Once the site of a 1940’s Victory Garden, sometimes called food gardens for military, Balboa Island’s Lora Vance Realty celebrating 45 years in business in February. The office located at 324 Marine Avenue is also known as Vance Realty Group as of this year.
Following Vance’s death in 2005, her daughter, MarlysVasterling has continued the business with the same values her instilled in her. The addition of Vance Realty Group is a result of Vasterling wanting to increase the sales presence. Rather than change the name after a 45 year history, she decided to separate the rental business known as Lora Vance Realty from the sales, now called Vance Realty Group.
Lora Vance, who had a background as a teacher for the 4-H Club, had been a stay at home mom to three children for seventeen years when she decided to go back to work. She decided to try her hand working in the real estate business as a way to help supplement the family income as a result of her husband’s beauty college business slowing down.
The Vance family had settled on the North Bayfront of Balboa Island after previously living on Collins Island and before that Corona del Mar. Lora, who had grown up in a small town in Kansas, fell in love with the island and declared that she was living in her dream home according to Vasterling. It was her social nature that led her to obtain her real estate license and get a job going to work for Al Dayton Realty, which had been a one man office until she came along. Four years later Vance obtained her broker license and went out on her own where she opened her office less than a block from her home.
“In the beginning, Mom used our home phone number that would ring both at the office and house,” explained Vasterling. “We learned not to answer the phone since it was used as a business line and if it was for us, she’d give it to us and tell us “don’t talk long.””
Along with her principled dedication to clients, she never turned anyone away. Vasterling recalls one summer a family, who had always rented vacation homes from a competitor, ended up switching agencies after their kids were turned away from entering the office because they were eating ice cream.
When Mr. Watson wandered across the street and poked his head into Lora Vance’s office with his kids still dripping with ice cream, Vance said, “it’s ok, bring them in.” “Mom kept toys and all kinds of entertainment and always had time to talk to anyone. She was never too busy, and I’ve held the same philosophy,” said Vasterling.
Derek Watson, currently a Newport Beach resident, had been one of those ice cream eating kids. “Lora and Marlys have always been part of our family, everything Mom and Dad bought or sold was always with Lora Vance Realty ever since that first meeting in 1976 when my father wasn’t getting the time of day at another office,” he said. “My sister and I liked to go to the Lora Vance office because we got a Balboa Bar next door.”
Vance had been in business ten years by the time Vasterling started working with her. Newly divorced and now sole provider of twins, she felt that the real estate business was a good match. “It provided me the flexibility and income that allowed me to be able to raise my kids the way I wanted.”
“Mother and I worked well together, however, we did have some negotiating to do to stay current though,” explained Vasterling. “Mom wasn’t oriented toward using tools. I was young and wanted to be progressive, I fought for a copy machine, an answer machine and computer terminal to access daily listings rather than monthly listings from a book. That was her comfort zone in business, she didn’t like change. She preferred manually until she passed away.”
Vasterling related that her mother had always been a teacher at heart. She had the ability to share information such as the power of negotiating to avoid conflict and therefore creating a win win situation for everyone, a principle she passed on to her daughter. “A real estate agent is like a professional babysitter, sometimes you have to hold hands with clients. I think we should also have a degree in psychology,” stated Vasterling.
While the real estate business has changed along with the times, it has become a very different occupation in which there are pluses and minuses about the changing technology. With the inclusion of social media, going from a one page written contract to electronically generated multiple pages, customer service has slipped away. “The real issue is that buyers aren’t ready, stated Vasterling. “It’s a big dark hole that everyone is falling into. Nobody’s explaining. No more sitting in an office going over the contract.”
Vasterling spoke of a time when the protocol was such that the buyer’s agent would present the offer in person to the seller and the seller’s agent. It was often the case that the counter was given right there, which kept all parties oriented because everyone was present. “Not anymore, all that’s gone out the window,” said Vasterling.
One way Vasterling has retained the personal touch is to insist on showing her listings herself rather than attach a lockbox. Showing properties herself creates a lot more running around, but Vasterling believes it’s worth it to provide the hands-on service that customers deserve. “If I have two buyers and haven’t met either one of them, then how would I inform a seller which one is more secure?” Said Vasterling. “You don’t get that when someone else is explaining. My whole focus is to bridge that gap by being more hands-on and teach agents what Mother taught me. Mother ran her business on integrity and clients stayed with her until her death and beyond.”
The smaller firm employs six agents, with Mary Martin and Christine Hehir sharing office space along with Vasterling.
Martin whose daughter is married to Marlys’ son, originally came on board twelve years ago to help with the transition into the 21st century from manual bookkeeping to computer. “Marlys talked me into getting my real estate license and I’ve been here ever since,” laughed Martin. She’s there when we need her, but she doesn’t hover or micromanage and she has a very delicate way of handling people.”
Martin explained that there is a good repertoire within the office that’s not stifling and allows for flexibility like running out for kids or something personal. “It’s not a fear atmosphere and we’re not afraid to ask questions,” said Martin. “It’s like a Girls club, we all get along and in a business like this it’s not easy. It’s not a cut throat atmosphere, instead, we learn a lot everyday.”