Jane Kusterer is the longest-serving agent in the biggest real estate firm in Charlotte.
We recently talked and her reflections on 34 years in the business of selling homes for Allen Tate Realtors are reminders that the technology we take for granted is amazing – and fairly recent.
She started for Tate in early 1978 after the office had just moved from uptown to a storefront next to a barber shop in Sharon Corners shopping center, which Tate had helped develop. Allen Tate remembers that he employed a dozen agents in that office. Now, his company has 1,400 agents in Charlotte and across the region.
Kusterer has vivid memories of how things used to be.
When she started, there was no online multiple listing service, of course.
Homes for sale were organized – on paper – in giant notebooks. Agents had to visit the MLS office regularly to collect the latest listings and add those to their notebooks.
Kusterer says a colleague introduced her to the first cellphone she had ever seen, perhaps five years after she joined Tate. “It came in a suitcase, and it was as big as a football.”
In 1989, the MLS introduced a main-frame computer system, called BORIS, that agents could access for listings. It wasn’t linked to the Internet, which began to emerge in the 1990s, and wasn’t available to the public. Agents reached it from dedicated terminals over telephone lines.
Each listing offered one picture – and it had to be inserted by the MLS staff.
It wasn’t until 1999 that the MLS upgraded its Internet site, www.carolinahome.com, to include searchable listing information.
Kusterer used to embellish her own paper listings with color photos. She’d take pictures on 35mm film, have the pictures printed, then paste the 4-by-6-inch prints onto info sheets. Buyers appreciated that, she says.
Of course, she couldn’t then make color copies of her handiwork. There was no color copier in the office.
She says those crisp, digital pictures and videos that buyers and sellers now enjoy were a huge boon for listing agents, too. Before they came along, agents had to visit new listings to familiarize themselves with the latest homes for sale. The Tuesday tour of new listings was a weekly ritual.
If other agents didn’t visit, the home was less likely to sell quickly.
“You always hated it if your listing was at the end of the tour,” Kusterer said. “Because other agents would drop out of the tour like flies and never see it.”
Also near the top among changes, another online tool we all take for granted these days: mapping.
In the days before GPS and online Mapquest, Kusterer and other agents would mark the homes they were showing on paper maps. They might spend hours making trial runs, before driving the routes with clients.
And, she confesses, they might get lost. “The client would say, ‘Haven’t we been by this corner before?’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, I wanted to be sure you got a good feel for the neighborhood.’ ”
Advanced mapping didn’t become standard on www.carolinahome.com until 2005.
The hardscrabble ’80s
Before this latest downturn, the toughest market Kusterer endured came in 1981.
In the early 1980s, mortgage interest rates soared to 18 percent and even 19 percent. Throughout the decade, mortgage rates rarely dipped below 10 percent. Sales plummeted.
The images that will endure from the latest downturn are of sellers having to pay to complete sales because they owe more than the homes sell for.
They had to write checks, not accept checks, at closing. “I’d never seen that box checked before,” she said, shaking her head. “Cash From Seller.’”
Things are improving, though. Some sellers are beginning to get multiple offers. “I haven’t been this excited about business for four years. The phones are ringing again.”
She doesn’t seem to mind the gritty work agents must endure, especially during the downturn. She reflected on her career in a home she’s offering for sale, as she supervised a painter. Then she was going to round up work gloves and a plastic bag – and remove trash that workers at another listing had tossed into the recycling bin.
Some of her former customers are now good friends. Kusterer has sold homes to three generations of several families over the years. She has sold six or eight houses – she has to pause to make a mental list – to one client.
And as agents must, she’s mastered social media. “I do a lot of business through my Facebook page. ... And I just sold a house in Stonehaven after someone found me on Trulia.”
Her tablet and cell phone are always within reach.