An Interview with an Industry Icon
August 15, 2014
By: Tricia Covert
As the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business celebrates its 45th anniversary this month, I was looking for someone who could give great meaning to this milestone event. Bill Gray was the obvious choice. Most people in the industry are very familiar with Bill’s contribution to the Arizona real estate market. He’s often called an expert and it’s not uncommon to hear Bill referred to as an “Icon of Arizona Real Estate” by professionals nationwide as well as state officials. In 2013, Bill was appointed by Governor Jan Brewer to the Real Estate Advisory Board. He has been a wealth of knowledge for the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business and a resource to the real estate community.
After college, Bill worked as a teacher for two local high schools in the valley, Brophy and Xavier College Preparatory. He taught high school for 5 years before he decided to get his real estate license at the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business. He fell in love with the school and knew it was where he wanted to spend the rest of his career. Bill became a teacher with the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business in 1978 and later the owner in the early 1980s to 2007.
I had the honor of interviewing Bill to learn about his current views and experiences. I found that Bill is not only a savvy business person – but he is a teacher in its purest sense. He enjoys sharing his experiences and information with others, which is very apparent when you interact with him.
What was the real estate market like in Arizona when you came to the school in 1978?
Interest rates were 16 percent and despite that, people were still buying real estate. An expensive house would have been $100,000; however, a nice starter home would cost under $20,000.
Most real estate firms were local family owned companies such as Tom Fannin, Ed Post, Clements Realty, Bud Melcher and Realty Executives, just to name a few.
What was it like to be a real estate agent at that time?
Every brokerage company had its own purchase contracts. Agents had to learn a variety of different contracts and forms. A very common method of financing was seller carry backs.
We didn’t have cell phones or computers, so a pocketful of change and the corner pay phone was our greatest allies. The MLS book came out once a week and each area of town would have a special edition. Calculators were just beginning to appear on the scene, but they definitely were not allowed when taking the state exam. Agency law was a foreign concept. We didn’t represent the buyer or seller only; we did the best job for all parties.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in the industry since that time?
Agent “branding” and teams is a big change: we never had agents or companies do that before. In many cases, the agent or team is the prominent feature in advertising. We would receive current updates at the weekly office meeting. Now we have updates 24/7. The biggest challenge for today’s agent is to discern what is important and not get caught up in the overwhelming minutia.
Over the last several decades, you must have experienced various trends in the Arizona market, what is one of the most recent trends?
In the past, real estate cycles in Arizona occur every 7 to 10 years. Today, we’re seeing a different type of buyer. Today’s buyer would like the urban experience; being close to everything is important. The problem is that urban living can be more expensive than living in the suburbs. Those who moved to the outskirts of the city a few years ago are looking to move closer in the city to take advantage of the amenities.
What is your opinion of the market in Arizona today and what are your predications for times ahead?
Arizona has had a track record of bringing in one million people every ten years. People move here for the qualities Arizona has to offer. Real estate is a by-product of a growing and productive state. At the moment, ownership of housing is being delayed. However, that will change. The rental market is strong, but once jobs, credit and income stabilize, the demand for housing will be strong. Arizona has a favorable business climate for young entrepreneurs and with a median age of 35.9 years, we will attract new businesses with fresh ideas.
What hurdles should professionals prepare for in the housing industry?
The most important question to ask yourself is “are you in the right place?” Many people give up on a career, not because of the career itself, but because they are in the wrong place. It can be as simple as changing companies or selecting a new discipline within the career. You will excel when you find a niche, where your talents can be used. I have seen people fail at selling houses, but excel in commercial real estate. Not long ago, a person came to me and said, “I have been in property management for 20 years and I love it.” She found her place.
What has been your experience with being a teacher at the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business?
It’s the greatest experience I ever had. Learning from others and sharing information is an experience like no other. What has always stayed the same at this school are the people who come here to teach. A teacher shares information and has a goal to help people learn. That’s what this school is all about. You have to be curious and motivate others to want to be curious. It’s all about an atmosphere of learning.
You built the Scottsdale campus from the ground up. Why did you choose to build a new school and can you describe your experience?
The main reason I built the Scottsdale campus is growth. When I took over the school, my goal was to create an experience similar to a community college, where there are courses tailored to specialized fields. There isn’t a standard answer in this industry that fits all situations and the curriculum needed to cater to that. Today we are in a market of specialization and the courses taught need to be as diverse as the market.
Agents today are problem solvers and they expect current, timely and relevant information that will help them succeed.
We outgrew our previous location and there was a need for a bigger campus. Building this campus was the most challenging and the most rewarding experience for me.
Like any other business it takes time to build a good reputation and we are proud of the reputation we have earned after 45 years.
The Arizona Journal of Real Estate & Business was also created by you in 1987. What was your goal with the publication?
The purpose of the Journal was to provide a monthly publication that not only included the course schedules but relevant information that the business community could use. Over time, the Journal was looked upon as the ‘go to’ source for up to date court cases, current legal issues, and in depth articles exploring the issues of the day. The Journal was read by attorneys, legislators, accountants, lenders, real estate professionals and the general public. The large circulation gave the school a far reaching presence as a reliable source of information.
It’s obvious you love the profession and the industry, what would you say to people who are not yet in the industry and are thinking about getting into it?
Real estate is one of those areas that still remains a free enterprise. It’s difficult to find a profession that has not been over regulated or legislated out of business. A person can start a business with little money in this industry and have unlimited, upside potential. You become a problem solver and your value will be determined by your ability to solve another person’s problem. Your value will also be based on your experience and the more experience, the more value you can bring to others. What makes real estate such a great profession is that it’s open to everyone. You create your own value and others will reward you for it.
What was your motivation for creating the course that you will teach at our new NW Valley campus on September 15, “How to Be Successful in Anything?”
It was a personal passion. I had a desire to create a program to share my experience with others. This course isn’t really a career course, but more of a personal growth lesson – we all need that. It’s an aerial view of life and what’s really important.
Bill Gray’s reputation in Arizona real estate has been consistently strong over the decades. It’s clear to see why he’s remained the school’s most requested teacher for both on campus and off-site continuing education – always drawing a crowd. Seasoned professionals know him well and new professionals soon are exposed to his positive influence. Arizona School of Real Estate & Business brings 45 years of quality education to the Arizona market. Bill Gray’s 30-plus-year involvement continues to set the bar for what professionals should expect from a real estate learning institution.
Tricia Covert is the Marketing Manager for the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business. She has more than fifteen years of marketing experience working in various industries at a corporate and small business level.