Bill Cherry, circa 1985
Beginning in the early 1980s, I was an officer and director of a very successful apartment and home building company in Houston, Columbia Communities, Inc.
The company was obsessed with operating as an ethical business. We simply didn't cut corners. We built beautiful homes and garden apartments, and were constantly challenged with everything being as close to perfect as we could make it.
We began with estimating and calculating our cost, and from that we applied a fair mark-up for our profit. If, along the way, our cost increased, that was never passed on to the buyer by our changing our original sales price. The mistake was ours, not the buyer's.
Our products were wonderful, loved by those who lived in the apartments and those who bought our homes. We won countless prestigious awards.
We built the first energy efficient homes in Houston, for an example. The power company ran a large ad in the paper with my picture at our property at 7655 South Brasewood, congratulating us for the innovations.
What had begun years before as a sideline for me, was adaptively renovating older -- often historic -- homes. I had applied the same credo to the renovations that we used at Columbia. The homes were brought up to code, no tinkering by handymen to make old wiring and old plumbing and termite eaten lumber last long enough to pass to to the new owner, for an example.
To market those homes and other properties, it seemed logical that I should open a real estate brokerage company. I had been a licensed broker since 1966.
I called Ebby Halliday, who had built the largest privately owned real estate company in Texas. I told her what I was planning, and asked for her formula so that I could make certain I started correctly.
Here it is:
- Be ethical to a fault
- Immediately settle with any client who feels he has been mistreated, even if it costs you more than you made. Do it without arguing.
- Never consciously calculate the commission you will make on a sale. Be surprised at the amount when you pick up your check at the title company.
- Write 10 handwritten notes to people everyday, even weekends and holidays, and mail them.
So note that the first three of these address ethics. But I had already learned that at Columbia. I smiled.
With that formula, I built a large agency, The Old House Company, with offices in Houston's Museum and Montrose districts, and on primarily addressing the rebuilding and marketing of Galveston's 19th century homes and commercial buildings.
I ran it as I was taught, and I still do business exactly the same way.
Today, ethics don't seem to matter as much to business in general.
One large grocery chain, for an example, buys a very popular brand English muffins, then negotiate with the bakery to sell them cheaper to the chain by not pre-slicing them. The consumer doesn't know until he tries to separate the muffin and has to use come cockamamie procedure with a fork to open them.
Another sells all of its king size and large boxed, bottled and can goods at more per item or ounce than the regular sizes.
One buys meat that is a day or two old so that it can get a discount over that butchered that day.
Utility companies tinker with prices to entice customers, and then the prices magically go up a handful of months later. It's a "we gotcha." They don't care that the public hates them. That behavior is the result of deregulating utility companies.
Real estate brokerage is so competitive that agents and brokers often rationalize that a behavior this time isn't unethical, isn't illegal, that the client will never catch them in the act.
One time in the past few years, I took the state required refresher course on ethics. The teacher was a broker who said that he had taught the course for many years. I smiled at the irony. His agency's reputation among competitors was that it was rampant with unethical behavior by its agents.
My one experience with them had proved that to be true, and I mentally vowed to never co-op with them again. And I haven't.
BILL CHERRY, REALTOR