Amiable 'Otts' heads the Maryland Association of Realtors Arthur Davis Gentleman Broker

January 23, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

Arthur Davis III is in his element. As host of a Sunday afternoon open house at a huge, vacant stucco house in a prestigious section of blue-blood Guilford, the chummy real-estate broker known affectionately as "Otts" greets visitors like the old friends many of them are.

"This isn't work -- this is fun," he says, a virtual giggle in his voice.

It's not by accident that this prince of a people-person in the tortoise-shell glasses and navy blazer has found his way into sales. Nor is it any wonder that the well-spoken man -- educated at the same gilt-edged Gilman School where many of his clients send their sons -- should have been picked as president of the Maryland Association of Realtors, as he was last fall.

"The word is 'gentleman,' " says Michael Yerman, a fellow realty executive who serves with Mr. Davis on the Baltimore Housing Partnership, which promotes homeownership among low-income families. "It was written for him."

But changes in the real-estate industry -- as well as uncertainty in the market -- may test this gentleman's patience. Membership at MAR is treading water, having sunk 10 percent from its peak of 23,000 two years ago. The murder of an agent has unsettled real-estate offices across the state, and a task force has been set up to ease concerns over safety.

Closing costs remain among the highest in the nation -- with little prospect that money-strapped local governments will reduce the tax bite of property transfers. And an iffy economic recovery means that further improvements in the home-sale market are uncertain.

Still, the amiable Mr. Davis, president of Chase Fitzgerald, a Roland Park realty boutique that concentrates on well-heeled areas of Guilford, Roland Park, Homeland and Ruxton, never loses a night's sleep worrying about real estate.

"Otts knows when to sidestep a sinking canoe -- or get out," says Adam Cockey, the managing partner of W. H. C. Wilson, another Roland Park firm and a "friendly competitor" with Mr. Davis, as he describes his relationship with his friend of 18 years.

It's not that there aren't serious issues confronting the Maryland real estate industry. Mr. Davis just likes to play the role of stand-up comedian -- especially when addressing colleagues at industry conferences.

"It takes 50 muscles in your face to smile," he says. "It takes 150 to frown. So it's much easier to smile."

On the professional level, Mr. Davis has much to smile about. Although he spends a quarter of his time on administrative work at Chase Fitzgerald, he typically carries a heavy load of sales listings -- 10 to 25 -- at a time. And last year, he sold $10 million worth of real estate. Such figures place him in the top 10 percent of his profession.

Still, he finds time for other interests. He reads avidly: history, archaeology and mysteries. Along with his wife, Melinda, owner of Mollett Travel Inc. in Roland Park and a 23-year veteran of the travel agency business, he travels widely. Their recent sojourns have included trips to Italy, Egypt and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

"Did you know the Mayans were the first to come up with a symbol for zero?" he says excitedly, reflecting on his Yucatan trip and his fondness for what he calls "factoids."

He also enjoys puttering around the couple's 6,000-square-foot condominium in Roland Park. The condo takes up an entire floor of what was once part of an elegant, oversized apartment owned a wealthy Baltimore businessman. The Davis quarters include the man's former ballroom, with its 13-foot ceilings, ornate fireplace and elaborate molding work.

At home, the couple spend most of their time in what they call their "beach house," a large room that was originally part of an open terrace. In this room, with its sea-foam-green furnishings and carpets, three walls of the room hold hundreds of Mr. Davis' books.

Living in a condo allows the couple to come and go easily -- without worry about exterior maintenance. Getting away from it all is important to them.

"It's nice to be able to shut one door and take a vacation," Mr. Davis says. "It's one thing to read about the pyramids and sphinx and another thing to stand there and see the size of them."

Besides travel, Mr. Davis enjoys tinkering with the two vintage cars he owns, which are kept in his mother's garage in Roland Park. He delights in working on his 1956 navy blue Cadillac convertible and the faded gray 1950 Dodge sedan he picked up recently for $400.

Mr. Davis' father, a stockbroker, moved the family to Baltimore from Annapolis when the son was 12 so he could attend Gilman. After graduating from Randolph-Macon College outside Richmond, Va., Mr. Davis spent a year teaching math in Baltimore schools and three more years doing the same at the McDonogh School in Reisterstown.

"I couldn't rationalize the low income that comes with teaching," he says of his decision to leave the field in 1970.

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