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P. Wesley “Wes” Foster Jr., co-founder and chairman emeritus of mid-Atlantic giant Long & Foster, died on March 17 at the age of 89 in his home in Alexandria, Virginia.
Long & Foster opened their first brokerage office in a 600-square-foot space in Fairfax, Virginia, a statement from Long & Foster noted. He and Henry A. “Hank” Long first encountered each other on a home showing and realized they had a number of common interests. They decided to team up to launch Long & Foster in 1968, with Long heading up the commercial side of the business and Foster managing the residential sales.
Foster often told the press that the two men had flipped a coin to decide whose name would lead the company’s. “He got his name first. I became president. We took off,” Foster told the Washington Business Journal in 2017.
At that time, the dynamic duo employed just one real estate agent.
The brokerage overcame several market ups and downs over the years, including the major 1970s-era downturn that came in the wake of steep interest rate spikes. By 1979, Merrill Lynch offered to buy out the brokerage, which Long was interested in. However, Foster wasn’t for it, and instead, decided to buy out Long’s half of the company.
Over the years, the firm became one of the largest privately held companies in the Washington region, and a mainstay in the real estate sector across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
“Wes was an extraordinary leader, business and person, and my heart goes out to his family and all those he touched through his caring and generosity,” Patrick Bain, president and CEO of The Long & Foster Companies, said in a statement.
“Working with Wes for several years, what stood out the most was his appreciation and attention for everyone he met. Wes always treated you as the most important person and knew it was the agents and employees who chose to work here who were the heart and soul of the company. His people-first approach defined us, and his legacy lives on at Long & Foster.”
The firm also became an early pioneer of the “one-stop shop” real estate business model, by making ancillary services available to Long & Foster customers, including mortgage, title and insurance. “[Foster] prided the company on its ability to offer consumers everything they needed to buy, sell, rent and own a home (or investment property), and later introduced the business’s property management and vacation rentals divisions,” a press statement from Long & Foster said.
Foster was born in McDonough, Georgia, and received his bachelor’s degree in English from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1956. Following his graduation, he served in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer and was stationed in Darmstadt, Germany, as Fire Direction Officer of the D. Battery 28th Artillery 8th Division, and was also special weapons liaison officer to the German III Corps. He received the U.S. Army Commendation Medal for his service.
Following his military career, Foster moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked as a siding salesman to homebuilders for Kaiser Aluminum. He then launched his real estate career by becoming a new homes sales manager for Minchew Corporation in 1963, and joined Nelson Realty in 1966, where he was vice president of sales until teaming up with Long to form Long & Foster.
Throughout his career, Foster was keen to make savvy investments for his agents and the company, including through acquiring an equity stake in real estate tech firm MoxiWorks in 2015, and through becoming part of HomeServices of America, which acquired Long & Foster Companies in 2017. At that time, the firm was the largest independent real estate brokerage by sales volume, according to The Washington Post.
Today, The Long & Foster Companies encompasses Long & Foster Real Estate, Prosperity Home Mortgage, Mid-States Title, Long & Foster Insurance, HomeServices Property Management, Tailored Move, Insight Home Inspections, Long & Foster Vacation Rentals, Long & Foster Corporate Real Estate Services and Urban Pace.
The firm has over 200 real estate offices and more than 8,500 real estate agents and employees across the East Coast.
“Wes was a visionary in the true spirit of the word,” Gino Blefari, CEO of HomeServices of America, said in a statement. “His breadth of knowledge and his keen understanding of the industry is perhaps unmatched by anyone else in this business. He was a man of great generosity, humility and kindness whose impact on his employees, managers and agents will endure for years to come.”
By 2020, Long & Foster real estate sales hit $34.5 billion, according to the Long & Foster website, solidifying the company as a leader in greater Washington.
“If you had to start a brokerage firm … there was no better place in the country to be than Washington, D.C., in the 1970s, when Wes started to expand,” Bill Regardie, publisher of the now shuttered Regardie’s business magazine told The Washington Post. “He founded and ran the most dominant, successful, richest real estate sales firm that Washington has ever seen and that the Mid-Atlantic has ever seen.”
Foster was also an active philanthropist, organizing company fundraisers for the U.S. Marine Corps’ annual Toys for Tots campaign, and designating one day each year for Long & Foster staff to participate in service projects in their communities. Under Foster’s leadership, the brokerage also initiated the L&F Cares giving campaign, through which the company’s agents and employees have supported nonprofits in the areas of health, housing and the military.
Foster donated funds to VMI in the mid-2000s to help the school upgrade its athletic facilities, and in 2006, VMI’s football stadium was dedicated as the P. Wesley Foster Jr., Stadium. Foster had played guard on the varsity team while in attendance there.
Over the years, Foster also held a number of board roles at VMI, including the VMI Foundation’s Board of Trustees, the VMI Keydet Club’s Board of Governors and the VMI’s Board of Visitors.
Foster was seen as a visionary leader by his peers in the industry, as evidenced by his role as a founding member of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE) and the Realty Alliance.
He also received numerous industry accolades over the course of his career, including T3 Sixty’s Visionary Award (2018), the Washington Business Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2017), the Swanepoel Power 200 list (2014 to 2017), Real Estate Executive Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Real Estate Executives list (2014), Virginia Business Magazine’s 25 Best in the Business Leaders (2011), Inman News’ 100 Most Influential Leaders in Real Estate (2007 to 2010) and Johns Hopkins Chabad’s (the university’s Jewish chaplaincy) Real Estate Industry Leadership Award (2007).
Additionally, Foster was named one of the 25 most influential people in real estate in 2003 by Realtor Magazine, and was giving the Life Member Award from the National Association of Realtors in 1983. He was also named “One of America’s Five Most Admired Persons in Residential Real Estate” by Real Trends twice over the course of his career.
Locally in Washington, D.C., Foster was also recognized for his achievements in the field. In 2004, he was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame, sponsored by Washingtonian magazine, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. Ernst & Young, as well as co-sponsors Merrill Lynch and Inc. Magazine, also named Foster Entrepreneur of the Year for real estate in the greater Washington, D.C., region in 1991.
Foster is survived by his wife, Betty Foster, two sons, Paul Wesley Foster III and Rod Lawrence, and daughter Amanda Foster Spahr, as well as six grandchildren.