Editor’s Note: This is the tenth installment in the “Industry Warriors” series, a collection of profiles on veteran real estate professionals and lenders who produced high volumes pre-9/11 and pre-2008, weathered those economic downturns and rebounded even stronger.
Real estate was a side hustle for Thomas Blanchard when he entered the industry in 1981 — a means to earn money while he trained to be a paramedic, firefighter and policeman.
After working full-time as a paramedic in Los Angeles County and Las Vegas (even serving ringside for heavyweight fights with Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield), he stepped back into real estate in 1995.
“After a while of being a paramedic, your body starts giving way,” Blanchard said. “I had to figure out another way that I could make ends meet. I went back to what I originally had done, and that was real estate.”
As he built his career in Las Vegas, he honed a niche in real estate owned, or REO, properties seized by banks and lenders.
“It’s hard to compete when everybody’s trying to compete for the same piece of the pie. I’m always one that’s trying to figure out, ‘If everybody’s eating this section of the pie, why not go over to this other section that no one’s eating? It’ll be a lot more to eat from,’” he said. “I started trying to talk to banks because no one knew back then what REO was, and that’s what I focused on, dealing with banks. People will always have situations where they would come up short, especially in Las Vegas.”
Now Blanchard serves as the president of Las Vegas Realtors and a sales director for Renters Warehouse, a real estate investment services and property management company that manages single-family rentals.
What’s been particularly poignant about Blanchard’s community are its numbers so far for this year. In March, existing home prices in southern Nevada hit an all-time record of $319,000, up 6.3% from the previous March, according to Las Vegas Realtors data. Sales were up 5.2% for home and 11.7% for condos and townhomes. And despite COVID-19 closing the Las Vegas Strip and halting the tourism industry, an economic driver for the community, Blanchard said the numbers show how diverse Las Vegas has become.
“It takes 45, 60 days for a transaction to go through, so sales that were put into the escrow in January and February are closing in March and April,” Blanchard said. “We had a great January. We had an even better February. We would have had an explosive March. Nothing’s really making me scared for April.”
HousingWire spoke to Blanchard about his experience maneuvering past economic downturns and his advice for navigating today’s market.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HousingWire: What are you doing within your real estate business to adapt to the current market situation?
Thomas Blanchard: We’re not sitting at home, binge-watching Netflix. We’re not sitting at home, feeling sorry for ourselves. We’re looking for avenues that other people aren’t doing. We’re sticking to a schedule. We’re not allowing the distractions of being home take us away from what we have to do every single day to keep moving forward.
That’s probably been the biggest thing I’ve stressed with everybody that’s working for me because it’s so easy to just take it easy, because you think everybody else is. But the fact of the matter is, the ones that are doing business, are doing business because they’re still at it. They’re not sitting at home. They’re still making calls. They’re still going out there and sending virtual tours, making contacts, doing what they still need to do every single day to make sure that they’re able to put money in the bank and food on the table.
HW: How are you encouraging your team to stay positive during this time?
TB: Everybody is sitting on a list — of people they’ve always been trying to get ahold of, that they keep putting off from calling, or sending that email — that’s in a drawer somewhere or sitting in their computer that they never have gotten to because they’ve tried it, they haven’t gotten any responses because no one was home. Right now, everybody and their brother are sitting at home, and they need to make those calls now. They’re gonna answer the phone because there’s no one else to talk to. They’re answering their emails because they’re sitting there on their computers, doing Zoom conferences to everybody else.
Now, more than ever, is the time to send the emails and to make the calls that you normally have tried and didn’t get the results that you wanted. You’ll get the results now because they’re on the other end, waiting for your call. It is simple: ‘Hey, how you doing? Just checking up on how you doing during craziness?’ How easy is that? It’s not, ‘Are you looking to buy and sell your house?’ They know you’re in real estate. The next question they’re gonna ask you is something really simple: ‘How are you? How’s real estate?’ That’s on their mind anyway, because that’s all they ever see is the ‘When’s the crash going to happen?’ The questions are going to come pouring out of their mouth.
This is probably the easiest time to make a call and get business than ever in history, and it’s not about making the call and making the sale right now. It’s about building up the pipeline so that you have business on the backside of this epidemic. That’s the key. When this wave goes through this country, the backside’s going to be a burner. If you’re not ready and on that surfboard, ready to ride the wave of business, then you’re just going to be doing flips upon flips in the whitewater of the crashing wave.
HW: How are you staying positive?
TB: I’m a pretty positive person because I’ve seen in my background of being a paramedic, I’ve seen the depths of humanity. Just to hear the birds chirping outside is enough to keep me positive, and I’m a pretty animated person. Being able to answer questions and provide people with a path and serving in the capacity that I can still serve, fills me up. That provides me with all the energy I need to keep on going.
HW: What did you do in past economic shocks to successfully navigate the downturns?
TB: I was positioned on my surfboard, ready to take the wave of REOs, because I already was in that place. That wave of business, I rode that pipeline all the way in. The years of ’07, ’08 were historical years for me. I had 400-plus properties listed and turning over per month.
HW: That goes back to what you said about looking for opportunities where other people weren’t going. How did you find buyers during that time for the properties?
Buyers were coming to me because we had the inventory. If you were an investor looking to purchase and try to take advantage of that current market, you wanted to go to the source. The source was the person that had the properties on the market. My whole team was built to handle the people wanting to buy the properties that we had on the market.
HW: The spring buying season has been drastically impacted throughout the country. How have the last few weeks been looking in the Vegas market? Are you still seeing a pipeline of people looking for houses and condos?
TB: This current crisis has taken out those buyers that were just looking, and it’s taken out those happenstance kind of purchases, those buyers that were, ‘If I find the right house, I’ll buy it.’ The buyers that are out there right now are literally risking their life going out and seeing a house. So they really have to buy, let’s face it.
They’re donning masks and gloves and putting on hazmat suits, walking around with booties through somebody else’s house that may be contaminated with the COVID-19 virus, not trying to touch anything so they don’t get contaminated and coming back out being washed down with a Clorox wipe.
It’s going to take away a certain amount of the sales, but there are buyers that want to purchase, can purchase, and are purchasing. And the sellers — our fallout of listings has been lower so far on a week-to-week basis in 2020, so far in April than it was in 2019. Less listings have been withdrawn in 2020 than they were in 2019. I expect our available housing count to be going up in April. I expect sales probably to be a little bit less than they were in 2019, but I still expect them to be a decent number, not a big number.
As some of the inventory in the lower priced homes shrinks — it’s funny to say this — I expect, potentially, to see our median price range go up even further as more expensive homes sell because that’s what’s available in the market. It’s going to be really weird to see and try to explain the numbers come April, May, even June.
HW: Las Vegas has already had limited inventory, right?
TB: We’ve had a housing shortage. We were down to 1.7 months of inventory. We may have gone up to almost two months in March.
HW: What piece of advice from your history in downturns would you give to others in your field trying to navigate COVID-19?
TB: Be inventive. Do what everybody else isn’t. Keep a schedule. It’s too easy to get off schedule. Maintain a schedule, get up, shower because otherwise you’re going to get up, you’re going to get a cup of coffee, you’re going to go sit down on the living room sofa, you’re gonna turn the TV on, and the next thing you know, it’s going to be 10 o’clock. You’re going to go, ‘Oh, the day’s already screwed. Forget it.’ Get up, take a shower. Do your morning routine as if you were going to go to work, and go somewhere else other than the sofa. Go to the kitchen table. Go to the living room table. Go to your home office. Go somewhere that sets your mind as if you’re going to work. Put your mind into it, and you’ll be into it.