For more than three decades, Gary Walker has forged a successful real estate career working for one firm.
Walker, 70, started as an agent at J.P. Weigand & Sons selling homes in 1980, when the 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 13.74 percent. Today that same rate is a little more than 4 percent.
But after getting through that first year, he got plugged into a network of Pizza Hut executives transferring to and from the Wichita headquarters, which propelled his business in the second year.
“There’s no question that was my gravy train,” Walker said.
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Eighteen years ago he moved over to management as broker of the firm’s east office. And in 2007 he was promoted to his current position as vice president and general manager of Weigand’s residential division.
The son of a regional supervisor for the Social Security Administration, Walker grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and moved to the Wichita area after joining the Air Force.
He is married to Joanne, and they have eight children, 16 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
What did you do in the Air Force?
I had it rough. It was during the Vietnam war, but I spent three years and nine months of a four-year term at McConnell in what was then called personnel. Today, it would be human resources. The other three months were in school at Jackson, Miss.
How did you get into real estate?
I was living in Augusta (as the manager of Anchor Savings’ Augusta office) when a good friend of mine, Lewis Simmons, encouraged me to consider real estate as a career. He owned the largest real estate company in Augusta at that time, and he arranged a meeting with Nestor Weigand. I decided to move back to Wichita and joined Weigand in 1980.
Have you always been at Weigand?
Yes. Never even considered another company.
Is it correct that at one time you were the firm’s top-selling residential agent?
Well, I’m trying to be humble, yes. I was the top associate in the residential division seven times.
To what did you attribute that success?
Two things. I was fortunate enough to be associated with (Weigand), which made my job much easier. And second, my wife, Joanne. She joined the company a year after I did and outsold me her first year. I swore that would never happen again. It was great motivation.
Do you miss selling? Why or why not?
Sometimes, but not often. I have a tremendous admiration for the sales associates, for the hours they spend, for the reliance on commission sales as their income, and for the hard work it is to juggle all the aspects of residential real estate sales as a career. I miss the friendships that were formed during my selling years, but I had been in management during my time at Augusta and really feel it is the best fit for me.
What about the business keeps you engaged on a daily basis?
The people, especially our management team. I am truly blessed to have outstanding managers in all our divisions and branches, and they do an outstanding job of making me look good. And second, constant change. And I mean constant. I spend a great deal of my time reading and researching the different business plans and business models from around the country, as well as publications that tell about new trends in technology and marketing. Constant change forces you to stay engaged.
What do you consider to be the biggest changes in the industry since you’ve been in it?
That’s hard because there’s been so many over 34 years. Agency laws, competition, franchises, I could go on and on. But undoubtedly the biggest change is technology. It has completely changed our industry, and the change is ongoing.
How has technology changed your business?
It has enabled agents to be able to have a much, much larger database of clients, and all the tools associated with it.
How would you describe the current area housing market to someone not from Wichita?
That’s the easiest question you’ve asked me. Stable. That has always been the biggest asset the Wichita housing market has had. No huge swings, occasional slight ups and downs, but overall very, very stable.
What would you tell a new agent are the keys to a successful residential real estate career?
This is still a relationship business. Technology is huge and it is a must for today’s new agents, but it must be coupled with building lasting and far-reaching relationships with buyers, sellers, other businesses and other agents.
What do you like to do to unwind?
I wish I knew. It’s been so long since I did that, I have no idea. I will admit that grandkids are probably the greatest unwinding tool God ever created.