May 1, 2016 marked my 16th anniversary with P.J. Morgan Real Estate. When I tell people how long I’ve worked here, they usually respond with disbelief.
Generally, that is a long time for someone my age to have worked at the same place. Honestly, I still hear that I look too young to have worked in one job that long and hold the position that I do. I’ll take that compliment, because frankly, now when I get my hair cut I’m reminded that I’m starting to show gray hair around my ears… Enough about me getting older, though. My history with real estate technically started much longer than 16 years ago. It started when I was just a little tyke.
I grew up in an old house in Dundee right along Underwood Avenue. As an only child, I had a lot of time to dream. We moved into the house when I was six and, to me, it was a great old house with so many stories. In fact, one day an elderly woman stopped by when we were working in the yard and told us that she was born in the house. She told us stories about going to Dundee Elementary and how her parents built the house. It was so fun to walk her through her former home and hear about the holidays and events that unfolded in different rooms, and how she still remembered the built-in bench at the bottom of the staircase. She shared some of the antics she got into with her siblings that were similar to some of the goofy things I did as a kid.
After living in the house for 8 or 9 years, my parents took on a kitchen remodel that became a gut job for that part of the house. Through the process, the contractor and I convinced them how smart it would be to remodel the basement to create extra living space and add value to the home. *This was the first sign I was a destined to be a real estate agent.* In the end, my parents finished remodeling the basement where I enjoyed many hours watching T.V. with friends.
Growing up, I also spent a lot of time in the summer at my grandpa’s farm. The farm was in Missouri next to a small town named Amity. When I was a kid, the sign outside of town read “Population 94,” but I suspect that was inflated, as today it says 60-something and that, too, seems high. My grandpa’s name was Maurice, but he went by the nickname Skinny all his life. He had all sorts of nicknames for me, but my favorite was High Pockets, because I was tall like him. Grandpa Skinny had hogs, corn and a horse named Patchy.
He also had two old barns, one of which dated back to the late 1800’s. I loved poking around those barns all alone, even though I was told not to. When I was a teenager, I started to read articles and stories about barns that were converted to houses. I thought they were the coolest – lofty and open, with weathered old wood beams mixed with modern conveniences. I’d daydream about remodeling Grandpa Skinny’s barns into houses. In high school, I had an assignment to develop a business idea. My friend and I partnered together and created a plan to turn the farm into a corporate retreat to serve businesses from Kansas City. We even picked out old farmhouses to relocate to the land and serve as cottages and guest rooms. I don’t remember what the teacher thought of that project or if we got an “A,” but I sure was passionate about it at the time. *Another sign I was destined for real estate – I dreamt of repurposing old buildings and find creative new ways to use them!*
Fast forward from the days on the farm to the year 2000 (Y2K – oh no!). I was encouraged to find an internship the summer after my sophomore year at Creighton. After meeting with a few professors who heard I had an interest in real estate, they connected me with a guy named Dennis. Dennis owned a company that consulted on construction projects. He quickly told me that I didn’t want to work for him, but I should call his buddy P.J. Morgan. I was so nervous to call the former Mayor of Omaha and ask him for an internship. I thought I’d never get a hold of him, but true to form, P.J. answered the phone. He prompted me to come in and meet with him.
When we met, we talked for a few minutes and then he asked other people in the office to come meet me. In the end, I asked him for the internship and he said he thought that would work and to call him in 30 days. I left his office thinking, “What does that mean – do I have a job?” Well, I showed up 30 days later and, as luck would have it, they let me in the door. May 1, 2000.
When I first started as an intern at P.J. Morgan Real Estate, I did whatever I could to learn. I heard about a prior intern whose best asset was that he brought a grill to work on his last day so he could make hamburgers and hot dogs. From that day on, I was on a mission to prove myself. I asked for whatever work I could do. Need something typed? I was your guy. Need someone to sweep a space before a showing? I was your guy. Need someone to answer the phones? I was your guy. I ended up working at the front desk much of the time during my first year. I learned so much doing that that I tell our new interns to soak up as much information possible from our amazing receptionist, Lois (she keeps us all in line).
Soon after my time on the phones, the company received an assignment to help the local HUD office with 46 scattered site affordable homes. This was my first real taste of property management. I worked with a woman who had just retired from the Omaha Police Department and helped her manage those properties, along with a few apartment complexes. She and I had very different styles and demeanors, but I think we were a good balance to each other. I learned a lot from that work as well – it was hard running all those houses on a shoestring budget for a government entity. My favorite experience was working with a single mother who lived in a three-bedroom house with five kids. I’ll never forget the day she came into our office to tell us she was moving out because she was finally able to buy her own home. She started to cry, the receptionist started to cry, a few other people that knew her cried. I still think about her and her house. Those are the kinds of moments we’re referring to when those of us in real estate talk about how rewarding our jobs are.
After a year and a half of interning, I was finally about to graduate from college. I started to help with company marketing tasks and supporting our sales team. I was hoping my internship would become a full time job, and, lucky for me, one of our property managers decided to leave the company, so I took on her role. I was now a full-fledged property manager. I really loved doing the job, despite the challenges. I began handling a few rental houses all on my own. Today we manage close to 400 single-family homes and I’m really proud to have helped expand that niche of our business.
I have also been fortunate to help grow the management of our Homeowner’s Association division from about 10 associations to around 80 today. Don’t get me wrong – that didn’t happen single-handedly – a lot of people have worked hard to learn those niche parts of our business and help service those property owners. As we grow – helping more clients with their houses and commercial property management – I look back fondly on all those early clients who believed in me in my early 20’s and am ever grateful to have earned their trust.
During my early days of property management, I always had this voice in my ear (P.J.) telling me to get my license (almost every day). After a few classes here, a few tests there, I got my license. P.J. didn’t waste time bringing me to meetings, listing appointments, showings, etc. He gave me the lead for my very first sale – a great couple, Michelle and Ernie, who were buying their first home (I still remember the floor plan). Eventually they moved away from Omaha for a few years, but ended up moving back here. We reconnected and I was fortunate enough to help them buy another house! They got such a great deal and I love their home!
If you don’t already know, our company is a little bit different than other real estate firms in that we handle both residential and commercial real estate under one roof (we also do business sales, auctions, etc. – sorry for the shameless plug!) After 16 years here, I’m so happy to say that I get the best of both worlds and get to work on some amazing commercial real estate projects, in addition to helping people find their dream homes. If you know me well, you may have heard me talk about The Mastercraft Building. It is one of my favorite projects of my career. When I first started working on it, people said I was crazy to take on the challenge – but I love a challenge and love the building because of the amazing people I have been able to work with there. The Mastercraft was built as a furniture factory in the 1940’s, is three city blocks long, and one of the more dynamic projects in the city… but, as I usually say, the building speaks for itself and it is better summarized in this video:
It still seems surreal that I’m able to work on such a cool building as The Mastercraft and get to have a voice in commercial projects that are helping change the look of our city. But I guess I have been building up to this for a long time – a lot of passion bubbling up since my childhood.
It is remarkable that I spoke to a college professor, who told me to talk to another professor, who sent me to a guy named Dennis, that led me to P.J. P.J. has been an extraordinary mentor (and taught me a thing or two about navigating the world of real estate). I love my job every day, despite the challenges and ups and downs. I love the people. The people who trust me to help them buy their homes. The people who trust me with their gigantic investments. The people who believe in me and join our team to help make our office the best, most dynamic real estate shop in Omaha. It has been a pretty sweet 16 years. I’m ready for 16 more.