AgentOwned broker-in-charge follows up 24-year Coast Guard tour with engaging real estate career

John Crowley was a career Coast Guard officer who got into real estate when the Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard closed. Today he is broker-in-charge of AgentOwned Realty on the Isle of Palms (Jim Parker/Staff 5-23-12).

By JIM PARKER The Post and Courier

Maybe it was serving as a 28-year-old commanding officer at Marcus Island, Japan, dubbed “the most isolated inhabited island in the world.”

Or watching from Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed, and later, being on the inside as the Charleston Naval Base and Shipyard closed for good.

Whatever the case, John Crowley can speak from experience — whether about his military background or his job for the past 17 years in the real estate industry.

“It’s been tough for six or seven years,” acknowledges Crowley, 60, who is broker-in-charge of AgentOwned Realty on the Isle of Palms.

Yet he’s witnessed cases that haven’t been seen since the market’s heady times in the mid 2000s. They include multiple offers on a house, offers sight unseen, homes selling within days of being listed.

The market resurgence has taken place in just the past 90 days, Crowley says. He believes that even the most strident skeptic would be hard-pressed to see a continuation of the lengthy housing downturn.

“I don’t think the market’s ‘coming back,’” he says. “It’s back.”

Crowley oversees a 22-agent office based at 1400 Palm Blvd. Yet listings are generated from all over metro Charleston, thanks to a veteran crop of Realtors.

He says about two-thirds of the business stems from places other than the Isle of Palms, such as neighboring Mount Pleasant but also “in Goose Creek, Cross, West Ashley.” What helps is the office is at the foot of the Isle of Palms connector, making travel easy.

Crowley, a Massachusetts native, has resided in the Charleston area longer than any place he has lived. Yet originally, he had planned a short stay in South Carolina in the early 1990s before returning to San Francisco where he and wife Lisa had a home.

He was a cadet for four years at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., graduating in 1975, then served on the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton in Boston and at the Coast Guard Training Center in Alameda, Calif., as a military indoctrination officer at “boot camp.”

That’s when he landed the post at Coast Guard LORAN Station on the Japanese island, which is 600 miles from its closest neighbor Iwo Jima.

From there, he was executive officer for the Coast Guard Vehicle Traffic Service in San Francisco, which he describes as “like air traffic control for ships.”

After a stint in Adak, Alaska, with Maritime Defense Zone Sector Aleutians, he was supervisor of the Coast Guard Pacific Area command and rescue coordination centers in Alameda.

Then he was called to Maritime Defense Zone Sector Six at Charleston Naval Base as planner for coastal defense of the Southeastern U.S.

Crowley concedes he “fell in love’ with the Charleston area. At the same time, he was in the Navy Admiral’s office when word came that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission planned to shut down the Charleston operation.

Then, when the Coast Guard ship Dallas arrived in the Lowcountry bringing 300 families from its previous deployment in New York, Crowley figured that real estate was a good career move. He retired as Coast Guard commander in 1995.

“My Dad was a retired military officer. He went into real estate. I guess it’s a predestination genealogical thing,” he quipped.

Crowley joined what was then Michael O’Shaughnessy’s Coldwell Banker brokerage in the Charleston area, which later became Prudential Carolina and now Carolina One Real Estate. For awhile, he trained new agents at the Coleman Boulevard office in Mount Pleasant. “It was lots of energy,” he says, and it kept him from getting in a rut. Besides, the training was during the housing boom, so most of the agents were “successful,” he says.

Crowley left three-and-a-half years ago to join AgentOwned Realty. “I love it,” he says. “I’ve got the autonomy here and the added flexibility of being part owner of the company.”

The real estate business is always changing, which keeps the work interesting. “At the beginning of the day, you have an idea what’s going on. But things come up,” he says.

The Isle of Palms office also heads up a vacation rental program, handling 25 or so properties for lease while educating homeowners on how to rent out their beach houses during the tourism months, he says.

Crowley lives in Mount Pleasant with Lisa, a hotel manager; and sons Benjamin, 17, a junior at Wando High School; and Nicholas, 12, a seventh grader at Laing Middle School.

Looking ahead, the broker associate likes what he sees. “I’m thinking we are going back to the (pre-downturn housing) sales volume in 2003-06.”

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Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or