BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Gary Traflet, March 27, 2009 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Gary Traflet, March 27, 2009
March 27, 2009
Gary Traflet is a multi-million dollar realtor with Prudential Real Estate; additionally he is a true and dedicated hands on volunteer with the Domestic Violence Shelter in New Hanover county. He discusses family history, his career in real estate and volunteerism along with balancing the duties of husband and father.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Traflet, Gary Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Boyle, Erin Date of Interview: 3/27/2009 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60 min

Jones: Today is Friday, March 27th, 2009. I'm Carroll Jones with Erin Boyle for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Project, and we're in the Helen Hagan Room of Special Collections at UNCW. It's a mouthful. Our special guest this morning is Gary Traflet. Is that way to pronounce your last name?

Traflet: It was perfect.

Jones: Really, good.

Traflet: And we're the only ones around so once you get it down you've got it covered.

Jones: Gary is a multi-million dollar realtor with Prudential Real Estate, and he is a true and dedicated hands on volunteer with the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services which is a most worthwhile nonprofit. He's a husband and a father, and in today's economy when I've spoken to him several times recently he's on his way to several closings, which is hoorah for Gray. It gets bread on the table. Gary, let's start a little bit by you telling us a bit about you, where you're from, what brought you to Wilmington if you're not from here etcetera.

Traflet: Well, I was actually born in Wilmington.

Jones: Good.

Traflet: But it was Wilmington, Delaware, and it's funny in real estate, now that I've gotten into real estate, my clients they want to work with someone who's been born and raised in Wilmington because it's assumed that therefore you know more, more connections and more about the history of town. So I'm always quick to say I am a Wilmington native, but then I give the rest of the story which is, it's Wilmington, Delaware instead of Wilmington, North Carolina. But my family, my father was transferred from Wilmington, Delaware to Henderson North Carolina, which is just north of Raleigh Durham area right up on the Virginia border. And I was pretty much raised there my whole life from first grade all the way through college.

Jones: Goodness, where did you go to school?

Traflet: Went to East Carolina, so that got me into Eastern North Carolina from that point. And I had worked in retail pretty much all my life. The one thing that Henderson was known for was Rose's Department Stores, which they're still around a little bit. And if you grew up in my town you were either associated with cotton mills, or you were associated with tobacco, or you were associated with Rose's. Those were the three jobs that most people sort of had. And so working all the way through college with Rose's as well, and as soon as I graduated from East Carolina, obviously I went right into retail management.

Jones: Did you?

Traflet: Yep, and retail management became Wal-Mart. At the time Wal-Mart was just getting into North Carolina. Kind of at this point there are multiple stores in every town you go to, but at that time they were really just getting stated. And I remember interviewing for the position and the interviewee. I asked him, I said, "Well, how many positions are you looking to fill," because there was a lot of people in the room.

Jones: Was this for Wal-Mart?

Traflet: This was for Wal-Mart. There was a lot of candidates in the room and I'm thinking, "Oh, there's a lot of folks here." And he said, "Well you know, Gary," he said, "If I get two I get two, if I get a hundred I get a hundred," and I just thought to myself, "Boy, there must be a lot of opportunity with Wal-Mart if they can say that." I don't know of too many other people that would come in to interview folks that say that they have that many available positions.

Jones: How long ago was this?

Traflet: This was in 1993.

Jones: Really?

Traflet: Yeah, yeah. And again, at that time we were really just growing by leaps and bounds. And so the opportunities were there, and when it was all said and done I was hired, and they only got probably three or four potential candidates out of all those people.

Jones: Now, who were they--were they looking for people who...

Traflet: They were looking for retail management, yep, yep, and since that's what I had done the whole way through high school in the town that I grew up in--

Jones: And you were a college graduate.

Traflet: College graduate and that's obviously what they wanted to run the stores and things. And I'll never forget it was very nice to know 1st of April I knew exactly what my job was going to be. I knew where I was going. I knew everything long before I ever graduated, and I think about how many people get through school and don't even, you know, it might be six months to a year before they even get a position.

Jones: Unless they go into daddy's business.

Traflet: Yeah, exactly. But they said, "You're going to Elkin, North Carolina." And I thought to myself, "Elkin, North Carolina, you know, I've lived in North Carolina all my life. I've never heard of that town before in my life." And he said, "Well, it's over in the mountains," so I got the map out. And we didn't have the internet and things, so I got a regular traveling map out and look all around and I couldn't find Elkin at all. So I finally went down to the legend at the bottom and it said Elkin was G5. So I went over to G and I went down to five and that's how I found the town.

Jones: And they built a Wal-Mart in a place like...

Traflet: They were coming in from the west, so the mountain areas got the first stores and they were progressively spreading east until they got to the coast.

Jones: And there was enough population around there?

Traflet: Yeah, there was. There was...

Jones: They came from all over?

Traflet: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Elkin is a town that's right on I77. It's north of Wilkesboro, and there's two towns. There's Jonesville and there's Elkin, and they kind of refer to it as Elkin-Jonesville. So it really was two towns separated by a train track in the middle. But that's sort of what got started. I became assistant manager, and then moved to Hickory North Carolina, then moved to Taylorsville North Carolina, and bounced all around some of those smaller towns on the western side of the state until I finally got my own store. And at 27-years-old I was managing a Wal-Mart. It was 24 hours a day open and at that time I was one of the--there were several that were 27-years-old, but that was about as young as they got. And you think to yourself at 27 probably didn't need to be doing that job. It was far more involved, but the funny thing about it as time went on they got younger, younger than 26.

Jones: Really? Why? Was it because they could pay you less?

Traflet: No. I don't really think so because actually the way they did it was Wal-Mart had a standard pay system where when you become store manager everybody generated the same base pay and then you were paid a very large commission based off the profitability of the store, so that depended. In the end your annual salary really depended upon the store you were in. But Wal-Mart's philosophy was is if you could handle it and you showed that you're mature enough, and organized enough, and professional enough to be able to do it they're ready to give you the challenges. Because I think they thought the younger folks moved faster, weren't quite settled in their ways. They were open to new programs.

Jones: That's a thought. If you got married and had children you're going to have to keep a job and work, incentive there.

Traflet: You were flexible, exactly, you could jump all around. They said, "Hey, we need you in Tuscaloosa, Alabama," well then you'd be there the next day, so.

Jones: Is it true that there's a core for their administration people in Bentonville that they would go visit stores and have rah-rah type get-togethers?

Traflet: Absolutely. You started every day with what they call the Wal-Mart cheer, and it was an expectation. You started the meeting with the Wal-Mart cheer.

Jones: Everyday?

Traflet: Everyday. And the Wal-Mart cheer was is you would pick people, call on everybody together, which these stores are getting bigger, three and 400 people in them and you'd bring everybody together. And you'd just pick a couple people. You'd needed about seven or eight or so. One was the W. One was the A. One was the L. One was the squiggly, which was the hyphen. Then we called it a squiggly. And then you had an M, an A, an R and a T, and you would--and there was this little cheer.

Jones: Really into it.

Traflet: Yeah, and it really--if you got someone who was shy or embarrassed about being up there you might pick them out. That was kind of the fun part about being a manager is you could say, "Hey, come on up here. I need you to be the W. You need to be the A. You need to be the L."

Jones: Well, there was a little psychology there, really.

Traflet: Yeah, but really it's eight o'clock in the morning, you're tired, you've just drug in to work, you may not even had coffee yet, and to bring somebody up in front of a hundred people and make them do a cheer, and the squiggly was the one in the middle and that would be--you'd do this little jig where you'd go down, squat down low and come back up, and it would make you laugh. It just couldn't help but make you laugh.

Jones: So you're going to have good humor.

Traflet: Yeah, and it started the day off happy and enthused and that kind of thing, so yeah, that's the way we did it and I'm sure it's still being done now.

Jones: Probably.

Traflet: I'd be surprised if it wasn't. And then after that being in Taylorsville probably the biggest thing that I've ever been involved with was taking a regular store and we built a super center right beside it. I mean, the buildings had an alley way no wider than the length of this room, and the new store was built right beside it. And literally--

Jones: Were you to manage that?

Traflet: Well, I was managing both, managing the old one as we were shutting it down, which was about a 60 day process and supervising the setup of the new one.

Jones: That's a lot of responsibility.

Traflet: Yeah, and it was a grocery when super centers were just getting started. They didn't really exist. And so you had a full blown grocery store, and you had a full blown general merchandise store all in the same building at the same time 24 hours a day.

Jones: Twenty-four hours a day.

Traflet: It never ends, never ends.

Jones: Well, did you have somebody-- now your position then were you a manager, assistant manager?

Traflet: I had the whole-- I was the highest position in the store. I wasn't 27 then. I had the smaller store when I was 27, but I was probably 31 or so when I did that.

Jones: Well, that's still a kid.

Traflet: Still young, still very young. Oh, yeah. I think to myself, "I sure hope I was mature enough to be doing it because..."

Jones: When did you have time for anything else?

Traflet: You didn't. You don't in retail. You really, really don't. You lived in those four walls 24 hours a day. You were there, and even when you were at home your mind was constantly thinking about it. That's the challenging thing. You were paid well and you had great benefits, but they didn't give you a single penny, in my opinion that you didn't earn. But, I mean, to be that age and to have the salary and have that, I mean, it was a good thing. Your wife didn't have to work. She could stay home with the children and you had a very good income. And granted you had to devote your life to it, but...

Jones: A store like that is open 24 hours a day don't they have to have somebody in charge during...

Traflet: Yes, 24 hours a day. You have night managers and overnight people, and that's difficult because the caliber of person that's going to be the manager on duty overnight is-- not very many people can work overnight. I can't. I would do it when I needed to do it. And as a manager you had a whole crew of people that may not even know you because they come in a ten o'clock at night and they leave at seven in the morning and you may not ever even laid eyes on them yet you're their ultimate supervisor. So it was expected that every month you would work at least one or two nights overnight so that you could be there for the people that worked for you. They needed to see you.

Jones: This was providing jobs in an area that probably needed it?

Traflet: Sure. There was always the argument that it hurt the mom and pops and things like that, but a lot of stores thrived because of Wal-Mart. For example, you go down to Monkey Junction and look at all those stores that surround the Wal-Mart store. We do great with Vintage Values because of all the traffic flow that comes through there. All those restaurants along in there do well because of the Wal-Mart. If the Wal-Mart just closed up and moved to another part of town those stores would die, period. So you can make the argument that the True Value Hardware store and those types of things suffered, but for everyone that suffered that was somebody else that did well.

Jones: That's always been the argument that I've heard. My first brush with Wal-Mart was, I couldn't believe it, was in Northern Virginia as you headed south off of what was called Route 1 and they built one in an area where it was kind of iffy. And the big thing that the Washington Post had screaming across was Wal-Mart is coming to town, and all the bad things, and it's going to lower the type of merchandise the other vendors have etcetera, etcetera. And I don't know what happened except we moved down here shortly after that happened and within no time at all, all these Wal-Marts are going up and people are saying, "I got this at Wal-Mart. I got it at Wal-Mart," but it did provide jobs to people who ordinarily could not have had them, so that was a good thing.

Traflet: It's kind of interesting. We would have a survey that would go out every week and the survey would ask questions of the people who shopped and they would say, "How long was your checkout?" Well, checkouts can be difficult in Wal-Mart because everybody tends to come at one time. So typically they weren't very happy about that. Well, "How clean were the restrooms?" Well, you could clean the restroom right now and five minutes from now someone can go in and just destroy it. So a lot of times the restroom scores weren't very good. There were a lot of things that weren't good. And then the very last question on the survey would be, "How often do you shop at Wal-Mart," and they would be like, "3.4 times per week," and I'm like, "If we're so bad you sure are coming a lot."

Jones: So how long were you with them?

Traflet: About eight years or so, yeah.

Jones: And why did you leave?

Traflet: I had a good friend who went to Target and we would swap horror stories of what happened to me that was tough, and he would talk about what was tough that happened to him, and my stories were always tougher than his stories were. And he said to me, he said, "Gary, I've been on both sides of the fence, this is a better company to work with for the reasons X, Y, Z." And so I went and interviewed with them, and had to go though three psychological evaluations to get the position.

Jones: And where was this, Gary?

Traflet: It started in Hickory, North Carolina, but my first position was Jacksonville, which is what got me to the coast. But never had to go through psychological evaluations before, but there thought was is, "If we make the right decision on the front end and take extra time with the interviewing process and things like that then we'll be much better off on the back end by having the right person in position who's going to make the right decisions and take care of the people properly, so. So got through that process, and the good thing about being in retail is you can pretty much just say, "Hey, I'd like to be in Connecticut and they'll move you to Connecticut. I want to be in California they'll move you to California, and I said, "I want to go to the beach," and so they said, "How about Jacksonville?" And I thought to myself, well...

Jones: They didn't have a Wal-Mart here then did they?

Traflet: Well, this is Target. I had made the conversion to Target.

Jones: Oh excuse me, Target, yeah.

Traflet: And there was a Target on Western Boulevard in Jacksonville, and I thought to myself, "I grew up going to Topsail Island and things when I was living in Henderson so I knew all about Jacksonville there, and I'd always loved Emerald Isle, and so we found Cedar Point-Swansboro which was just outside of the Jacksonville area.

Jones: Very historic area.

Traflet: Very historic area. And bought a house there and I had ten months in that house.

Jones: And you were married at this point?

Traflet: Married with children, yep. By then we had two children.

Jones: You were brave to make this big move.

Traflet: Yeah, and I had all of ten months. My wife had 12 only because she had to stay behind and clean and supervise the movers as we moved eventually from Jacksonville down to Wilmington, so.

Jones: And that that was how long ago?

Traflet: That was in 2002, 2001, 2002.

Jones: Are you glad you moved to Wilmington?

Traflet: Oh yeah, absolutely. And probably in retail when you move so much you never find yourself in a town with family. And they said, "Gary, what do you think about the Wilmington stores, higher volume and things like that, more opportunities?" And I said, I said, "Well, sure." I said, "Obviously Wilmington's a great community to live in," but what was even better was is I had a brother who was already living here.

Jones: Oh well, that helps.

Traflet: And he's a CPA here in Wilmington. And I thought to myself, "Gosh, this is great. I'll have the beach and I'll have family and a wonderful city to boot.

Jones: That's great.

Traflet: But what was funny was when I told everybody in Swansboro that I was coming here they said, "Oh, you're so lucky. You're coming to Wilmington." And when I got to Wilmington and I told them where I used to live they said, "Oh, you're so lucky you got to live in Swansboro.

Jones: The grass is always greener, right?

Traflet: Yeah, and I think to myself, "Every town that I've lived in I've enjoyed," I really, really have. And I remember one time leaving one of the towns when I was in the mountains and I had this elderly neighbor who lived near me, and I told him, I said, "I sure am going to hate to leave Taylorsville because there are such good people here." And he said something to me. He said, "Son," he said, "There's great people every town it's just a question of are you looking for them or not," and he's exactly right. And from then on I wasn't really worried about where I was moving to because I'd find good people.

Jones: So you came to Wilmington, the big city, with a wife and how many children?

Traflet: Two children.

Jones: Two.

Traflet: Two's all I can handle. I'm done.

Jones: Yeah, good for you. We don't want to over populate Wilmington anymore.

Traflet: That's right. That's right.

Jones: And you went to work for Target.

Traflet: Uh-huh.

Jones: When did you become involved in your other ventures?

Traflet: Well, as far as non-profit ventures?

Jones: Well, talk about whichever came first.

Traflet: Uh-huh, well it was funny because the first week that I was in position at the Target store here on Market Street Kitty Yerkes came to visit me and Kitty was at that time the Developmental Director for Domestic Violence Shelter and Services. She came to visit and asked me to join the Vintage Values committee, which over saw the Vintage Value Resale shops that support the shelter. And what was so funny was when I was in Onslow County I'd actually joined the Onslow County Domestic Violence Shelter Services and we had a resale shop too. And so I told her, I said, "As a matter of fact if you hadn't come to me I was going to come to you because I was doing it already."

Jones: And when was this, Gary?

Traflet: This was in 2002. It was the first week I was in position, and I can remember moving the week of Christmas, so it was right at January of 2002. But she asked me to join and I was very happy to do it because, again, I had sort of gotten my feet wet. Only having ten months in the Jacksonville area didn't really get much started, but I saw that it was something that I wanted to do and to be able to do it in Wilmington and sort of pick up where I left off was great.

Jones: Now, in 2002 was there one or two Vintage Value stores?

Traflet: At that time there was actually three. We had the one on College that we've always had, University Landing. We had the downtown Castle Street store, then we also had one on Market Street, which is where the Port City Java back behind there that little strip center we had a little parcel in that strip which is no more now, but we had three. But as soon as I--it seems like as soon as I got on we got rid of that one on Market Street, we opened up Monkey Junction so I was a part of that and helped to find the location and things and get it up and going. And then shortly after that we shut down Castle because it was in need of extensive repairs. It was a building that we owned.

Jones: Which you'd been doing part of.

Traflet: Yeah, I was very much a part of that and designed that and things. And so I helped it to get back open, but now we're back to three and three they're doing well.

Jones: Tell us a little bit about what you've seen change since you've been involved with Domestic Violence Shelter and Services. You've been on the board how long?

Traflet: It's funny. Kitty asked me to join the board when I first got to Wilmington, but in retail you just don't have the time. And I told her, I said, "I didn't feel like it was fair for me to join something that I didn't think that I could have the time to commit to it." I could do one, but I couldn't do both, so I just stayed with the committee. But it's when I made my career change out of retail that's when I joined the board. So now you and I serve together on the committee and you and I serve together on the board.

Jones: I know, I know, I know. Has it changed much since you...

Traflet: The people change.

Jones: They do, I know.

Traflet: They do on the board and things.

Jones: But the leadership how is it? I mean, I know that they've had to add properties and that sort of thing.

Traflet: The direction of the, certainly of the board and of the shelter is still the same, the same direction, we're still heading on the same course and trying to serve as many people as we can. And we have events through the year that help to support that and those events continue on. I think they probably get bigger and better every year so that certainly is one way that it's changing, but that's kind of what's been happening.

Jones: Let me ask you this, and just to get an idea of you or anybody. You said that you originally joined a Domestic Violence Shelter Service in Jacksonville, certainly not the same thing, but how did you as a young man with a wife and kids decide that this was something that you wanted to do? Was it just a Christian attitude or you wanted to help?

Traflet: I get that question asked a lot because they look at you and say, "Gary, what do you have to do with domestic violence?" And to be honest with you in the beginning, this may sound terrible, but with Target they encourage you to get involved in the community and part of the way that they encouraged you was you would write your own review every year, your annual review.

Jones: That's hard to do.

Traflet: That's hard to do, and you would write it--

Jones: It's like the military. They say it's a fitness report.

Traflet: And your supervisor would write it and then you would sit down and compare the two. But there was a point system and you would assign yourself points based off of profitability and turnover, and all the critical factors. And then there was an area for bonus points, and bonus points were issued based on being involved in the community, getting outside of your box, that type of thing. And that was initially something that attracted me was here was an opportunity that I have that can get me involved in the community, but also help me in my pocketbook with my review and help to justify why I feel like I deserve the score that I deserved. When I got in, and probably even more notably when I got to Wilmington it was Kitty, it was Mary Ann, it was the feeling that you had value and that you were appreciated. And that's what will get you onboard and that's what will keep you onboard, because if you feel like what you're doing matters, and that it has value, and that people appreciate it.

Jones: Have you had any indication in this time since 2002 that with the growth of this area that the need for this service has grown also, or do you think that-- I've heard, someone said recently and I repeated it to somebody else, that when economic times, for example, are bad whether people get nervous or whatever it is something comes out in them. There's a lot more problems and it would ultimately end up with battering, perhaps or abuse of some sort. I have heard through somebody else who's with the Fifth Judicial Court System that due to the influx and growth here, and lack of housing, jobs and spaces in school for kids that they feel that there has been more domestic. And that doesn't mean that you're married, I guess, it just means whoever is in the household. There's been more need for that sort of thing than ever before and it might be rising. Do you have a sense for that?

Traflet: Absolutely, certainly just on a sheer sense of numbers that the more people you put into a town the more opportunities there's going to be for things like that to happen. So that in itself can cause it to grow, as our population in Wilmington has grown. But then you roll that in with the economy that we're in now, the fact that Wilmington has never been an area that provided much for jobs. You came here for lifestyle and you were drawn to the coast, but it wasn't necessarily a good business decision for you from the standpoint of a salary. And you roll all that together, and the situation that we're in now with the economy being as tough as it is, certainly I would expect, fully expect to see our numbers grow exponentially as far as the needs of our services. And at the same time that that's happening our budget, our grants and things are probably going to really begin to suffer, and they already have, and I would expect that trend to continue. So the need is greater and the resources to make it happen are dwindling.

Jones: All these years you've been involved have you ever seen any information or studies done by anybody connected with this nonprofit as to like a profile of people who do these things? What they can do to try to stamp--you're not going to ever stamp it out, but to curtail this kind of activity, because from what I understand they've got shelters to bring, let's say women, children up to a certain age to. They can only stay a certain length of time. They're released. I don't know how that works. Do they get back into the same situation? What is the end result do you feel that is taking place, or can take place, or should take place, or whatever? That's something I don't know.

Traflet: And I don't know that I do either. You asked me a question a minute ago about why a domestic violence shelter, and to me I don't know that I even have an expertise at that level. My expertise really is more in running the stores profitably, the personnel matters and all those policies and procedures and those types of things, which if they're done properly, give the money and put the money in the people's hands that know how to make the rest happen. What I will say is, is that when I think about how non-profits are changing I think having some way of measurement to be able to say exactly what you just asked. Are we making a difference? Are the statistics going in the direction we expect them to? And I think to myself in the future if we can't justify what our means of measurement is and that we're truly making a difference the opportunity to get more resources to continue it will be that much more challenging.

Jones: On another level do you think there are too many events in town that are sucking, let's say sucking away the funds?

Traflet: Yes, 100 percent. I was at the Landfall, what do they call it, the Landfall Foundation where all the residents of Landfall have donated money and resources and then they have a committee of people who make decisions on how those funds are dispersed to the community. And I was in a very large room, Landfall Country Club, and listening to all the organizations that were called up to come and get their checks. And I thought to myself I kept hearing the same reoccurring themes. Just so many different organizations that if you really checked out their mission statement probably sounds a lot like some of the other ones, and going forward when the money gets tight the pie just can't be cut up that many ways. It's going to have to go to the folks that are clearly making it happen, and are measuring it, and can justify why they deserve the money above and beyond the rest. And this point going forward the small duplication of services and things like that is going to have to end, absolutely.

Jones: I read the other day, and I don't know whether this was a mistake or not, that the estimated--when we first started doing this particular program the estimated population of New Hanover County, that was city and county, was something like 130,000 or a little under. I read a statistic in, of course, our beacon of light, The Star News, recently that listed it at 160,000. Now, being in real estate you get all kinds of information. Is that anywhere close to this at all do you know? Would you have any idea? And the reason I'm asking is very simple, because if that is the case it would be interesting-- I've talked to some other people with non-profits and their views, they're not doing the same things necessarily, but they're all crying the blues, and they're all saying, "There's so much work to be done out there, but where do we start? We can't get it from everybody."

Traflet: I would say that those numbers are probably pretty close.

Jones: Really?

Traflet: I really do. The real question becomes how much further can we grow because in Wilmington right now that's one of the biggest challenges is just land. We've built houses on top of houses and we've put subdivisions in areas...

Jones: This is a segue into what is really, really important right now with all that is going on with attaching more like Monkey Junction to become part of the city, green space, building, the flying bridge etcetera. I'd like to hear your take on it. You, obviously, have been really working hard and you've got some closings. Whether you sell a house or not if it closes is the deal.

Traflet: Absolutely, yeah. I come home and I'm all excited and my wife says, "Listen, tell me the story after it closes."

Jones: I know, after it closes and you've walked out of the attorney's office.

Traflet: That's right. Otherwise she says, "I don't want to hear about it until then."

Jones: Right. Right. The trends and what's happening.

Traflet: Absolutely, yeah. We have grown tremendously to the point that it's getting very difficult to keep growing like that. There just isn't any land left. And people talk so much about Leland, and how you can go across the bridge and your money you can get so much more home for your money, and more land, and more property, and all that is 100 percent true.

Jones: It is.

Traflet: But you still have to cross that bridge. And if you work in Wilmington and that means that eight o'clock in the morning you're come from Brunswick County across the bridge and at five o'clock in the evening you're going back across that bridge going home.

Jones: That is if there are no accidents.

Traflet: You're headed in the wrong direction, you really, really are. And the Skyway Bridge and things and the costs are soaring through the roof and whether that will become a reality or not, I don't know. Is there need for it? You better believe it.

Jones: Yes there is.

Traflet: You better believe it.

Jones: Yes there is.

Traflet: And really, in my opinion, one of the biggest reasons Leland is on the map is because it's across the river from us, for no other reason.

Jones: Erin has heard me say this over and over again, but I have to say it. I heard somebody who should know make the remark sometime in the last year, I guess, talking about the growth in Brunswick County and the need for the flying bridge that eventually that will become where people live and they'll come to Wilmington, which is like the jewel in the center, to have fun, to dine, to go to the art galleries etcetera, and I thought, "Oh, how sad that it's become that," but.

Traflet: It has, but I will also say every time I drive across that bridge and I come down 17 through the Leland stretch and see all the restaurants and all the things that are there now that weren't there a year ago, two years ago, all the shopping opportunities that are coming online, there's getting to be more and more of a reason that when you get across the bridge you stay.

Jones: Now, is it mostly people who have moved here that live over there?

Traflet: I'm amazed. I had probably four or five transactions this year, this past year, 2008, of people who were leaving Wilmington and going to Leland, so they weren't going far. They were packing their belongings and driving across the bridge.

Jones: Do you have to be dually licensed as far as jurisdictions go?

Traflet: Oh, no. It's just a North Carolina issue as long as you don't cross the state. There are some ideas of reciprocity and things as you cross the line, but as long as you're in North Carolina you're okay. Now, being a member of the MLS and things like that is what's important. We have a connection between the two so that we can function properly on both sides.

Jones: I don't see how you could function without it.

Traflet: Yeah. Yeah. You absolutely have to, absolutely. And we are smart enough. That's probably been one of biggest changes in real estate is, is just with certainly with the online aspect of showing people more properties and having it all online with pictures and all the criteria, but also the MLSs of the Brunswick County area and the New Hanover County area cooperating and realizing that the more agents come across the bridge with clients creates more sales in the Brunswick County area and vice versa. More often than not it's New Hanover County people going to Brunswick County. Very seldom is it ever a Brunswick County person coming to New Hanover just for sheer cost of living.

Jones: How long have you been in real estate?

Traflet: I've only been in real estate for about three years now.

Jones: Really? You've done well. In those three years have you worked mostly with people who are from out of this area coming here or have they been moving up, moving down, retirees?

Traflet: I would say that if I had to pick a state where most of my folks have come from, surprise, surprise, it's going to be New York, and surprise, surprise it's going to be Long Island specifically. Thank you.

Jones: I claim that Long Island moved en masse down here by communities.

Traflet: Uh-huh, and I'm always cautious when I'm working with a Long Island resident because sometimes I want to say, "There's a lot of Long Island people here and you'll be very comfortable because there will be people that share the same interests and walks of life as you," but that holds true for 50 percent of the people from Long Island. The other 50 percent would tell you, "Well, that's the reason why I left," so you have to be careful and then walk the line as far as to not offend anyone. But certainly that's probably-- last year I dealt with a client that's been my furthest person away from the Wilmington area, which he was in Pakistan, which by the way he's an associate professor here, or adjunct professor here at UNCW now, but he was in Pakistan. At that time, this was two years ago that we were starting to look. He purchased last summer, and at that time it was when there was quite a turmoil going in Pakistan, still is but it was really hot at that time, and every e-mail that I would send to him the very last sentence at the bottom I would say, "Keep your head down." Because literally I thought to myself I've worked with him for a couple of years and he may not make it to New Hanover County for his retirement. But he, like a lot of people, Wilmington attracts such a wide and diverse group of people that come to this area.

Jones: What are some of the things they tell you?

Traflet: Well, I think it certainly it's the climate. It's the university. This campus right here draws so many people.

Jones: Which caters to retired to people.

Traflet: Yep, it keeps them active, keeps them involved, gives them opportunities for different things, so it's all that. There's this whole halfback phenomenon that's going now where retires used to go to Florida and they've realized, well how fun is it to enjoy your house if you have to stay inside all the time because it's just too hot and miserable to get out and enjoy the good weather.

Jones: The land of standing dead.

Traflet: So now they've realized that North Carolina is probably the way to go and that's certainly attracting them. And probably being in real estate one of the best things about being in Wilmington is that is what will happen is that one family member will come and then they'll bring the grandmother, and they'll bring the aunt, and they'll bring the brother, and if you do a good job with the first one...

Jones: You've got them all.

Traflet: You've got them all.

Jones: You get them all.

Traflet: You sure do, and I can't give a better example than myself because my brother got here first, I came in second, and I sold my parents their house this past summer and they're here now too.

Jones: Oh my, and they like it.

Traflet: They couldn't have gotten here fast enough.

Jones: What's the average-- all right, I'm thinking too many things at one time and I'm trying to think of something that would be of interest down the road. Have you seen a dramatic fluctuation in both new home prices and resale homes or has there been any difference? And how badly off are the new home construction?

Traflet: It's a very interesting phenomenon because, hypothetically let's say a year ago, because as we're moving forward there's not a lot of new construction left in Wilmington, so that's a challenge in and of itself, but for the ones that were there builders would tell you that their pricing on the new construction was tracking the same as resale prices were. And a contractor would say, "Why in the world would you spend the same amount of money on an older home as you would my brand new home with all the bells and whistles, and the granite counter tops, and the high ceilings, and the downstairs master bedroom, and all the things that are nonnegotiable for people right now.

Jones: Yeah, the diamond bracelets.

Traflet: Yeah, but what the challenge is, is that all the good locations in Wilmington already have houses on them, and if it's a desirable school system they're already full, there's no land left in those parts of town. And so a resale home will provide you probably the best location in town and will provide you a good school system, and it may also provide you a larger lot size. And when you look at the new houses that are being built now we have carved up that lot into something so small, and it has to be done because land values have gotten so high that if you have a large lot then your base just on the land alone is going to be expensive and then by the time you put that house, that diamond jewel with all the bells and whistles in it now you're at a price that people can't-- that's not attainable.

Jones: What's the average price for a retiree moving let's say, from New York, Long Island?

Traflet: The average sold price in Wilmington right now is probably hovering around $263 or so, right along there, and it's always fluctuating back and forth.

Jones: Are they patio type homes or all over?

Traflet: I would say that patio home is sort of a tough term to come up with.

Jones: Yeah, I've never liked that term, but.

Traflet: It's very vague.

Jones: Yes.

Traflet: A lot of people would consider a patio home-- sometimes your definition might be one on a slab that's typically built close together with your neighbors. You may also have a homeowners association that provides lawn maintenances and things like that so that you're not out cutting your own grass and that kind of thing. But I would say probably the average size home is 17-18 hundred square feet or so.

Jones: In this price range have there been as many foreclosures? The work that you do with the people now, I don't know where you get your customers, word of mouth, maybe you have a relocation referral system too through Prudential, but I'm just wondering about-- I was amazed last weekend, picked up the paper and there was name after name, columns of foreclosures, and why?

Traflet: Right. Really as far as where my customers come from I will tell you I get all of them 100 percent by positive word of mouth. And my thought is; is I would rather focus everything I can on you so that you are so excited you go and tell every friend that you know and that causes my phone to ring. I'd rather...

Jones: Are you a buyer's agent?

Traflet: I'm a buyer's agent, I'm a listing agent. I'm anything that I need to be to help them successfully, but that's just the way that I choose to do my business. It's a lot easier that way, and it's what I love to do. But back to your point on the foreclosures, we certainly have seen them jump tremendously. As folks come in from other areas, though, they feel like the expectation is that they're going to see a lot more because they're listening to the national news, and maybe they're moving from the New Yorks of the world, and the Illinois, and all those other states that are really-- the Ohios where industry has just really dried up, and people have lost their jobs, and that has caused the foreclosure rate to soar. We really haven't had that here. You come to Wilmington for your lifestyle and there's a good chance you're going to be retired or you're going to be independently wealthy anyway of some form or fashion, so our foreclosure rate is much, much, much lower than anywhere else around. Now, don't get me wrong. You might see a statistic in the paper that might say foreclosures are up 50 percent. Well, if you had two of them last year and you've got four this year well you're up...

Jones: That's right. Everything is relative.

Traflet: It's all relative to where you were at before.

Jones: Who do you fault? You're in this business, you've got weekly sales meetings you attend I'm sure, and ongoing education etcetera, what is the underlying fault of the foreclosures all across the nation. Is it the lax of the lenders trying to-- I mean, the money is floating constantly, nobody's harboring it; and giving loans to people, "Oh, so what?"

Traflet: It's all of the above.

Jones: The adjustable rate things where the first year you think you're in pig's heaven and then three years later or four years later it comes due and there's big time change.

Traflet: With my very first home that I bought I can remember the expectation was you didn't buy a house unless you could put down 20 percent. That was the number.

Jones: Exactly. That was it.

Traflet: And I came up short. And I can remember borrowing money from my mom. And it was $6,000 dollars, and $6,000 was enough to get me to the 20 percent mark. And she had to write a letter saying that it was a gift, and I turned that in, and I qualified for the loan. And I didn't have PMI and all that. And that was the way, the only way that you bought a house. And as time went on we got more creative, we got more lax, we got more-- my thought is, is you have to have skin in the game, and if you don't put any money into it it's too easy to walk away from it. And so the move, obviously, the more equity that you have in the home the more that you're going to take care of it, and the more that you're going to ensure that you're taking care of things properly. All of these creative financing programs help to put people in homes that truly probably didn't deserve to be. But at the same time it was a reflection of what was happening at the time because values were just jumping through the roof. In that span of time, 2003 is really when it started, 2004 was strong, 2005 was really strong and then six started backing back down again. That was when it hit Wilmington. It hit in different areas in different times. But the whole idea that you could buy a house today and a year from now you had some tremendous equity in the home even if you didn't put any money down. And then that led way to interest only type loans which is very dangerous, but even at interest only if the appreciation is still in place you'll be okay, but when you take away the appreciation that really caused all the cards to tumble. And when the appreciation went away, and when jobs started getting tougher, those became the one-two-punch that sort of put us in the position that we're in now.

Jones: What happens or what do you think is going to happen just from where you stand on the resale of these homes, not foreclosures, I mean, that's a different resale type thing, but people who, let's say, bought, they may have paid an inflated price, which let's face it that did happen. They now want to sell. It's not a market. They're going to take a loss, right?

Traflet: Right, absolutely.

Jones: You can expect it, is that it? When do you think it's going to be an evening out period? There are usually peaks and valleys, but I know you don't have a globe in front of you where you can foresee the future, but surely Prudential is a national company. They've got people doing all kinds of data all over the place. They're probably large enough to absorb some homes they can take back and carry. Is there any data on the rise and fall traditionally? It gets down to a level then it goes back up. And I've heard, and I'll ask you to tell us, is Wilmington pretty much free of the dramatic rises and falls?

Traflet: Well, there are a lot of questions in there.

Jones: Well, it's kind of all in one. I guess having to do with inflated prices, people just dying to come here, buying the granite counter tops, and then the resale values, and then what we're experiencing now with in at any price, the lenders making it easy.

Traflet: Well, I will certainly say this. I learned a very valuable lesson when I was probably in my first year in real estate which was I was helping a younger couple, and we went under contract to sell the house, and the wife, she was very sharp on financial things and all, and I said her, I said, "Do you want me to run a summary of your closing cost and things?" She said, "Oh, nope, nope. I'm buying. I know exactly where we stand." I was like, "I can run all that for you, just say the word." "Nope, nope, got it all," so I didn't push it any more after the second time. So we get to the closing table and she owed $8,000 dollars to be able to walk away from the house, to sell her house and they didn't have it, and they didn't know that until we sat down at the closing table. Now, you want to talk about a challenging situation. And I, at that point, I went home that night and I created an Excel spreadsheet where I can just plug in the numbers, and it'll spit out the answer at the bottom, and it will take in the attorney's fees, and the excise tax, and the closing costs, and every nickle and dime, and closing cost support, whatever because I swore that would never happen again. And to that point now in 2009, the beginning of this year, the Real Estate Commission adopted a form that does that very thing.

Jones: They should.

Traflet: Yep, and it should be there. But it's a reflection of the times where that phenomenon never happened before, but it is happening now and certainly a lot more going forward. So that's that point. What else we're we going ________?

Jones: We have a bounce back period, it's going to come.

Traflet: Yes, yes. That's really everybody that asks me right now is, "Are we at the bottom yet? Are we at the bottom?" And I feel like I need to wait.

Jones: Do you know?

Traflet: Well, the point is there is no bottom. The market is always changing. It's either going up or it's going down. It's never stopping at any certain point along the way, and by the time you realize that it's at the bottom the only reason that you realized it is because it's already going back up again. You're already behind, as well as the fact with the interest rates the way that they are right now. I saw an article this morning that said that since they've been tracking interest rates since 1971 we are at a point right now that has tied the all time low since 1971, since they kept records of it. And my thought on it is we'll probably even go a little bit further.

Jones: Good heavens.

Traflet: Don't get me wrong, the change will be so miniscule that it's not worth worrying about because there really isn't any further it can go to the point where anybody makes any money and what's the point of doing it if it's not generating income for you, so.

Jones: Has anybody been tracking the average age of buyers?

Traflet: It's such real estate...

Jones: And this is tied to the population here. What kind of age group do we have, because real estate companies have always been good about that?

Traflet: Yeah. Wilmington is an expensive town to live in, and even though our values have dropped it's still an expensive town to live in. My thought is; is that if I left Wilmington, if I sold my house today and left Wilmington and went to another town and came back in a year from now, I probably wouldn't be able to afford to move back into my own house because it just-- I bought at a time that allowed me to get a nice house in a nice neighborhood and I don't know that I would have the funds to be able to do that again, which is a tough thing. But part of the biggest reason this happened is because of the northeast. You can be on Long Island and sell a house at $700 thousand dollars that's been in your family for years and come down here and spend half that money and get a nicer house than what you had there. So that's really is what caused our surge is folks from out of town with fat pocketbooks.

Jones: There's a retired police officer from New York. He lived in Brooklyn, lived in a brownstone that was in his family. He sold that, came down here and he bought a place and paid cash for it.

Traflet: There you go. And I look back at the transactions that I had last year. I would say very close to half of them were cash buyers, cash, which is just something that just doesn't happen. And I think to myself with all this scandal in the mortgage industry and things like that people are always asking me, "Well, how many of your buyers have been turned down for loans and things?" That really hasn't happened that much around here because there's so many cash.

Jones: That's good to know.

Traflet: It really is.

Jones: Here we are the end of March 2009. You've been very successful and it's good to know that we are-- we're not insulated, but pretty much not like the rest of the country.

Traflet: We were the last market to slow down and I think we will be the first market to get back going again because we are a destination. People want to be here. If you're in Raleigh, if you're in Charlotte you're probably there because your job took you there, and your job may move you to the next town next year. You didn't necessarily pick it, nothing against Raleigh or Charlotte, beautiful cities, but you didn't necessarily pick that as a place that you wanted to be. If you had your way, like a lot of students probably right here at UNCW when they graduate it's probably the dream job would be to be able to stay right here.

Jones: But there are no jobs.

Traflet: But there are not the opportunities, and it's tougher today than it's ever been before.

Jones: Is Wilmington aging?

Traflet: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think so. I just kind of think about all the changes and things with technology and all that, and my clients that I'm working with the vast majority of them are, I would say, senior citizens and I am amazed at how sharp they are, absolutely amazed. I just had a seller who I just sold her house probably a month ago. She's 71-years-old, raises over a million dollars for charity every year for her own nonprofit that she created. She has three computers in her office, one lap top and two desktops. She travels to Mexico, and she says, "Now, when I get down to Mexico," because it took a while to get her house sold, she said, "When I get down to Mexico," she said, "I'll call you on Vonage." And I thought to myself, "I've heard about Vonage, but I've never actually needed to use it, but I sure hope I don't look like an idiot because she knows and I certainly should probably know as well." And she would call me on her computer and there'd be a little delay as we were talking, but she could talk through the computer for free. And she's 71-years-old and just as sharp as a tack.

Jones: I think there are a lot of people like that. You're no longer expected once you reach a certain age, or your kids have gotten out of the house, to sit back and become granny and die. And I think people are spending their time doing other things whether it's volunteer work or going back to school. It's not unusual. We've got a couple of real senior citizens who are working on their master's degree, and why not?

Traflet: Sure, absolutely.

Jones: Why not? Yeah.

Traflet: Absolutely, and I think to myself my mother is a great example. She's on the computer every night, but things will break on her. And she's very quick to use the computer, but she's never taken the time to learn, and there entail is the road.

Jones: Well, there are only so many hours in the day.

Traflet: Yeah, but that's the road, because whenever anything happens to it I've got to drive to the house and get it fixed, and I think to myself, "Well, if you just took a class on this you'd know how to fix it."

Jones: Gary, project if you can five years down the road. What's this place going to be like, a guess?

Traflet: Five years down the road, well...

Jones: That's a short period of time, but things have moved so quickly.

Traflet: Yeah. Yeah. I think that we will still continue to find ways of growing the population.

Jones: We won't be saturated yet?

Traflet: I think we'll be saturated. We'll become over saturated. I don't think it's going to slow down. We're only limited by the resources that people have to get here. They want to come. They'd be here yesterday if they could. It's just a question of how fast can they sell what they have to buy what they want to buy here. I think Brunswick County, even though it's not the number one fastest growing county anymore like it was before, I think it will still pick back up. I think if that bridge came along lines that it's supposed to that would be another real kick in the pants that would boost things through the roof. All those things, Wilmington is still such a wonderful city and still offers so much for everybody here.

Jones: Now, do you see the entertainment industry, art scene, theater growing?

Traflet: Uh-huh. I was able to participate in a focus group not too long ago on the center that they'd like to build maybe in the downtown area if we could just find the land and find the resources that would be a music hall and would be specially designed for. And that would, if in turn if we could get that built that would attract a much higher talent level of performers and things that really Thalian may not be suitable for, for whatever it is, their music venture. That would certainly help a lot. Again, getting the bridge going would be something that would provide so many resources. The new film studio that's coming online I think they're actually pushing it ahead of schedule.

Jones: Convention center?

Traflet: Actually the convention center, but I was actually talking about the film studios with that water tank that's supposed to be the largest water tank...

Jones: Yeah, it's supposed to be the third largest in the world or something.

Traflet: Yeah, and that's...

Jones: They could have some real battles out there.

Traflet: They're pushing that ahead of schedule. So there are so many positive things that are happening in Wilmington that it's still a wonderful city. Even though we've changed and we've gotten more dense and our traffic concerns and things like that, as many arguments as we have of that if you ask anybody on the street they wouldn't want to live anywhere but Wilmington.

Jones: That's true. Prudential ought to send you on the road to various corporations where they've got early retirement just to take a motel room and serve a little wine and cheese and have them come in and you can talk to them, make all kinds of money.

Traflet: Uh-huh, that'd be great.

Jones: Yeah. Gary, thanks so much for coming to visit, and you've been really easy to talk to, and I knew you would be. And I think that this has been-- given a little clarity to the times right now. Do you think so Erin?

Boyle: Uh-huh.

Jones: And I appreciate it.

Traflet: Absolutely, enjoyed it.

Jones: You're going to get a DVD of this.

Traflet: Okay.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign