HOUSTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for Realty News Report) – Edith Trimble Personette brought cachet and class to condo living in Houston in the early 1980s. “Before that, Houstonians were content to live on the ground,” recalls Broker Associate Rosie Meyers with Douglas Elliman. “Edith presented the numbers and showed them that living in a high-rise would actually cost less than paying a gardener, the man who caulked the windows, a pool cleaning company, a roofer and a lawn man. She singlehandedly created the high-rise mystique.”
Pioneer in the sale of high-rise condominiums
“Edith was a pioneer in the sale of high-rise condominiums,” says Robert Bland, 95, CEO of Pelican Builders, a Houston builder of residential towers, who credits Edith Personette as a key to his success. “I met Edith in 1974. She was very articulate, she told us what kind of mix buyers wanted in a home and we did exactly what she said,” says Bland. “She had studied the market and listened to what customers wanted, without being pushy. She was a perfect lady.”
Edith Personette died peacefully Tuesday morning, August 23, 2022. She was 89.
“She was the Grande Dame of the high-rise era in Houston,” says Sandra Gunn, of Sandra Gunn Properties, who has been active in downtown and Inner Loop markets for decades.
Born in Long Island to Irish immigrants, Thomas Trimble and Molly Reilly Trimble, Edith grew up in New York, loved the bright lights and Broadway. Edith met Alan Personette on a blind date in New York City, during which he told her he was going to marry her.
Edith married naval officer Alan Personette in 1953 In New York after Alan graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and moved with him all over the world as his career as a weapons officer gained momentum. They moved to Houston in 1970. In the early 1980s, she went to work with Dick Schey at Schey Advertising, a firm that did account work for Ric Campo and Keith Oden at Kenneth Schnitzer’s Century Development, which later became Centeq Investments.
“At the time, there was a glut of condos just sitting there, some at Four Leaf Towers, and she developed a leasing program,” says Theresa Hill, who served as Personette’s vice president and broker until 2013. Hill is now sales manager for the Westheimer location for the central brokerage of Compass. “At the end of the day, the tenants ended up buying, so in effect she rescued these buildings. She touched so many lives. She was my Number One mentor and my Number One hero. I am who I am today because of her mentorship. I learned so much for her and it was a true privilege working for Edith,” says Hill.
Ric Campo, CEO of Camden Property Trust and chairman at the Port of Houston, hired Personette in the early 80s away from Schey Advertising, where she had worked her way up to President. “We had the Spires and Bayou Bend and were having trouble selling the units,” he says. “This was the eighties, when the bottom had fallen out of the oil market. Edith said, ‘Let me take a swing at it,’ and the rest is pretty much history. We appreciated her forthrightness. Her work ethic raised the bar for the entire industry.”
Campo, who was then 28 and Keith Oden, 26, (the two men who later started the massive Camden Property apartment company) recognized Personette’s insightful gifts and hired her exclusively to market condos. That was the beginning of the road that led her to represent all the heavyweight developers in Houston and beyond. She formed her own agency, and was soon selling high-rise homes and consulting for developers around the world.
For nearly 35 years, Personette & Associates was the premier residential high-rise real estate company in Houston.
“Edith was never one to chit chat,” Campo recalls. “She wanted to get right down to it. She’d call you and say, `So anyway, I need to meet with you tomorrow at 10 a.m. at my office in Greenway Plaza.’ She was all business. She loved the building process and she learned it all from the ground up. Developers from all over the world came to her for coaching on the right mix, and the latest in what kinds of units buyers were looking for. I see that it was an advantage for her, coming to the industry later in life. She’d followed her husband’s career and moved with him many times to his naval posts, so once we found her, she was very eager to learn a business she could shape.”
She sold all of Giorgio Borlenghi’s properties, selling them out at a brisk pace. She worked with Marvy Finger, Randall Davis, many other from the elite echelons of high-rise living.
Among her first projects were Greenway 14 and 15 (which they called I and II early on) in Greenway Plaza and 5000 Montrose. Later came Bayou Bend, Four Leaf Towers, The Huntingdon, Villa d’Este, the Montebello, the Tealstone and then a bunch in Austin like the Towers of Town Lake, then La Tour in Dallas, San Antonio and Randall Davis’s Sapphire tower on South Padre Island. She also sold Gulf and beachfront condos in Surfside in Destin, Florida and Bel Soleil in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Wherever there was vertical development, Edith stood out as the Queen of the High Rises.
She always had the Midas touch
She carved her own niche, an achievement that is remarkable for a woman who graduated from New York City Business Night School in 1951.
“Edith always had the Midas touch,” says Keith Oden, President of Camden Property Trust, which owns 60,000 apartment units in 15 cities across the nation.
Oden believes her expertise came from moving to so many cities during her husband’s naval tour – an exercise that demanded the ability to find out where the best neighborhoods were located, the top schools and the safest neighborhoods for her family. “She did it so many times that she developed a keen eye for what worked,” he says. “I learned more about business and life from Edith than from anyone else in my career.”
“Edith was amazingly adaptable and intrinsically able to understand the market,” says Campo as he reflects back on her legendary contributions to the industry. “If you look at the owners and developers of most of Houston’s high-rises today, Edith had a hand in it.”
She hosted society dinners in empty penthouses and soon, people were shaking the condo stigma and signing on the dotted line,” wrote Mary Candace Evans in D Magazine in 2007. By that time, Personette had closed $7.5 billion in condo sales in 20 years.
“When she started, she did not have her license but she was a marketing genius,” says Meyers. “One of her provocative ads read, “Highrise owners live above it all, while others mow their grass.”
“Houston, and the real estate community in particular, has lost a trailblazer with the passing of Edith Personette,” says real estate icon John Daugherty, who was a leader in Houston’s upscale realty market for decades. “Edith was at the forefront of the wave of popularity in high rises. She basically positioned high-rise living in Houston. Edith was a savvy business owner, and she will be deeply missed.”
She was married to the late Alan Personette, a career Naval officer, who died in 2005 after a lengthy battle with congestive heart failure. She is survived a son Jay Personette Jr., daughter Laurie Null, daughter Nancy Frederick and her husband Art, and grandchildren, Michael Null, his wife Jessica, and their two sons, Miles and Mason and granddaughter Zoey Frederick. Her charities of choice were the Ronald McDonald House and the Houston Parks Board.
A Memorial Mass and services will be held at 10 a.m. August 31 at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on 1801 Sage.
Aug. 25, 2022, Realty News Report Copyright 2022
File: Queen of the High-Rise, Edith Personette, Passes Away