EASTON — Let’s do the math: Five decades of selling millions of dollars of real estate in four states, while mentoring countless new Realtors along the way.
From Detroit to Dallas with a stop in Florida before landing in Easton, Merrilie Ford’s enjoyment of selling dreams is apparent. The spry 83-year-old said two aspects of the industry kept her selling homes since 1971.
“I’m a people person and you’re your own boss,” she said, adding historically, real estate is one of the few occupations where women were in charge of their own hours and earnings. “After all these years, I realized how smart of a career this is for a woman.” she said.
“I think that’s why so many women are in the field. The flexibility to be able to make your own hours,” Ford said. A 2017 National Association of Realtors found 63 percent of Realtors are women. While women dominate the industry, they lack representation at executive levels, a Land Institute survey found.
Curiosity landed her in the industry. After leaving a position as a medical journal managing editor in Atlanta for Detroit, she enrolled in a real estate class just for fun. “I knew absolutely nothing about real estate. I didn’t know what a mortgage was,” she joked.
After acing the class, she started selling homes in the Detroit suburbs of Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham. Two big breaks came while in Detroit.
The first was her ability to sell nearly anything, including a house that was just placed on the market. When Ford sold the property and told the listing agent, who was impressed.
“She asked you sold that house? I said, ‘Yes and at listed price,’” Ford recalled with a slight smile of pride.
The second bit of luck came a short time later while on routine phone duty. She answered the phone, by the time she hung up, Ford eventually conducted 10 sales. “My boss couldn’t believe that,” she said with a bit of a laugh.
As the wife of an automotive executive, Ford moved to Florida from Detroit. She continued selling houses, but the Big D was her next stop. From 1975 to 1985, she sold homes in the epicenter of the oil boom. The Dallas lifestyle wasn’t just a popular prime-time television show.
“Dallas was rocking,” during those years, she said. Homes would go on the market in the morning and a contract was in the works by the afternoon. But it wasn’t the red-hot housing market that Ford recalled most, it was the heat. The 108-degree-plus heat.
“I can remember having to wear silk blouses and heels during home showings,” she said. However, before the home showing the brokers had to advertise the home.
“We were out there in three-inch high heels and pearls pouring a gallon jug of water on the ground before we could put up the sign,” she said. “It was so hot and dry.”
For a decade the Dallas housing market sizzled. Then with little warning oil crashed. As Dallas magazine recently wrote, “That was the thing about the bust of ’85, It was all the harder to countenance because the boom that preceded it had not merely been some blip on an economist’s computer screen, or the hackneyed contrivance of some news magazine writer in search of a cover story. The Sunbelt boom of the 70s and early ’80s had been a concrete and indubitable economic, political, and social movement, and, Chamber of Commerce conceit notwithstanding, it had always carried the intoxicating scent of permanence.”
On the cusp of the crash, Ford and her husband moved to Easton. “It was the water. My husband read an article in Holiday magazine about Easton and we moved here,” she said. Her husband, John, grew up in New Haven, Connecticut surrounded by water. The Yale graduate retired as an executive for the Chrysler Motor Corp.
Ford continued her passion in Easton, selling homes to life-long residents and newcomers alike. When asked about her most interesting home sold in Talbot County, she paused and then gave a smile. “It was the geodesic dome home, off of St. Michaels Road,” she said, before telling the story.
A couple called seeking a unique home in the county. While driving around she listened to the couple chat and their wants. It was during one of those chats she knew the couple needed to see the geodesic dome house.
A few weeks later, the house was off the market and the couple was moving in.
“Listening is key to selling homes,” she said.
Earlier this year, Ford decided half a century of selling homes was enough. She continues to mentor new Realtors, mostly females. She also continues her 20 year association with Talbot Mentors, a local organization aimed at helping youth become their best selves.
Ford, a towering woman with a voice as smooth as a good bordeaux, said in the past 50 years, many things have changed in the industry, from technology to marketing, but the ethics have remained. “You have to remember buying a home is the biggest transaction that most people will make,” she said, adding a Realtor doing due diligence is vital.
Reflecting on her career, Ford said she’e been lucky to have worked with good people. But also, “I’ve never put up with a lot of crap,” she said.
The cornerstone of her success, she said, is continuing education. She was an agent, then earned her broker licenses, then earned more certificates and honors.
Long and Foster, her brokerage, recently honored Ford for her 50 years of service, including being a past president and serving as a mentor to new agents.
Reflecting on her 50 years of selling homes, Ford said being presented The Community Service Award from Maryland Realtors is a highlight. The award recognizes a Realtor who goes above and beyond in volunteer work. She won the award in 2018 for her work with Character Counts, Talbot Mentors, Plein Air, Talbot Hospice Festival of Trees and other volunteer work she does in the community.
“The passion Merrilie has for the profession of real estate is evident and is only surpassed by the love she has for the community. I will miss seeing Merrilie at real estate functions. You could count on her to tour open houses; sign-up for more than the required 15-hours of continuing education and attend all networking events. She is funny, smart, a woman of her word, and embodies the attributes of a life achievement recipient,” said Debbie Leber, executive director of the Mid-Shore Board of Realtors, Inc.
But retirement is welcoming. “I’m glad I’m not selling right now. I wouldn’t have the energy” she said, referring to the sellers market the country is currently experiencing. Nationwide home prices are up 11.3 percent over the past year, according to CoreLogic.