Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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.”

No comments: