Monday, February 26, 2007

Donald Leonard - RE/MAX N.W. Territories

Today’s Renaissance Realtor®
By Woodie Stephenson

Donald Leonard, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX N.W. Territories, is ambitious in every sense of the word. The veritable “Renaissance Man” has spent the last 25 years climbing the real estate ladder to achieve distinction after distinction for himself and those around him. From baby-faced 23-year-old buyer’s agent to real estate teacher, radio personality and Broker/Owner of his own top-25 recognized RE/MAX franchise, Donald’s career is an exciting one that has taken no pit stops.

Born in sunny Los Angeles, CA, to a machinist father and supportive mother, Donald would spend his childhood touring the US as his father followed opportunities in the oil business from state to state, often moving the family up to several times a year. Accompanied by a brother and sister, Donald, the middle child of his family, saw much of California as well as Arkansas, and Missouri, before moving to Texas.

“Growing up we were always asked the same question at a new school—if our parents were in the military,” Donald remembers with a smile, “Eventually I would just respond by telling people they were wanted by the law.”

After all, being blessed with such a great sense of humor provided Donald with the gusto to quickly adjust to his family’s frequent moves, sometimes occurring at a moment’s notice allowing no time to say goodbyes to friends. Donald was always able to adjust to school changes and learn adversity through the experience. Although he had no idea his ambitions would eventually lead him into the real estate market, he remembers eerily some premonitions growing up that would make much sense to him one day.

“As a kid I used to draw out the floor plans to all the houses our family lived in,” Donald confesses, “We had fourteen houses over the years and to this day I can still remember the plans and phone numbers for each one of our homes.”

After moving cities and states 16 times during his 12 years of school, the studious young Donald was still able to graduate at the top 5% of his class from Alvin High School in 1977. It was in his senior year that Donald met a very important mentor, Cecil Settle, the school’s head librarian who would teach and encourage Donald to apply for college scholarships. Amazingly, Donald and Cecil still stay in touch 30 years later.

“I always encouraged Donald to become educated,” Cecil says. “What makes Donald special is the fact that he has gone to the trouble to thoroughly learn his industry. In order to become a teacher and mentor to others you must be able to attain a better grasp. Donald is a generous person who shares his time and knowledge with others. Whereas most people would be worried about creating their own competition, Donald has never seen it that way—he truly loves what he does.”

With dreams of becoming an astronaut, Donald sought to study aerospace engineering at University of Missouri-Rolla and to follow his dreams into space; however, life had other plans for Donald when he was diagnosed during a pre-employment physical as being color-blind.

“Thinking back it all made sense,” Donald remembers with no reservations, “My parents and I had always argued about the exact color of the family car—who would have known the whole time that I was really in fact color blind?”

Determined to find another path to success, Donald stayed with engineering but began studying urban and regional planning at Texas A&M, a decision that would eventually award him a real estate license in 1983 from the American College of Real Estate. At first the young entrepreneur planned to utilize his new license in realty to purchase a house a year while working as a technician for the industry leading oil-rig-service, Gray Tool.

It was working at Gray Tool that Donald was able to experience the greatest adventures of his life working in dangerous conditions in nuclear power plants, tornadoes, and even an exploratory rig for the Canadian government where temperatures were 75 degrees below zero. It was in Canada where Donald saw coworkers descend through sheets of ice and fall victim to polar bear attacks. Despite the dangerous conditions, Donald enjoyed the great pay and travel opportunities the company provided him but he would soon face a moral decision that would lead him to his career destiny.

In August of 1983 Donald’s father passed away a week before Hurricane Alicia ravaged North-East Texas. Still needing time to recover from the loss of his father, Donald’s employer unremittingly began pleading for him to come to their aid, coincidentally to work a job in the same town his father has just passed away in. Eventually subsiding to his employer’s pleas, Donald took the job to only come to terms with the decision a week later that in was time for a career change.

Deciding to pursue real estate wholeheartedly, Donald landed at the Coldwell Banker-West Loop franchise under David Kelsch where in a mere six months he became the office’s top listing-agent. As a still inexperienced 23-year-old agent, Donald found that most buyers wanted little to do with a rookie agent who was once told by a potential client that he had socks older than him; however, to Donald’s delight, sellers were quick to see the enthusiasm that the young go-getter possessed. To this day, Donald credits the experiences he learned as a new agent at Coldwell Banker for helping to form some of the same marketing techniques he uses—not just to attract buyers but to attract other Realtors and to make them want to sell your property.

“Because I was so young at the time, buyers were hesitant to use my services and at first I was afraid the choice of careers I had made was a wrong one,” Donald remembers, “But the sellers loved me. They loved my energy, they loved my enthusiasm and they felt comfortable trusting me with the sale of their home.”

Over the next few years Donald sought out the experience necessary to obtain for himself the knowledge to succeed in the real estate industry. Donald’s education included stints at Boote Properties, Intermark, TIPS, and eventually RE/MAX. Possessing the experience necessary to become a leader in his field, Donald began negotiations with RE/MAX of Texas to establish a new franchise in the North-West Houston area. Unable to find an open grid in the locations he desired, Donald’s initial efforts were to no avail; however, that all changed one sunny afternoon in Cancun, Mexico, when Donald received an urgent call while vacationing. To his delight, Donald was notified that he had the opportunity to salvage the then struggling RE/MAX-Tri Counties franchise.

“In my real estate career, I've worked in several different companies and in several different positions inside of those companies. From my experiences I can honestly say I learned a little bit at each company about what I liked and what I didn't like about the way each was run,” Donald remembers of the jump to becoming an owner, “It was time for me to have an office of my own and to run it the way I felt I would like a company to be run if I worked there. I felt like I was over my head at first, but isn't that how we learn? It's about getting out of that comfort box and knowing if you mess up, it's on you.”

For Donald the risk and courage of purchasing his own franchise would eventually pay off handsomely, but not without the growing pains that plagued the young franchise at first. Donald and his staff had no choice but to wait out most of the remainder of a bad lease before he could move the office to a location that would attract clientele. “In the early days we used to say we couldn’t attract buyers, sellers, or flies from the location we were at,” Donald says.

Following an enduring wait, respite came for his franchise in 1999 when Donald was able to move the office to its current location at Grant & Louetta. At last poised for success, Donald was able to quickly build up his portfolio of agents to serve the burgeoning communities in surrounding areas which include Lakewood Forest, Longwood, Coles Crossing, Fairfield, Champions, Riata Ranch, Copperfield, the new Bridgleland, and the outlying Montgomery County. For Donald’s newly renamed RE/MAX-N.W. Territories franchise, it was only a matter of time before buyers, sellers, and prestigious accolades were practically swarming an office that at one time could hardly attract a fly.

In 2001 and 2002 the Houston Business Journal would name Donald’s office the Fastest-Growing Privately Owned Residential Real Estate Company in Harris & Surrounding Counties. Having experienced a tremendous growth, Donald’s office was awarded a new honor as having one of the largest real estate firms in Harris and surrounding counties for the sheer number of transactions, total sales volume, and volume sold per agent in 2003 and 2004. Although humble about the awards bestowed upon his franchise, Donald enjoys especially pointing out just one fact—that his team was able to accomplish these respected honors while operating with far fewer agents than comparable franchises.

“Whenever you have fewer than 40 people who are able to help buyers and sellers move $150,000,000 in real estate at about $175,000 at a time, you have one hard-working bunch of people and that is what we have at RE/MAX N.W. Territories. It is a wonderful achievement and the award was well deserved by them,” Donald says.

Although Donald is prepared to give all the credit to his hard working team, his agents believe that he is a born leader who tirelessly shares his knowledge and guidance with those around him. Kris Hoch, one of Donald’s newest agents, can attest to Donald’s influence on those who work around him.

“When I think of Donald, I immediately think of his vast knowledge of real estate and how well he communicates such knowledge,” Koch says, “I consider myself very fortunate to be part of Donald’s team because he readily shares this knowledge, instinct and wisdom with me. I often call him the ‘Dali Leonard’.”

Although mentoring his team at RE/MAX has become an innate quality that Donald has developed through his 25 years of experience, he has also been eager and passionate to share his knowledge with prospective Realtors by teaching real estate classes at both Champions School of Real Estate and Cy-Fair College. Donald consistently dedicates his time to walking potential Realtors through important pre-licensing classes where he is able to share his experience and knowledge with the next crop of agents.

“Real estate is not an easy business to succeed in but it is an easy business to get into,” Donald says, “Seven classes, one test later and you’re in. Even perfect grades do not guarantee anything in this business. I feel it is my critical responsibility to educate the new agents. I like to impart my 25 years of knowledge in the industry into the teaching experience so students can understand why real estate is not an easy business.”

Donald enjoys taking his students through the entire real state experience by showing them the 17 people that must work together to make a transaction successful. Furthermore, Donald enjoys sharing his own humorous experiences with students, the most of which involves a home with difficult showing instructions and several cats.

“The home’s instructions specified that the owner had three cats and that the brown cat could go outside but the grey one must stay in,” Donald says, “As soon as I opened the door to let my clients into the home, a cat darted right out the door.” Donald, being color blind, had no choice but to ask the home’s prospective buyers if they happened to have seen what color the fugitive cat was. At first Donald could not find the homeowners’ cat but eventually located a cat under his car. Having crawled under his car and returned the frantic feline to the house, Donald went about his business showing the house only to receive a call later that evening from the homeowners notifying him of a problem. “I turns out I had put the next-door neighbors’ cat in their house!” Donald says with a smile, “Just when I think I’ve seen it all in this business, I learn that I haven’t.”

Kristin Thrasher, Houston’s Regional Manager of Champions School, truly understands the appreciation Donald’s students have for him.

“Donald is a respected instructor who is appreciated by the students for his many contributions to the industry and his fun teaching style. We only wish Donald's business would allow him to teach more frequently,” she says.

Trena Wick, one of Donald’s recent students, credits Donald with her success in passing her real estate exam. Not only is she eager to work beside Donald and learn from his wealth of knowledge, but she also trusted him with her recent purchase of a new home and the sale of her existing property.

“In 2006 I started taking a few real estate classes with Donald, not sure what I was getting myself into,” Wick says, “I truly enjoyed the classes and I received excellent training from a world-class man who enriched our classes with real world experiences. I look forward to learning even further from Donald by working next to him as my mentor and broker.”

Mike Cantrell, a great friend and associate, credits Donald’s humor and expertise for providing him with consummate skills in service and representation.

“Donald and I have been good friends since the early 1990's. His understanding of all the facets involved with real estate makes him a great Realtor to have representing you,” Cantrell says, “Besides his professional expertise, his quick wit and humor is second to none. Just hang around Donald for a little while and the laughs will start flying. Donald and I have been through some trying times and I consider it a privilege to know him as well as I do.”

Besides teaching classes, Donald has enjoyed further imparting his experience and knowledge to the community through hosting a variety of real estate radio programs. Initially working as one of 12 agents on Mark McCoy’s show The Homes and Land Show, Donald enjoyed the experience so much that he pursued his own program on Business Radio 650 AM.

“There is nothing like being on the air,” Donald says of the live radio experience, “It’s just about my favorite thing in the world. I've always loved testing and pushing myself and this is just an extension of that aspiration. Whatever happens live on the air is out there for everyone to hear. You have to be on top of your game all the time, every time. I have to answer questions without a lot of time to think, so that means I have to be comfortable enough with my knowledge of real estate that I am ready with the answer as soon as the question is asked.”

Donald’s additional hobbies include fishing, tennis, and most of all, spending time with his two daughters, ages 18 and 21. Donald is proud of his younger daughter, Laura, who recently graduated 5th in her class and is ready for the college experience. Donald’s older daughter, to his enthusiasm, has recently joined the family business where her father jokes that “she knows the boss.”

“I like being able to have Christina there every day for a couple of reasons,” Donald says, “Unfortunately I missed out on an awful lot when she and her sister were growing up, but especially her because those were the early days of my business when I worked even more than I do now. Now she can see how the business works and hopefully can see that when I was gone it wasn't because I wanted to be, it was because I felt like I had to be. It is also great to have her there every day because I know no one else would look out for me like she does! I got to work with my father for a couple of years before he died and I got to see a whole different side of him that I never saw at home—it was fantastic.”

Donald advises his agents and students to be able to adapt in order to succeed in the real estate business. “Keep your eye on the market,” he recommends, “See what is working, what is not, and be willing to change. When I first got in this business we had a captive audience because we held the information—the internet has changed that immensely and now as a Realtor you must rely not just on information, but on your skills in service and representation. If you can’t give good service you’re in trouble, and if information is all you have to offer your clients then you better find something more.”

Donald prides himself not just in his wealth of knowledge as an industry leader and teacher, but also in his service skills which he assures make all the difference in today’s changing industry. “As a Realtor you have to be there for your clients,” Donald advises, “Providing superior service is to go above and beyond your clients’ expectations and to give them something more. Teaching, most of all, has helped me to adapt to the changes that drive the industry.”

There you have it—Realtor, franchise owner, broker, teacher, mentor, and radio personality; Donald Leonard is truly a jack of all trades who prides himself in being diverse and knowledgeable, traits that distinguish him as Today’s Renaissance Realtor.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Margie Dorrance, Cover Story Feature in YouTube Interview

Steve Levine catches up with Margie Dorrance, the February 2007 feature cover story for Real Estate Executive Magazine feature and 2007 Vice Chair of the Houston Association of Realtors®. What an amazing lady. See her in action:

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Rob Cook, Chairman of The Houston Association of Realtors - Enough Said!

Steve Levine catches up with Rob Cook, Chairman of the Houston Association of Realtors® (HAR) who explains how HAR is leading the pack in Real Estate across America. Thank you Rob for the interview. We look forward to putting you on the cover in October of 2007. You are the man in Real Estate Houston.

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