Talking shop with Tom Kelsey, commercial property broker

Monday, June 29, 2009

Real estate never interested Tom Kelsey as a young man. But today the Scott City native is broker at Lorimont Place Ltd., a Cape Girardeau firm that handles mostly commercial property throughout the region. Business reporter Brian Blackwell sat down with Kelsey last week to discuss his life and the ins and outs of the commercial real estate business.

Q: What was your life like before real estate?

Tom Kelsey is a broker for Lorimont Place in Cape Girardeau. (Elizabeth Dodd)

A: I basically grew up in the Scott City area with the exception of living in California for a few years when I was very young. My dad was a real estate broker, home builder and developer, and I grew up in that world and at a young age was involved in working in the family businesses. My first job at 12 was mowing yards on the new homes that our construction company built. Later I took care of a self-serve car wash and then eventually I was running a small ice company the family owned at 16. It taught me much about work ethic, customer service and the basics of business. I eventually obtained my real estate license. As soon as I was old enough to qualify, I joined the family real estate company in a sales capacity. In my leisure time I enjoy traveling, the outdoors, gardening, caring for my yard and most water sports: skiing, fishing and swimming.

Q: Tell me something most people don't know about you.

A: When it was time in my teens to make a career decision, real estate didn't seem so appealing; in fact as a young man it seemed like a boring way to make a living. Even though it was clear that I had a spot in the family real estate business, I didn't know if I would like selling real estate or not. With encouragement from family and friends, I decided to give it a try and found over the years it is a wonderful profession and way of making a living. This is a people- and service-oriented business, and I have immensely enjoyed the business relationships and friends that I have made over the years.

Q: What motivates you to get up in the morning?

A: Every day is an opportunity to solve a problem or a challenge that a client or customer has. The only thing a real estate broker has to offer is service; their knowledge, know-how, experience and problem-solving skills. I have been very fortunate over the years to have some successes in this field that I work in and this motivates me to tackle the next project with more experience than the last. Something that is consistent in this business is that there are never two days alike, and that is also a motivation to see what today might bring. There is a real satisfaction to having happy clients at the end of a complicated and sometimes stressful real estate transaction.

Q: What are some organizations you're involved with here, statewide and nationally?

A: I am a member of all the various Realtor organizations, from the National Association of Realtors, Missouri and our local board including MLS. I also belong to Commercial Real Estate Alliance, which is a specialty Realtor section that benefits commercial real estate practitioners like myself. I am also a member of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce. As one of Jehovah's Witnesses I also serve as one of the local elders in the congregation. I volunteer to assist other congregations as a member of a Regional Building Committee. I am able to use my construction and real estate experience to coordinate site acquisition, constructing and remodeling Kingdom Halls throughout eastern Missouri, entirely accomplished through our members' donated labor. I also currently serve in the news service department for one our upcoming district conventions in St. Charles that will be attended by over 12,000 Witnesses this summer.

Q: If you could change anything in your life, what would it be?

A: I have learned later in life to be a better listener and wish I had learned that earlier in my personal life and business career. Communication is essential in any successful relationship. I found it is amazing what you can learn from attentive listening.

Q: If you could trade places with someone else for a day, who would it be and why?

A: A luxury yacht captain in the Caribbean, maybe for even a month or so. What's not to like about that?

Q: Who are the folks who have influenced you the most?

A: Obviously my family and congregation has had an essential impact on my life. My father helped me get started in the real estate business, and I will always be appreciative of that opportunity. I always remember my grandfather's words that have stuck with me over the years, "serve your client first and the compensation will always follow." That business philosophy has always served me well all of these years. My wonderful wife, Charlotte, of 35 years has also been very supportive, and I feel that any success that a man has, most probably there is a good woman behind him. Lastly, Earl Norman has been a close friend for over 40 years and also a business mentor to me for many years. I have learned much from his fine example, business optimism and appreciate the opportunities he has given me.

Q: How did you become interested in becoming a broker and why do you enjoy your job?

A: As previously mentioned, I guess you could say it was in my genes, since I grew up in a construction and real estate family. Even though at first I didn't think I would like the real estate business, it has been a very rewarding and enjoyable profession. Over the years, I have seen real estate people drop out of this business because they said it wasn't what they thought it would be. For myself, I can honestly say it has been more than I ever expected. Challenges make opportunities, problems beg for solutions and every day brings about both in our industry. Having successful business people seek you out for your real estate expertise is certainly an honor. The greatest compliment is when a banker, attorney, CPA or even a real estate competitor recommends you to his client as the best person to help them with their situation. How can that not be enjoyable and rewarding?

Q: What do you see as the state of our economy?

A: The financial and investment system are the barometer of the economy. Getting these problems rectified and on track will eventually bring about business and consumer confidence. I believe our conservative region of Southeast Missouri may weather this better than others and we may see that confidence recovers more quickly here than in other parts of the country. Even though mass foreclosures and depressed real estate values are happening in other parts of the country, we are not seeing that here, and that speaks well of the strength of our local economy.

Q: What do you see as the state of the commercial real estate industry?

A: There is no doubt the downturn with the worldwide economy has some effect on our local commercial real estate market. It is my opinion that we are more affected by what we see from the news media than what is actually happening in our local economy. With the buyer's market that we are experiencing, historic low interest rates and a large selection of properties, it is an excellent time to buy or lease. Some business owners have recognized that and made outstanding purchases and others continue in the search. However, many are concerned about what might happen in the future and are cautiously waiting. Until that confidence returns 100 percent, it will continue to impact our local commercial real estate market. I believe steady recovery will come with increased confidence.

Q: What are some unique deals you've handled through the years?

A: The largest building that I ever sold was a 10-acre warehouse building, 435,600 square feet under roof. It was interesting walking a prospective buyer completely through that enormous building. If we hadn't sold it pretty quick, I had contemplated bringing a golf cart out to use for property tours. I also sold a neighborhood shopping center a few years ago that the California investment group that bought it never actually came and looked at it. Everything was handled by e-mail, digital pictures and overnight mail. It really shows how the real estate business has changed in recent years and how technology has impacted our profession.

Q: Where do you see Cape Girardeau growing in the future?

A: In my opinion, we will see growth in all areas of Cape. Exciting things are happening from downtown to the west side. New commercial growth will continue on Mount Auburn, Siemers and all areas along the I-55 corridor. We are so pleased that professional and industrial prospects continue to look favorably at the Cape region for locating here. Quality of life, our transportation system and an available, reliable and dependable workforce do not go unnoticed by these prospects.

Q: What businesses would you like Cape Girardeau to have that aren't currently here?

A: We need more industry to support our local economy. These days industry can be anything from manufacturers, distribution centers, software and technology firms and other customer service-oriented businesses. I believe we will see a trend continue that many companies will want to relocate out of the large metropolitan cities to places like Cape Girardeau where they can find affordable property, dependable work force and quality of life. We are fortunate that our region has all of those components. It is an exciting time to be working in this field of commercial real estate to have the opportunity to accommodate the needs of these future buyers and tenants.

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