Windermere Real Estate’s Jill Jacobi Wood on Family Business, Rental Insanity and the Coming Dip

Jill Jacobi Wood, co-president of Windermere Real Estate, says the biggest challenge Seattle faces is a lack of housing — particularly condos.

Jill Jacobi Wood has a hard time stepping away from the family business when she’s at home or on a vacation, like the Alaskan cruise she and her family just returned from.

That’s because business doesn’t tend to stay at the office when you’re married to one of your co-presidents.

Wood’s father, John Jacobi, founded Windermere Real Estate in 1972. She joined the business after graduating from college in 1986 and now leads the company with her husband, Co-president Geoff Wood, and her brother, Co-president OB Jacobi.

Windermere is the largest real estate firm in the Puget Sound area, with more than $19 billion in home sales in the area last year. The company has 157 residential sales offices in Washington state and 2,724 local brokers.

What are some lessons you learned from your father? The biggest lesson was to surround yourself with great people who are smarter than you are. Take risks. Be humble. Pay attention to the finances. That’s something that sometimes gets missed.

What’s the secret of running a successful family business? Having different strengths and different weaknesses, because running a family business you have to work together every day. You have to figure out how to gel. My brother, my husband and I, we have really distinctive interests. My brother loves the technology side of our business. My husband loves the legal side and franchising side of our business. I love the people side of our business. It works because we are lucky that there are three of us doing this. I couldn’t do it without them.

What’s hard about it? When one of your kids comes to you when they have already asked their dad. You have to be united on what your goals are and your vision and where you are going.

What’s your leadership style? Open communication. Let’s talk through challenges. I am a softy, so I would rather see people succeed than people fail. I do everything in my power to help them succeed and give them time. If they don’t, then they have to figure it out.

How do you relax? I love to go on vacation. I still work when I am gone. But it is more relaxing for me to be gone. I’m really passionate about my job. My office thinks I’m crazy. They are like, “We are not going to bug you on vacation.” I’m like, “I don’t care. Set up a conference call.”

What are the biggest real estate challenges in the region? The biggest challenge is the lack of housing. Developers aren’t building condominiums. That makes our business really hard because people can’t get into a condominium and people can’t retire to a condominium. All these houses in the middle, we’re having a hard time with inventory.

What are the biggest opportunities? To build condominiums. We need to do something about this. Apartment rents are insane. My kids have to live with me. It’s crazy. We need inventory so this calms down, because this city is such an amazing place to live but you have to keep it affordable or it won’t be an amazing place to live anymore.

When is the next real estate downturn coming? Our chief economist, Matthew Gardner, is saying we won’t have anything like the recession we had, but he does see a dip coming in 2019, which is something that we all need to be prepared for. It’s the banks. They won’t be lending to anybody and everybody. That’s what happens. If you look at the cycle of history, every 10 years, we do see a bit of dip. That’s OK.

How is your firm using new technology in the business? We use a program called Moxi Works. We are not about sales quotas. We help develop relationships. If I’m an agent, I put my 200 people into our database in Moxi Works. The system helps me stay in contact, helps me manage relationships. You pay attention to your people, pay attention to who is getting married, and congratulate them.

How is the partnership with Chinese real estate website Juwai working out? Chinese buyers can see what we have on the market in their language. There are a lot of buyers coming to the Seattle area. It is a great vehicle for us. We have our luxury division. It has always been listed in Juwai. Juwai came to us last year and said they can get all of our listings if we want to partner with them. It’s like Zillow; they are giving leads back to us.

How do you feel about the increasing competition in the Seattle real estate market? When markets get really good, people open their own real estate offices. When the market contracts, people tend to come back. We have a really robust education department, our networking events, and we take a lot of pride in what we offer the agents. I’m not concerned about more competitors. There is enough business for everybody.

What’s ahead for Windermere? Everybody always says, “Are you trying to open offices on the East Coast, are you trying to go nationwide” We are not. We are definitely trying to grow, but it is finding the right people that are the perfect fit for our company.

Jill Jacobi Wood

  • Title: Co-president of Windermere
  • Family: Wood and her husband, Geoff Wood, have two daughters, Lucy and Franny.
  • Education: Wood has a humanities degree from Seattle University.
  • Residence: Laurelhurst
  • Morning routine:“I wake up every day by 6. I drink coffee. I do crossword puzzles. I read the paper and I work out and I go to work. I get all my quiet emails done early in the morning.”
  • Getaway spot:“We have a cabin in Bainbridge. It has been in the family since 1901. It is really peaceful. It gives you time to think and read and to walk the beach.”
  • Reading now:“House Rules,” by Jodi Picoult
  • Surprising fact:“I‘m extraordinarily shy. I’m not an introvert, I’m an extrovert for sure. I’m just shy. I don’t do any public speaking. I don’t usually do interviews.”
  • Her pick for the next hot housing market: Georgetown or Ballard

Puget Sound Business Journal | July 2017
Nuoya Zhou