Bif Ward has racked up some impressive numbers during her 26 years in residential real estate, and many think that's because she caters exclusively to A-list clientele with pricey properties to buy and sell.
But Ward is smart enough to know that brokering only for corporate bigwigs and local celebrities would get her nowhere fast, especially in a town where the average home price is just over $162,000.
"All these expensive listings-if that's all I did, I'd be broke," said the multiple associate of the year for locally based F.C. Tucker Co. The average sale price of her 95 listings last year was $719,379.
Ward lists starter homes, multi-million dollar mansions and everything in between. She tallied $68 million in sales last year, up from $44 million in 2003, and so far this year has completed $45 million in transactions. She has been Tucker's No. 1 agent for 18 years.
She's earned the respect of her clients, her employers, and perhaps most important, her competitors. Dick Richwine of Century 21 Realty Group I-the only local agent to surpass Ward in sales last year-considers her a "worthy adversary."
"I don't know anyone who has more passion for the business than Bif," he said.
Like Richwine, Ward does handle a great deal of high-end listings, including a $2.7 million property last year. Specializing in that area of the market is a tall order at a time when $1 million-plus homes are moving painfully slow. There are more than 150 million-dollar homes now for sale in the Indianapolis area, causing headaches for sellers and agents alike.
"There's no large businesses coming to town," Ward said. "That's why we have such an abundance of listings."
Ward loves her job, but admits a sluggish market is a challenge she'd rather not face. "The hardest part is keeping people happy," she said. "When the market is slow, how do you explain to people why they don't have any showings? It just makes people grumpy."
Realtor of all trades
In good times and in bad, Ward functions as much more than a real estate agent. To her clients, she's a part-time interior decorator, financial adviser, cheerleader and therapist. It's a skill set that's been essential to her success.
"My job is a lot of handling. It's a total people business. It's the most personal business I know," she said.
When Henry and Betty Pitt were in the process of relocating from Milwaukee last year, they signed on with Ward to find an old home in a historic neighborhood. She was just the ticket for the busy couple.
"My husband is a surgeon, and he had only so much time to do this, so we needed to be quick and efficient. Bif was able to fine-tune the process and show us what we wanted to see," said Betty.
She also recalls asking Ward for referrals on contractors and decorators to help refurbish their Meridian Kessler home, and the result was immediate. "I told her what I wanted, and it was like the army had landed," she said.
Catering to a client's every need is good for business, but it leaves little time for anything else. At 60, Ward doesn't see slowing the pace of her around-the clock career.
"You don't have a life, because it's day and night," she admitted.
Ward-whose unusual first name was fashioned from the initials of her maiden name, Barbara Irene Fisher-honed her sales skills as a sales associate with William H. Block Co. She started working at the downtown department store while attending North Central High School, then returned after earning a marketing degree from the University of Miami in Florida.
The irony is that Ward decided to switch to real estate because she thought it would allow her greater flexibility in her personal life. "I wanted to spend more time at home with my family. Isn't that funny?"
At the time she entered the field in 1979, Ward was married and the mother of two small daughters. She and her husband divorced in 1988, but she didn't slow down then either.
'Epitome of 24-7'
But like most working women must do, Ward juggled her schedule to make sure she wouldn't have to make sacrifices she would regret later. "I would work all day until 3, go home to watch my daughters get off the school bus, and be back at work by 7 at night," she said, adding that she typically hit the grocery store around 2 a.m.
Now that her children are grown-daughter Casey, 32, works with Ward in her office and daughter Robyn, 29, lives and works in New York-Ward still pushes the limits.
"I've not known many people in my life with that kind of work ethic," said Jim Litten, president of F.C. Tucker's residential real estate services division. "Very seldom is she walking in and out of our building and not on her cell phone. She is the epitome of 24-7."
The juggling act has been even tougher lately, with Ward helping to plan her daughter's recent wedding and moving herself to a new home.
Hard work aside, Ward says her greatest asset as a salesperson is her ability to listen. "If you can listen first, you can figure out what that client wants and then you can take it from there," she said.
She also credits sheer determination with her ability to get things done. "I'm tenacious," Ward said. "I don't do 'That won't happen,' and I don't do 'fine.' I don't give up."
A little publicity doesn't hurt, either. Several years ago, a client of Ward's convinced her to advertise a listing at a local movie theater. She kept doing it, and since then has been known to moviegoers citywide as the Realtor with the brunette bob and interesting name.
Ward has wanted to curtail her moviescreen advertising simply because she doesn't think she needs it anymore. But she's become too well known for it to stop now. "If I wasn't up there," she said, "people would wonder what happened to me."
With 26 years of residential real estate experience, Bif Ward understands that success lies in selling homes in all price ranges and catering to the needs of clients.