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Another Year — Another Billion

Business Profile

Banner and Billion both start with a "B." And, both apply to 2002 for Alexandria based real estate firm, McEnearney Associates.

"Last year was our first billion dollar sales year," said John McEnearney, founder, owner, president, and CEO of the firm. "We actually did $1.055 billion in residential sales and an additional $35 million in commercial."

Founded in July, 1980, with only McEnearney and two agents, the firm now boast 200-plus agents in three locations. The largest office is at 109 S. Pitt St., its original location and primary headquarters, with two others in McLean and Arlington.

It's commercial office is at 505 King St. Same building. Different entrance.

Prior to opening his own firm, McEnearney worked as an agent for three years with another Alexandria real estate firm that no longer exists. "After 31 years in the Navy it was an interesting switch in careers," he said. "My wife thought I was crazy. In fact, I think she was convinced I was."

Retiring as a Navy Captain, McEnearney had spent 27 years on active service after graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. "I retired on a Friday. Started in real estate on Sunday. Sold my first house on Monday, and never looked back," he noted. The year was 1976.

"Before you could get a broker license you had to have been an active agent for three years working in real estate at least 32 hours a week," he explained. "I knew I wanted to have my own firm. So as soon as I was eligible I got my broker's license."

McEnearney didn't even wait for his new office to be a reality before he signed a 10-year lease backed by his own personal guarantee. "I saw the plans when the building was just a hole in the ground. I picked the spot I wanted on the ground floor and that was it," he said.

AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT, 1980 also turned out to be one of the worst years possible in real estate. Interest rates went sky high and sales went to the basement.

"It turn out to be a very good experience. I had my baptism of fire very early on in this second career. It taught me how to operate in a bad market. There were firms that had been in business and folded because they couldn't adjust," he said.

"But, without good agents and good managers we wouldn't have anything," McEnearney insisted. "You have to have great people to make a firm thrive."

That admiration is a two-way street. "I joined the firm 10 years ago and the amount of support you get is just incredible," said agent Donna Cramer. "Anything and everything that makes our jobs easier and more successful is done by the staff.

"John and Dave Hawkins, the managing broker of the Old Town office, do everything they possibly can to help us. It's something you just don't see in other firms. Also, John is very accessible to the staff."

Her assessment was buttressed by Nancy Dunning, a McEnearney Associates agent since 1988. "I do a lot of business in Alexandria and in this business you are constantly being recruited by other firms. But, I have never found any that offer the support and cutting edge capabilities we have," she said.

"Other companies are good but we are so much better. I can walk into John's office anytime and seek his advice. We may be a small firm compared to the big national companies but we are high tech and high service," Dunning insisted.

Praise for the firm's abilities and integrity is not limited to its members. It extends to its clients as well.

J.Thomas Holman recently sold a home and purchased a new one through McEnearney Associates. "What we know of the firm overall is what we know of Donna Cramer. If she works for the firm it has to be a great firm," he said.

"She is not only an excellent Realtor but someone you can place trust in. I would highly recommend her and the firm and have. And, this was no small transaction. Our new home was priced at $1.2 million," Holman said.

FROM THAT FIRST 2,600 square foot office in the newly completed Courthouse Square, the Old Town office now occupies 15,800 square feet in the same building. And, the Alexandria residential office has not only been the leading real estate sales office within the city since 1984, but, for the past four years it has lead Northern Virginia.

A native of Trinidad in the West Indies, McEnearney came to the United States in September, 1941, and enrolled in LaSalle Military Academy in New York State. "I planned to go home on vacations but along came the war and I was pretty much on my own. I couldn't travel there and my parents couldn't travel here," he related. He arrived at the Naval Academy in 1945.

He and his wife, Virginia, have six children, all now adults, and have been long time residents of Alexandria. Four of their children are members of the firm. One works in government and another resides in Atlanta where she recently retired from her own firm.

As for the present real estate market, McEnearney sees it as "still very strong. Prospects are very good for this year. However, the possibility of war could have an adverse effect. But, barring unforseen circumstances the market should remain quite strong."

In summarizing their growth and success, McEnearney puts his own twist on the old real estate adage, "Location, location, location." He attributes it to, "The agents, the agents, the agents, and to the staff personnel that supports them."

On July 7, 1980, McEnearney Associates, with its staff of three, ran a double truck ad in the then Alexandria Port Packet, predecessor of the Gazette, announcing their grand opening. The ad boldly stated, "To earn the respect of the public and, eventually, recognition as the best. Not the Biggest, necessarily, but the best!"

In looking back over his 22-plus years in the business he entered as a second career, John McEnearney's assessment is, "We believe we have attained our goal in our primary market - the City of Alexandria. However, maintaining our goal will remain a constant work in progress.

"Competition is intense, as evidenced by the opening within the past year of a second office in Old Town by each of our two major competitors. We welcome that competition. It serves to keep us on our toes. Perhaps, like AVIS, they will try harder."