If you think getting along with colleagues is hard, or that getting along with family is a challenge, imagine if your co-workers were your brothers and sisters, and your boss was your mom. Or your dad. Or even your grandmother. While for some this sounds harrowing, for many multi-generational real estate businesses, working with immediate family can be the source of enduring success.
At Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, arguably the largest family-operated real estate firm in the nation, three generations—and no less than 10 family members—oversee nearly every aspect of the real estate business founded by patriarch Howard Hanna, Sr.—who, at 95, still attends most major company events. Now operating successfully in eight states stretching from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, the company is a daily source of celebration, conflict and pride.
“Reporting to other family members is not always easy,” observes Helen Hanna Casey, president of the firm. “But the trade-off is a shared history, common goals and values, and the pleasure that comes from building something together.”
For the offspring of real estate family businesses, real estate is the business they grew up hearing about around the dinner table. It was their first summer job or the afterschool job they had in high school, whether that was photocopying flyers at the office or painting rental properties.
“I learned how to tie my shoes in the building I work in today,” says Danny Joyner, president and CEO of South Carolina-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices C. Dan Joyner REALTORS®, a second-generation leader of the family real estate business.
LP Finn and his sister, Whitney Finn LaCosta, also grew up in the business—in their case at Coach REALTORS®, the busy, independent Long Island, N.Y.-based company established by their parents, Georgianna and Larry Finn.
“Whitney and I started out as kids, emptying the trash and answering phones,” LP Finn says. “It was a natural progression to learning hands-on real estate procedures and management skills.”
Today, while their parents remain involved in the business, LP serves as chief operating officer and Whitney as assistant general manager. And Whitney’s husband, Robert LaCosta, oversees the company’s ancillary businesses, including mortgage and title.
Proving their Mettle
Of course, adult children entering a family business aren’t simply handed the keys to the kingdom. They have to learn the fundamentals of the business and prove their capabilities just like any outsider.
Drayton Saunders joined Michael Saunders & Company in 2003, which was founded by his mother Michael Saunders in 1976 and currently serves Florida’s Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. “Drayton was given no slack,” says Michael Saunders. “The rungs were no closer together for him.”
Even though Drayton had significant experience as a successful entrepreneur, he says it was a struggle the first year to get his bearings—“I knew full well I didn’t come with a long real estate resume. I felt pressure to make sure I was performing consistent with the opportunity I’d been given.” He started out in mortgage and title, then transitioned to branch management and additional roles, culminating in his current role as president.
Danny Joyner joined his family real estate firm in 1990. Other family members in the business include his brother-in-law, David Crigler, executive vice president and chief operations officer, and his sister Beth Crigler, the company’s top sales agent. In addition, Danny has two nieces who work in sales, and a nephew in property management at the firm.
“When my brother-in-law and I joined the business, we spent time in each separate division learning how the business worked. I worked several years in residential sales, property management, appraisals, and commercial brokerage. No one questions your ability if you’ve earned your way there,” he says.
James Weichert, Jr. joined his father, Jim Weichert, in the family business, Weichert Realtors, as a sales associate. James worked alongside his father, who founded the New Jersey-based national firm in 1969, taking on a number of increasingly important and strategic positions throughout the organization. Earlier, James worked with the CFO to learn the financial operations, led the company’s efforts in identifying and developing future sales managers, and oversaw several longstanding Weichert sales offices as a regional vice president. Father and son currently share the role of co-president for the company-owned residential sales offices, mortgage banking company, and title and insurance agencies.
Outside Experience Helps
Not everyone has a prior career before joining the family real estate firm, but those who have pursued other careers before entering the business say it helps.
“The best education Drayton could have had was building his own business, as I built this—brick by brick, stick by stick,” says Michael Saunders. “He was much more able to step into a role in the company because he had experienced his own entrepreneurship.”