Realtors live alternate lives through artistic expression

Realtor Cynthia Howar spends much of her day fielding phone calls, but she finds time in her schedule to produce watercolors that line the walls of her home. (image courtesy of Cynthia Howar)

Every single minute of every single day, Realtors have to be on call. Their phones are practically a part of them and if they put them down even for a few minutes to take a break from answering questions about contracts or conveying to buyers the details of their future home, missed calls begin multiplying.

“Real estate is a service business, so to get away you have to really get away,” said Cynthia Howar, a Realtor at Washington Fine Properties, as she answers her phone for the third time in 10 minutes. “Sorry, I have to take this.”

Many Realtors choose to lead a double life, using art as an outlet for their high-stake and high-stress jobs.
Howar studied psychology, art and architecture in college, and never planned to end up in real estate. But now she loves her job despite the grueling workload.

“It’s actually very similar to selling art,” she said. “The value of real estate is in the eye of the beholder. So understanding the world of art helps me to understand the world of real estate.”

Family life and professional obligations put Howar’s painting on hold for 30 years, but in 2002, she resumed her passion, ditching abstract styles for the soft pastels of watercolors.
Looking at Howar’s home, it’s hard to imagine she stopped painting for such a long time. Rolling Tuscan hills, French valleys and the occasional abstract adorn every wall of her home.

Many Realtors swear by travel to find new inspiration for their art. Among them is Kevin McDuffie, as associate broker with Williams Ballard, whose travels south inspired the subject of his next printmaking series: lifeguard stations in Miami.

He focuses his printmaking and paintings on lines: “the close focused areas,” he said. Given that he’s a Realtor, it is no surprise McDuffie uses architecture as the subject of many of his pieces. With detailed symmetry and strong lines, he enjoys creating images of the interior of homes, as well as landscapes. Sitting at a desk and “pushing paper around” never gave McDuffie the sense of accomplishment he craves.

“I like to have the satisfaction of a finished product,” he said. “There’s a need for having an example of something you cobbled out of nothing.”

Matthew Maury couldn’t agree more.

Maury has been in real estate for 37 years and is a successful associate broker for Stuart and Maury Inc., but his passion lies elsewhere.

He learned how to play the electric guitar after watching The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. “I had to do it because girls scream at you when you play,” Maury said, chuckling.

After breaking from music to raise a son in the ’90s, Maury now performs about 15 times a year with his band, “The Vi-Kings.”

“There is an artistic passion to music that doesn’t come with real estate,” Maury said.

Artistic passion is what drove Charlie Gaynor, a Realtor at City Houses LLC, to become a photographer. “Every time I travel to another city, I take my camera and just start walking,” Gaynor said.

Gaynor has been in the real estate business for 30 years, and a photographer for as long as he can remember. To him, the two coexist, and each contributes to the success of the other.

“Real estate is a great way to get involved in the neighborhood,” he said. “If someone tells me they want to live in a hip, diverse part of the city that has a lot of art, I know where to take them.”

Varying hues and shades of light and dark illuminate each photograph on Gaynor’s website, and every picture he takes tells a story and offers a glimpse into someone else’s world.
He believes his expertise in photography gives him an edge in knowing the best ways to sell a home.

Gaynor doesn’t worry about having time to do what he loves, because he said photography is always incorporated into his daily life. Driving around the city to various client appointments affords Gaynor the opportunity to find the next subject of his photography. His work focuses specifically on details, and the isolation of everything around the photograph’s subject. “I like to create a design, and offer people a different point of view” Gaynor said.

For 10 years, he has been a member of Mid City Artists, a local group whose members hold studio tours and support one another. The artist group has helped him both promote his work and simultaneously discover new clients. “The photography connections translate into big sales connections,” Gaynor said.

A big part of a Realtor’s job is coordinating the way in which the houses are marketed and visualizing “the beyond.”

“Choosing paint colors, updating fixtures,” said Suzanne Des Marais, a Realtor with the Bediz Group at Keller-Williams Capital Properties who also enjoys painting. “Figuring out what language to use, preparing the house for staging.”

Des Marais believes many of the skills between her two passions cross over, but at other times each can unlock a different aspect of the brain.

“Art is an escape in a world where there’s so much media being pushed on us all the time,” she said.

The need for a creative outlet drives many Realtors to express themselves through art. The similarities between art and real estate then begin to translate into their sales — each one complementing the other.

“Real estate is all about emotion and art is all about emotion,” McDuffie said. “Art has helped me in real estate because I have a good eye for aesthetics.”

Many artist-Realtors are sure to plan time for travel, relaxation and of course, their art, at least once a year. It’s what Peggy Murdock Ferris, Realtor at Compass, said keeps her sane. She enjoys photographing nature and architecture in an abstract way — looking at the design of the leaf, “rather than the individual flower.”

“I think most successful people have some place you can go to decompress,” Murdock Ferris said. “So you can keep a perspective on whatever it is you do.”

Howar agrees. She opens the sketchbook she carries on her two-week excursions to France with a group of painters. “It’s really important to have that time to rejuvenate, because the rest of the time you’re at everyone else’s beck and call,” she said.