What Was Real Estate Like in 1980?

Real Estate Agent with Platinum Properties TN Broker: 208698

What Was Real Estate Like in 1980? If you weren’t in the business in the early 80’s then you have no idea how much it has changed, gotten more complicated and even better with time. By looking at the past and the way business was conducted way back in 1980, you will appreciate what you have now and all the tools and technology that dominate our real estate world.

What Was Real Estate Like in 1980?

Office- Agents were all put in one big room called a bullpen; private offices wereThe old way of doing real estate not an option.

Desk- It was a small salesman desk about 18” by 36”. If you were really lucky, you didn’t have to share it.

Telephone- It was the large clunky kind with a rotary dial that took up a third of the desktop space. No voicemail or call forwarding features were available.

Dress code- Men wore suits and ties. Ladies wore business suits, pantsuits or dresses and always wore pantyhose and heels.

Mobile phones- We used two-way radios to communicate with the office or other cars. The mobile phone came into play in the early 80’s but it was a huge box mounted in the trunk of the car and only a very few agents had or could even afford one.

Customer Database-3x5 inch card file system.

InstamaticMLS-Book was printed on newsprint, published bi-weekly in black and white. This is how you found out about other company’s inventory.

Photos- You used an instamatic camera or used a camera with film and rushed to get your photos developed in 3 days so you could turn it in to MLS with your new listing to make the next publication.

Keys and Lockboxes- No lockboxes because every company had keys for you toHouse keys to pick up pick up and return to their offices. Sometimes it would take a half a day to pick up and return all the keys from your showings.

In-House Listings-We were paid a premium to sell in-house listings and to help promote these, on Monday mornings we would caravan and see every one of the new company listings.

Sales Meeting-Every Monday morning we would meet to discuss what we had done for the last week and afterwards go tour our listings. Then we would go to lunch together then hurry back to the office to call our clients to let them know about the new listings we had just seen.

PhonebookCommunication with sellers and buyers- We would telephone from the office, home or pay phone (we kept plenty of dimes in our cars) or we would go see them in person. Mail worked well too and if things went well they would receive it in less than 5 days.

Walk-ins- These happened often and buyers and sellers regularly called the office to ask for an agent to come help them.

Transportation- Buyers always rode with the agent, wore no seat belts and smoked in our cars.

Agency-We all represented the seller as seller’s agent or subagent to the seller. No buyer’s agents.

Advertising-Newspaper advertising was a must. Homes magazines were just hitting the scene.

Paperwork-Every good office had a typewriter and plenty of carbon paper to write listings and sales contracts. 

Sale Contract-One legal size page with no addendums needed.

Listing Contract-One legal size page but you could use the back of the page for additional details if you needed it.

Average Sales Price- $35,000 in Clarksville, TN.

Copy machines, fax machines, computers- One copy machine in the whole company. No faxes and no computers.


Signs-Looked much the same as today but no flyer boxes were used. We had no name riders just the company phone number.

Closings-Many were cash sales, assumptions or land contracts and closed in the real estate office. No escrow or title companies were used. We did close at the banks though.

Commission Checks-We had to wait until the next sales meeting day to get our commission checks and sometimes wait an entire week.

So What Was Real Estate Like in 1980? It was a fun, challenging business just like today, but at a much slower pace because everything took so much longer and was more difficult to do. Aren't you glad we have all the technology of today?

 If you would like information on homes in Clarksville TN contact Debbie Reynolds Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent at 931-320-6730.

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 Centruy 21 Platinum Properties2130 Wilma Rudolph Blvd.

Clarksville, TN 37040

When you need Real Estate services in Clarksville TN

                  it would be my pleasure to assist you!                             

Debbie Reynolds
"The Real Debbie Reynolds"

Check out all Clarksville TN Real Estate on My Website

931-771-9070 Office | 931-320-6730 Cell

Clarksville TN Homes 


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  1. Richie Alan Naggar 07/13/2012 10:34 AM
ActiveRain Community
Tennessee Montgomery County Clarksville
Diary of a Realtor
ActiveRain Anonymous
real estate business changes

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Ben Yost - 303-587-4297
First Time Home Buyer, Mortgage Rates, Pre-Approval - Denver, CO
FHA, VA, Conventional - Mortgage Loans in De

Great stuff! How True!

Jul 14, 2012 05:33 AM #68
John DL Arendsen
Crest Backyard Homes "ADU" dealer & Contractor

Specifically in July of 1980 we put an offer in on our dream home of 32 years using what they called "creative financing" at that time. LOL!! We were deep in the Carter hyper inflation driven days and buried in an 18% loan (remember those days?), and only had a $1000 deposit with which to endeavor to purchase the home we planned to spend the rest of our lives in.

In order to make the deal fly our RE agent had to get pretty creative. Remember the wrap arounds? Well, we submitted our offer with that 1k deposit, a 120 day escrow and 30K wrap contingent on our existing home selling. Well, those 120 days came and went much faster than any 4 month period in my life.

We were broken hearted and needless to say had a livid RE agent who was also the seller/owner and was about to go into foreclosure on the home which we didn't know. Then in November a miracle happened. We sold our home and walked away with 35k.

I immediately called the agent/owner and asked them if the home was still on the market and she said it was about less than a month away from being foreclosed on and that she would definitely not be interested in any 1k deposits, 120 day escrows or 30k wraps. 

Much to her surprise and amazement I responded by saying, "well how about 30k down and a 10 day escrow?". She took a big gulp and a deep breath and drew up the papers. The best thing about the whole deal was that in those days we could assume a loan and didn't have to show proof of income or credit history.

Fortunately we had great credit but I was self employed and our income had taken a pretty significant hit. We would have never qualified in today's market. We continue to own what has now become our family compound and have no intentions of selling it in our lifetimes. 

Debbie, I know this wasn't quite the answer your were looking for but your question just hit the right nerve and I felt compelled to share our story because it was truly amazing that we got the best family Christmas of our lives by moving into our lifetime home on December 10, 1980. Thanks for taking the time and allowing me the opportunity to share our story.


Jul 14, 2012 06:07 AM #69
Rene Fabre
First American Title - Seattle, WA
Marketing in the Digital Age

Debbie: Great post! I started in title insurance in 1984. I remember those days! We had 1 computer for word processing. A big ole' IBM with a floppy the size of an LP. I remember getting our first fax machine and the mood of the office was, what a waste who's gonna use these? Then our top sales rep got a company mobile phone. It looked more like a military walkie talkie and was installed in his car. We had no PC's, all of our customer service was done using microfilm reader printers.

Excellent customer service was getting a property profile to our agent clients within 3 days! Good memories!

Jul 14, 2012 06:20 AM #70
Mel Ahrens, MBA, Kelly Right Real Estate
Kelly Right Real Estate - Hood River, OR
Customized Choices for your Real Estate Needs

I was still in college in the early 80's but I really remember the interest rates.  Could earn 20% on a money market account then.  What a deal.  Now getting .2% is more common.  Time passes and the decimal point moves a bit to the right.


Jul 14, 2012 08:15 AM #71
Ric Mills
Keller Williams Southern Az - Tucson, AZ
Integrity, Honesty, and Vast Real Estate Knowledge

The technology has made things easier and faster,that makes it better.  But it seems to take a lot more to get every deal done these days.  I remember rates as high as 22.5%, unreal.  The pace is so much quicker and I am not sure that is such a good thing.  Life changes and we hope that changes is for the better.  Moving forward or you go out of business.

Jul 14, 2012 09:05 AM #72
Alan Grizzle
Chestatee Real Estate - Dahlonega, GA
Full Time Realtor, Lifelong Resident of Dahlonega

My Grandfather would say People talk about the good old days He then say the good old days are now. He grew up in the depression and talked about working in the field from daylight to dark for a dime a day. They hunted and trapped everything in the woods. He sold possum, skunk and even mole fur. They even ate the possums. The home he was in was not insulated and they just had an old pot belly stove for heat. No running water and had a outhouse.

Jul 14, 2012 09:14 AM #73
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

Thank God for computers.  I remember how business was back then, but I was not in real estate.  I think computers have helped us all.

Jul 14, 2012 10:42 AM #74
Karen Anne Stone
New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County - Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Real Estate

Actually, the Prime Rate... which is the rate that commercial loans are/were based on... peaked at 21.5%.  The FHA rate, which was most of what my buyers used back then... either 203B's or 245A or 245B loans... hit a high point of 17.5%... as did the VA rate.  To my memory, that is as high as they went... which, of course, was high enough.

Even with that being the case... in 1983... in the subdivision in East Dallas where I was selling new homes for Gemcraft homes... even at 17.5%... the buyers were honestly and truly "standing in line."

I am not using that as a comparison or an analogy.  On weekends, three of us in the sales office, and all we did was write contracts, and when we were finished, we shook the buyer's hand... and said... "Next."

What craziness.

Jul 14, 2012 11:36 AM #75
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Michael, It was challenging here with those high interest rates as I'm sure it was in Canada. Real estate does have unlimited opportunities.

Ron, The telephone is still important but it has changed. It is a tenth the size.

Karen, It is much faster now and I haven't missed picking up those keys one bit.

Karen Anne, You are right we did so much in person. And if you stayed in the office too much you weren't meeting people and making sales. It was sure different then.

Bob, Isn't it fun taking a look backwards? It makes us appreciate what we have now.

Gayle, Those high interest rates were terrible. And the oil bust must have made it the worst ever. Glad things are so much better now.


Jul 14, 2012 12:04 PM #76
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Michael, You had a great recall of the way things were. I remember it much the same way. Things are less expensive now but there is so much more to deal with.

Dorte, How about having no seat belts? That was not so long ago either.

Rob, Yes almost caveman era.

Dennis, I think they did use the term Variable. Did they offer you a Negative Am loan?

Bob, Luxuries were our sales however we managed to get them.

Ben, Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

John, What a story. How we got things done back then are foreign to many of the agents today. We called it creative financing and even had classes on it. Glad it all worked out for you and you got a new house for Christmas.



Jul 14, 2012 12:17 PM #77
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Rene, You described how we all questioned the new technology back then. Thanks for sharing.

Mel, You remembered those high returns on deposits and I don't. Guess I didn't have any money!

Ric, It is a lot faster now and a lot more stressful. Some things are better, some are not.

Alan, Your grandfather was right. The good old days are now.

Gene, Computers have changed the most. now that would be an interesting post.

Karen Anne, It is crazy that people would buy at those high rates and they complain now if the rates go up to 4% that they can't afford it. Thanks for your input. 

Jul 14, 2012 12:27 PM #78
Tammy Lankford,
Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668 - Eatonton, GA
Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville

I could tell you about the 90s, but that's as far back as I go.  Although through the 80s I worked in the newspaper industry and saw LOTS of ads. :)  I'll take today over that any day.

Jul 14, 2012 01:26 PM #79
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent
Tammy, It was harder in many ways back then, but simpler too. Glad we have what we do now.
Jul 14, 2012 10:13 PM #80
Marte Cliff
Marte Cliff Copywriting - Priest River, ID
your real estate writer

Here in this small town there was hardly any business when I started in 1985. Plenty of listings, but few buyers. You could sit at the office all day and not see or hear from anyone. So... when we wanted to go to lunch or look at a house, we just put a "back later" sign on the door. We had an answering machine, but hardly anyone left messages. We only knew there'd been calls because of the number of beeps.

One of the agents in my office spent her floor day knitting or reading romance novels.

We had to drive 30 miles to the County offices to look up names for prospecting. Then we wrote them out by hand.

As things began to pick up, we did a lot of seller financing and wrap-arounds. When there wasn't enough money to go around, we took payments for our commission - this came out of the buyers payments to the seller. One broker I knew took a rifle and a boat for his commission.

Many of the little (700-800 s.f) old houses in town were selling for prices too low for the bank to bother with - they wouldn't do a loan for anything under $35,000. (Funny, some of those SAME houses are now priced over $100,000 - this many years older, and with no visible updates.)

I had forgotten about being paid a premium for selling in-house listings, but that happened here too.

The good part - unless you gave a client your home number, nobody bothered you after work. Agents weren't expected to be on duty 24/7. The world had not yet turned to instant gratification.

Jul 15, 2012 01:07 AM #81
Brian Park
Park Realty Investments - Murray, UT


You responded to my post, No Competition Question Mark. Yes my first board had 4500 members and I estimate only 1% of those were competition, someone who would get to a prospect before me and hold on to them. I couldn't believe the old timers in my first office, just waiting for clients on floor time for their next deal. They were excited when I didn't want my turn at bat and they could work it.

Why? real prospecting wasn't a desk job, wanted the bigger bucks then get out of the office. My first broker however was the first person I knew that farmed and I didn't meet another until ten years later. Agents really were reactive, not proactive. Listings were opens, so you would happen to see a new sign and then go for an open listing yoursell and then when the MLS finally started to catch on the lazy agent focused on buyers and the MLS, so my job was feeding the MLS.

The only pro-activity of any measure was open houses. Some brokers would give out the phone book and say start dialing and I heard great scripts like you wouldn't be interested in selling your house would you? Still, I respected those agents, they were doing something besides reading the sports section and playing solitaire. And of course they would get the yes we were thinking of doing that payoff for the activity every now and then and it was party time, just didn't happen often enough for me.

Odds are odds, and once in a while when in the office waiting for someone to show soon, or having a cup of coffee, I would pick a local prefix and just dial a random number and say Hi this is me and I was told you were thinking of selling your home or buying one, is that true? If I got a business I just modified the you to someone there is. God I was smooth, but odds are odds and I would every once in a while get a lead with my coffee break and later a deal.

So I say no competition because I was part time and out did the full time and I teamed up with two other part timers my broker let join the office and we out did all the full timers except the broker and roared into full time later as brokers. There were not a lot of agents in our way, even though theoretically there should have been 4500 in our way.

Jul 15, 2012 04:29 AM #82
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Marte, You gave me another walk down memory lane.  I remember taking payments on commission too. And an agent in our office got a tractor as part of their commission.

Brian, 4500 in your board was huge. Ours was only about 200 members but the principles of who worked and hustled, generally got the business. Nobody in my office was a slacker. We kind of motivated each other and were eager to share our successes. You developed very good work ethics and that made you have a good foundation for your following success.

Jul 15, 2012 05:36 AM #83
Lloyd Binen
Certified Realty Services - Saratoga, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411

In response to your question to my first comment in #51: "Is retirement within sight for you?"  I'll work as long as people will hire me because I enjoy it.

Jul 15, 2012 11:42 AM #84
Debbie Reynolds
Platinum Properties - Clarksville, TN
Your Dedicated Clarksville TN Real Estate Agent

Lloyd, Working keeps you young don't you think? It is super that you still love it.

Jul 15, 2012 12:51 PM #85
Wayne B. Pruner
Oregon First - Tigard, OR
Tigard Oregon Homes for Sale, Realtor, GRI

Sigh. I can remember that stuff. Times are a changing.

Nov 11, 2012 01:45 PM #86
Debbie Laity
Cedaredge Land Company - Cedaredge, CO
Your Real Estate Resource for Delta County, CO

My broker has been in the business for 35 years and I guess they used carbon paper back then to make copies, but copies weren't generally needed and people shook hands and agreed and the contracts were one page long. Those must have been the days.

Jun 23, 2013 01:45 PM #87
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