Small Business: Legacy continues at FW’s first woman-owned real estate firm

Betty Dillard

Real estate broker Cathy Taylor, owner of Helen Painter Group Realtors in Fort Worth, started seeing the signs of a recession as early as 2003. “In September 2008, everything stopped. But I knew Helen Painter wouldn’t stop,” she said. “We weren’t in a bubble here, so our prices weren’t going to fall 30 percent. I knew we’d be fine.”

Taylor says home sales did slow down from 2008 to 2011 during the height of the Great Recession, but in 2012, her 55-year-old family-owned firm – a real estate industry icon in Tarrant County – started to see sales rebound. “And now in 2013, whoa, people are frantic to buy, frantic to get into certain neighborhoods,” Taylor said. “I just put a house on the market at 6 p.m. on Friday and had a contract on it by 6 the next night – and now have three offers. It’s phenomenal. I’ve never seen that side of the business before.”

The Dallas-Fort Worth area’s hot housing market is in full swing, with 2013 shaping up to be one of the best years in decades. Area housing starts are up 32 percent and sales of existing houses have risen 12 percent at mid-year. Home prices in many neighborhoods have climbed by 10 percent or more so far this year. “The market is fabulous. We’ve had a bunch of homes that sold this spring and summer far above list price. The market is incredible although it’s not on fire everywhere,” Taylor said. “It’s all the pent-up demand that’s been created since 2008 along with lower interest rates. Houses that couldn’t sell two years ago are selling now.”

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Taylor said she isn’t surprised that home prices and sales of both new and existing houses are soaring in the Metroplex. “Dallas-Fort Worth is this shining beacon right now with lots of sunshine, great transportation, room to expand, diversified commerce, great performing arts and museums and schools,” she said. “We’re very attractive to a lot of people.”

Continuing a legacy A native of Fort Worth, Taylor has known real estate her entire life. Her grandmother, Helen Painter, was newly divorced when she moved to Fort Worth in 1942 with baby daughter Ginny. Painter took a job testing building materials and metals for ammunition at Consolidated Aircraft Corp., which was known locally during World War II as the “bomber plant” and is now the Lockheed Martin facility. In 1948, Painter went to work for a local builder as his sales manager. Ten years later, she became the first woman in Tarrant County to open her own real estate company, which is still housed in its original location on Forest Park Boulevard. She set another precedent in 1965 when she was elected the first female president of the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors. For more than 40 years, until her death at age 89 in 2002, Painter sold Fort Worth.

“She was very ethical, very determined and wanted to make sure things were done the right way,” Taylor said of her grandmother. “She was a fierce competitor, well read and interesting. You would have loved to have had a conversation with her. She and my grandfather both had an ability to walk in a room and talk to anybody. She loved Fort Worth – she walked it, talked it, ate it, drank it. She was such a pioneer.” In 1961, Painter asked her daughter, Ginny Painter Holmes, then married with 1-year-old Cathy, to take over the property management division of the company. Cathy’s dad, Dick Holmes, joined the family business in the late ‘60s, eventually becoming a partner. Ginny died unexpectedly in 2003, and Dick is now retired. “I grew up hearing my parents and my grandmother talk about real estate all the time,” Taylor recalled. “Every night the phone rang at the dinner table and they would talk business. I always felt sorry for my grandfather. He’d sit at the children’s end of the table.” When Taylor was a student at Paschal High School, people would often ask her whether she was going into the family’s real estate business.

“I’d say, ‘Of course not. Absolutely not,’” Taylor said. “I realized my sophomore year in college that I could double major in finance and real estate. I already spoke the language.” Taylor graduated from the University of Texas and joined the company in 1982 on a trial basis, helping her mother manage properties. She stayed on and later started selling houses, eventually becoming sales manager. She laughed when asked about her first sale. “It was to my first boyfriend,” she said. “I was scared to death, literally shaking. Buying a house is such a big deal to people and I wanted to make it right. When people give us the opportunity to do this for them, we have such a great responsibility to take care of them.

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“I don’t remember my second or my third sales,” she added, “but I remember that first one. I’ve sold a lot of houses in between.” Taylor took over leading the family business last year. “I’m trying to recreate the company, to bring us back into visibility. I know we do what we do so incredibly well. We’re just a really well-kept secret,” she said. Helen Painter Group Realtors specializes in a 31-county area, with a focus on southwest and west Fort Worth. Homes priced between $300,000 and $700,000 are the fastest selling right now, according to Taylor. The firm has a staff of 20, many of whom are long-time employees. “The associates here don’t just come and hang out their licenses and sell real estate. They’re part of us. We really are a family,” Taylor said.

Realtor Mimi Klotz has been a “family” member at Helen Painter Group Realtors for 33 years and counting. “We have never sought to be the largest real estate company in Fort Worth, yet we have always strived to be and I feel have succeeded to be the best,” Klotz said. The fourth generation already has taken root at the company. Cathy’s older daughter, Grace Taylor Ballard, a Realtor, got into the business in 2005. In her first year as an agent she set a company record as the youngest agent to be named a Top Producer. Younger daughter Kate Taylor became a Realtor in 2009 and joined the firm. She apprenticed under her mom and has experience in all aspects of residential real estate, including property management. “I really like real estate. There are no two days alike,” Cathy Taylor said. “In the history of my 31 years working in this business I have never had two days alike. You’re dealing with different clients, different homes, different situations. That’s a hard thing for some people but I happen to thrive on it. I think there’s definitely something in the genes.”