Pam McDowell-Brooks loves her location, location, location By Jennifer Stanley
The blue and white signs can be seen all over Conway, in front of residential homes, commercial property, on television, and in the papers; Pam McDowell Properties is everywhere. With the amount of exposure her name receives, one expects Pam herself to be larger than life. So when I am shown to her office off Hogan Lane, I immediately notice her calming, almost reflective demeanor. She politely asks if I need anything, as we settle into a comfortable conference room, and I am instantly at ease with her.
Pam was raised in Clarksville, Arkansas, and she remained there until she moved to Conway in 1971. She moved to Conway because her then-spouse was in sales, and Conway was right in the center of Arkansas.
When asked how she got her start in real estate, Pam says, "I bought my first house in 1972, sold it; I bought my next house in 1974, sold it; bought the next one in 1977, and by that time, I had gained a genuine interest in buying and selling real estate. I got my license soon after, then went to work for Pete Hart and Betty Dunaway." She was employed by them for a couple of years and says, "I had the highest respect for Pete and sincerely respect Betty as well. They were wonderful to work for." Pam still remembers her first sale, to Bob and Armilda McCormack when he came to Conway to work for the University of Central Arkansas. "They just walked in, and we are still friends to this day."
Upon leaving, Pam, along with Camilla Marr, Freda Thompson, Frank Shaw, and Ken Stewart, started Conway Real Estate Group. Pam enjoyed her work thoroughly but laughingly says the partnership ended when interest rates hit 20% in 1982; they made the decision to sell their business, and Pam decided to try other ventures.
Her family, along with Bill and Ouida Wright, built Morningside Corner, a convenience store at the intersection of Prince Street and Morningside in Conway. "I worked like a dog for two years there. If you ever think real estate is hard, get yourself a convenience store," she says. She worked long hours on her feet, seven days a week. "The store did really well because West Conway wasn't what it is now. We were the convenience store, the post office, and a gas station." They sold Morningside Corner after two years and built another convenience store on Highway 65 North, which she operated for one year. Then, she sighs, "I prayed to God that if he would send a buyer, I would never own another convenience store in my life, and he did, and I keep my promises!"
After her foray into convenience stores, Pam felt that she needed a reprieve. However, during this time, Doris Underwood, then with Coldwell Banker, called Pam almost daily, encouraging her to come back to real estate and work with her. Pam, realizing her heart was really in real estate, eventually agreed, going to work for Doris in 1989 and staying with her until the sale of her business. "It was also during this period that real estate in Conway started to boom," says Pam.
Soon after the agency she was working for sold in 1995, Pam was approached by Hal Crafton with the prospect of starting a real estate company to market his properties. Thus the partnership forming Pam McDowell Properties was born: Pam, her husband, Scott Brooks, Hal Crafton, and Rush Harding. Of the lengthy partnership, Pam states, "Hal and Rush are fabulous to work with and are just great people. We are so fortunate."
At the company's inception, Pam brought Pat Edwards and Teresa Vaughn with her from Coldwell Banker, and they are still with Pam McDowell Properties today. She also quickly hired Velda Lueders as the office manager, and in short order, persuaded her to obtain her real estate license, and she joined the sales team at McDowell. When asked about the unusually long tenure for her agents, Pam says humbly, "You have to be fair in everything you do. We have the same rules for every agent, and we are very fair." That mantra has served her well.
Pam was inspired by Robert Ott to add insurance services to Pam McDowell Properties. "I had always admired Mr. Ott and the way he combined insurance and real estate to compliment each other. So in 2001, I convinced my husband, Scott Brooks, to leave the mortgage business and obtain his insurance and securities licenses." Scott also acted as a real estate broker, and still does, which has tremendously helped with the growing needs of Pam McDowell Properties. It has also provided customers with one-stop shopping for their home buying and insuring needs.
When asked about the biggest challenge for Pam McDowell Properties thus far, Pam answers quickly, "Oh, definitely the last three years. And I understand people's hesitancy to invest in anything right now. At a time when it is a stretch to purchase basic items, real estate is definitely going to be affected. People are saving and reducing their debts right now." Despite the natural setbacks of a struggling economy, Pam McDowell Properties has not been forced to make the cuts many agencies have, primarily in their continued ability to market for their clients.
When asked about this real estate recession juxtaposed with the interest rate jump in the 1980s, Pam says the main difference is the change in times. "In the 80s and before, people didn't expect to own a home as soon as they got out of college. In 20 years, we've evolved from thinking that you save, you establish, you have 20% to put down, or you don't buy a house. Now we expect for there to be a way for everyone to buy a home, and our government has created a philosophy that everyone is entitled to own a home. This thinking backfired in many ways. When you have irresponsible lending practices, it comes back around. Now we are trying to balance that out, and lending practices are too strict. We are hoping for a middle-of-the-road solution where someone with decent credit who pays their bills on time should be able to own a home."
In addition to the financial changes in real estate, Pam says the internet has revolutionized the way business is conducted more than any other change. Most buyers who come to her are very savvy about the Conway real estate market and what they want and expect, courtesy of the internet. "Out-of-town buyers sometimes know as much about Conway as we do," she laughs. Pam believes at least 95% of her clients have utilized the internet in some form in their home search and says the technology transcends age.
Pam largely attributes Pam McDowell Properties' staying power throughout the many environmental changes to one thing: their agents. "Our agents set us apart. We are a family, and like family, we may argue amongst ourselves but we are fiercely loyal to each other. We are very caring and charitable and have a great mix of people."
As for the future of real estate in Faulkner County, Pam states the area's market values have retained well. "We have not seen an increase in property value; we have seen a flat market. In some cases where individuals have to resell very quickly, there may be a loss, but that is to be expected." She cites the new business generated from Hewlett-Packard and Southwestern Energy and their various vendors as a great enhancement to the area real estate market.
Pam goes on to say that most clients are purchasing existing homes. These homes are selling at a greater pace than new construction because fewer new homes are being financed and built. Pam McDowell Properties is currently marketing new construction homes in two West Conway areas - Chappell Creek and Spencer's Mountain. Despite existing homes being a commodity in the current market, they are still on the market longer, and Pam states, "The higher the home price, the longer it is on the market. There is a buyer; you just have to wait it out."
Pam also encourages sellers to price their homes reasonably up front and be realistic about their needs. Buyers are bargain hunters right now. They want to feel like they are getting a good deal for the money. In that same sense, she encourages buyers to be realistic about their needs and wants and convey those clearly to the agent.
When asked about the future of Pam McDowell Properties, Pam responds enthusiastically, "Conway is such a good place to be. Conway is incredible. We have so much going for us. We have three colleges, and a real community sprit. You can look far and wide and not find a better place to live. The schools are good; we have excellent restaurants. The downtown is beautiful. The farmer's market is now downtown." Pam also expresses that the attitude in Conway right now is so positive and there is such an emphasis on health and wellness that younger people are attracted to the area, which brings in new home buyers. Pam states, "We have friends from Little Rock that come into Conway to eat dinner now. It is something that was way overdue. And it is only going to get better."