Ah, 1968: the year the first Big Mac was sold for 49 cents. Gas cost 34 cents per gallon, a movie ticket cost $1.50 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year at 943. Mortgage rates for a 30-year fixed-rate loan averaged 6.8 percent in January 1968. The U.S. median home value was $25,600.
It was also the year Wes Foster and Hank Long opened Long & Foster Real Estate, a small brokerage in Fairfax, Virginia, that would grow to become one of the industry’s most respected brands.
Fifty years after Long & Foster’s founding, the median sale price for a home in the United States is more than $315,200. Mortgage rates for a 30-year fixed-rate loan average 4.0 percent. A Big Mac costs about $4, gas is $2.44 per gallon, a movie ticket averages $10 and the Dow is close to 26,000. Long & Foster has around 11,000 agents and 220+ offices across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Buying and selling a home was different back in the early days of Long & Foster, too.
“The biggest difference between then and now is that everyone knew everyone in the company when we first started in real estate,” says Roger Applegate, who was a manager with Long & Foster for 30 years and continues as an agent with his wife Jane Applegate.
Roger Applegate admits to having shoulder-length hair, a goatee and a mustache when he was hired in 1974, which he changed once he met his future wife at a Long & Foster holiday party and she encouraged him to look more, “managerial.”
Carol Welsh, who has been an agent in Long & Foster’s Reston office since 1977, was a single mother and cocktail waitress when she started in the business.
“I picked people up in my orange VW, which had a piece of wood over the floor in the backseat so people’s feet wouldn’t slip out of the bottom of the car,” says Welsh. “It didn’t have air conditioning, so I would bring a cooler of drinks and sandwiches for the buyers.”
The Applegates and Welsh are among a stellar group of agents who have enjoyed success with Long & Foster for over four decades.
Selling real estate then and now
Technology dramatically changed the way agents work today compared to the 1970s.
“Back then, we were totally dependent on referrals and word-of-mouth,” says Jane Applegate. “We were handwriting notes and making phone calls all the time.”
Roger Applegate says it was a more labor-intensive business back then, but it also felt more personal than today.
“I really miss presenting offers in person to the sellers,” says Welsh. “I liked being able to share a little bit of the personality of the buyers with the homeowners.”
Logistics have changed, too, in many ways making the job of a Realtor easier. Welsh says the real estate contracts she first worked with were just one page long, with handwritten contingencies. Today’s contracts are much lengthier, with added legalities to better protect buyers and sellers.
Likewise, searching for properties for sale has significantly changed. In the 1970s, agents would search listing cards, which would feature four properties to a page and were printed for agents. Updates were only delivered to real estate offices once or twice a week, so agents relied on word-of-mouth from other agents to find out if a house had gone under contract.
“All the listings were printed on cards, so we didn’t even know about new listings for a week or longer,” says Jane Applegate.
One benefit of today’s technology is that the Applegates, like other agents, no longer have to spend long days at the office.
“We don’t even have to be in the country,” says Roger. “Now we can travel and still complete deals.”
Welsh says she occasionally misses the camaraderie and closeness of other agents that naturally occurred when most of them spent long hours at the office. She routinely spent 12 hours or more at the office, often prepping brochures by hand with copies of photos or planning a route for showing houses to buyers with a printed map.
“We were like a family,” says Welsh. “It was easy to share tips and connect people.”
One thing that hasn’t changed: the need to gain your client’s trust.
“One reason I’ve stuck with Long & Foster all these years is that the company and Wes Foster have always been good to me and honest,” says Welsh. “Everyone wants that: to work with someone who’s honest and will work hard.”