When an investment group converted a Denver apartment complex to for-sale condominiums in 1976, the recently licensed apartment manager saw an opportunity to move into real estate.

October 1, 2010

In 1970, Ginny Lee was stranded. Caught in an abusive marriage with a three-month-old son and a two-year-old daughter, the young mother saw no way out.

But summer brought fortune in the form of chaos when Lee’s spouse allegedly attacked a Littleton, Colo., officer responding to a 911 call at the family home. Presented with a momentary safe harbor following her husband’s arrest, Lee packed up the kids, grabbed a few bags, and accepted a police escort out of town.

The trio stayed with a family friend in Steamboat Springs, Colo., for one month. Then, Lee moved the kids to Denver and landed a job managing the Parkmoor, an apartment complex near the stunning 38-acre Rosamond Park and the Denver Tech Center, a well-known business and economic trading center.

The job came with an apartment at the Parkmoor complex. And Lee — divorced and finally free from a turbulent past — felt at home, loved the work, and excelled in her new career.

She won an award from the complex developer for renting the most apartments and liked the housing industry so much that she decided to get her real estate license.

Talk about timing. Shortly after Lee secured her real estate license in June 1976, the investment group that purchased the Parkmoor and converted the apartments to the Whispering Pines for-sale condominium community offered Lee a job selling out the 333-unit complex.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“When we started selling these condos in the mid-1970s, people didn’t believe the product had value. People didn’t know what condos were. It was like buying an apartment. Everyone said the units would never sell,” she explains. “The developer used a clever advertising campaign based on the idea that, ‘Your mother wouldn’t like these homes, but you will.’ Of course, everyone wanted to see what their mother wouldn’t like,” Lee explains with a laugh.

By the end of her first day in real estate sales, Lee had closed 19 one-bedroom units. And by the end of the first week of sales, even the mothers were showing up to view the properties.

“It was an amazing time,” Lee, CRS, today a broker-associate with Premier Plus Realty Inc. in Naples, Fla., says.

How did you start building your client list as a new sales associate?

LEE: I had a captive market. I had been managing the building for a few years and had good relationships within the rental community. So I used those existing relationships to turn many of those renters into buyers.

Later, when those buyers wanted to resell their condos, there weren’t really any real estate agents in my market specializing in condos. So I specialized in condos and had an immediate inventory. For a while there, I was the condo queen of Colorado. In 1978, I started a company called Condo Marketing, specializing in buying and selling condominiums. I bought homes in Colorado and Naples, Fla., and moved to Florida in 1984.

Tell me about that first sale.

LEE: My first sales were to the former renters in the complex. The one-bedroom units sold for $19,000. I can’t recall what the two and three-bedrooms sold for. But the condos sold so well that we ended up having to hold group closings at the title company to keep up with demand. We would have 20 people come to one closing. It was exciting. And I closed about $30 million that first year.

Did you have a specialty or niche when you started?

LEE: I specialized in condos. Eventually, I bought a home in Naples and relocated to the area in the 1980s and started to sell real estate. I love the beach and Florida has been very good to me. But I will never forget Denver.

What was your biggest fear when you started out in real estate?

LEE: After going through a divorce and everything, I was really happy to be moving in a forward direction. But coming from a place of abuse, I had to overcome a lot of negative self-talk and emotional damage in the beginning. When I started in real estate, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to make it on my own. Over time, I proved myself wrong.

What did those first transactions do for your professional career?

LEE: That first day gave me a real boost. Everyone told me that I couldn’t sell these units.

There will always be people ready to tell you that you can’t do something. But as a real estate professional, you have to forget the naysayers and come up with a unique and clever approach to meet the housing needs in your market. I remember when interest rates were 18 percent, and we still sold houses.

So I suppose my message to young real estate professionals starting out today is find out what you are good at and work that niche. You can’t let the market dictate your success. You have to find a unique and clever way to approach the market.