Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Becky Hill of Keller Williams Realty Professionals

The True Heart of a Leader: Introducing the 2009 National President of the Women’s Council of Realtors®
By Kate Sullivan-Conlan

Have you had the pleasure of meeting Becky Hill, the 2009 national president of the Women’s Council of REALTORS® and a top-producing broker at Keller Williams Realty Professionals? According to her long-time business partner and friend Joanie Sharpe, Becky is a person who is “always available to help anyone, anywhere, with pretty much anything,” all the while serving as a leader on so many levels in the real estate industry.

Introducing the New President of the Women’s Council of Realtors®

Becky’s election as the 2009 President of the Women’s Council of REALTORS®, the first president ever to be elected from the greater Houston area, is a richly deserved tribute for a lifetime of service. Mark Willis, CEO of Keller Williams International, Inc. says, “Becky is a true servant leader at heart,” and Becky herself acknowledges, “I’ve served my profession in various leadership capacities for many years now; it’s just become part of my life.”

The Women’s Council, chartered in 1938 as an affiliated council of the National Association of REALTORS®, captured Becky’s interest several years ago with the training and networking opportunities it made available for women. “When I looked around the real estate industry,” says Becky, “the most professional women I met were in Women’s Council. The organization has always been known as a trainer of leaders, both in real estate and in the larger community; so, realizing that, who wouldn’t want to associate with this group?”

As the twelfth largest women’s organization of any kind in the United States, the Women’s Council’s mission states, “We are a network of successful REALTORS® empowering women to exercise their potential as entrepreneurs and industry leaders.” The Council originally served to give women entering the real estate industry training to allow them to compete with their male counterparts. “Whereas men were paid a commission, a female agent might have been offered a bottle of wine,” explains Becky. Today, many men belong to local chapters and serve in leadership positions, but the Council still “predominantly serves women, encouraging more and more women to accept leadership roles and gain the skills they need to compete successfully.”

Over the years, leading up to her installment as president, Becky took on numerous leadership and service positions to further the Vision of the Council. She has served in every role nationally as an officer and has helped develop and participate in many of the Council’s training and mentoring programs. “We gear our training for those who want to reach the highest levels of accomplishment within their careers and in their local communities as well.” The four premier courses in the Council’s new curriculum, called “Performance Management Network,” focus on an individual’s performance skills and personal development. With her expertise, it is no mystery why Becky is a certified instructor for all of the courses.

Broker JoAnne Poole, of Poole Realty in Maryland, first met Becky at WCR meetings many years ago. She attests that Becky has moved through leadership positions, always “staying grounded and reminding everyone that ‘It’s all about the members.’ With her mentoring skills, educational instructions, and her rational and visionary thinking, Becky has inspired and motivated the members throughout the country.” Joanie Sharpe adds, “Becky has garnered the respect and admiration of the entire real estate industry nationwide. The honor of becoming the president of the Women’s Council is achieved by only a few.”

Becky dedicates her energy to the Women’s Council in no small part because she herself has benefited so greatly from the organization. “Women’s Council provides a huge support system for all its members,” says Becky. “Regardless of where I am in the United States, all I have to do is pick up a phone and call another member. If I’m stranded or if I need help on a topic I am not knowledgeable about, someone would be there to pick me up or to look up that information for me.” Recently, the Council revamped its national website and online Member Search feature so that members can now search specific fields of member expertise for everything from good marketing ideas to information sources for the best cell phones and computer equipment. Members across the country also network to give one another leads and referrals for relocating clients. “It makes it so much easier because we can find the needed information right within our own network.” Becky adds, “All of us openly share our knowledge and expertise, and that sharing makes us strong as an organization. In fact, it’s like one big extended family.”

A further commitment of the Women’s Council that Becky especially supports is “giving back to our communities that support us as professionals in our businesses.” Hand-in-hand with training and networking, a goal of WCR is “to educate and promote women and their influence in every phase of society, not just in real estate,” says Becky. “Since most of the Council’s activity is at the local level, we encourage our members to reach out to other organizations within their communities – Chambers of Commerce, civic and charitable organizations, as well as various political groups. Local chapters of WCR are critical; they are the delivery points of all we want our members to do in their own communities; they serve as the business resource centers for local agents.” Many chapters raise funds and volunteer time with local organizations such as Candlelighters, battered women’s shelters, Habitat for Humanity, etc. Others support scholarships for college-bound girls and provide skills training programs for women and children.

What does Becky want to be remembered for when her presidency is over? With the financial situation and recent mortgage crisis people have been experiencing in the US, Women’s Council, like many other organizations, lost some members last year and experienced some internal conflict. “I want to be remembered as the president who cared about each and every member and the struggles they are facing in their chapters, their careers, and in their personal lives. I hope to bring us one step closer to realization of the Council’s vision of making a difference in the industry and in our communities,” states Becky. She wants to re-energize and focus directly on the members, meeting their needs and assisting them locally to become stronger and more viable in their communities and profession. “If we can accomplish these things, then the future will be bright for Women’s Council, and this should be a year of healing and growth.”

Personally for Becky, her role as president “will be an experience of a lifetime.” She will be traveling across the country to visit local and state chapters and doing what she loves – meeting and educating people and making new friends.

Leading on the State and Local Level – With a personal Touch

As Joanie Sharpe says, “Becky has always led by example.” She encourages other agents through Women’s Council to become involved in their communities, but she leads the way with her own involvement in education and in the political arena.
For the past four years, Becky has served as a PAC Trustee for the Houston and Texas Associations of REALTORS®. Her participation keeps her up-to-date on proceedings that could affect the real estate industry, and it facilitates her networking across the state. For example, TREPAC insures that bills get passed that support property ownership rights and that benefit the whole industry. Becky shares that information with other agents and her clients, for “it’s good to be thought of as someone who not only is an expert in the industry but who also really knows what’s going on that could impact the industry.”

Becky imbues her work at every level with a focus on the personal: “Without a personal touch I don’t think I could have accomplished what I have been able to so far in my career.” Her passion for people comes through especially in her teaching at the Champions School of Real Estate, where she shares her knowledge with new agents coming into the field. Friend Janis Spiller says of Becky, “She really cares about the education and quality of other agents, and there is no one who exceeds her knowledge of the contract and real estate transaction.” Teaching these courses,” Becky adds, “allows me to use my talents as a teacher alongside my knowledge and experience in the industry. I love being able to do the two things that I’m really passionate about.” Rita Santamaria, owner and president of Champions School of Real Estate, says that Becky gets “rave reviews from her students as an outstanding communicator.” Rita honored Becky with a Teacher of the Year award, and, according to Joanie Sharpe, her students say that Becky is the best teacher they have ever had.

Joining Keller Williams: Leader, Mentor, Friend

Becky grew up with her four siblings in the Appalachian Mountain area of southwest Virginia. Her father worked in the coal mines from the time he was in the ninth grade until he retired, so Becky truly is a “coal miner’s daughter.” Her mother was the regional manager for World Book and Child Craft Encyclopedias and gave Becky her first exposure to the world of sales. “I was really somewhat of a country bumpkin when I left home for college, and then I wanted to learn as much as I could about the rest of the world,” says Becky. She majored in math and science, married, and moved with her husband to Houston in 1970 after they had both graduated from college. She taught in the public school system for ten years, and during the years of her marriage, she and her husband invested in real estate. They would buy the worst house in the best neighborhood they could afford, and, after working weekends on the house, would then resell it. “We did flips before flips were popular! I loved it, and we never lost money on any of our properties,” says Becky. “That’s when I first started getting the real estate bug and decided to someday get a license!”

Joanie Sharpe was Becky’s agent on her last house transaction. She encouraged Becky to get her real estate license and join her in the business. “Joanie was my mentor,” says Becky. “She was always there to answer my questions and support me. She soon became my friend.”

At first, Becky continued to teach and work part-time at a small real estate agency. When she became more serious about a real estate career, she quit the classroom and took a full-time position with REALMCO Realty, later known as Saffold Company Realtors, where they offered more formal training. “I knew from the beginning that training would be the key to becoming highly successful in the business,” says Becky, “and that’s why Keller Williams became so attractive to me later on.”

Keller Williams Realty found Becky in 1990, when she was managing an office in the Memorial area, and they approached her about opening the first Keller Williams office in Houston. Since Becky lived in the Champions area in NW Houston, she declined the offer. Later, partnering with Joanie Sharpe, they opened a Keller Williams office just one year later, nearer both of their homes, and became the second market center location in the city. Janis Spiller of Houston Title remembers first meeting Becky in the early 90’s when they were opening the office: “She wanted to open an office that gave back to the agents and gave them some advantages they otherwise would not have had. Keller Williams met that need.”

Four years ago, Becky and Joanie sold their business so they could once again concentrate on their own clients and sales, for Becky “loves working with the public.” She does only residential sales, and hers is a totally referral-based business through former clients and her networking with Woman’s Council and other organizations. She has consistently earned sales awards and historically places in the top 10% in Keller Williams in productivity. Becky remains a Broker Associate, at the same company that she and Joanie once owned. The office, which recently merged with another location to form Keller Williams Realty Professionals, is strategically located to better serve the needs of her clients throughout NW Houston, Spring, Cypress, Tomball, Kingwood and The Woodlands.

“The real mark of my success, I believe,” says Becky, “has been my personalized services to my clients before, during, and after the sale. It’s important to be there initially and then continue to do as much as you can even after closing. I focus on my clients in a real estate transaction because buying a house is a tremendous expenditure and one of their most highly emotionally charged dealings.” She adds, “The commission is the last thing to worry about because you will be paid handsomely if you do a great job and focus on first serving the needs of your clients.”

The focus on formal training and mentoring at Keller Williams first attracted Becky to the company and, seventeen years later, continues to hold her loyalty. Becky was part of the original training crew and nurtured their efforts as training “blossomed and grew” at Keller Williams. Her commitment to continuing personal and professional development also led Becky to the Women’s Council. “The principles of Keller Williams Realty and Women’s Council of REALTORS® are so much in alignment with each other,” she explains. “Both organizations are vitally interested in what their agents/members feel and are structured to get that input from the field. They both focus intensely on training and believe in delivering programs that can elevate an agent to the next level(s) of success.”

Between her own business, her teaching, her work with the Women’s Council and TREPAC, Becky long ago learned to manage her time efficiently so that she still has time to be with her friends. “I have many close friends in the Houston area,” says Becky, “and I have remained friends with many dear people all over the country over the years.” Becky also makes sure she gets together with her family with whom she feels very close even though they live far apart.

Joanie Sharpe cannot say enough about Becky’s personal commitment to others. “She is the person who will be there when a loved one is lost, a job is lost, or a heart is broken, supporting you with words of encouragement or perhaps just sitting silently and imparting strength through her presence.” Janis Spiller adds, “Consistently putting the needs of others before her own, she always manages to show up with turkey or ham, dressing, and all the trimmings so my sister and I don’t miss out on the joys of the holidays while caring for our ailing mother in the nursing home.”

The True Heart of Leadership

To those entering a career in real estate, Becky Hill is adamant in her advice. Number one: Get the training. “If you want to sell at high levels, always continue to learn. If you were to survey successful agents, they’d credit their success to the training they’d received throughout their careers.” And number two: Network. “You must get out of your office. Work with other organizations and work in your community to expand your influence.”

Becky’s leadership in real estate on the national, state, and local levels is centered in her care and commitment to the professionalism of her industry, to the growth and success of her associates, to her personal concern for her clients, and to a deep love of her friends. As Joanie Sharpe says, “Becky will be there to celebrate your victories."

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Publisher's Comments: So Much To Be Thankful For

November Greetings!

I am sure that most of you will agree that this has been a most challenging year for our country and industry.

Our nation’s financial woes which include the mortgage meltdown and credit crunch has caused many of our local mortgage companies, title companies, builders and other suppliers to the real estate community to close up shop or (at the least) make some major budget cuts to “weather” the financial storm and hold on till things improve.

Speaking of “weather”, there is no question that “Hurricane Ike’s” brief visit to our part of the world, added another heap of challenges (not to mention debris) to our listings and our real estate businesses.

At press time, there is so much uncertainty in our world financial markets, I am not sure that even the most optimistic in our industry believe that is we will be back doing “business as usual” anytime soon.

Even considering the aforementioned, we have allot to be thankful for. Here is what I am thankful for:

• I am glad that we are still here!
• I am thankful that we are a caring community that pitched in to help our friends and neighbors clean up after Ike’s departure. Did anyone else notice how many huge trees DID NOT fall on our homes?
• I am thankful that we live and work in Houston, Texas, which is still one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.
• I am thankful that we have so many real estate associations who are “there” for us with support (H.A.R,, Women’s Council of Realtors®, T.A.R., N.A.R., and all of the various ethnic associations (like NAHREP, AAREA and HREA)

Speaking of Women’s Council of Realtors®, we are indeed pleased to be honoring Becky Hill of Keller Williams Realty Professionals on the cover of this month’s issue. Becky will be installed as the 2009 National President of Women’s Council of Realtors® at this month’s Women’s Council of Realtors® Convention held in conjunction with the NAR Convention in Orlando. This is the first time in WCR’s history that the national president is based in Houston! After reading her story, you will indeed agree that she is more than deserving of the Presidency and the cover honor. Congratulations Becky!

As always, good reading, good sales and Happy Thanksgiving!

Success to you!

Steve Levine

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Michael Levitin-HTown Realty/PM Houston Association of REALTORS® 2008 Chairman

Shining Light on the Heroes among Us
By Woodie Stephenson

Many people around Michael Levitin know him as a frustrated comedian. After all, the owner/broker of HTOWN Realty/PM and HAR’s 2008 Chairman of the Board’s favorite quote is “Don’t take life too serious or you’ll never get out alive.”

“You just have to roll with it,” Michael says on life, “My favorite part is the laughing part.”

Although those closest to Michael may know him for his sense of humor, they also know him as a hard-working and dedicated leader who has contributed much to the Houston real estate community. The first broker to open a 100% independent realty office in Houston and a dedicated public servant at HAR, Michael has dedicated his time as chairman to improving HAR and shining a light on the heroes within Houston’s real estate community.

Born and raised in Houston, Michael grew up in the Southwest side where he attended Pershing Middle School and graduated from Bellaire High School. The oldest of three siblings, Michael grew up enjoying sports and had a privileged childhood, but never grew took anything for granted due to the stories and lessons that his mother’s side of the family taught him.

“My mother’s side of the family were holocaust survivors from Germany,” Michael reveals, “and they taught me to value life.”

Following his high school education, Michael left for Austin where he attended the University of Texas studying education. After college, Michael worked odd jobs for a couple years before deciding to utilize his talent in sales in a still-thriving 1980s real estate market. Michael—still unlicensed—began working for home builder Ryland Homes in The Woodlands area selling new homes.

Although things were going great for Mike, who had purchased his own home in the Cypress area and had recently experienced the birth of his first child, the Houston market would inevitably take a turn for the worse in the wake of the 1980s recession. The Houston market was hit hard by the foreclosure era, but Mike was determined to stay the course in his new career even if that meant adapting to the market.

“It was a bad time for many people in Houston,” Mike recalls, “the market really died on the vine, but I understood it was time to finally get my real estate license and work the foreclosure market if that’s what it took.”

When the market came back around, Mike took the opportunity to become a founding partner in a new Century 21 franchise, C21 Gold Creek, in the Bear Creek area. Around this time, Mike read the first of two books that would help him to devise his own business strategies, How to Swim with Sharks without Being Eaten. Soon after, he would open his own investment property firm, The Michael Group.

Mike would soon meet the mentor that would help him open his own 100% Real Estate Co., Mike arranged to meet Schwartz in 1998 and the two bonded over their similar experiences, heritage, and ambition.

Armed with a business model and a helpful and encouraging mentor, Mike took a step forward and expanded the Michael Group into a real estate office offering low monthly fees. Over the course of the next few years—from 1998-2004—The Michael Group had grown to nearly 1,000 agents operating in Houston and Dallas.

Mike met his current wife Sandy in 2002 on Yahoo Personals and the two lovebirds chatted for a couple weeks before arranging a real date. They have been together ever since and will soon be celebrating their 5 year wedding anniversary. Mike and Sandy’s children include Mike’s daughter Tara and Sandy’s children Greg and Heather. Together, the couple have 4 grandchildren.

Mike first attempts to become involved with HAR were two campaigns running for the Board of Directors. Although he didn’t make the board at first, Mike’s efforts paid off when an opening in the Clear Lake area on the board allowed him to receive a sear on the Board of Directors.

Mike’s service and dedication allowed him to work his way up the ranks of HAR to Treasurer/Secretary, Vice President, and eventually Chairman of the Board, the esteemed position he currently serves in.

“It’s been great being Chairman,” Michael shares, “On the business side you get to travel nationally and internationally and you are exposed to so many knowledgeable Brokers, owners, and high-level associates in the real estate industry. Because of HAR’s immense reputation, I’ve been able to meet and pick the brains of some of the best like Carter Murdoch (VP of Bank of America) and Sherry Chris (CEO of Better Homes and Gardens).”

Mike credits the success and reputation of HAR’s current standing to HAR President and CEO Bob Hale.

“The success of HAR all starts at the top,” Mike says, “Bob is the type of leader that acquires the best people possible to run and improve his association. He does not micro-manage his staff; he is an excellent manager that lets people do their job but still has his thumb on the pulse of this organization.”

Mike appreciates the lengths that Bob goes to make sure his staff is not only primed for success, but enjoy their job, first and foremost.

“Bob knows that I’m a sports fanatic and Bob and the HAR Staff went out his way to make it possible for me to throw out the first pitch at an Astros’ game.”

Mike recalls the thrill of standing in front of a capacity crowd at Minute Maid Park.

“I was really nervous about bouncing the pitch in the dirt,” Mike recalls, “So I tossed it nice and easy and kept it under 30 [mph] like I was in West University.”

Mike appreciates the perks that come with the job—such as calling bingo games, attending sports events, and taking trips—but he also takes his position very serious.

“It’s a major commitment serving in a leadership role,” Mike says, “It’s not ditch digging, but it’s demanding work.”

Since coming into office for his year-long term, Mike, in an effort to increase community awareness about the services HAR offers to the public and Realtors, has made an astounding number of television and radio appearances on a local and national audience.

“It’s all about letting the public know that it’s very important to use a Realtor when selling your home,” Mike says, “and the best way to chose a professional is by using HAR. It’s important for home buyers and sellers to find someone who has their best interests at heart; someone who is on the cutting edge of market trends, follows the Realtor code of ethics, and can get their client the best value for their dollar.”

A demanding part of Mike’s job is to represent HAR nationally and share the knowledge his organization has accumulated.

“We don’t have to toot our own horn,” Mike says, “because people are tooting it for us. HAR is a state-of-the-art model organization that real estate markets worldwide are studying. The systems we have in place are a benchmark, and everyone wants to know how HAR does it.”

HAR’s innovations to its field has garnered the association much recognition and accolade. Recently, CEO Bob Hale was recognized with the Inman Real Estate Conference Award of Innovator of the Year.

HAR President and CEO Bob Hale applauds Mike’s commitment to fighting for the little guy through his support of the affordable housing program.

“Having served as president and CEO of HAR for 20 years, I have had the pleasure of serving with many great leaders in the REALTOR community. This past year with Michael as chairman of the board has truly been a unique and rewarding experience. His belief in the active role of the REALTOR is evident in his strong support of affordable housing programs, which has been one of the primary focuses of his tenure.”

As Chairman, Mike started a campaign to increase public awareness to the roles many Realtors serve as dedicated community leaders and volunteers. Mike’s campaign—Heroes: Celebrating the Hero in all of us—highlights a different agent every month for their achievement in community service.

“There are a lot of Realtors out there doing all kinds of things under the radar for their communities,” Mike shares, “The aim of our campaign is to show people that Realtors are very involved in the community and are much more than a commission.”

Mike’s successful campaign, along with featuring stories in Houston Realtor magazine, has caught the attention of The Houston Chronicle and other media outlets which have picked up these incredible stories to share with an even larger audience.

HAR Executive Vice President Rene Galvan appreciates the vision for a model Realtor that Mike is trying to set with his Heroes campaign.

“Michael never forgets his role as HAR chairman of the board—to lead and advocate on behalf of our 26,000 members—and he does it with enthusiasm and sense of humor that is contagious. He has a sincere desire to improve the association and real estate landscape for both our members and the consumer at large. His theme for his year of Heroes embodies his view of the REALTOR in the community as well as his aspirational vision for the profession.”

Sam Scott, HAR Director of Information, believes Mike’s enthusiasm, humility, and personality have all been assets which have improved HAR over his tenure.

“Michael has a unique perspective on real estate opportunities; he tends to see the needs of potentially underserved groups. He networks and builds relationships among groups where others might not recognize an opportunity. He is also the first HAR leader to work a room in a powder blue blazer and Kangol beret. His love of people, sports and sports history frequently come together. He once spent 20 minutes visiting with the doorman at the Lancaster who he recognized as a founding member of the Houston Oilers offensive line and together they recollected much of the team’s pre-Pastorini glories. Michael’s direct and unpretentious style has been an asset in analyzing issues that balance the desires of consumers with the differing perspectives of Board members.”

Looking towards the future, Mike is proud of his contributions to the community through HAR, but hopes to see more diversity among the board in the future.

Mike advises those leaders of tomorrow to invest heavily in their education, build their list of contacts and associates, and join a company that will offer them good support.

“I would hope our future leaders in the community and at HAR take advantage of the amazing staff that our association provides for the community at whole. We are a public service here for everybody to use.”

When asked if there was anything else that he could offer, the frustrated comedian searched his mind for a joke perhaps, but could only come up with this:

“It’s been a lot of fun working towards the opportunities I have had. I would advise anybody else who makes it this far to just sit back and enjoy the ride because it doesn’t last long enough.”

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Celebrating the “Heroes among Us”

I am ashamed to admit that when I first heard this year’s HAR Chairman, Michael Levitin’s theme for the association this year, I didn’t get it. That theme, “Heroes: Celebrating the hero in all of us” left me self reflecting what have I ever done that was truly “heroic?” I can’t remember ever running in to a burning building to save a child or jumping into turbulent waters to save someone who was drowning or having really had the opportunity to do anything remotely heroic.

Just how many of us have ever had the chance to prove our heroism?

It was not until I had the chance to sit down with my friend and Publisher’s Advisory Board member, Mike Levitin for interview for his cover story in this issue, that I truly understood the meaning of the message.

You see as Chairman, Mike started the campaign to increase public awareness to the roles many Realtors® serve as dedicated community leaders and volunteers. Mike’s campaign—Heroes: Celebrating the Hero in all of us—highlights a different agent every month for their achievement in community service.

“There are a lot of Realtors out there doing all kinds of things under the radar for their communities,” Mike shares, “The aim of our campaign is to show people that Realtors are very involved in the community and are much more than a commission.

I find it very sad that many people in the community to not realize just how much you all give back to the community and those in need.

For those of you who are looking for a great opportunity to do something very special for your community that will also give you the visibility in the communities that you serve, let me again recommend “Free to Be.”

“Free To Be” is a dynamic, unforgettable program that incorporates live speakers, emotional video, powerful music and eye-catching graphics into a presentation for middle and high school assemblies across the country. The assemblies are designed to give students special perspective and a true appreciation of the freedoms they so often take for granted. Since 2006, “Free to Be” founder Larry Tooker has taken the program to over 90 different schools and reached more than 34,000 people.

Stewart Title has joined in the crusade to make sure that every student in every school in America has the opportunity to witness this incredible program.

But, here is the “call to action”…they need your help.

Knowing the Houston real estate community (as well as I do) and knowing how much each of you appreciates the freedom you have to own your own real estate practice that you are already reaching for your checkbook…and that is great! But, there is an even better opportunity that you have as Realtors® to make a difference to (literally) millions of children this school year. That opportunity is for you to help present this video at schools in your community!

You can contact any one or your Stewart Title representatives to find out more on how you can get involved,

Don’t forget to visit the REE booth at the HAR Expo to say “hello”

Thank you for all you do.

As always, good reading and good sales!

Success to you!

Steve Levine

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