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Real Estate Center

Sep 25, 2008 12:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Lunch with ... Janet Hummel of Town & Country Realty

Sep 25, 2008 12:25 PM

Q:

How long have you been in the real estate business?

A: Eleven years now. It’s hard to believe that.

Q:

How did you get your start?

A: Actually, I got my start from Judi [Desiderio]. My ex-husband and I moved out here and started buying houses. I bought my first house when I was 20. We bought a house, lived in it 18 months and sold it, then bought some land. And every 18 months we kept doing that and we’ve been doing that. We did construction. Judi ended up being one of the brokers that helped us buy some land. So we went out with her. We went through a divorce and I thought ‘What am I going to do? All I know is construction.’ I called up Judi and I was gonna build a spec house. She said ‘Why are you going to do that?’ and I said ‘This is all I know.’ She took me out and showed me land. She called me back and said ‘Don’t buy land from me, come work for me.’ I said ‘I don’t know if I really want to do that.’ She wanted me to see what the other side was about. I went inside and she said ‘Sit at the front desk.’ I said’ I’m not gonna do that. I run a multimillion-dollar construction company.’ She said it’s like getting an education you’re going to get a stipend for. She said ‘Give me a year and at one year, let’s re-evaluate which way you want to go.’

My whole attitude toward real estate changed because they work so hard and things just sometimes don’t pan out, the customers just aren’t loyal to them. Now I understand. They get kinda a bum rap from a lot of people.

I did the front desk, I learned the whole company. At the end of the year I said I really like managing. It’s what I did in the construction business. It’s what you do in a family, when you have kids. You manage everybody.

I stuck with Judi for nine months in the Bridgehampton office at Cook Pony Farm and then she went off to work at the Southampton office. I did sales too, so I thought it was great. I learned all about sales. You sit in the pit with everybody and you just absorb like a sponge. Then we got bought out by Corcoran and the whole nine yards happened after that.

Q:

That whole upheaval, what was your mindset through that period? Did you second-guess your decision?

A: I knew something was going on. The partners at Cook were always very available to us and all of a sudden they were like, I said to Judi ‘What was going on?’ and she said ‘I can’t tell you. You’re my friend and I love you, but you will find out.’ I said ‘Is it something bad?’ and she said ‘It’s something good.’ Finally we had our meeting. I was really excited about it. The company came out and they promised us everything would be the same. It would be just as it was and for the first couple of months it was the status quo. [Then] everything just started changing. Business in New York is done very differently than business out here and I think they had a hard time understanding that. As a manager, I was very hands-on with the agents. I would go to open houses and talk about properties. When corporate America came in, it became corporate America, basically. I felt like at the end of the day I was just a professional meeting-goer. It took me out of the pit with the agents to know what’s happening there with the market.

Then they acquired Dayton Halstead and I took over the Dayton office across the street in Bridgehampton, getting the companies to meld. A year later they acquired Allan Schneider. It just got so big. Judi had left before that. She didn’t like what they were doing to her company and they knew that. They didn’t keep their promise about how the company was really going to be run. We started having conversations. I said ‘This is too big. This doesn’t seem right.’ It was so big you couldn’t get an answer because there were so many layers of management.

I was unhappy, but they said ‘Why would you go with a new company?’ I was flipping houses in California too. I got out of California right before what I had out there started to go down. I brought all the money I made out there back east and I said ‘I’m going to invest in this real estate company with a person who I admire.’ Had I put any bets on who’s going to get through anything, there’s no doubt in my mind Judi would be the one.

When I left I gave my notice at Corcoran—you give your notice and you have to leave that day when you’re in real estate—I had booked a trip to the Caribbean and I went down there for a week. She hands me this book to read, “The Tipping Point.”

Q:

Malcolm Gladwell’s book?

A: Absolutely. I read the book and I called her and said ‘Oh my god. This is happening.’ We were so lucky to get to the point where our company was born in a pretty bad market, but it wasn’t quite tipped over yet. When everything now has tipped on Wall Street and we have this amazing little boat—it’s a good-sized company, but we’re not like a big powerboat zooming to the top. We’re like a sailboat. You get there slowly. They run out of gas. It’s very exciting now. I think we’re poised right now in such a great spot. She saw it happening. We set ourselves up. We had low overhead. We don’t have debt in the company. We have financial backing that’s amazing. We’re opening up our Southampton office. She was right. I’m looking at Wall Street now with everything big and huge and it fell apart.

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