When Gary Albertine Sr. got into the real estate business in 1948, an average 1,500-square-foot house sold for about $15,000.
Gary Albertine Sr. (front, center), pictured here with employees of Albertine Co. LLC.
(Photo Courtesy of Albertine Co. LLC)
Contracts were one-page long, men dominated the industry and the eastern boundary of Memphis city limits was Goodlett Street. It was a simpler time, when business was based on trust and word of mouth.
“You didn’t know when houses came on the market,” said Albertine, who turns 87 this month. “The only way you knew a house was for sale is to drive the neighborhood and see a for-sale sign in the yard.”
Now approaching his 65th year in the business, Albertine is the oldest active Realtor in the city and still works seven days a week. He’s the head broker of the Realtor division of Albertine Co. LLC, owned by his son, Palmer.
“He goes and does his exercise and cuts his grass and he’s happy,” Palmer Albertine said. “He’s very simple. He loves to work and he loves to work out and he likes to go home.”
Albertine Co., 2176 West St. in Germantown, is a mom-and-pop company now in its third generation of real estate professionals. It’s made up of 10 team members, including Palmer’s wife, Kathy, who handles the books from home.
“We are Realtors, builders and land developers,” Palmer Albertine said. “Most people are one of the three. We’re as small of a mom-and pop-operation as you can have and still be doing all three. We had a $20 million operation just five years ago when things were good. We grow and shrink based on what the market’s doing.”
Known for its timeless houses, Albertine Co. was the first firm in town to build speculatively for homes toppling $1 million in the 1980s. The firm’s client portfolio includes some of the city’s top executives, including AutoZone’s Steve Odland and architects Doug Enoch and Brad Shapiro.
“If you think of the old-time names of Memphis real estate, you think of Boyle, Marx-Bensdorf, the Belz family and Albertine,” Palmer said. “His name has been around forever.”
Gary Albertine joined forces with his son in 1985. He prefers his datebook to a mobile phone, but what he lacks in technology he remembers in experience.
“His career in the real estate industry has been rags to riches, rags to riches,” Palmer Albertine said. “What’s interesting is he doesn’t read his tax return. He just puts his hand over it and signs it because he says, ‘I worked just as hard either way, whether I made money or didn’t make money.’ He by design, he does not want to know.”
Albertine became a Realtor in 1949 in his early 20s after serving as a commissioned Navy officer in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
“When I opened my own office, I was a salesman for only one year,” Albertine said. “At that time, everybody age-wise was about 45 to 50 years old. They tried to talk me out of it because I was too young and didn’t have experience. I talked them into it.”
A true Renaissance man, Albertine claims three firsts. He was the youngest broker in the city in 1949, the first Realtor to move out east in 1953 (to an office at Peabody Avenue and Cooper Street) from Downtown, and the first to open a full-fledged real estate firm in Germantown in 1965, Albertine-McCrory.
“In the ’60s, we had about five superintendents, we had a road building output, we had our own engineering company, we had our own insurance company,” Albertine said. “We had anything you wanted.”
The first subdivision he developed is at the northeast corner of Walnut Grove and Wallace roads, a neighborhood with values that to this day are among the highest in Memphis.
“That was really the elite,” Albertine said. “Wood Grove Park, Pinehurst, Long Leaf Drive. I got 80 lots out of it. I did presell all of the lots before I even put the subdivision in, but I still had the main house, the Pidgeon home. It was actually a plantation. The main house stands to this day.”
In Albertine’s six decades in the business, he’s been involved in developing and naming streets for about 25 different subdivisions. He’s written a contract on a grocery bag on the hood of a car, and has sold houses under circumstances that likely no one else can claim.
“I sold a house that was burning up,” Albertine said with a chuckle. “There was smoke coming out of the attic. About the fifth house west of Perkins on the south side of the street. The guy I sold it to was a character.”
As the old saying goes, “a true salesman can sell anything.” But to Albertine, success in the real estate trade comes with passion and a little elbow grease.
“In this business, you don’t need a sixth-year education,” Albertine said. “All it is is hard work and be sincere.”