“We weren’t born on The Island, but we got here as soon as we could,” say Mike and Joyce Stemmer, husband and wife Realty team specializing in Galveston’s West End properties. Along the way, they each gathered over 25 years of experience in real estate sales, marketing and customer satisfaction, in good markets and not-so-good. Together they’ve helped over 1,000 families achieve the American dream of home ownership. It all started in 1966 in the cafeteria at Wharton County Junior College in Wharton, Texas. “Our eyes met across the room over bowls of beef stew,” recalls Joyce Stemmer. “Little did we know that this dish would become the staple of our early married life just a few years later.” Married in 1969, Mike and Joyce attended the University of Houston their senior year, working various part-time positions for tuition and living expenses. One of Mike’s jobs was stock boy in a bakery thrift store. “One of the perks was getting all the old bread and pastries that were about ready for the dumpster. To this day, we cannot look at honey buns without grimacing,” he laughs.
STARTING OUT: TIRES GAUGES AND THE SMELL OF RUBBER
Mike earned a BBA in marketing and Joyce a BA in journalism. “I started out as assistant store manager and then manager of a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. store in Houston,” said Mike. “After all these years, I still catch myself looking at tire treads on cars in parking lots, checking wear patterns and such. The hours were long there, but from working retail I learned how critical treating the customer right is to the survival of a business.” Talking to a friend one day, Mike learned of a high school buddy who was doing very well in new home sales. “Back in the early ‘70’s, making $50,000 a year was unheard of for a guy in his 20’s. I immediately updated my resume and started making calls,” he said. Mike joined Fox & Jacobs and was the first person they hired for their Houston operations. He went on to become Rookie of the Year and Salesperson of the Year with them. Mike also worked with U.S. Home, Nash Phillips-Copus, Weekly and Superior Homes. His accomplishments include Salesperson of the Year 1975, 1976, 1980 and 1981 and he was consistently in the top 10% of the companies’ sales forces. “Of course, there were sales contests. The best one by far was F & J’s trip to the Hawaiian Islands. I can still remember the dinner when the contest was announced. Joyce looked at me with a look that meant ‘We ARE GOING, MISTER.’ We had a wonderful time and, having been bitten by the travel bug, vowed to see more of the world whenever possible.
LIGHTS! CAMERAS! LAYOFFS!
Joyce’s journalism degree took her into the field of advertising and public relations. Her first job was writer/secretary for the advertising manager for Westchester Corporation, developer of many upscale neighborhoods in west and northwest Houston. “I wrote what’s called advertorial for the Sunday Houston Chronicle and Post real estate sections. I interviewed new homeowners, builders and described to readers the details of some of the most beautiful homes I had ever seen. It was a dream job,” Joyce remembers fondly. But when the housing market weakened, staff cuts were made and the ad/pr department was the first to go. She next joined a small property management company as advertising coordinator creating newsletters, brochures and marketing tools. An opening at Houston Lighting & Power led to a position as advertising production coordinator. “At HL&P I was liaison with the advertising agency, always on the set for television commercials, casting sessions, assisting with Energy Checked builder ad and in house publications. You know those annoying bill stuffers that come with your electric bill? Well, that was my handiwork for a while,” she recalls. But their work was taking them in different directions and conflicting schedules were causing some difficulties. “Mike worked weekends and I didn’t. If he had a day off at all it was mid week. We hardly saw one another; in fact, one year we spent exactly two days together—Christmas and New Year’s!” So they made a decision. Joyce gave notice at HL&P and took some time away from work. Mike’s income in new home sales had surprised them both. (But no one was more surprised than his mother-in-law.) Long-time goals of a first home and new Corvette, not necessarily in that order, became realities.
18 % INTEREST RATES AND A FAULT LINE
Encouraged by Mike, Joyce decided to get her real estate license. Next came work in leasing, apartment locating and property management. And then the question came up, “Why not new home sales?” The answer came when Superior Homes hired her as new home sales counselor. “Those were the days of double-digit interest rates on home loans. I remember one FHA step-rate program offering 14%-16%-18% so buyers could qualify more easily,” she said. Next , Arbor Homes offered Joyce a new home sales position in a brand new subdivision near Dairy Ashford and Westheimer. “Actually, no one in sales wanted this subdivision because a fault line ran diagonally through it. Engineering studies determined where homes could be built and added wide green belts where they could not. Not only did we sell houses, we also had to explain the fault line to every buyer and have signed documentation as well. It was challenging, but the neighborhood became the company’s most successful project.” Awards garnered while with Arbor Homes include: Salesperson of the Year 1982, GHBA Sales and Marketing Council Million Dollar Award 1982, NAHB Gold Million Dollar Circle 1982 for $6,000,000 in sales and Prism Award Finalist 1983 for 1-200 Units Category.
ON THEIR OWN
Realizing how they could each bring their skills together to form a unique team, Mike and Joyce decided go into business for themselves. In 1982 they formed Equity and Property Investments Co., a Texas corporation, and began building, selling and managing fourplexes for investors. “Our personal philosophy was simple: ‘Treat others as we would like to be treated.’ Applying this to our business in terms of respect, attention and exemplary service for our clients made for a very successful enterprise,” Joyce said.. The economic downturn in 1986 brought this venture to a halt. As more and more single family homes hit the foreclosure market, they soon realized that someone had to sell them, and sell them they did. “Thank goodness we are adaptable and not afraid of change. In real estate, there are windows of opportunity and you’ve got to react pretty quickly before they slam shut,” Mike likes to say. In the summer of 1999, Mike developed a lower back problem that brought an end to their highly successful foreclosure sales career. Forced into “early semi-retirement,” the Stemmers sold their home in one day and followed the moving van to Galveston where they kept a getaway apartment on the seawall. Now, three years later, thanks to some helpful procedures, physical therapy, medication, prayers and an excellent care-giver, Mike is doing much better. Gone for good, though, are those days of driving from county to county showing property. “My back problem has pretty much forced me to slow down, to take things easier and to appreciate the importance of family and good friends,” Mike says. “We are very glad we made time for ourselves over the years. We worked hard but took the time to relax which helped us become better professionals and partners. We fell in love with cruising in the early ‘80’s and our trips made us realize how blessed we are to be living in America. We took St. Augustine’s words to heart: ‘The world is a great book and those who do not travel read but a page.’ It has most definitely affected our weltanschauung,” Joyce says.
THE RIGHT MOVE: COMING TO GALVESTON
The Stemmers now reside on Galveston’s West End in the home they built. They enjoy the simple pleasures of island living: Savoring a beautiful sunset and a glass of wine on the back porch, watching the abundant variety of bird life in and near the Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve, grilling the fresh catch of the day or walking on the beach at sunrise. But they are still real estate people at heart and they love what they do. Still applying their simple ‘Treat others as we would like to be treated’ ideal, they are dedicated to helping others achieve their dream of having their own little piece of paradise right here on Galveston Island.