Founding of Coldwell Banker – A Little History

Posted by Lise | Filed under: Events

So you are thinking of buying or selling a home. You need to find a Realtor and a real estate company. They are all alike – right? What does it matter whom you chose?  Are there any differences?  Here are a few things to keep in mind about Coldwell Banker and a little history of the company.

Two facts which distinguish Coldwell Banker from other real estate companies in the DC metro area are its longevity – dating back to 1906, and its international scope.  It used to be that there were companies in DC that were a hundred years old, but they have been bought up and cannibalized by larger companies.  The elegant and old style companies are gone – replaced by massive regional companies with a one size fits all approach to marketing.  Coldwell Banker has had over a hundred years to be creative and an industry leader in an industry it created!

The company’s international scope means that your listings are easily exposed to buyers around the world!

COLDWELL BANKER’S HISTORY

Every company has to start somewhere, and ironically, Coldwell Banker began in the devastation of the San Francisco earthquake.   The massive quake struck at 5:12 am while most San Franciscans were still in bed. An estimated 6,000 people were killed and more than half of the city’s 400,000 residents were left homeless.

A young traveling salesman named Benjamin Banker arrived in San Francisco, selling meat slicing machines. But with nearly all the hotels destroyed and the city’s butcher shops wiped out, life for a traveling salesman was difficult!

But while looking for some new ways of making a living, Banker stumbled upon a part-time job selling lots in an area of San Francisco called Visitacion Valley.  Real estate licenses weren’t required then, so the young Banker sold four lots on his first day and was hooked on the industry!  Banker took a job with a real estate company called W.B. McGeary, which was located in the same building where a young 23-year old U.C.-Berkeley dropout had also set up shop as a real estate broker.  His name was Colbert Coldwell.

Coldwell, in fact, had got into the real estate business earlier than Banker, having established the firm Tucker, Lynch and Coldwell immediately after the quake with the goal of introducing what was a new concept in the real estate business at the time: ethics. The new firm was “based on the principles of honesty, integrity and service,” according to Coldwell Banker’s web site. However, Coldwell’s first partners fairly soon left the firm, leading to the partnership, formed in 1913, that was to transform the real estate business.

“What people don’t realize was that during the quake, most of the public records were destroyed in the fire,” said Bill Banker, son of the founder Benjamin Banker. “You had no idea who owned what. So unscrupulous brokers would put up false ‘For Sale’ signs on a pile of rubble and tried to profit from the sale of properties that weren’t theirs to sell.”

Coldwell emphasized that no one in his company could personally profit from the sale of a property. (In fact, up until the early 1970s, no Coldwell Banker broker could own personal property other than his own home.)  “They gave the buyer the benefit of all profit and represented the seller for a commission only,” said Bill Banker.

Modest beginning
The three-story brick building the partners moved to by 1920 still stands today at 128 Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco, a little building which is 20 feet wide and 60 feet deep – dwarfed by modern skyscrapers.  The ground floor where young Coldwell and Banker nourished their fledgling firm is now occupied by a deli. The second floor is a yarn shop and the top floor is a nail salon.

Today, Coldwell Banker has 126,000 sales associates in 4,000 offices across 30 countries and territories with sales in 2004 totaling $325.9 billion.  Benjamin Banker died in 1965 at 80. Coldwell died two years later, at 84, having never retired from Coldwell Banker!

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30 Responses

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