Big sellers make move to new firm Realtors: Nancy Hubble and Karen Bisbee, movers and shakers in the local real estate industry, caused a stir when they announced they were leaving W. H. C. Wilson & Co. for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

March 16, 1997|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

Nancy Hubble and Karen Bisbee won't make a move without carefully weighing the consequences.

It took Nancy Hubble 35 years to make her first move, merging the Hubble Co. with W. H. C. Wilson & Co. It took another three before she and her daughter began to think of their future at the Roland Park firm.

Only this time when Hubble and her daughter, Karen Bisbee, questioned their options last January the answer came swiftly and decisively.

Now was the right time to end their six-year partnership with W. H. C. Wilson & Co. There was so much more business to lure out there.

So there went Hubble and Bisbee, two names synonymous with Baltimore City real estate and the boutique broker business, into the welcoming arms of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

And when word leaked out that the move was on, it caused more than a ripple of curiosity in the real estate community.

"I got calls from people saying, 'You certainly surprised the industry, you gave us a shock,' " Bisbee said.

"They'd say, 'You were a partner, why would you leave?' " Hubble added. "People always think there is something sinister. There was nothing sinister. It was just a career choice."

"But the interesting thing for me -- from working it from the inside out -- is that there was nothing shocking at all about it," Bisbee said. "You have to figure out your view of the future and what you think the future of the industry is going to be.

"And then you have to position yourself as best you can to take care of your customers."

And so Hubble and Bisbee sought to reposition themselves. Much of their business had moved to the suburbs. Wilson was doing well but was entrenched in the city with no plans of opening a county office. The two sought to have a personal assistant, something that numerous top producers use. That really wasn't company policy.

And the technology. OPF had it all, not to mention the marketing, the Sotheby's affiliation and the firm's partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, something with which Bisbee had worked closely.

Even with all that, it was a decision that didn't come easily for either of them.

"This was something that we were thinking about for some time," Bisbee said. "We have had the good fortune of a practice that has continued to grow. Wilson is a wonderful firm. We left very friendly, and for that reason we put the move off even longer than we should have."

"We [Karen and myself] sort of came to the conclusion at about the same time," Hubble said. "Neither one of us would consider making a move without the other. We're a package, we're a team. That's how we went to Wilson, and that's how we came here."

Nancy Hubble, now in her 40th year in the real estate business, has been one of the movers and shakers in the industry not just locally but nationally as well. Her father-in-law started L. L. Hubble & Co. in the 1920s. She opened her own brokerage firm in the 1950s.

She's a former president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and serves on its Board of Directors. She has served as first vice president of the 1st District of the Maryland Association of Realtors and is a director of the National Association of Realtors.

Karen is cut of the same cloth. She went into the family business in 1978 and also became active with the GBBR, serving on several committees while being involved in numerous philanthropic organizations.

Both have the reputation for being savvy, tough, creative and totally committed to their business.

But after Hubble folded her business into the Wilson company, it took a couple of years before she and her daughter began to feel that their business needed room to expand.

"It was not a mistake when the two companies merged," Bisbee said. "We benefited so much from our relationship with Wilson and they from their relationship with us. It was a good marriage at the time. We had 5 1/2 really good years together. But my business has grown so far north. It was really important to get a [Baltimore County] location.

"Two years ago, it became clear to us that for us to take advantage of this growth in our business, we had to do some rethinking. We waited to see where Wilson was going and what they were doing. It became pretty clear at the first of the year that they were very happy with their geographic location," Bisbee added.

Similar feelings

Her mother was having similar feelings.

"About two years ago, John Evans [OPF's executive vice president who oversees the firm's sales offices] and I were at a conference. And I had been thinking of making a change, but it's very difficult to make a change, especially when you're very fond of the people you're working with," Hubble said.

"I mentioned to him that I was sort of thinking about maybe talking about it, and we did. And then I sort of dropped it because I kept telling myself, 'I can't do this. I don't want to do this. I don't want to leave the group I'm with because I like them so much.'

"But I knew that we wanted to step up in terms of the kind of clientele we had," she added.

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