Spouses are married to work, each other
By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
NEW TAMPA -- In real estate circles, Annette Bohannon is known as a closer -- an agent who gets the job done aggressively, professionally and with impeccable service.
She has been a Realtor so long (28 years) and done so well (No. 1 in Tampa Bay area and seventh in the nation for Coldwell Banker) that some might call her a guru.
Her business partner for the past 20 years has another name for her: "Honey."
"Working together has been a blessing," said Annette Bohannon.
She and her husband, Doug, are helping to pioneer a trend in New Tampa toward husband-and-wife real estate teams.
In an industry that often demands a seven-days-a-week commitment, joining a spouse was sometimes the only way to see him or her. And for a dedicated team, there is good money to be made.
At least 20 couples have based their business in burgeoning New Tampa, according to a listing from the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. Many follow a successful spouse into the trade.
The association's president, Susanna Madden, said the practice is so prevalent in north Tampa's suburbs that co-workers in her Carrollwood Re/Max office are tempted to tease her.
"This is kind of Noah's Ark because everyone here is a team," Madden said of her Dale Mabry office, where 11 husband-and-wife pairs (including Madden and husband, Paul) outnumber the remaining six agents.
Real Trends Inc., a national news and research publication for the industry, does not actively track the movement, said spokeswoman Laurie Moore-Moore, but "it definitely seems like something that's on the rise."
Another trend is "intergenerational teams: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Kids coming out of college looking at how successful their parents have been," she said.
The business is not for everyone, the New Tampa couples caution.
Real estate is hard. Long hours, fierce competition, customer service and an on-call lifestyle deters many. Almost 80 percent of would-be agents abandon the field, Madden said. Adding marriage to the mix can be both a curse and a blessing.
The team approach
Husbands and wives in real estate tend to understand and value their partner's work more, say local teams.
Of course, critiquing a business partner can be tricky when you share chores and child-rearing.
"Sometimes it's not a good move, husbands and wives working together. Sometimes they don't gel, but we've been very fortunate," said Doug Bohannon.
Now grandparents, Doug and Annette became "Team Bohannon" 20 years ago after he left a career in RV sales to join Annette, whose business was flourishing in Carrollwood.
The couple raised three children there. All have worked in real estate. Nine years ago, the Bohannons moved from Carrollwood to Tampa Palms.
"We were selling so many beautiful homes here," Annette Bohannon said. When New Tampa boomed, "it was deja vu all over again."
The couple share a staff but have separate offices, cars and clients.
During 10- to 14-hour days, they snag time together for lunch and capitalize on each other's strengths:
Annette's include marketing, from an online visual tour of homes to a free moving truck for customers. Doug excels at research, bookkeeping, and keeping abreast of trends and policies.
It is a profitable partnership, they say.
Team Bohannon, an independent franchise based inside Coldwell Banker on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, sold 192 homes (a $47-million value) last year.
"Can you do it by yourself? Yes," said Annette Bohannon. "But a team has a lot more to offer than just one person."
Retirement takes a holiday
Ed Akers knew that his wife was on to something when his birdhouses began disappearing.
A retired manager with CSX, Akers worked with railroads for 38 years, moonlighting as a general contractor and dabbling in subdivision development in West Virginia.
When he was ready to settle down, he and Nancy moved to the Brandon area.
Ed spent his time woodworking, crafting Chippendale benches and lawn ornaments.
Nancy sold real estate in a one-stoplight town called New Tampa in the early 1990s.
All was well until, one by one, Ed's cedar birdhouses went missing.
"She was giving them to clients as closing gifts," he said with a chuckle.
Successful but swamped, "I dragged him into it kicking and screaming," Nancy confided.
"I said: Help! It was basically, if you want to see me, you need to become my partner."
So he did.
"Now I don't have time to do birdhouses," said Akers, who joined his wife at Florida Executive Realty in Tampa Palms two years ago.
Their office has nearly 25 agents; a third are married couples.
When Ed started, it was supposed to be "all warm and fuzzy," said Nancy Akers.
"I kind of imagined us in the car, working together," she said. There would be leisurely breakfasts and long walks before work.
It didn't end up that way.
"He's still trying to figure out how he retired from a five-day-a-week job to a seven-day-a-week job," she said.
The couple have three home phone lines to keep up with their business, two cell phones, two pagers and new cars that rack up 35,000 work-related miles a year. They are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An uninterrupted movie together is a stolen pleasure.
"I think this business gave you an insight into what I was doing all those years you were with the railroad," Nancy said recently, sitting across a desk from her husband in Tampa Palms. "He used to tell me: Just take a day off."
Slightly apologetic, Ed smiled.
"You really don't know till you walk in somebody else's shoes," he said.
The cavalry comes in
There are days, joked Rhonda Belhassan, when "I'd probably be fired by now" if she weren't married to her business partner, Mehdi.
The Florida Executive Realty agents and Wesley Chapel residents have been married for a year and a half and have worked together for two years.
"I'm all about organized chaos, and he's about straight lines and grids," she said, smiling.
One of the younger real estate couples, both 32, they are fine-tuning their rhythm at work, said Mehdi.
"As a partner you have to be careful not to take it personally if they want you to do something differently," he said.
It helps to have two people divvying up the load.
"This profession can eat you up," said Madden, president of the Greater Tampa Realtors Association. "It's very easy to become a workaholic. It gets to be too much for one person, so enter the spouse."
Such was the case for Madden and her husband, Paul, married for 26 years and working together for 16. They sell homes in New Tampa and throughout Lutz, Carrollwood and Land O'Lakes.
Perhaps 30 to 40 percent of the real estate agents in the area are now couples, she estimated. "When we started, we thought we were kind of special. We used to bill ourselves as two for one."
There's no such distinction nowadays, but there is still an edge -- especially for customers.
If you can't reach your agent, odds are you can reach the spouse.
"It's like the cavalry came in," Madden said, "someone to take the pressure off."
Married agents often become power couples in the business; able to tackle more customers and larger commissions although the partners generally keep their clients separate.
Odds are, say the couples, if they got married they had a few things in common -- among them a strong work ethic.
That shared purpose leads to shared success, said Karen Tillman-Gosselin, who recruited her husband, Renynold, to help her part time at Florida Executive last year.
Married for 11 years, the Tampa Palms couple rarely saw each other as Karen's business took off and Renynold worked at Verizon.
Now "it's different when we get together," said Renynold, who continues to work full time at Verizon. "We can talk about the same thing."
On nights and weekends -- the busiest times for agents in a busy summer season -- she can depend on him for help.
"A lot of times when we have appointments, he'll go with me," said Karen, leaning close and patting Renynold's arm. "With his job, I'd never see him if he wasn't doing this with me. It's nice to have him."
Sitting up in his chair, Gosselin turned to his wife and smiled softly. "Well, thank you."
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