Sam Rounseville is a Realtor with an alter ego. His real estate clients know him as an agent for Century 21 Abigail Adams in Quincy, Mass., though in other circles – and on his driver’s license – he is Uncle Sam.
Rounseville entered the real estate business a decade ago. Before that he worked in the textile business. He joked, “I was a man of the cloth.”
He hasn’t looked back since those days. “I got whacked around a lot until I got to real estate and now nobody can fire me,” he said. He is ranked among the top-producing Century 21 agents in the nation and has received the company’s prestigious “Double Centurian” award.
Rounseville, 66, is very involved in charities and community service under the guise and garb of Uncle Sam, though he said he makes a conscious effort not to mix the patriotic icon with his work as a real estate agent. And while he legally changed his name to Uncle Sam in the early 1990s, Rounseville said he doesn’t seek to exploit the Uncle moniker in his real estate work. “I don’t advertise it at all.”
Rounseville takes both roles very seriously. Rounseville, as Uncle Sam, helped to raise about $1 million through his participation in a fund-raising campaign for veterans of the Gulf War in the early 1990s. He also has toured dozens of states to promote the right to vote. The fictional Uncle Sam character that Rounseville portrays at events was popularized by artist James Montgomery Flagg, who used the character to help promote the war effort during World War I.
In 1992, U.S. Rep. Joseph Patrick Kennedy II, D-Mass., honored Rounseville’s numerous volunteer contributions with a congressional resolution. Rounseville, according to the resolution, “has distinguished himself by his many civic and charitable endeavors, namely, promoting volunteerism, helping the U.S. government in its savings-bond drive, helping to raise funds for the Heroes Welcome Home for the Gulf War veterans, visiting schools to promote reading and scholastic activities by students, visiting nursing homes and hospitals to cheer up the less fortunate, raising funds for the U.S. Olympic Team … together with many other civic and charitable events too numerous to mention.”
Rounseville said of his charity work, “It’s been a great journey as Uncle Sam and I just love it. I enjoy life, I enjoy people. I do a lot of public service, a lot of fund-raising. I donate my Social Security check to charity.” He also maintains a 20-by-30 billboard on a busy corner in Quincy. “Every month I change it to some charity, some public service. It cost me $1,500 a month to do it. I come up with the ideas and just call my sign guy and he puts it up.”
He has used the sign to promote awareness about skin cancer, and to recognize a community leader, as examples. Rounseville said he recently called attention to the contributions of a local resident who is a former mayor and has worked in public service for 42 years. “His daughter-in-law was on the train and looked up and saw (the billboard). He was thrilled – he couldn’t believe it,” Rounseville said.
He appeared in the 1993 film “The War Room,” a documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. You also may have seen Rounseville, as Uncle Sam, participating in parades in his star-spangled costume – “It’s regalia, not a costume,” he insists – or cheering for the Boston Red Sox and against the Yankees. (Yes, even Uncle Sam takes sides in matters of baseball team allegiance.)
If you’ve ever called Rounseville on the telephone, you may have noticed that the last four digits of his number are “1776.” Not a coincidence. His e-mail address includes “ussam76.”
The real estate business is not so different from the community service work that he performs, Rounseville said, except that he gets paid for the real estate work. “I kind of like helping people all of the time. It’s a rewarding experience,” he said. Real estate has been good to Rounseville – when he became an agent he was “absolutely broke – $40,000 in credit card debt and no place to live. I’ve managed to be very successful. It’s been quite a run.”
At first, Rounseville specialized in sales of small condos in the Quincy area, which is a short train ride from Boston. “All of the sudden I became number one (in my market area) selling condos and doing 60 to 80 sides a year,” he said. He watched as prices jumped from $60,000 per unit to $260,000 per unit for condos as the market boomed, though the market has since cooled off, he said. Rounseville now handles all types of residential properties, and generally has about 25 listings at any given time.
“I have no computer skills at all. I have no formal education. I’m just an outgoing person who loves to do things,” he said. There isn’t a lot of downtime – “I’m in real estate 24-7,” he said. His wife is in the industry, too, working as a mortgage professional. “We go out to dinner at night talking real estate,” he said.
Prices have dropped about 10 percent to 15 percent in his market area compared to last year, Rounseville said. “Some people bought two years ago and want to sell and they’re not going to get their price. I have three customers in that position right now. I came out and told them, ‘You’re not going to get anywhere close to what you paid.’ They’re all in shock right now,” he said.
Sellers need to get realistic about market conditions and not demand too much these days, he said, and agents need to be better salespeople. “The order-takers are going to be gone. It’s going to take a lot of (salesmanship) and creative work to get people to buy and sell. I work hard. You’ve got to be constantly working,” Rounseville said.
To combat the slowing real estate market and rising gas prices, Rounseville on May 1 launched a sales promotion that offers home sellers 500 gallons of free gas if they successfully list and sell a home using his services. For those who participate in the program, he will write them a check equivalent to the dollar amount of 500 gallons of gas when the house is sold.