If a time traveler of today could visit the Coronado of six decades ago, two businesses would still be in operation just a few blocks from each other: Hotel del Coronado and Lee Mather Co. Realtors.
"We're a fixture on Orange Avenue and we really want to be a resource," said managing broker Debbie Riddle. "We've been in the same building 60 years and we've got plans for the next 60. We're not rolling up the carpet yet. We've got a great group and we're ready to go."
Riddle, stepdaughter of founder Lee Mather, is co-owner of Coronado's oldest real estate brokerage along with her husband, Tom, and Realtor Mike Herlihy. She has good reason to make plans for the future. 2013 was the company's best year ever, with about $53 million in sales and 70 completed transactions. The average price was in the $750,000 to $800,000 range, with half of the sales in Coronado and the remainder elsewhere in the county.
The firm is already on track to surpass those numbers in 2014, Riddle said.
"Part of it is that we have a really good and dynamic team of Realtors, but a good portion of it is market recovery," she said. "Consumer confidence is back and market values are starting to push up a little bit.
Debbie Riddle is managing broker at Lee Mather Co. Realtors, the oldest real estate brokerage in Coronado, occupying the same building for 60 years. Photo by Glenn Grant
"Market times have shortened up. We're seeing multiple offers in some areas. If the property's priced right, it sells very quickly. Something that's priced high is going to sit on the market."
The agency has 26 licensees on its roster, about 12 of them full time, Riddle said. A few joined within the past year and the owners are looking to add more. One staff member was hired on the property management side, which accounts for about half of revenues and is poised for growth this year, she said.
Unlike many real estate offices, Lee Mather only holds open houses by request and gets new business mainly through referrals.
"Open houses are beneficial to agents, a great way to meet people," Riddle said. "But in our practice, we do almost 100 percent of sales by referral. We've been in business a long time, so we have a lot of people who recommend us. All of our agents subscribe to the philosophy of working by referral. We certainly welcome new customers, but we really value the people we've worked with in the past, and we rely on them to recommend us to their friends. So we'll do open houses when people want us to.
"The office is open seven days a week. We have very good walk-in traffic. We're very welcoming."