HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith, Realty News Report) – Martha Turner, a school teacher from East Texas who founded a Houston realty brokerage that became a prominent brand in the upscale residential market, has died.
Martha Turner began her career selling World Book Encyclopedias door to door in Hemphill, Texas, parlaying those sales skills into a multi-billion empire. She co-founded her real estate firm in 1981 with Nancy Owens. Her first job during grade school was folding the overalls in her family-owned Fuller’s Feedstore in Hemphill. She sold everything from World Books to wigs.
Turner, 81, died Friday morning, after a tough battle with aggressive cancer, according to family sources.
“We are heartbroken over Martha’s passing,” says Robin Conner, President of Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty Houston. “She was a deeply respected leader in the Houston real estate community and an inspiration, friend, and mentor to us all. Last year, Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty celebrated 40 years of excellence, and, in her honor, we will continue her legacy by upholding the values she established so many years ago. We are so fortunate to live out her vision and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity she gave us all to be successful.
Martha once said, “To be successful, you have to love what you do, love the people around you, make everyone feel special, and realize that you are the only person in charge of your life.”
She changed the face of real estate, turning the business from a part-time hobby into a profession in which women could truly support their families.
“She was always fastidiously dressed and beautifully coiffed, raising the bar for women in her profession,” says Marilyn Thompson, who retired as President of the Houston office of Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty last year. “When I first started with her, Martha never wanted more than 50 people in her company because she only wanted the best. We had to wear stockings and were not permitted to wear pants. She was making it a profession for women in a fairly male-dominated field and she did it. She did it successfully by having women not only dress more professionally but by mentoring them in the way they presented the homes. She was known for her presentations and for her classy commercials, where she claimed that her company “sells homes ranging from $20,000 to $20 million.”
“She was a woman of great faith,” says Thompson. Like Mary Kay Ash, Martha led her company on the principles of God first, family second, Martha Turner Properties third. She truly had more faith than anyone I know. Family was important to her.”
Turner once invited a young Houston Chronicle reporter to lunch at Nick’s Fishmarket, a power lunch destination in downtown Houston in the early 1980s to talk about how working women had started to take clients to lunch. “At that time, men owned most of the big real estate companies in Houston, so Turner really was changing the face of real estate with women,” recalls Thompson. “Martha encouraged her agents to take their clients to lunch. Don’t sit in this office – get out there and always ask for the business. At the same time, she never asked anyone to do anything she would not do herself. Sometimes, sometimes you get a listing through a bank that requires multiple presentations. If we were working on a big presentation, I’d get down on the floor and spread it out and she’d be right down there with me, whatever it took. We’d get it done.”
Marilyn Thompson was Martha’s right hand and when Martha retired, Marilyn was made president.
“Martha had a great sense of humor – she was extremely funny,” says Neal Hamil, one of Sotheby’s top agents. “One morning at a sales meeting, her point to us was to be always remain humble and don’t try to outdo your clients. She said, “I used to dream about owning a Rolls Royce. I saved and saved and finally, I had enough money to buy one. So, the first day I had it, I pulled up to a client’s home in River Oaks. The woman came down her front walk and got in my car. I said to her, have you ever ridden in a Rolls Royce? She responded flatly, “Never in the front, dear.”
The house came down.
In sales meetings, Turner would say, “Now that we’re owned by Sotheby’s, a public company, I can’t quote Scripture in the sales meetings. I’m going to miss that so much.”
“There will never be another Martha Turner – she was so special,” says Hamil. “She always wanted to know how you were, how she could help you. Do you have everything you need? She reminds me a lot of Eileen Ford. She could be fierce, but I never heard her say an unkind word.
“Martha Turner was a real estate icon!” says Beth Wolff, Chairman and CEO of Beth Wolff Realtors and Real Living. “She was a formidable opponent who became my friend!”
Turner lived a full life of resilience and the richness of good friends. On her 75th birthday, then Mayor Annise Turner declared it “Martha Turner Day” in Houston with a proclamation and a birthday cake in the design of a River Oaks mansion with a Martha Turner “For Sale” sign in front. Music by Marshall Maxwell and chocolates from Cacao & Cardamon completed the festivities.
Turner sold her independent real estate brokerage to Sotheby’s in January of 2014. Although best known as an fine art dealer, Sotheby’s has operated as real estate brand since 1976 with offices around the world…
At the time of the sale, Martha Turner Properties had more than 200 sales associates spread across six Houston offices. Martha Turner Properties was one of Houston’s largest and most profitable brokers. Thanks to its ubiquitous yard signs and memorable advertising (which claim that the Realtor sells homes ranging from $20,000 to $20 million), the company enjoys high visibility. In 2013, Martha Turner Properties sold over $2 billion worth of property, the best year in the company’s 32-year history, according to Turner. REAL Trends, the real estate analysis firm, recently ranked MTP as No. 8 in the nation based on closed sales volume per agent, with each agent bringing in an average of $7 million.”
With the sale, Turner – with her co-president Tom Anderson – said that while she was stepping back from the day-to-day management of the company to focus on what she loves best—going on home visits with her agents, and delivering invited lectures. She hastened to add that she’s not retiring. “This [acquisition] means everything in the world, because it allows me to do what my dream is, which is to work as long as I want to,” Turner said. “I told Sotheby’s that I hope when I’m 90 I’ll still be in the office.”
Although Turner did not reach that goal, she completed almost every other goal she set for herself.
April 8, 2022 Realty News Report Copyright 2022
Photo: Courtesy Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty