Real estate investor overcomes loss of mother her biggest supporter to thrive in business and life
By VICTORIA HILES
Special to The Post and Courier
When personal tragedy strikes, some people modify or cancel daily outings because the thought of showing emotion in public is too great.
Others believe surrounding themselves with people is the way to heal.
Standing nearly 6 feet tall in high heels, wearing a fire-engine red, cropped trench coat and arms outstretched to hug someone she has never met, you wouldn’t think this woman has lost her mother two-and-a-half-months ago.
Her appearance, attitude and the way she carries herself suggests she’s coping with loss by celebrating life, including her work, instead of mourning.
HMLJ Properties owner and real estate agent Denise Rush smiles wide, raising her hands to frame her face when talking about her mother — her biggest supporter.
“Mom always said, ‘Pray about it first, then go after it yourself. Life throws everything at you but you can’t make excuses. Education is key: You don’t have to get your doctoral degree, just make sure you’re the best at what you’re doing,’” Rush says.
Rush made sure she excelled in her real estate career by interning for some of the top real estate investors and agents in the country. They include Alan Cowgill, known for his “real estate boot camp”; and real estate trainer and coach Ron Legrand.
But it’s her mother who encouraged, if not insisted, she excel in the classroom as she believed it was the best way to ensure success later in life. “My mother is my heart — the heart of everything,” Rush says. “I didn’t want to ever get in trouble in grade school for fear of disappointing my mother. That has always kept me focused.”
Rush began her professional career teaching physical education at Sanders-Clyde Elementary School in downtown Charleston. Like many inner-city schools, Sanders-Clyde challenged Rush in ways she didn’t expect. For instance, getting her students’ parents involved in the school and in their child’s education was a task that motivated her just as much as teaching her students.
It was this teaching experience that showed Rush her own strength and what inspired her to try tackling a new goal.
“If I can teach downtown and make it, I can teach anywhere. When I left there I had the confidence to teach anywhere. I enjoyed it there but wanted to coach so I left,” Rush says.
Her coaching debut began at Westview Middle School where she became the first women’s tennis coach in the school’s history.
Knowing all eyes were on her and how she would handle the pressure that comes with being a rookie coach, Rush set out to impress. Keeping her mother’s education motto in mind, Rush bought every book available on tennis in hopes that studying ground strokes on paper in addition to practicing would help her team succeed.
Her girls did not win many games their first year, but they did gain a take-away that pleased Rush.
“My kids (students) listen to me because I tell them I don’t know everything, but I’ll always come back with an answer,” Rush says.
Riding a feel-good teaching and coaching wave, Rush had no plans to leave Westview until she was informed her job might not be available the following year because her class, Health Education, was being put back into the science classes.
She landed at Cainhoy Elementary where she teaches physical education from kindergarten through eighth grade, marking 10 years there this year. Before Rush left Westview, she bought her first real estate property, although she admits she didn’t do so well at it. Because being a novice anything is not Rush’s style, she decided to become an expert in real estate. She reached out to local real estate developer Bob Wallace, who built Bi-Lo grocery stores in Charleston. He taught her the basics and she listened.
Rush’s desire to study real estate was fueled further when the subject affected her in a personal way. “I wanted to get into real estate because people I knew, some of my own family members, were losing their homes, but I didn’t understand why,” Rush says.
Like she did for her tennis students, Rush finds answers and passes them on to clients. She owns HMLJ Properties, specializing in residential real estate in South Carolina and North Carolina.
Her independence may come naturally. Yet Rush is wise enough to know that to stay successful in the competitive real estate market, you need to know when to ask for help. She recently hired two people to help run her virtual office — an assistant and a receptionist.
According to Rush, they relieve her from updating her website and fielding phone calls so she can concentrate on meeting with her clients face-to-face for showings or attending real estate meetings, which she believes is an important part of being successful in today’s market.
“It’s ever-changing. You can’t sit back, you have to stay attuned of what techniques to use in that market. If we have a buyer or a seller, just being able to steer them in the direction — for who can help them if we cannot? For instance, we don’t do a lot of short sales but people remember how they were treated,” Rush says.
Her sense of unity within the local real estate community guides her choices, as she believes that there should be as much focus on her own clients as the ones she recommends to her colleagues.
Rush believes in working to gain the respect of referrals because it is an untapped resource that has great returns, whether the benefit is financial or not. Either way, she sees the return as a positive one.
Another return she taps often is an unlikely one: her own clients. Rush encourages her renters to consider becoming buyers and explains the value in owning a home as an investment property. She even shares her own experience as leverage.
Whether she makes the sale or not, Rush succeeds in introducing the idea of owning a home to her renters, and it is her ability to see these kinds of lurking possibilities that keeps her ahead. The other part, she says, is getting her name heard.
“Every day I try to shake 10 people’s hands and get a business card in their hand. That’s my goal every day,” Rush says.
Applying personal touches to marketing her business is part of what draws students and clients to work with her. Knowing how to show clients she cares about their best interests is another talent Rush has. She does this by continuing her real estate education and using her clients’ needs as a baseline for creating future goals for HMLJ Properties.
“I’d like to continue growing,” Rush says. “We’ve got to accept criticism and be in a position to be transaction engineers for buyers and sellers of a property.”
Victoria Hiles is a freelance writer who resides in Charleston.