WAAR’s new president focuses on customers

There are no downturns in the Wichita residential real estate market, just opportunities to keep doing what real estate agents should be doing best: building relationships and taking care of the people who buy and sell homes.

The is the philosophy of Chris Lary, the president of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors. Lary, associate broker at ReMax Premier, was elected the 2011 head of the Realtors group earlier this month.

She’s not cut from the “find the next transaction” group of real estate agents. Instead, Lary’s philosophy is “take care of the customer and the success will come.”

“I’m not in this business for transaction-based thinking,” she said. “I was in the beginning because that’s the way you’re trained.

“But what about the one you just closed? What if those people have needs after the sale? Your job doesn’t end at closing. What if they need a carpenter, a plumber or whatever? It’s a never-ending relationship, it’s building your business, and it’s how I work.”

That’s the influence that Lary wants to pass on during her year leading WAAR.

“It’s important to give back, because this board gives a lot to its members, too, but it’s also a learning process on the other side,” she said.

“This board is fiscally strong. We’re just trying to keep our heads straight in the next year.”

Lary said the 2011 budget includes a projection for declining membership, but WAAR officials think those numbers won’t be as bad as first feared.

“I think the members are happy and the staff is happy,” she said. “We have a strong board and strong leadership. Adding Tessa has been a huge positive for us.”

Tessa Hultz, WAAR’s new chief executive, said Lary’s experience and age are a good blend for the leadership role.

“She brings wisdom with youth,” Hultz said. “She’s 38 years old, so she’s young enough to be part of the Internet generation, the technology generation. She’s a text messager, not a phone caller.

“It’s important to us that our younger members have representation on the board and having a younger person as president is great. Younger members have different wants and needs, different expectations, and we have to make sure as an association that we’re meeting the expectations of all our members.”

Move from HR

Lary describes herself as a people person, which partially explains her first career: human resources.

“I was fascinated by meeting different people, when it came to personalities, types, ages, interests,” she said. “I’m just a people watcher.”

Instead, she found herself hiring people, firing people and enforcing dress codes.

“You find yourself calling people in to tell them, ‘You have open-toed shoes. You have to go home,’ ” Lary said.

“I had to fire individuals and that wasn’t pleasant, either. You went, ‘I’m so sorry. Please don’t reach over the table and hit me. It’s not me that’s firing you, it’s the company.’ ”

So, flush with the idea that real estate agents set their own schedules — “And that turned out to be wrong,” Lary said laughing — she made the jump to real estate in 1996.

Despite the long and irregular hours, she still loves her work.

“I just love that this business changes all the time,” she said. “This business changes every year, whether it’s how you communicate with clients, the paperwork you do or how buyers come along.

“I was there when we had the book of houses you flipped through with the customer. Now, you’ve got people on-line who’ve seen 25 houses, so you just go out and show them a few properties.”

Chiefs fan

Lary is a self-professed “football freak.”

“Chiefs, man,” she said, eyes flashing. “And now my son, Michael, who’s a freshman at Bishop Carroll, is playing football, and I get such a huge thrill out of that.” Too big a thrill, she admitted.

“At one point, he said, ‘Mom, if my neck is where they tell me I can’t play football, what will you do?’ ” Lary recalled.

“Well, if he wants to draw pictures of apples, I’ll be the biggest apple art fan out there. It doesn’t matter to me what he does as long as he loves what he does.

“But that’s when I sat back and thought, ‘Football freak, you better bring it back a couple of steps.’ ”

Lary, whose phone ringtone is the “Monday Night Football” theme, slept through the Chiefs’ season-opening win over San Diego on Monday night.

“People couldn’t believe that,” she said.

Soon, that intensity will be found in Arrowhead Stadium, where Lary takes in two or three games a season.

“If we can win eight games, I would just be beyond thrilled,” she said.

“Give me a winning season, and I’ll be absolutely in heaven.”