Earlier this year, realtors Douglas Payne and Judy Ross decided it was time for a change.
After making their mark in the metro-east as successful Century 21 agents, the two decided to strike out on their own, forming their own agency.
The transition was basically seamless, right down to their location: Southern Illinois Realty LLC is in the same suite of the same strip mall at 4001 Illinois 159 in Smithton where Payne and Ross kept their Century 21 offices.
The duo also is active in the Realtors Association of Southern Illinois and other real estate groups. They say real estate is more than just buying and selling homes. It’s about “protecting people’s private property rights.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
The two agree that success in real estate in the metro-east hinges on building and maintaining strong relationships in the community.
Q: Can you outline your careers in real estate? How did you get to where you are today?
A: Panye: “I got my license in 1995 and went to work for Century 21 in Columbia. Basically a new owner decided to take over the company and I went with her as Century 21 Advantage. We worked together for many years, and then she decided to sell the company and I was the only stockholder. I agreed with the new owners to sell them all my stock and take over this office as a satellite office. I’ve been here a total of eight years.”
A: Ross: “I got licensed in 1997 and shortly thereafter we moved to metro Atlanta. I’ve been with every major firm and was there 13 years. Then my husband and I decided we were coming back home. I joined Doug here, and we’ve been selling together for the last five or six years.”
Q: What drove your decision to leave Century 21 and start your own agency?
A: Payne: “Actually the choice was very simple. Our franchise agreement with Century 21 was going to run out at the end of March. We’d talked to the owner of the company prior to that. We had sold and closed over $300 million worth of homes over those years. So they basically said, ‘What would you like to do? You can come with us and move back to Columbia or we’re going to get an office in south St. Louis County, you can get a Missouri license.’ We had no desire to do that. All my business was here in St. Clair County and so I wanted to stay in St. Clair County. Plus I live here in Smithton. This office is five minutes from my house. It was very easy to make the decision to keep the office here and run it ourselves. There were no issues with Century 21, they gave us the choice to do whatever we wanted to do.”
A: Ross: “We decided not to go with a franchise (again) basically because of the cost. We offer the same service and the same features as a franchise. We’ve talked with our clients and they’ve said it doesn’t really matter who you’re with.”
Q: What’s it like to have the customer loyalty you have?
A: Ross: “It’s fantastic. That’s the one wonderful thing about the Midwest. In the bigger markets where I’ve sold before, you don’t have that type of loyalty. Here, you do. People know you; they trust you. If you’ve done well by them then they’re going to refer you to so many. We’ve got so many cheerleaders out there, it’s amazing. We feel so blessed to have the amount of business we have.”
A: Payne: “Most of our business is referral business from past clients, which makes it very good that they come in and follow up with us. We’ve sold their parents’ homes; we’ve sold their childrens’ homes. That’s where a lot of our business comes from.”
Q: Do you employ any other agents?
A: Ross: “Right after the word was out that we started our own firm, we immediately took on three new agents. People were eager and they called us, which really shocked us. We hadn’t done any recruiting.”
A: Payne: “It’s an honor to be respected in any business and I feel honored that people were contacting myself and Judy that wanted to come work for us. We were on our own with Century 21 for many years, but now that we started our own company, suddenly everybody wanted to come. I felt honored that people were contacting us.”
Q: Real estate is more than just buying and selling property. What behind the scenes are you doing?
A: Ross: “We do a lot of socializing with many of our clients. We’ve become very good friends with many of the people we’ve met through real estate. There for a couple years we did a big party, a big concert that we invited a lot of our clients to. We get together with them; we have dinner with them; there’s just a lot of things we do with our clients. It’s a relationship-building business. We try to build good relationships with the community. We enjoy people. It’s not just a one-time shot with us. And it’s more than just the people we buy and sell with.”
Q: Some have concluded that the real estate market is coming back strong after the recession. What are your assessments?
A: Ross: “It’s improving. It’s going to be a slow process getting back to where we had been. We run up against some obstacles in the form of new rules, and that creates a little more headaches. The one thing we’ve noticed right now, and we’re hammering at this to everyone we meet, is that inventories are low. You can’t wait. If you see something you like, you’ve got to go right for it, right now because it won’t be there tomorrow. If you’ve been sitting on the fence thinking about selling, now’s the time. You’re going to get a better price for your product right now than you would six months ago.”
A: Payne: “Interest rates are low also. That’s helping drive this market. You’ve got 30-year rates at 3.75 percent. Back in the 1980s, rates were in the teens. So having rates in the 3 percent to 4 percent range really helps to drive this market. Inventories are low. Realtors need listings to get things moving. Prices have been stable but they’re rising slowly. I don’t feel (the market) will ever get back to what it was doing in 2005 to 2007. That was just a wild ride. The prices escalated and it caused a lot of problems.”
Q: So is that a good thing that the market won’t get back to something like that?
A: Payne: “In a respect I think it is. If people sell their house and bring in a lot of money, the house they buy is going to cost a lot. It’s going to raise their payment; it’s going to raise their taxes.”
A: Ross: “There was so much lax in the lending laws that there were so many people that overbought. We had this rush of foreclosures and short sales. So that’s starting to even out. We don’t see as many foreclosures coming onto the market. Obviously foreclosures affect the home value. Whenever we can see that the pricing is where it should be, where people can afford to get into a home, then that’s where we want to see things. And there are a lot of programs in Illinois to help people get into homes.”
Douglas Payne and Judy Ross
Job: Co-owners, Southern Illinois Realty LLC in Smithton
Prognosis: Customer service, strong relationships will ensure success as housing market improves