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July 11, 2017

Next generation assumes ownership of Bangor real estate firm

Courtesy / ERA Dawson Bradford Co.
Courtesy / ERA Dawson Bradford Co.
Julie Dawson Williams, shown here with her parents Jon and Nancy Dawson, has become the principal owner of the Bangor-based real estate firm her parents started more than 40 years ago.

Julie Dawson Williams, who was named 2017 Realtor of the Year by the Greater Bangor Association of Realtors, is now the principal owner of the Bangor-based real estate firm started by her parents more than 40 years ago.

"We've been working on this process for the past 10 years," Williams told Mainebiz. "We made an announcement to our office at the end of 2016, but my parents and I have been working on that transition for the past decade. We wanted to make sure that everyone could see we were energized by this succession in ownership … that there would be continuity of leadership throughout the transition."

Williams said her parents, Jon and Nancy Dawson, who founded Bangor-based ERA Dawson Bradford Co. in 1974, remain active in the day-to-day business of the company. Her father retains the title of president, while her mother, who is very involved in the greater Bangor community, continues serving in the vital roles of lead generator and chief relationship officer for the firm.

ERA Dawson Bradford has more than 70 employees and sold $142 million of real estate in 2016 involving 900 clients, Williams said. Its main office is in Bangor and it maintains a smaller office in Orono. It has a full commercial division with a broker leading that group who is a Certified Commercial Industrial Member, or CCIM (one of two in the Bangor market).

"We're a family-owned and operated business," said Williams, who serves as chief operating officer of Dawson Inc., parent company of the real estate firm and its subsidiary insurance business in Orono. Her husband, Brian, is treasurer, filling that role on top of his full-time job with Dun & Bradstreet. "The fact that we are continuing in that tradition means a great deal to both of my parents, as well as to Brian and me. Although my husband has another job, he's a critical component of what we're trying to do here. I couldn't do it without his continued help and support."

Returning to Maine

When her parents approached her in 2007 about whether she'd be interested in taking over ownership of the company, Williams said she was newly married and living with Brian in Washington, D.C. Both are graduates of Bowdoin College and knew that when it came time to start their family, Maine was where they hoped to raise their children.

Whatever trepidation she might have had about returning to Maine in the beginning of what turned out to be the country's deepest recession since the Great Depression, Williams said her father helped put those fears to rest.

"My father pointed out there was no better time to learn how to manage a family business than during an economic downturn," she recalled him saying. "There'd be more incentive to be at the top of our game. It meant that I would not take for granted all that I'd be learning. It was important to show the agents and the community that this was the 'real deal' — that my husband and I were committed to this community."

Williams acknowledges that real estate was a constant topic of conversation at the family dinner table when she was growing up, so she knew first-hand that her father's encouragement was based on hard-won wisdom.

"My parents had been through at least four economic downturns," she said. "They had led this company through good times and bad and had grown it to be one of the top 10 real estate companies in the state."

Paying her dues

Soon after their return to Maine in 2008, Williams began learning about her parents' business from the bottom up. She took on the redesign of ERA Dawson Bradford's website as her first assignment, making it compatible with mobile devices. In addition to listing and selling properties for her own clients, Williams was put in charge of training and recruiting new agents.

"When I started showing success in sales and recruiting, that's when my parents said, 'OK, great.' Now it was time for me to join some local community and Realtors boards. Those were my training wheels."

In the last three or four years, she said, "the training wheels came off"" as she assumed greater management responsibilities, enabling her father to scale back on some of his commitments and focus more on his particular strength, described by his daughter as being a "calm negotiator" who's able to bring complex or difficult deals to a successful closing.

One strong sign of Bangor's improving real estate market: Williams said ERA Dawson Bradford has hired "seven new real estate agents in the last few months," bringing the total to 62. In the past three months, average time on the market for properties listed by the firm has gone down from 112 to 80 days.

Advancing her parents' legacy

The firm, which acquired the ERA Bradford Real Estate and Insurance Agency in Orono in 1989 (a company that's been running for nearly 60 years), also has four licensed agents and two other staff members employed at its insurance business.

Looking ahead, Williams said she's continuing her parents' focus on technology as a way to improve the real estate experience for both customers and employees. This summer, for example, the agency is rolling out 3D virtual tours of listed properties, utilizing a camera and software that allows agents to walk through and around a property, taking pictures every eight feet to create a video that can be viewed on even a smartphone.

"The client is going to have a three-dimensional experience," Williams said, adding that the new technology expands the notion of "curb appeal" by giving prospective buyers the chance to "take a walk around it and it" before their actual visit.

The firm also is transitioning to a paperless transaction system that provides built-in efficiency for the agents' daily workflow. Williams said she also is building on her parents' legacy of cultivating a "culture of collaboration" within the firm, with top agents mentoring new hires and helping them become successful.

"For me, personally, the satisfaction of this business is all about people, helping people solve one of their largest financial investments," Williams said. "Helping people find and connect with the 'right house"' is what puts a fire in my soul when I talk about real estate."

Now, as owner, she said her role has expanded into strengthening the business's relationship with the communities within its service area as well as creating opportunities for her agents to grow in their careers.

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