Positive outlook helps veteran broker balance real estate deals, grandkids, civic involvement

Barbara Brown has headed her own real estate business for 10 years after spending two decades with various local offices.

Jim Parker

Waiting on an interviewer who was running behind, Barbara Brown could be excused if she was a bit restless.

Instead, she was grateful the restaurant waitress was “plying” her with cups of hot tea, and she even took time to compliment an employee who was vacuuming the floor.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize today that life is a gift. You’ve got to enjoy it,” says Brown, a native of England who has 30 years background in the real estate field in the Charleston area.

For the past decade, she has run her one-person venture, Barbara Brown Real Estate, after spending 20 years with various agencies building client relationships. She’s also been active in the community, notably with local non-profit The Hat Divas Society Inc.

All that from someone who devoted years to raising her three children, then landing a job through an acquaintance as office manager at Hill-Rom burn bed manufacturer for five years.

Curiously, she only entered real estate after husband Colin Brown suggested that “your time will be your own and you’ll have time to travel.” Brown laughs, because she’s had little chance for either. But she notes, “It turned out to be a good match.”

Her first gig was with the local Better Homes and Gardens office. “In the 1980s, interest rates were 17-18 percent, but people were still buying homes, for $30,000 to $50,000,” she recalls.

Fellow broker Owen G. Meislin joined the firm the same year. Brown and Meislin, who she considers a mentor, had a neck-and-neck competition for top producer. He won. When she sees him, she quips that she’s still after that trophy.

Brown says she enjoyed her stay at Better Homes and Gardens. She moved to Coldwell Banker, then headed by Boyd Loadholt. “He gave me a little office on James Island, 12 agents. That was my best time in real estate,” she says. She later joined Read and Read downtown — “Tom Read was a wonderful guy” — and then The Beach Co.: “very professional, very demanding.”

But at age 60, she didn’t want to recruit agents any more. “I decided to open my own (office). It worked beautifully,” she says. “Most of it was referrals, children of people I originally (helped buy or sell a home),” she says.

Her advice to real estate agents starting out is to stockpile cash because you might go a year without a sale, follow every lead and don’t get discouraged.

Brown grew up near Liverpool, and after high school worked as a “telephonist” (telephone operator) until she married.

The couple moved to Charleston in 1967 where Colin Brown joined local businessman Jim Lucas as a marine surveyor. They live on James Island.

She still has a British accent and drinks hot tea but the U.S. is home. “We were very lucky to find Charleston. I’ve made such great friends.”

Their three grown children are Sally Lanford, a doctor at Bees Ferry Veterinary Clinic; Jonathan Brown, vice president for ICF International technology firm who made an unsuccessful bid last year for James Island mayor; and Andrew Brown, who works for a technology company and recently moved to Nepal when his Asian wife — they were married in Bali, Indonesia — landed a position as teacher in an international school. She’s flying to Nepal in October to take the couple their dog.

In her spare time, “I love to knit, garden and feed the homeless (at Crisis Ministries).” She also spends time with her five grandchildren. “I get to do everything they do — basketball, tennis, ice skating.” She may top them next July when she turns 70: “I’m going to jump out of an airplane.” More precisely, parachute at the Walterboro skydiving school.

Brown, meanwhile, says she has no plans to leave real estate. “I see myself in a scooter when I’m 99, showing people houses.”