volume, agents and offices, we don’t think, for us, that bigger is necessarily better. We believe in limited growth.”
Schappell is a strategist, a personnel man. Dana Landry, a deceptively youthful-looking executive, worked for 17 years at Mitel, a global telecommunications leader, where he eventually ended up as director of finance for the corporation, which has 20 million users in 90 countries. Not surprisingly, he runs the day-to-day operations of Washington Fine Properties and is the financial go-to guy.
Anderson, who had years of experience with Sotheby’s in the high-end market, is also the big-picture guy in many ways, he understands market trends better than anyone and studies national and global economic trends. Imagine a fellow who would know within minutes that Alnwick Castle, second to Windsor, or Highclere Castle, the stand-in for Downton Abbey, was ready to go on the market -- or that the charming townhouse down your street was, too.
What you have here are four individuals who met in college or the business world and grew together in different ways to achieve what executive management classes call "synergy," if you can forgive the term.
Washington Fine Properties was involved in two startlingly historic properties in Georgetown with great potential impact transactions late last year. That would be the sales of Evermay Mansion and Halcyon House (under contract), for $22 million and $11 million, respectively.
“That doesn’t happen very often, true,” Anderson said. “And it’s very gratifying, but it came as a result of hard work and serving the clients. But it’s not just about that. While we love the awards and the standing, 50 percent of our business comes from properties valued at below one million. It’s also true that the carriage trade to some degree will always be there, through good and bad times."
“We believe in working within the community in taking part in the affairs of Georgetown and the city,” Anderson says. “We want to support all the business in Georgetown, not just our own.” Listening to them talk to us and amongst themselves is to see and hear collegiality in action. They seem to breathe and work what they preach. What emerges is a picture of stability. “Everybody works for the common good,” Landry says. The common good becomes the fortunes of WFP and its employees as well as the community of which they are a part and most definitely at home.