W Real Estate
This is a man who suggests that his epitaph should read, “Nobody worked harder than I did.” Steely-eyed and charmingly obsessive by nature, Randy Waller is quietly and methodically building an independent real estate enterprise that is spreading its influence within Sonoma and Napa counties, as a prelude to bigger things, including possible expansion to regional markets. Born of a family name and presence that has been respected for decades in the Sonoma County region, Waller employs an approach to empire-building that acknowledges the virtues by which he was raised – hard work, by-the-numbers pragmatism, a fervent belief that taking care of the people you do have will get you the people you don’t have, and an ethos that respects an egalitarian open-door policy, as well as an adherence to core ethical values — internally within the organization, and externally in its client dealings.
The Score Card
- W Real Estate is the largest locally-founded and independently-owned real estate brokerage in Sonoma County
- The brokerage specializes in residential homes and investment properties and is aggressively expanding its commercial division. It’s a prominent force in new construction sales, serving more than 20 building and developer clients throughout the Bay Area
- A subsidiary division, W Marketing, collaborates with builders and developers, providing a turn-key package that supports every developer need from project inception to final property sale
- As a practicing Realtor, Waller:
- Maintains a sale-to-listing ratio of 100.4
- Transacted $375,029,561 in closed sales volume in 2022
- Ranked #24 on Real Trends national rankings of the top 1,000 agents (based on volume), and #16 (based on sides) in 2023
Is consistently ranked in the top 10 on the Leading 100 List of Bay Area Top Producers.
On the Early Times
My parents were originally from Sonoma County. My dad is a builder/developer and when interest rates skyrocketed in the early 80s, people were still building vacation homes with cash. So, he moved the family’s construction company up to Lake Tahoe, where I was born. I have an older brother who is a tech entrepreneur and a younger sister who is a vet tech. I attended the Rincon Valley Christian School, then onto Santa Rosa Junior College for an Associate degree, and from there to UC Davis where I double majored in Economics and Poli Sci. I’m happily married to Debora, a talented interior designer and staging consultant, with four children, ages 8 to 17, to keep me on my mettle.
When my parents returned to Sonoma County from Tahoe, my father founded Shook & Waller, which has been in business for more than 40 years. Just recently, he and his partner retired, and I and my partners acquired the company, which is recognized as one of the largest and most accomplished construction firms in the North Bay, and for decades, the largest residential framing contractor north of the Golden Gate. They’ve probably framed 80% of the houses in Sonoma County.
I got my real estate license in 2002 when I was a junior at UC Davis. I would drive around, see a vacant piece of property, write down the address, and try to get in touch with the owners to see if we could buy it and develop it. In my senior year, I started selling houses for my dad on the weekends and then transitioned directly into real estate sales full-time once I graduated. I was a REMAX agent for four years until we founded W Real Estate in 2007.
On the mission behind the man and the company
W coach our agents on the philosophy that taking care of the people you do have will get you the people that you don’t have. If you do a fantastic job for that first client, that effort will get you the later introduction to a brother, sister, coworker. There’s no better marketing tactic than taking care of the actual client that you’re working with at the moment. The average age of a real estate agent in Sonoma County is 62. The average age in our company is 32. So, having a concentration of younger agents means that we’re going to be working with clients at a similar stage in their lives – many of them, first-time homebuyers who are at the start of their careers. If we take care of them the right way, we can maintain those client relationships for a lifetime.
We’re laser-focused on relationships and less focused on what you would consider blanket marketing, where you’re just blasting things into the ether, which is what a lot of agents do with social media and e-blasts. I still believe that real estate is a relationship business, that people work with the people they trust. So why not create as many strong, personal relationships as you possibly can, rather than spend time making videos and sending out thousands of postcards that have a low return rate. Obviously, mass marketing and social media have their uses, but it’s not our main focus.
Tony Shira, who has been my business partner since inception, and I don’t set revenue goals or forecasts. We focus on doing the right thing, even if it means not making any money, initially. We believe that the money will ultimately follow. If there is an implied goal, it’s to really to do the best in every situation and transaction. If we do that, then we’re going to hit our benchmarks. That said, there is a contradiction in that I grew up in a sports family, and as you know, sports are measured by numbers. So, I became accustomed to measuring my personal success by the numbers. When I first started out in real estate, I created a goal where I wanted to close one transaction a day for an entire year. In 2021, that’s exactly what I did — 365.5 sides.
We’ve grown because agents and clients come to us to share our culture. The goal is to preserve our culture at all costs. The moment we feel like we’re losing control of it, that we’re becoming too corporate-minded because we’ve grown so large, we will curtail the growth. We’re also a family, and we operate like one. We expect that everyone, seasoned top producers included, won’t just come in and shut their door, do their work and then go home. We expect that agents will have each other’s back. And we do not poach agents from other companies, just as we don’t like it when it’s done to us. If an agent calls us or we hear that an agent who would be a good fit is thinking of switching brokerage houses, we will make the call. But we don’t dial for prospects.
On expansion plans and the sire call of cashing out
We’ll continue to expand into Napa, working our way north into – Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. We also have a number of agents, who due to COVID, have relocated to different states. So, we’ve been looking at potentially expanding to those states where we would have immediate representation – Texas, Idaho and Arizona.
We’ve had offers from just about everyone, including most of the national behemoths. And discussions with a few that share a similar culture to ours. The litmus test that we apply to any acquisition offer is, can we, with a clear conscience, stand up in front of all of our agents and tell them that this is a good thing for everyone – agents, staff and management? That we’re not just accepting a check and damm the consequences. Having said that, if somebody offered us an obscene amount of money and we felt like it was good for every single member of the W team, from top to bottom, we would seriously consider it.
On the man and his operating style
I can thank my parents for instilling a very good work ethic in me. From age 12, I was working full summers, cleaning up construction sites, making my own money. We were given no other option. While my friends were at the pool all summer and I was out in hundred-degree heat pounding nails, I was a little resentful, but looking back at it, I’m light years ahead of a lot of my contemporaries because of that work ethic that was instilled in me at an early age.
I love to put deals together. I love to sell houses. I love to market unique properties. I do not enjoy management operations or sitting in meetings. My partner Tony has taken total responsibility for the administration and day-to-day management of the company, thereby releasing me to do what I do best. And what’s great about our relationship is that we both know that each of us wakes up in the morning feeling accountable to the other, that we’re going to do everything we can do to jointly make the company successful.
People say that I’m too serious. I’m not salesy or flashy. In response, and from a client’s perspective, I don’t believe there’s anyone who will work harder than I will to maximize their sale price, or get them a great deal on the buy side. I’m always better prepared. I’ve practiced my listing presentation thousands of times. Clients will tell you that nobody puts together as complete a presentation as I do. I know I’m convicted about the data I’m presenting and what I’m recommending. I don’t waver. And I think that most people appreciate that approach and sense of conviction.
Other than my dad, who has always been a rock in my life, in my early career, I was trained and mentored by Logan Adams, who hired me at REMAX. I had purchased my first house and when Logan came to see it, I was out mowing the lawns. Logan’s immediate reaction was, “You could pay somebody $60 a month to mow your lawn. Do you have any idea how many deals you could put together with the time it takes each week to mow those lawns?” I grew up in a family where we don’t hire people, we do it ourselves. So, that was a breakthrough, learning to put my time into the priorities that matter and hire people to do tasks that hinder me from building the business.
On challenges suffered and overcome
I vividly remember the night of the Tubbs fire. We lived at that time in Windsor. At one or two in the morning, I went outside and all you could see was the entire ridgeline wrapping around Sonoma County completely on fire. I remember thinking, this is it! Nobody’s going to want to live here. No houses are going to be sold. We’re done. And the same thing with the initial COVID shutdown that prevented us from showing houses. For a brief period of time, everybody was in shock. Nobody knew what to do. Everyone was fearful that their businesses would go under. But surprisingly, we experienced the reverse in Sonoma County. Everyone who lost a house needed to find a replacement. Overnight, we sold out of all of our new home inventory for over-ask prices. COVID, and its work-from-home impact drove buyers moving up from the Bay Area, so again we sold out all of our inventory, at every price point.
On finding balance and bliss
Bliss is having the freedom to watch my kids play sports. I’m at every game and every practice that I can be at. I schedule all my meetings and activities around my kids’ sports schedules. Having the right support people is key to achieving that freedom. I have an incredibly strong team that backs me up. And I have a flawless support system behind me that takes the business I create and pushes it across the finish line. My sense of balance differs from others. When I go on vacation, I have my phone and my laptop. I tell people you can call me or text me, because not knowing what’s going on gives me anxiety. It actually makes me happier to stay plugged in rather than to unplug. Truthfully, I don’t view what I do as work, in the literal sense. I thoroughly enjoy the essence of my job — meeting with clients, valuing houses and closing the deal. That’s my bliss.
You can learn more about W Real Estate HERE