Real estate and devotion to the community runs deep in the Smades Henes family.
Helen Smades was a pioneer for women Realtors earning her license in 1953 and operating her own real estate company when the industry was dominated by men.
Daughter Debbie Smades Henes was her mother’s receptionist as a child. She was a teacher for the deaf in southern California for a few years (in case real estate didn’t work out) but eventually joined the family business finding a niche helping the area’s big employers sell Fresno – and homes – to new recruits.
Now Henes’ daughter, Tiffany, is in the game. She started early when her parents sent her to school with business cards in her backpack to give anyone who wanted to sell a house. She would earn a referral fee for every call that came in.
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“I really did not have a chance” to get out of the business, Tiffany Henes joked. “I always grew up thinking I would never do real estate, but here I am.”
The three generations of women Realtors spoke Wednesday at the Pay It Forward luncheon series hosted by the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State. The women talked about their experiences, how real estate has changed and about maintaining their family brand.
Smades got it all started decades ago earning her Realtor and brokers license despite being told that “real estate is a man’s business,” Smades said. “You should be home taking care of your children.”
“It was such a shock,” she said. “It was like I was hit by lightning and it took my breath away.”
She didn’t let it stop her and went on to open her own brokerage firm in 1958 earning a number of industry awards. Her company later joined the Prudential network and then was purchased by London Properties. Smades served in leadership positions for community organizations and was the first woman to receive the Leon S. Peter’s Award.
In the early days, before there were cell phones, Smades stored rolls of nickels and dimes in her car to rush to corner pay phones if she needed to make a call. Sales transactions back then were recorded on one piece of paper.
Debbie Smades Henes spoke about high interest rates between 18 and 20 percent on mortgage loans in the 1980s making it difficult for people to buy homes. By the 1990s, Fresno became known for being the most affordable place to buy a home and people flocked to the area to buy, she said.
The list of homes for sale back then was printed in a book every two weeks. Realtors had to call and verify that houses on the list were still for sale, Smades Henes said. The introduction of the fax machine became the way of the future, she joked.
Tiffany Henes now uses the Internet for everything – storing hundreds of sales documents for one transaction and emailing paperwork to clients for signatures. It can be done when you’re on vacation from your hotel room, she said.
Real estate requires around the clock work, the women admit, but it also offers flexibility giving them time over the years to be class room mom, Girl Scout leader, to go vacations, and more.
“It’s been heartwarming to sell Fresno,” Smades Henes said.