Men were jumping from Wall Street windows in 1929, the year that Ebby Halliday graduated from high school. She survived the Great Depression selling hats, and hat sales would later lead her to a career in house sales. Sixty years ago, Halliday founded Ebby Halliday, Realtors, and the company has grown to become one of the top independent brokerages in the nation.
Halliday, 93, has seen some major changes in the real estate industry in her time. She remembers the days when MLSs, the RELO organization and computers were “new-fangled things,” but there’s one thing about her company that she would never change: its independence.
“I have turned down so many offers to sell,” she said. “They want to buy us, want to franchise us. I’ve elected to keep it independent and I have transferred 49 percent of my stock to the people who helped build it, and I have management in place to carry it on another 50 years.” The remaining 51 percent of the company is held in trust for the company and its employees.
The real estate industry may be going through a period of consolidation, but the spirit of independence in the business is still alive and well.
Ebby Halliday, Realtors, which has a specialty in the upscale residential market, has 28 offices and about 1,200 sales associates in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. According to an annual ranking by RealTrends, Halliday’s company was listed as the top locally owned broker in Dallas and Texas, and ranked 20th nationwide. The sales volume in 2003 was about $3.8 billion.
Halliday is still an active force in the company. “There’s nothing I’d rather do. It is my life. I’m the first one here and the last one to leave,” Halliday said. “We have two brand-new offices. We’re building new ones all the time.” Halliday still assists with home sales, too. “Quite often I am asked to go with my people on listings, because I know all of the grandmothers and grandfathers (in the area),” she said.
Halliday related an experience in which she called the home of a senior woman to inquire about the woman’s future plans for the home. “I made the call and the housekeeper answered. I said, ‘Would you please ask her to call Ebby Halliday?’ She said, ‘Lord, is she still alive?’ Eventually we did get that listing and sold it.”
While the company does work with some very high-profile properties, Halliday said, “Our average sale is still modest because we serve everybody. We accept and serve the first-time home buyer just as carefully as we do the million-dollar buyer.”
A native of Abilene, Kan., Halliday got her start in real estate selling new homes built at the close of World War II. “I sold the first two houses to gentlemen who had come out with shotguns on their shoulders.” The area was a popular spot for rabbit hunting. “They came back with no game but two houses. These houses were the only game in town and the price was right: $7,000 for the two-bedroom and $9,000 for the three.”
Halliday is in demand as a speaker at various functions, including the Rotary and local chamber of commerce groups. She also gives pep talks to her employees, and is known to play some tunes on the ukulele, an instrument she picked up in high school. “With great apologies to any musician in the crowd, never has anyone ridden three chords on the ukulele to such heights,” she joked.
So what is the secret to the success and longevity of her company? “We built this on service. We have kept our reputation for service polished to the nth degree,” she said. “We have a wonderful, wonderful morale in our company. We put the bottom line into expansion and perfecting services.”
She added, “We’ve got a great company here, and we’re going to keep it.”
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