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Love and listings

Some couples manage to blend business and pleasure in a demanding vocation, vocation, vocation.

By SHARON L. BOND, Neighborhood Times Business Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

Partners in their personal lives, Richard Waugh and Rob Elkins of St. Petersburg decided 10 years ago to become partners in their professional lives as well.

Elkins, 49, has been a real estate agent since 1985. He likes the work. Waugh, 50, who also had gotten his real estate license in 1985, was selling Rolls-Royces and stretch limousines. He decided to stay with that work until Elkins was established.

"1992 is when I said, let's go. He (Elkins) said, come to work for me as my assistant. That lasted about a week," recalled Waugh, laughing.

But Waugh was hooked on real estate and convinced Elkins he should work as an agent with him. Eventually the two constructed a balanced professional partnership that now includes nine other employees in a RE/MAX Action First office at 6400 Fourth St. N.

Waugh and Elkins, who have been a couple for 20 years, are just two of a number of people in south Pinellas County who happen to be personally attached and also work together in real estate.

Often the teaming comes after one partner already is established in buying and selling property. Sometimes, it is the result of spouses or partners wanting to work together.

The profession is so time consuming, 24/7 as most describe it, that it actually may be easier on relationships when both partners are in real estate, Elkins and others say.

"Because of the demanding hours, it may be the saving grace in a relationship," Elkins said.

"Real estate is so intense," said Phoebe Tave, who works with RE/MAX Affiliates at 9400 Seminole Blvd. in Seminole.

"You work nights. Working with my husband, I had someone who understood the demands, who understood you just can't come home and cook dinner, who understood you have evening appointments and you are not out cavorting."

Phoebe Tave, 61, and her husband, Saul, have been married for 40 years and have worked together for 10. They competed in real estate for 11 years before getting together in business.

Phoebe Tave laughs when she recalls her first reaction to teaming up professionally with her husband: "I don't need you to come into real estate and mess this up for me."

"I like it much better working together," said Saul Tave, who is 62. "We basically maintain our own clientele. (He represents buyers, and she handles sellers, but rarely on the same deal.) We never have been two people doing the work of one. One of the reasons we competed is because we didn't want to fall into that syndrome."

Yet some couples use the two-for-one deal as part of their sales pitch in getting listings for property. They believe couples offer more to clients who go through the emotional experience of buying or selling a house.

"We always say two for one," said Larry Loper, 61, who works with wife Thu (pronounced Two) at the Keller Williams Landmark office at 5922 Ninth Ave. N. They have been professional partners for 11 years and married for 25. Thu Loper, 53, came to St. Petersburg from Vietnam in 1975.

"When a seller or buyer calls either Thu or I, either one of us can answer the questions," Loper said. They do have different preferences in the work, he said, his being property maintenance, as he worked as a contractor before joining his wife in real estate in 1991. Thu Loper is more on the business end.

Finding the appropriate spots in the personal/professional team can take time.

"It's not easy to come together as a husband-and-wife team because somebody has to be the leader," said Diana Spinelli. She works with husband George at Coldwell Banker at 3325 66th St. N in St. Petersburg. "We have different strengths and weaknesses. It has taken us about three years to come to a comfortable mix."

For Diana Spinelli, 50, real estate is a lifelong career. Four years ago, George left the U.S. Postal Service, where he had been a letter carrier, to join her. They have been married 10 years.

"He already had his real estate license, and he said, What can we do together?" Diana Spinelli recalled. "I said we can go together as a team."

"Diana basically is the captain of the team," said George Spinelli, who is 46. "She has all the experience. She takes care of all the negotiating."

Diana Spinelli said they go together to list a property. "We try to present as a team. We tell people that my husband takes care of more of the behind-the-scenes jobs. I take care of the contract and negotiations."

Behind-the-scenes jobs involve monitoring all the property they have listed and attending inspections for properties under contract.

Because of their different responsibilities, the Spinellis don't spend their days together. So they make it a point to meet for lunch daily.

"If you are just doing it as one person, you don't get as much done," Diana Spinelli said.

To preserve a bit of a home life, they stop talking about business and taking telephone calls at 9 p.m. Time is their biggest issue, George Spinelli said.

"I like free time. I don't like to work this hard," he said.

"And there just aren't enough hours in the day for me," his wife said of work time. "I don't know how to do it any other way."

At first Elkins did not know if teaming up professionally with Waugh would work.

He recalled thinking: "I don't know if we'll be able to work together and live together."

"In our first years together, it was not easy," Waugh said. "I would come home from being on the road (in his previous sales job). I would have my agenda, and he would have his agenda."

Weekends, which Waugh had off, were busy days for Elkins.

"He would be home for the weekend, and I would be going to open houses," Elkins said.

Teaming up professionally didn't necessarily give them time off together. For their first five years in real estate, they did not take a vacation, Waugh said. They realized they had to establish their business, so they worked.

Now they have built the business to the point that they have a staff of nine and can take cruises every three months or short two-day trips.

Business provides a common ground, Waugh said, and they share their real estate knowledge by running problems by one another when they walk their dog at 6 a.m. or during dinner. They have dinner together every night, even if it means they take a client along.

"We eat, sleep, drink and talk real estate," Waugh said.

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