At the time of his demise, Mr. Foster — recognized to his legions of real estate brokers as “Wes” — was chairman emeritus of the corporate he based with Henry A. “Hank” Long in Fairfax, Va., in 1968.
Long was an Air Force veteran. Mr. Foster, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, had served within the Army. They had been each of their 30s and comparatively new to real estate once they mixed their names and ambitions to kind the Long & Foster model.
At the outset, the 2 males “flipped a coin,” Mr. Foster recalled in an interview with the Washington Business Journal. “He got his name first. I became president. We took off.
When they began the operation, they employed a single real estate agent.
Long specialized in commercial real estate, Mr. To install Foster in residential. Mr. Foster bought out his partner in 1979 and, over the next four decades, built the business into one of the largest privately held companies in the Washington area and a behemoth of the real estate sector nationally, with operations in mortgage and settlement services, homeowner’s insurance and property management.
In 2017, Long & Foster was sold to HomeServices of America, an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company headed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. By then, Long & Foster was the nation’s largest independent real estate brokerage by sales volume, The Washington Post reported, with 11,000 agents in Virginia, Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina.
In 2020, according to the company website, Long & Foster real estate sales reached $34.5 billion.
Long & Foster acquired by Berkshire’s HomeServices
Industry observers credited Mr. Foster with leading his company through a lucrative era of development that extended into the outer reaches of the Washington suburbs.
“If you had to start a brokerage firm … there was no better place in the country to be than Washington, DC, in the 1970s, when Wes started to expand,” Bill Regardie, the writer of the now-defunct Regardie’s enterprise journal, stated in an interview. “He founded and ran the most dominant, successful, richest real estate sales firm that Washington has ever seen and that the Mid-Atlantic has ever seen.”
Mr. Foster was additionally credited with main the corporate by recessions that periodically buffeted the real estate market and the financial system as an entire.
“I really work toward making a profit, no matter how hard times get,” he advised The Post in 1995, recalling one downturn when he reduce his wage to zero to assist keep the corporate’s margins.
Over the course of his profession, Mr. Foster witnessed prodigious adjustments in the way in which properties had been purchased and offered. When they started, brokers maintained hard-copy information of energetic listings of their territory. With no lockboxes to dangle from doorknobs, they needed to fetch keys earlier than taking purchasers on a exhibiting. There had been no web sites similar to Zillow or Redfin the place potential house consumers might peruse properties on their very own.
As Long & Foster marks its fiftieth anniversary, questions swirl in regards to the future of old-school brokerages.
Mr. Foster stated the recruitment of profitable real estate brokers was all the time at the core of his enterprise technique. The superb agent, in his estimation, possessed each “empathy” and “ego.”
“If you have a lot of empathy and you don’t have ego drive,” he advised the publication American Executive in 2005, “you might make a good priest, but you won’t make a good salesperson or sales manager. If you have equal quotients of empathy and ego drive, you’re a good person, but you’re aggressive and you make things happen.”
Mr. Foster grew his company’s ranks by wooing agents away from competing firms and retaining those who worked for the smaller brokerages that Long & Foster bought in the course of its expansion. One longtime Long & Foster agent, Gary Ditto, recalled that Mr. Foster at times would help haul boxes into a new hire’s office.
Long & Foster got its start in a modest 600-square-foot office, but Mr. Foster wound up going to work in a sprawling headquarters complex in Chantilly, Va. The design of the main building there was inspired by the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg. (Mr. Foster was a history buff.)
Paul Wesley Foster Jr., the eldest of four sons, was born in McDonough, Ga., on Nov. 25, 1933. His father worked at a Sears, Roebuck warehouse before operating a produce stand. His mother suffered from migraines and depression, leading to what Mr. Foster described it as a nervous breakdown.
“She was crying all the time,” Mr. Foster, who additionally suffered from debilitating migraines, advised The Post in 2004. “That’s when things started for me. I got depressed, too.
Mr. Foster told The Post that “even though we didn’t have anything,” he “wanted to be somebody.” He received a partial football scholarship to attend VMI, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English in 1956.
Mr. Foster served as an artillery officer in Germany before returning to the United States and beginning his business career as a salesman for Kaiser Aluminum. His sales rounds introduced him to builders, and one of them gave him a job selling homes. Mr. Foster met Long through that work.
From Northern Virginia, they expanded into Maryland in 1974 and DC in 1977.
Eleven years into their partnership, the investment firm Merrill Lynch made an offer to buy Long & Foster. Long was inclined to accept, but Mr. Foster was not yet ready to sell.
“Hank really wanted to sell to Merrill Lynch, to take that money and for both of us to go be developers,” Mr. Foster advised The Post in 1988. “I advised him, ‘Gosh, I preferred this loopy enterprise.'”
After mr. Foster purchased his share of the corporate, Long grew to become a business developer. He died in 2020.
Mr. Foster was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2004. Two years later, the football stadium at VMI was renamed in his honor in recognition of his financial backing of the renovation of the school’s athletic facilities.
In addition to his stepson, survivors include Mr. Foster’s wife, Betty Foster, was an artist; son Paul Wesley Foster III, and daughter Amanda Foster Spahr.
Asked to elucidate his aggressive drive, Mr. Foster advised The Post that he was “born that means.”
“The pleasure of the chase,” he added, “is enjoyable.”