Janesville real-estate group CEO retiring after three decades

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Saturday, April 28, 2012
— When she was hired in 1977, Lee Kessler got one hour of training, learned the definition of a real estate listing and was told to set up a bus tour of available homes in Janesville.

More than 30 years later, Kessler has coordinated the training of thousands of local real estate agents and greased the operational wheels of the Rock-Green Realtors Association, a local association of about 300 real estate agents and others associated with the industry.

Kessler will retire June 1 as the association’s chief executive officer.

She has worked with 34 leadership teams, including 32 presidents, two of whom held the position twice.

The local association promotes programs, products and services that help its members serve the public professionally and profitably. It coordinates the continuing education required of real estate agents, as well as professional standards and social events.

Licensed real estate agents must be members of a local organization as well as the state and national associations

“As long as I’ve been involved, she really has been the backbone of the association,” said Randy Borman, the team leader for the Janesville, Milton and Evansville offices of Century 21 Affiliated and a two-time president of the association.

“Lee made everyone in a leadership position look good, and she is very well respected in the Wisconsin real estate industry.”

With a civil service background and positions at the Pentagon and overseas, Kessler started her work in Janesville by running the Multiple Listing Service. She then inherited the position of association executive, which essentially doubled her responsibilities.

“About the only thing that I’m not happy about Lee is that I didn’t hire her to run my office,” said George Mark, owner of Midway Realty and Carter Construction Corp. in Janesville and the man who hired Kessler for the association.

Mark said Kessler has done an outstanding job setting up agent training, maintaining professional standards and organizing membership events.

“She runs the office as the executive director and nobody knows anything about her because she does so much behind the scenes,” Mark said. “She and her staff do the work and everyone else gets the credit.

“Everything that Lee has done has been for the good of the association.”

In 1994, the local association got much bigger when it merged with the Beloit Board of Realtors and the Green County Board of Realtors to become the Rock-Green Realtors Association.

“When I started, there was a small group of brokers who would meet each week at the Alpine Restaurant for breakfast,” she said. “They would share their handwritten listings and then get on a bus and go visit the properties.”

Advancing technology put the brakes on those tours. Agents now have all of the data they need at the touch of a handheld device.

“It’s just amazing how technology has changed the industry,” Kessler said.

Kessler has stayed at the forefront of that, both locally and statewide, where she has served on one WRA committee or another since 1977.

In 2010, she received the WRA’s Distinguished Service Award.

Real estate agents have come and gone, but Kessler said the friendships and relationships developed over the years would remain forever.

“The camaraderie has just been amazing,” she said. “I loved every minute of it.”

After she retires, Kessler will continue to serve the association and its staff of two as an adviser.

Vicky Kreyer, the association’s membership director, will be the new executive. Sue Cook will continue with her MLS responsibilities and pick up membership duties.

“Lee has really little feet, but she will leave some really big shoes to fill,” Kreyer said.

State home sales increase

In her 30-plus years of leading the local association of real estate agents, Lee Kessler has seen plenty of ups and downs in the market.

Perhaps none have been as weird as the recent down cycle.

“This market, with the low interest rates and so many homes on the market, should be good,” she said. “It’s sad the economic state we’re in.

“The houses are available, and I believe the buyers are there. It should be a good market to obtain the American dream of home ownership.”

As she leaves the Rock–Green Realtors Association, Kessler is hopeful the local economy is starting a long-awaited rebound.

Recent homes sales data bolster her confidence.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association, of which Kessler is a long-time member and active participant, reported this week that statewide home sales were up 25 percent in March when compared with March 2011.

For the first quarter of the year sales were up 19.2 percent.

That trend extends to southern Wisconsin.

The WRA reported a March increase of 20.6 percent and a quarterly jump of 28.8 percent in Rock County.

Sales in Walworth County were up 10.6 percent in March and 16.8 percent for the quarter. In Green County, the gains were 28 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in buyer traffic,” said Randy Borman, the team leader for the Janesville, Milton and Evansville offices of Century 21 Affiliated. “We’ve been logging some more traditional sales, as well as interest among first-time homebuyers and local people who want to move up to a larger home.

“We just need to continue to work down our inventory of distressed properties and, of course, we need the economy to continue to improve.”

Last updated: 8:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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