Emeritus Carole Bowen: Branding Counts
Emeritus Carole Bowen: Branding Counts
Known as the "Lot Lady" for her success as a land developer and new-home specialist, Carole Bowen of Bel Air, Md., has never let fear stand in the way of her ambitions. Bowen, now 70, opened her own brokerage in the mid-1980s, when interest rates were stratospheric and the economy was sluggish, after more than 20 years in sales and development. Colleagues called her "crazy" at the time, but keeping her focus on her goals has kept Bowen thriving in the business for nearly 50 years. She is currently a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.
You started in the business in 1960 and were doing well in sales, particularly in new subdivisions. Why did you choose to launch a brokerage during a rough economy?
BOWEN: People questioned my timing because of the economy. But my partner and I were ready to expand. We had a real estate division, a building division, and an investment and development division. We did well for more than three years, and then I decided I didn't want to spend as much time putting out fires. I felt tied down and couldn't do as much selling as I wanted. I gave a lot of the sales leads to the agents because I didn't want to compete with them.
What do you love about the land business?
BOWEN: I just love being outside and walking on the land. I also enjoy being out there in my Jeep. This expertise has been very good for me—I've taught a course on selling lots and, over the years, builders have come to me to sell their properties. It's been difficult lately because builders are having a tough time selling what they have, let alone starting new projects, and they are using more of their own sales reps.
You're not especially on top of all the new technologies. What advantages do you offer clients?
BOWEN: I know what to do to make sure a deal goes through. I can provide confidence to buyers, especially new ones. I have the knowledge that only comes with sticking with this for so many years. Buyers sense that and appreciate it. I go beyond what people expect in my level of service.
How important is continuing education?
BOWEN: I do more than what is required in our state, which is 15 hours every two years. I take courses in financing and agency, and I constantly want to learn more.
You're active politically in your local association, the Harford County Association of REALTORS®. What value have you found from that involvement?
BOWEN: I handle government affairs, and it allows me to get on my soapbox about the issues affecting our industry. I'm a big advocate of RPAC, the political action committee, and I've been writing to our congressman about extending the home buyer tax credit to all buyers, not just first-timers. I've had a letter published in our local newspaper about it. I still don't think enough people know about the tax credit, and I think it should have a catchier name. "Cash for Clunkers" was great for car sales. I suggest "Bucks for Buyers" for real estate. I also participate in the NAR Calls to Action and e-mail people outside of real estate about supporting our issues.
What advice do you have for discouraged real estate pros?
BOWEN: They may have to be more patient but also get involved in their communities and get more exposure. Whether it's the PTA or local politics, you have to get yourself out there. It helps with getting referrals. I wear my REALTOR® pin and my name tag when I go to the grocery store, or the bank, or the cleaners. It's not a neon sign, but it gets people talking to you. It's also important to keep a sense of humor and don't forget your family even when you feel the need to work extra hard. There was a time when I put my career before my family. [She has three children, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.] I used to joke that "I knew I was in trouble when I went home and my own dog bit me." I'd work up to 80 hours a week. I did eventually get divorced. My husband wasn't interested in real estate or politics.
How do you manage cash flow during slow times?
BOWEN: A lot of people buy something big when they think they'll be getting a commission, and put it on a credit card. That's a mistake because you never know what will happen. I've learned to pay cash for most things I need at home, unless I know I can pay off the purchase right away. Even when things are tight, I know to just keep going.
Any thoughts of retirement?
BOWEN: I like it too much to retire, though the business can be cruel. The worst year I've had was 2008, though 2009 is turning out better. I like working with multiple generations in the same family. And we expect many new people moving to the area because a local military facility is being repurposed by the government. There will be a lot of new jobs.
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