Having been Whit's Director of Marketing for several years, I recently decided to get my real estate license in order to fully understand the ins and outs of the business, and I wanted to learn from the best – Whit Harvey.
I've spent lot of time hanging out with Whit and his wife Joanne lately. They are part of my social pod. He has a great sense of humor, loves to dance, cook, (his brussels sprouts are amazing), play with his dogs and hang out with his new grandson. Previously an avid tennis and squash player, his new sports of choice are golfing, hiking and fly fishing. He likes to ride horses – fast, and once he and his cousin were picked up hitchhiking by Hunter S. Thompson.
Not only has he led and continues to lead a fascinating life, he truly knows his business.
A couple of years ago, a long-time client of Whit Harvey’s suggested him to a young man who was looking for a buyer’s agent. The young man’s response was, “Whit Harvey? Isn’t he old?”
Whit laughed about it. “I guess because I’ve been in the business for so long – 40 years – people think I am an old man. But I started selling houses with Piper & Company when I as only in my twenties.”
I sat down to talk to Whit about real estate, why he's been so successful at it, and how the business is changing.
So Whit, you’ve been doing this job for 40 years. Do you ever get tired of it?
No. I never get tired of it. I love being around people, I really do. I love sharing stories with them, finding out about their families, their jobs and their goals – I am a very good listener. I appreciate the fact that a client trusts me with one of the most important decisions they will make in their lives – where they will live. It’s not just about the house, it is about the community where they will raise their children and make a life.
Was real estate a career you planned?
No. When I was in college, everyone expected me to go into the financial world like my father, but I had other ideas. Along with getting my degree in business I took several art classes along the way. I find that those have increased my appreciation for architecture and gave me an design sense that is very helpful when it comes to staging.
I was out with some friends, talking about starting the MBA program at Loyola here in Maryland and looking for a place to live when a young woman overheard and told me that her father needed a house sitter and would I be interested?
I drove out to his place and was greeted at the door by Jim Piper, of Piper & Company. The house was on the market and they needed someone to maintain a presence there, while taking good care of it and have everything “showing-ready” at any moment.
I ended up living there for two years, and during that time I decided to take real estate classes along with my business courses at Loyola – I thought I might be good at it.
Were you good at it?
As it turns out, yes! I passed the real estate exam before I even finished the courses, and was hired by Piper & Company immediately.
How did you do?
It was great! I started by selling homes to my friends who were working at T. Rowe Price and Alex. Brown, and became Piper & Company’s "Rookie of the Year". I had definitely found my passion when I became a Realtor.
What is one of the biggest changes you have seen in the business since you started?
Back then interest rates averaged 17%, so THAT has certainly changed. Also the way we market. Before digital cameras and publishing software, we took pictures of the homes ourselves, had them developed – hoping they were good – and glue-sticking them into the layout for the printer. Now we have digital photos taken by a professional photographer and our in-house designer produces all of our listing brochures.
The internet is probably the biggest change. 90 percent of buyers begin their search online through sites such as Zillow, Trulia and Realtor.com. They do a lot of the research before they even call an agent to show them around.
Do you think online home searches will eventually replace the need for a buyer’s agent?
I don’t think so. You can only learn so much from searching online. The agents in our office really get to know their buyers – and they know the neighborhoods. We can help them find exactly what they are looking for by narrowing down the choices based on our knowledge of them and the areas they are looking.
There are benefits to working with someone who has been in the business as long as you have. Can you tell me what some of them are?
I understand the process of buying and selling a house, of course. I can guide new buyer’s and I always make sure that everything goes smoothly. But beyond that, I know Baltimore. I’ve lived here all my life, I have intimate knowledge of the neighborhoods, and I keep abreast of what is happening in them.
I also have a vast amount of knowledge about the construction business. I have worked with builders throughout the area, and helped develop areas like Laurelford. I have a posse of builders that I can recommend to buyers, and have assisted many clients who were building homes.
What makes you a good agent?
Honesty and trust are sacrosanct in this business. My clients can trust that I have their best interests uppermost in my mind at all times. Developing honest, friendly, and respectful relationships with other agents is also something I do consistently. Having a good network of Realtors means that I can call on someone to inquire about upcoming listings, easily make showing appointments, and have an agreeable, smooth settlement process.
Monument Sotheby's International Realty provides incredible back-office support, and our good relationships with title companies, mortgage lenders and contractors is a valuable resource for our clients.
Always take the high road, and always remember that your client is depending on you to be the calm cool head in a potentially stressful situation as they make one of the most important decisions in their lives.
Do you feel old?
No way. I still feel like a kid at heart. If you get old and stuffy – shame on you! I’m working now with the children of clients that I had when I was younger, and I love it. There is nothing else I would rather be doing.