A 1950's Real Estate Office

Real Estate Agent with Sutton Group West Coast Realty

My mother, who was a Real Estate Broker in the 1950’s, is always amazed at how busy I am with administration, systems, computers, and prospecting for new business. Yesterday she was telling me what her typical day would be in 1953.

I should mention that in 1953 she was one of only five woman Realtors in Vancouver, BC.

She worked for River’s Realty in a store-front at the corner of Hastings and Penticton in a working class neighborhood with a large immigrant population.

 There was a daily morning meeting were the Realtors would recount their activities and promote any new listings. After lunch the office would preview the new listings daily when there were new listings.

 The afternoon could be spent canvassing door to door. Remember that the 1950’s were still the age of the housewife and most doors would be answered. Today if I knock on 100 doors I’d be luck to get 20 people answering the door.

 She started something revolutionary in those days. She taped a penny to a card that she left at the door. The card, typed by the secretaries of course, has the title, “A penny for your thoughts”. An extravagant business expense and approach in those days.

 Being a rarity, as a woman Realtor, people would often phone the office looking for the “Real Estate Lady” or the “Penny Lady”. Branding is not a new concept.

 In 1953 neighbourhood shopping was an important part of society. The storefront real estate office had an integrate role in the local community. Walk-in traffic was a major source of business. During that time not every family had a car and a two car family was rare and not every home had a telephone. A large majority of phones were party line phones and if you didn’t want the Nosy Parkers knowing your business you would not use the phone.

 Just as you would walk to the butcher’s or grocers you would stop in at the local real estate office to do business. In 1953 you could make a living sitting in the office everyday.

 Paperwork. That was a cinch. Write up a listing on a one page listing form and drop it the secretary’s desk when you returned to the office. The secretary prepared all the documentation including the “green sheets” that were distributed to all the salespeople.

 Advertising was pretty straight forward. Handwrite three ads and drop them on the secretary’s desk. The secretaries placed the ads in the paper on a rotation basis. Each salesperson had a five percent advertising budget that the office administrated.

 Sell a property. Drop the one page contract on the secretary’s desk and let her process it. (In those days all secretaries were hers.

 Don’t you wish we had one page contracts today.

 Sounds pretty simple. No computers producing bushels of paper. The local newspaper the only advertising expense. No websites, Blackberries, Twitters, Face Book, Craigslist, Instant messaging, etc.

 When you went to lunch you had lunch, and answered your calls when you returned to the office. How would you like to go for lunch today without an interruption?

 Doesn’t it sound idyllic compared to our busy, complicated, highly systemized approach to business? It does. But the commission was often as low as $75.00 to $100.00 a deal. In those days the split was most often 50/50 unless you were a top producer where you might get a 60/40 split or if you were a really big producer a 70/30 split.

 Ah. The good old days.




Comments (82)

Michael J. O'Connor
Diamond Ridge Realty - Corona, CA
Eastvale - 951-847-4883

I remember 'party lines' from way, way back.  Haven't heard the term in years - I'm sure that some of your readers have no idea that the phone lines were shared in many places long ago. 

When I was young we used to go through a system to keep long-distance charges down because we lived in the 'country' and the rest of the family was in the city.  So we had a better rate to call in than they had calling out to us.  If the phone rang once it was Grandma calling, twice it was Ginny and three times it was Mary Ellen.  If a fourth ring came we were supposed to answer.

Old fashioned caller id.  :-)

Jan 31, 2010 03:16 AM
Joe Pryor
The Virtual Real Estate Team - Oklahoma City, OK
REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties

21 years later and the business keeps changing, or does it? I spent the first twenty years saying i would never make a cold call like the "bad old days". Now I make cold calls to short sale possibilities and it is effective. To move forward sometimes paradox stares us squarely in the face and says everything old is new again.

Jan 31, 2010 03:19 AM
Nancy Conner
Olympia, WA
Olympia/Thurston County WA

What a fascinating look at real estate of "yesteryear"!    Gotta say that our constant hectic pace because we are ALWAYS connected may not really be progress...

Jan 31, 2010 05:20 AM
Jim & Maria Hart
Brand Name Real Estate - Charleston, SC
Charleston, SC Real Estate

My how times have changed!  Why do you think things got so complicated?  Too bad we can't go backwards in time.

Jan 31, 2010 06:29 AM
Rebecca Gaujot, Realtor®
Lewisburg, WV
Lewisburg WV, the go to agent for all real estate

When I first started in real estate, computers were really starting to be used and I remember the older agents commenting on how they hate the computer...they complained all the time.

Jan 31, 2010 07:40 AM
Diana Hoyt
Lakes Region Buchanan Group, Ossipee, NH - Ossipee, NH

I too began my career prior to computers.  MLS books were the norm and shortly thereafter, a VERY antiquated computer system which scared the hell out of me as I, like most of us, had no idea how to even turn on a computer, let alone access MLS information!  The changeover from books to computer took quite a while thankfully!  I remember very few documents, no agency disclosures, no cell phones or pagers for that matter.  Messages were hand written. We didn't even have voice mail yet.  Cold calling (ugh) and door knocking were normal and most mailouts were company pretty much to promote the company, not the individual agent.  Branding oneself still pretty new concept.  Thing sure have changed!

Jan 31, 2010 10:09 AM
Bob Willis
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Orange, CA
Orange County & L.A. County Real Estate Agent

People could get a lot for that penny.  Candy was 2 for a penny.

Jan 31, 2010 10:57 AM
Jessica Wallace
Coldwell Banker - Santa Cruz - Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz Realtor (831) 419-9345

Wow, what a change we have too much technology now, it is overwhelming

Jan 31, 2010 11:37 AM
Alan Brown
Coldwell Banker Montrose Colorado - Montrose, CO
29 Years of Real Estate Experience .

It has only been the past 20 years that things have really changed a lot. I started my real estate career in 1990 in the same town that I am in today since that time it has doubled in size. Back then it was just  the phone(no cell Service) the MLS book every 2 weeks, no computers and the office I worked for didn't have a fax machine until a year later. All contracts altough probably 5 pages long were either handwritten or typed on a type writer. So you see it really hasn't been that long since all the electronics have taken over.

Jan 31, 2010 12:48 PM
David Dee
RMX REALTY - Alhambra, CA
Real Estate - San Gabriel Valley (L.A.) & N. Orang

From the desk of David Dee,

Bob, how times have changed. With the advent of technology, it has made everything more fast paced.

Jan 31, 2010 01:40 PM
David Dee
RMX REALTY - Alhambra, CA
Real Estate - San Gabriel Valley (L.A.) & N. Orang

From the desk of David Dee,

Bob, how times have changed. With the advent of technology, it has made everything more fast paced.

Jan 31, 2010 01:40 PM
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

It sounds like there's something to be said for the good old days.  Though I love my technology, a quiet hour or two might be nice.

Jan 31, 2010 02:45 PM
Aaron Vaughn, REALTOR© 830-358-0455
eXp Realty - Canyon Lake, TX
My knowledge is your power | eXp Realty

I agree with Karen, you spin a mighty fine story. Entertaining and informative read for sure.

Jan 31, 2010 05:03 PM
Susan Thompson-Solomons
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services McNelis Group Properties - Solomons, MD
Southern MD Real Estate-Solomons Specialist

This really makes you long for simpler times. What a contrast when considering the proposed nationwide changes to the MLS and the many other technological considerations in the business now.

Jan 31, 2010 11:51 PM
Bob Dunn
Sutton Group West Coast Realty - Abbotsford, BC

To Everyone That Commented: I am overwhelmed by the number of responses I received to this posting. I thank you all for all your generous and flattering comments. My thanks are heart felt.

My mother got a real kick out of this posting and your comments.

BTW she is 94 next month and still sharp as a tack living on her own.

Feb 01, 2010 04:05 AM
GARY DIGIORGIO -Denver- Arvada -Westminster
THE DIGIORGIO GROUP /(303) 898 - GARY (4279) - Westminster, CO
REOptions LLC

Bob --great post...tell your Mom..way to go at 94...thanks for the peter and paul comment ..gary d in Denver

Feb 01, 2010 04:11 AM
Bob Dunn
Sutton Group West Coast Realty - Abbotsford, BC

Lynda I have passed this on to my mother. There is a book waiting to be written about woman who have used this business to meet a lot of challenges in their lives. This is an empowering business.

Feb 01, 2010 05:09 PM
Sandy Shores FL Realtor®, Melbourne Real Estate
M & M Realty of Brevard Inc. - Melbourne, FL
Brevard County Real Estate, Florida's Space Coast

Bob, Your stories remind me of the stories my broker tells me. Great post. He began in the real estate business over 50 years ago, when you sold real estate on a handshake. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

Feb 05, 2010 07:52 AM
Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

Door to door still works! Even if not everyone is not home....the fact you work that hard to hit the pavement for a listing means you will full throttle market the property to get it sold quickly.

Dec 08, 2012 11:04 PM
Mary Jackowell

What a great read. Thank you!

Oct 16, 2015 02:02 AM