Moving up to Baltimore Agency: Thomas M. Stevens quickly built a realty company in the Washington area. Now, he's poised for a push into the Baltimore market.

September 06, 1998|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Thomas M. Stevens has spent the past five years growing his Northern Virginia real estate business by leaps and bounds. But until recently the growth of Coldwell Banker Stevens, Realtors was confined to the Washington area.

That changed this year when Stevens moved to the Baltimore County line, purchasing three offices in Anne Arundel County. The question now is not if he'll move into the Baltimore market as much as when and how.

"I'd like to be there sooner than later because I think it just fills out the territory," he said.

Stevens, 48, has proven he can not only survive but flourish even in the shadow of giants such as Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. and Weichert, Realtors. In 1993 he purchased 11 Coldwell Banker offices for about $1 million -- with cash he'd made from various real estate purchases -- and has since acquired a dozen more.

Two years ago he also opened Century 21 Stevens in Washington, giving him a piece of another giant, and bringing the total of Stevens Real Estate Inc. offices to 24. Stevens is now No. 3 in the market behind Long & Foster and Weichert.

In its annual "Big Brokers" report, the national industry newsletter Real Trends this year ranked Coldwell Banker Stevens 62nd out of the top 450 brokers in the country, with 5,942 transactions in 1997. The firm was ranked 52nd in volume with $1.2 billion in sales.

Coldwell Banker Stevens' transactions were up 8.5 percent in 1997 compared with 1996, said Real Trends co-editor Laurie Moore-Moore.

"Look at Long and Foster and Weichert -- they are very strong major players and Tom has come in and grown very aggressively, and I think it's probably a testimonial to good management and a broker who is really eager to make his mark in a major market," Moore-Moore said. "He is one of the success stories in the country."

A key question surrounding Stevens' move into the Baltimore market involves someone in his own corporate family. Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. is already firmly in place here with 12 Baltimore County offices and nine others in surrounding areas, including two recently acquired in Federal Hill and Brooklyn Park.

"I don't want to go into a market where there's another Coldwell Banker broker and compete head to head with them. I try to avoid that, we try to function as a team," Stevens said. "But if an opportunity came up to buy an existing Coldwell Banker franchise, I'd certainly be interested."

In terms of whom he might buy to get into this market, Stevens will say only that "everybody's talking to everybody." He said he'd be interested in buying Grempler offices, but just laughs and says he prefers not to comment on whether he has made offers.

For his part, D. R. Grempler, president and chief executive of Grempler Realty, says he's not interested in selling.

"Not at all," he said. "We're in the expansion mode."

There is also some question as to where Stevens would be allowed to locate relative to Grempler's offices.

Stevens said there is an "unspoken rule" that competing Coldwell brokers must stay at least a mile apart.

Coldwell spokeswoman Gabrielle Sertich said there are no formal mileage requirements and that each franchise application reviewed by a committee using criteria such as the specific market, the current market share of the existing offices, market population and trends. Grempler said he plans to put up a fight if Stevens tries to move into his territory.

"I would do whatever I could to stop that," he said. "I would not want people mistaking him for us. If he did come here I'd be upset, but it wouldn't be the end all or be all."

Real Trends ranked Grempler's firm 79th nationally with 5,090 transactions. Grempler's transactions declined 5.39 percent from 1996 to 1997, Moore-Moore said.

"Tom Stevens seems to be the fair-haired young man, he's the one in our markets that seems to be supported by Coldwell Banker and given carte blanche to go wherever he wants," according to Jack Queen, Long & Foster's general manager for Maryland, Washington, Pennsylvania and Delaware, who said he's keeping an eye on Stevens.

"Future leaders might be small and growing today," Queen said. "Tom Stevens used to work for us. He's a good guy, a hard worker and he's determined to grow."

Unlike many people in real estate who get into the business as a second career, Stevens has real estate in his blood.

His father, the late Norm Stevens, worked for Yeonas Co. homebuilders in Vienna, Va., for more than 20 years as a manager in its new-home sales division.

After graduating from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., with a bachelor's degree in business, the younger Stevens joined his father at Yeonas in the resale division. After about four years, he left to join the realty firm of Shannon & Luchs.

He stayed there 17 years, becoming the Virginia residential division manager. During his tenure, the division grew from 150 sales associates and three offices to more than 1,000 associates and 27 offices.

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