Howard Hanna Real Estate Services founder Howard Hanna Jr. has passed, according to a family announcement made on Saturday.
“It is with our deepest sadness that we share the news of our founder, Mr. Hanna’s passing earlier today, September 25, 2021,” the Facebook post read. “At 101 years old, we are fortunate that we had a century with the pillar of our family, a business leader, and a community supporter.”
“For those of you who knew him, we hope that you will remember him fondly, including his wonderful handwritten notes and his corny jokes,” it continued. “But most of all, you will remember his commitment to his family and to all of our agents and employees at Howard Hanna Real Estate Services.”
Hanna founded Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in 1957, after completing his career in the US Army and earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business from the University of Pittsburgh. Hanna and his late wife, Anne Freyvogel Hanna, operated the brokerage from a one-room office near their home.
“[The Hannas] began the real estate company with a modest dividend check and a tiny office in the Shadyside area of Pittsburgh. He and his wife wanted to carve out a business close to their home,” Hanna’s company biography explained. “Mr. Hanna had experience working for the homebuilder’s association in Cleveland; his wife had strong roots in Pittsburgh and didn’t want to leave.”
The couple steadily grew Howard Hanna to become the largest family-owned and operated real estate brokerage in the United States, with the Hanna’s children taking the helm in the 1970s and diversifying the company into a one-stop-shop with brokerage, appraisal and mortgage services. The couple retired in the 1990s as their grandchildren entered the family business, which now spans 10 states.
“He wasn’t the typical entrepreneur who held on for so long,” Howard Hanna Real Estate Services President Howard ‘Hoby’ Hanna III told Inman in a brief phone call. “He stepped back and sort of said, I’m going to let younger generations grow this and continue the inspiration and be there as a counselor.”
Although his grandfather had long stepped away from HHRES day-to-day operations, Hoby said he took his role as counselor seriously by attending company meetings and conferences, offering personal advice to his children and grandchildren, and continuing to personally welcome new agents with handwritten notes as little as six months ago.
“Until just recently, he would get a report of every new agent that joined us whether they were brand new to the business or from a competitor and he would take the time to welcome them to the company with a letter from his stationery,” he said. “Sometimes it wasn’t completely legible because of his age. He would put ‘Welcome to the family’ and said if there’s anything he could do to help grow their business, to let him know.”
“It became just this personalized touch that so many of our agents and employees appreciate,” he added. “If we go into some of our offices, agents have his note from when they started their career on their desk.”
He also continued to review company reports, Hoby said, and reminded agents and leaders to remember the basics as they navigated the pandemic and its impact on the real estate industry.
“Six months ago talking to him, he was still just a big believer in basics and just staying committed to the basics of the industry,” he said. “He had a program we still use in our company today that he developed in the 50s, and he called it The Daily Sevens.”
“He would say every day, think about seven prospective buyers to talk to, seven prospective sellers to talk to, and see seven pieces of property every day,” he added. “That’s still the core of our growth as a company.”
Although he wants everyone to remember his grandfather’s innovations as a real estate leader, Hoby said it’s more important for people to know who his grandfather was as a person — kind, thoughtful and humble.
“He was an incredible man, and we should all be so lucky to live a really healthy 101 years and then peacefully pass in our sleep. He had no suffering and really had a great love for life,” he said. “We appreciate the condolences, but it’s more of a celebration of the man in my mind than it is the sadness. It’s an end of an era, but he was just a great guy and so he had such a wonderful life.”