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Well, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge. A blog – everyone’s doing it, it’s SOOO last year! My nine year old would have a blog if I’d allow her to have an e-mail address and unfettered access to the Internet. But better late than never, right? So here it goes.

My name is Melissa Loughridge Savenko, and I’m a former practicing lawyer turned full-time Realtor. Most people want to know why I gave up the practice of law. I always answer a question with a question – have you ever met a happy lawyer? Besides, I figure it is character building to work in two of the top three most despised industries in the United States. Next year I plan to become a used car salesman. But seriously, about me, here are the vital statistics. Or maybe I should just attach my resume:

Name: Melissa Loughridge Savenko
Born: Newport News, July 23, 1969
Education: B.A., Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia, 1991; J.D. cum laude, University of Richmond, 1998
Personal: Divorced, one child (9)

I figure I should at least give you some insight into who I am and why you might want to read my blog. This project is going to focus on real estate generally, but more specifically the Richmond, Virginia market, which includes the City of Richmond proper, and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico, as well as the Town of Ashland and the City of Petersburg. Here’s the brief history of me:

I started selling real estate full-time in March 2006. So, as I write this, I am a bit past 15 months in the business. Pretty daggone arrogant to be writing a blog about the local market so soon, I bet some of you are thinking. Trust me, anyone who knows me can tell you I ALWAYS have an opinion. Just ask my Dad.

I am a Richmond native, although I was technically born in Newport News (my Dad was in the service). I’m at least a third generation Richmonder, and I couldn’t tell you how far back my Virginia roots go. Sadly, I have been disabused of the notion that Pocahontas was my great, great, great, great grandmother. My grandmother told me that, which I happily passed with great pride to the third grade class at Ginter Park Elementary during our family tree project. Apparently, no one told HER that Pocahontas did NOT marry Captain John Smith, but rather John Rolfe. So the “Smith” name doesn’t have such lofty origins – I suspect there were hearty blacksmiths in the family lineage.

But I digress. My grandmother spent most of her life in Richmond, my Mom grew up in Richmond, my Dad’s from Fredericksburg, and I’ve lived almost all my life in the River City, but for my four years up the road in C’ville attending Mr. Jefferson’s University, and the three plus years I spent post-college in New Orleans. But my Virginia roots go back much further than three generations – something that may not seem like a much of anything to some, but which can be a big deal in many circles here.

As far as Richmond residences go, I’ve lived in Bellevue, Ashland, Rockville, Ginter Park, the near West End, the Museum District, Montpelier, and now the Fan. I lived on Claremont Avenue in Bellevue with my biological parents, moved to Ashland when my Mom remarried, spent significant time with my Dad, stepmother and stepbrother in Rockville, moved BACK to Northside, now to Hawthorne Avenue in Ginter Park, when I was 15 and Mom got pregnant with my (much) younger half sister. I attended Mr. Jefferson’s University from 1987 until 1991, moved to New Orleans when I graduated, moved back to Richmond in late 1993, around then Dad moved from Rockville to Montpelier, I lived in the Near West End briefly, then on Belmont in the Museum District even more briefly, lived in the Fan until 1996, then near University of Richmond during law school, and then back to the Fan, where I’ve been since 1995. Phew. That made me tired. Didn’t realize I’d moved so much. Good thing I didn’t have much stuff during most of those moves.

From 1995 until 1998 I went to law school, got married, had a baby, took the bar exam, thankfully passed on Try #1, and got offered a big law firm position. I went to work for an international law firm with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, after six years left that position and went to work for the Richmond office of a regional firm, then moved from there to a mindless document production project for another national law firm headquartered in Richmond, while I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

So, the $64,000 question: How did I end up in real estate? Good question. In about 2005, my Dad decided he’d like to invest in real estate, like everyone else in the world. My Dad is a commercial general contractor, my stepmother’s background is in historic preservation, my stepbrother has an M.A. in Real Estate Finance from Harvard and is in real estate development in New York City, and I’m a corporate lawyer. So we decided we had all the pieces to form a family limited liability company and invest in some properties. In the course of looking at any number of types and kinds of properties, someone thought it would be a good idea to have a licensed real estate agent in the mix. I researched the requirements for licensure and found out it’s pretty d*mn easy. Scarily easy. Frighteningly easy. [NOTE: The requirements, or lack thereof, to become a licensed real estate agent in Virginia, and I suspect other states as well, are a topic for another blog. But have no fear, you will get my opinion on that one sometime REAL soon. Suffice it to say, I think the requirements border on the absurdly lame. No wonder the public hates us].

So, I got my license. In about Summer 2005 I took the courses, got my license, and then had to go about the process of affiliating with a broker. I will be totally honest – I had NO IDEA how the real estate business worked. I really thought I’d get my license and when we went to buy or sell real estate as part of this family venture, we’d save the commissions. Nope. It is bit more complicated than that. One has to affiliate with a brokerage, where you “hang” your license. In return for the privilege, you pay them lots of money in commission splits and/or “desk fees.” In other words, you pay them money to take a percentage of what you make, in return for which you get…..very little. Well, I shouldn’t say that. You get the infrastructure necessary for any small business – an office space, copiers, faxes, phone lines, a mailbox, and if you are lucky, good administrative help for both the bigger business management issues (i.e., negotiating, coordinating and administering E&O insurance) and the smaller day-to-day business operations issues (preparing marketing materials).

So, I had to affiliate with a brokerage. I spent LOTS of time meeting with brokers, researching the various brokerages, trying to figure out which was the best. Here’s the truly strange thing – this is not like any other job search process I’ve been involved with. You aren’t being interviewed. YOU are interviewing THEM. Essentially, for many brokerages it seems the only requirements for affiliation is that you have a pulse. [Man, I know I will get flack for some of these comments. I’ve got my asbestos suit on. Bring on the flamethrowers]. This is not always the case, of course, but unfortunately it isn’t a rare occurrence either. When you understand the economics of the brokerage model, it really makes perfect sense. The real estate agent pays fees, and all his or her own expenses in order to run the real estate business. If an agent only sells one house a year, that agent makes the brokerage money. Of course, that agent will also be working a second shift asking “Would you like fries with that shake?”, but the brokerage couldn’t care less. Or at least certain brokerages couldn’t care less.

But I ultimately, after much agonizing, affiliated with RE/MAX Commonwealth, based solely on the reputations of my managing broker, Tom Innes, and the Chief Operating Officer, Karen Tilson, who is a MACHINE. When other brokers express nothing but admiration for their competition, you know it’s probably a good bet.

So, RE/MAX it was, even though their business model has traditionally been for only experienced agents. It was going to be more expensive – some other brokers offered packages that covered all the basic start-up marketing “stuff,” like business cards, announcements, and signs and required less up front out-of-pocket. But they also took up to 50% of your commissions, which seemed like a ridiculous amount. I was working a VERY flexible document review job, so I would have some guaranteed income. Hopefully, I would have some successes early on, and I could ease from lawyer to Realtor smoothly, with the time spent at the law gig decreasing as the time spent on the real estate gig increased.

But, as anyone will tell you, it ain’t that easy. One of the great things about real estate is it is incredibly flexible. One of the terrible things about real estate is that “flexibility” is often because much real estate business is completely unpredictable. You have to be available when your clients or potential clients want you. If you can’t “make it work,” in the infamous words of Tim Gunn, you lose business. Period. After several months, my broker told me, in a very gentle way, that to be successful, I would have to commit to real estate. No more straddling the real estate/law practice divide, this was becoming more and more impractical anyway. I had to fish or cut bait. Jump into the deep end. Give up my floaties. Scary stuff when you are a 37 year old single Mom responsible for child, house, car, bills, dog, cat. So, after many sleepless nights, much soul-searching, and enough of the “I think I can, I think I can,” I quit the document review project and became a full-time Realtor.

That was about March 2006. And here it is June 2007. My, how my life has changed in the last year plus. But that’s a topic for another day.


contemporary art, historic preservation, antiques, international travel, eating out, old homes, cheesy 80s movies, north carolina's outer banks (or "obx, " for those in the know)