Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Real Estate . . . an Industry with a Heart

One of the things that has impressed me the most about the real estate community is how it takes care of it’s own. It is truly and industry with a heart! No matter how competitive you are for clients, I have witnessed time and time again just how you come together when one of you is in trouble or has a need.

Just this year, there have been several of our cover stories that have faced one of life’s biggest challenges (illness, death of a child, etc.) and others in the industry (from both sides of the real estate desk) were there to help out with fundraisers, donations, and much more personal help.

This month’s cover honoree, Ms. Donna Ellis of Coldwell Banker United-The Woodlands faced just such a tragedy several years ago and was overwhelmed by the help that she received from her friends and so many wonderful people in the real estate community. I know that you are going to enjoy her very special story.

So many real estate companies (Coldwell Banker United, Keller Williams Realty, RE/MAX etc.) and organizations like chapters of the Women’s Council of Realtors ® put on events during the year. to benefit causes like Hope Village Foundation, The Brookwood Community, Candlelighters, Texas Childrens Hospital, American Cancer Society, The Nancy Owens Memorial Foundation, The Susan B. Komen “Race for the Cure”, etc.

What a wonderful thing it is to be able to use your blessings as a business community to bless others.

Whether you give generously for the recognition or do so as a secret between you and your GOD, thank you for all you do for others in need!

Please remember as you give generously this season to help the poor, the sick, the homeless and the destitute, that the poor, sick, homeless and destitute are in the position in life all year long and not just during the holiday season. Finally, from our family to yours, have a wonderful, safe and happy holiday!

Seasons Greetings!
As always, good reading and good sales!
Success to You!

Steve Levine

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Donna Ellis – Coldwell Banker United- The Woodlands

"The Diva Realtor doing with A Little Help from Her Friends"
by Barbara Davis

Throughout her childhood, Donna Ellis never had trouble making friends no matter what obstacles got in her way. Most likely her charismatic personality developed as a result of the gregarious genes that run throughout her family going back at least six generations. Her fifth great-grandfather, Collin Aldrich, was one of the founders of Houston County and the first Chief Justice of Crockett, Texas where Donna was born. Another of Donna’s great-grandfathers, Armistead Aldrich, was the Historian for Houston County, Texas and also a County Judge. Donna’s early upbringing by her grandparents also had a great influence on her personable nature. Donna’s grandmother, Julia Satterwhite Dickey, was an active member in the D.A.R. and her grandfather, Clive Dickey, was the City Administrator of Crockett for years.

Donna’s father had passed away when she was a toddler. Subsequently, her mother, Carol, made the decision to attend Southern Methodist University to acquire a degree. Not only did she get a degree, but she also graduated with honors in three years while working at Neiman Marcus in the Advertising Department! At an early age, Donna learned numerous life lessons watching her mother study and sacrifice in order to get ahead in life and become self-sufficient. She is still learning today from this incredibly strong, versatile woman. While Carol attended SMU, Donna was reared by her grandparents in Crockett until second grade. By then, her mother had remarried and her little sister, Marti, had been born. Donna then moved to “Big D” to be close with her family, including her new father. Her sister, Marti, who is now a college professor, still lives in Dallas today with her husband, Dallas County Judge of Criminal Appeals, Jeff Rosenfield, and their sons, Max and Jacob. Donna readily adapted to her new life with gusto. One would have thought she was an ardent student of Dale Carnegie’s the way she was able to “win friends and influence people”! She was very popular in junior high and was on the drill team. Any school office she sought, she was elected as everyone knew and liked her. Unexpectedly, in ninth grade everything came crashing down. Her mother had gotten a divorce and returned to the little town of Crockett with Donna and her sister, Marti. Again, Donna witnessed her mother’s strength in a time of adversity as they all transitioned into their new lifestyle.

It was quite a change from living in a city of hundreds of thousands of people to a little town of 7,000 but Donna was never the type to “get lost and flounder”. She carried on admirably in spite of the challenges and ended up being even more popular in high school! Donna recalls, “I was eligible to get a driver’s license at age 14 because I lived in a small town. I would have had to wait longer if I had been living in a big city. I survived the transition quite well and tell this to my clients who are relocating and have kids going into high school. I understand and relate to it and am able to tell them that this won’t be the end of their life as they know it! It will get better.”

Donna was elected as a cheerleader every year until she graduated. In addition, she was elected as a student council representative and everything else under the sun. She was in the band and surprisingly played a baritone, which dwarfed her at the time because she was only 5 feet tall! By the time she graduated, she had grown so much that she was 5 feet 8 inches tall. In high school, Donna met and dated the person who eventually became her husband. Graduating in 1969, she attended Kilgore Junior College her freshman year which was a fabulous experience for her since she had come from such a small high school. Her grandparents had given her a brand new car, a Cutlass Supreme, and she felt as though she had the “world on a string”. She also thought she knew everything there was to know about life. She later transferred to Texas Tech University and became the President of her Delta Delta Delta Sorority pledge class. All of Donna’s college memories were wonderful ones and little did she expect there would be life-changing events to be overcome in the future.

Before completing college, she got married and moved to Houston where she finished her degree in education at the University of Houston. While she was attending U of H, she worked in the children’s department at the Sakowitz Department Store on Post Oak and made two dollars per hour. She realized then that the retail sales business was not her forte. Upon graduation, she started teaching elementary school in Tomball, Texas in 1973. She actually graduated on a Saturday night and her first day at work was the following Monday!

Ms. Ellis continued teaching elementary school but on Ground Hog Day in 1978 at Tomball Regional Hospital, she had her first child, Jason. He was one of the first babies ever born at that hospital. “It used to be a very small hospital but it has grown leaps and bounds now”, reminisced Donna. She then became a stay-at-home mom and three years later, her second son, Jordan was born. When Jason was four and Jordan was one, she decided to return to teaching. The day she put her application in, she was immediately hired and started to work the very next day at Tomball Elementary!

Donna has been a resident of the Spring/Tomball/Woodlands area for over 36 years. Seventeen years of it was spent teaching elementary school in Tomball and Klein. While her boys were still very young, she also took time out of her busy schedule to co-found and also teach the GED Program for North Harris County College. Ellis proudly reflected, “I taught a grown man to read, from phonics all the way through. He had run a successful business his whole life and yet never learned how to read! That was very rewarding.”

During the time when Donna’s sons were entering junior and senior high school, Donna and her family built a home in Northampton. The home builder suggested that she get a real estate license because she had sent so many people to him. He said, “Donna, you are in the wrong business!” After he said that, she went home and laughed as she told her family about what he had said. She was thinking, “Real estate! You don’t even have to have a degree and here I am holding a B.A. and I’m just three hours shy of a Master’s Degree! I’ve taught school for seventeen years, and I just can’t quit teaching school because I have dedicated my whole life to this!”

The homebuilder’s belief in Donna was so strong that he was relentless in insisting that she come work for him as a hostess in his sales office that summer. His persistence paid off because in the three month period she was there, she made more money selling homes than she could make in an entire year of teaching school!

Since Donna was so cautious about not jumping out of one profession into another, she worked two full-time jobs that year. She got her Real Estate License in 1991 from Champion’s School of Real Estate and then Martha Mears at Prudential gave her the opportunity to work as a part-time agent and still teach school. At that time, not many real estate companies allowed agents that flexibility but it was shrewd of Martha because Donna ended up being Prudential’s “Rookie of the Year”. By that time, Donna also realized, “I was not going to ever have to look back”. When she turned in her resignation to her principal, she followed her out to her car and pleaded with her not to quit, telling her that she was one of her top teachers and that she could substitute any time she wanted to!

Ellis never returned as an educator even as a substitute teacher because her real estate career was skyrocketing. Later, after working for Prudential for some time, Donna was approached by Beth and Bob Ferester of Ferester and Company to join their team. They hand-selected the top agents in Northwest Houston and the only way one could work for their company was to be asked. Donna was quite flattered to be included as part of this prestigious team. She worked for them at the 1960 office until Beth opened the office in The Woodlands, which eventually was acquired by Coldwell Banker. That’s how Donna became an associate of Coldwell Banker United and she’s been there ever since!

Although Donna’s aunt and uncle, Pat and Bubba Dickey, owners of Pat Dickey Coldwell Banker offices in Crockett and Coldwell Banker, Choice in Nacogdoches, have supported her career change from the beginning, offering advice and words of encouragement, Donna considers Martha Mears (now with Coldwell Banker in Mandeville, Louisiana) her first mentor in real estate. Donna is quick to say that Martha did an excellent job in training her in real estate, but she is even more passionate about expressing her appreciation for long-time mentor, Beth Ferester. She continued where Martha left off in being very open about sharing her wealth of knowledge with Donna and teaching her about real estate integrity. This knowledge and integrity that Donna was taught, combined with her roots as a teacher, have formed her into a straightforward, honest, punctual, and meticulous Realtor®. She is very litigious-minded and believes that everything should be done perfectly, dotting every “I” and crossing every “T”. Obviously, Cindy Hamann, VP/Branch Manager for Coldwell Banker United, couldn’t agree more, “Donna uses her teaching background to properly inform her clients and to coach them in the buying and selling process. Because of her hard work, she is rewarded with constant personal referrals from her clients, which is the highest form of a compliment that an agent can receive. She treats her clients as if they are family and her clients in turn feel that Donna is part of theirs.”

Due to her background in education, she believed everyone in authority was honest. “When a teacher told you something, it was the truth and no one questioned them”, commented Donna. It came as quite a surprise to the naïve Ms. Ellis that things were different when it came to buyers and sellers and that they weren’t always truthful but she learned quickly to sort out the type of person she was dealing with! Her first disappointment in real estate occurred when one of her dental hygienists promised that she would buy a house from Donna and then bought it through another agent instead. Ellis couldn’t believe that someone would not tell her the truth. “She broke my heart but I learned right then to just say, ‘Next’! There would be somebody else right behind them”, exclaimed Donna.

In deed, there was. Soon after, Larry and Sharron Walsh gave her the first opportunity to sell them a home and in addition let her list the home they wished to sell! Ms. Ellis is forever grateful to them and elaborated, “They are my friends who live in Northampton and I still owe a lot to them because they gave me an opportunity to get started. I didn’t even know the importance of what I was doing at the time and yet they let me sell them a home.” Their families are still close friends to this day. In fact, Donna’s son, Jason, was Best Man in Jamie Walsh’s wedding, which recently occurred.

Ms. Ellis knows how hard it is when first beginning in real estate and shared these words of wisdom when she first began, “Everyone has got to start somewhere and I was always so scared that someone was going to ask me ‘How long have you been doing this’. So one of the things I learned first when I started out in real estate was to say, ‘Some days, it seems like all my life!’ That was my answer.”

Some of Donna’s accolades include consistently being a Top Listing Agent and a Top Producer. One of her claims to fame is that she sold “The Silver Anniversary Home” which was built to commemorate the twenty-five years of building in The Woodlands. She is always on the “cutting edge” when it comes to keeping up with current trends. Due to Donna’s outstanding achievements in real estate, Steve Barnes, President and COO of the Houston Region of Coldwell Banker United Realtors® shared these flattering comments, “As a Top Producer for our company, it is very evident that Donna’s life experiences as a teacher have given her a belief system focused on her clients and their needs. She embodies everything that we strive to be for the consumer, and does it with grace, intelligence, and care.”

Donna holds professional, educational, and experience designations ranging from about every letter of the alphabet including ABR (Accredited Buyer Representative), GRI (Graduate Realtor Institute), CRS (Certified Residential Specialist), and CPS (Certified Preview Specialist), along with all kinds of Relocation Designations for working with Relocation buyers and sellers. She enjoys helping people relocate from all over the world, working with people from many different countries.

One of Ellis’s satisfied clients, Jason Simmons, Supply and Logistics Coordinator with Shell Oil who relocated to Houston, had these glowing words to say, “Working for a large corporation, I tend to move every three to four years and have worked with many realtors across the country. Donna stands out from the rest due to her professionalism, work ethic, and no-nonsense approach. Additionally, she consistently answers her phone. We worked together for a month and almost every time I called, she was the one who answered. When you are desperate to find a home, that kind of service makes a difference!” Close friend and business associate Gale Brand, with Chicago Title, validates the quality of Donna’s business dealings, when she remarked, “Donna always looks out for her clients’ best interest and I know that as a fact because not only have I been her friend for 14 years, I have also had the pleasure to work with her, too!”

Ms. Ellis exclusively sells residential only properties in The Woodlands, Spring, Kingwood, Conroe, and Northampton area. Prices of the homes she sells range anywhere from $150,000 up to two million dollars. She primarily gets her business through contact with past clients and referrals from her friends and family.

When Donna is not “working her behind off” in Real Estate, she spends her leisure time, what little she has, traveling and going to casinos and gambling. “I am the ‘slot-machine queen’! I don’t play golf or bridge but I enjoy traveling with my family and friends and playing slot machines,” laughs Donna. Recently, on her trip to Las Vegas, she won $2,500 in quarters only 45 minutes after she had arrived. She had taken her friend Penny Mustachia there for her birthday and the great thing was that Penny won about the same amount of money, too! Penny, who is with Maximum Mortgage, had this to say about her best friend, “It’s an honor to be Donna’s friend and also work with her for over the past 10 years. She excels in all she does because of her integrity and sincerity and charming personality. She truly cares about her clients. She makes real estate transactions so pleasurable because she is liked by everyone. Her recognition in Real Estate Executive magazine is well-deserved!”

Ms. Ellis supports Coldwell Banker’s involvement with Candlelighters, an organization that helps the families of children with cancer. She helps buy Christmas gifts and adopts a family or two for the holidays but she also has a very personal charity that she and her family have set up as a result of the saddest day in her life, the death of her son, Jordan. It is the Jordan David Ellis Memorial Scholarship at College of the Mainland. Jordan was a firefighter and a paramedic and the fund benefits any deserving young person who is pursuing a career in firefighting/EMT and has a financial need.

Donna’s “shining star” is Riley Aldrich Ellis, her grandson who was born August 23, 2004, four weeks before the death of Jordan. Riley’s parents are Jason and Lauren Ellis. Jason, a Sr. Group Sales Representative for Genworth Financial, shares his mother’s strong work ethic. “In October, he was third in the U.S. for his company”, Donna proudly announced and she added, “Lauren, who is an active Junior League member, is the best wife, mom, and friend that I could ever wish for.” “Riley’s birth was the happiest day of my life! He just melts my heart every time he calls me ‘Nonna’. I am so proud of him,” raves Donna. She philosophized by adding, “In trying to recover and put our lives back together after Jordan’s death, Riley has been the focus that has kept all of us from going crazy. We can live through him because he keeps us knowing that life goes on”. It is quite obvious that he is the love of her life. No matter how down she gets, when she sees him bouncing around with the cute, little smile on his face, she knows that her life must move forward.

One can never get over the loss of a child but Ms. Ellis has a multitude of friends, family, and business associates who have given her support through the tough times, in addition to the help she gets from little Riley. One group of her friends has formed kind of a social club that she is part of and they refer to themselves as “The Divas”. Each of them pulled together and did everything for Donna when she lost her son. Her dear friend, Penny, who was with her at the time when she learned of the tragedy, called every family member to relay the tragic news. The “Divas” bought her clothes for the funeral and even dressed her. They helped arrange the funeral and made a video of Jordan’s entire life. They cooked and fed her for a month. Donna’s Office Manager at Coldwell Banker United, Cindy Hamann, stepped in and ran her business for her until she was able to continue. One of the “Divas” who is also a realtor took over a listing that Donna wasn’t capable of completing at that moment and actually gave her the commission, too! Donna’s mother, who has always been there for Donna, lived with her for three weeks and other friends never left her side. With great appreciation in her voice, Ellis said, “Everyone literally step-by-step held me up for months and months.”

The Divas have been together for about seven years. Once a year they take a trip together. They have traveled to Austin, Galveston and also have gone on a cruise together. They are quite a diverse crowd ranging in age from “younger to older” (no ages, please). Some are married and some are divorcés. Some have young children and some are grandmothers. Some work and some are retired. They’ve been together through births, deaths, wars, retirements, separations, divorces, and marriages. They have pretty much gone through the gamut of life together. They all have very strong personalities in addition to being competitors and yet they set their competition aside when it comes to being friends. Wouldn’t it be nice if more people in the corporate world were like this? Just ask Donna and she’ll tell you how wonderful it is to “get a little help from your friends”!

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