Burns & Ellis Realtors marks 50 years serving Dover community

DOVER — For a half century, as markets have thrived and tanked, Burns & Ellis Realtors remains anchored in the city it loves.

In 50 years the family-owned business has adapted to changing times while following principles established long ago by founders Walter Ellis and Fran Lore in the original Lore & Ellis Realty Company.

The approach apparently still works — Burns & Ellis had its most profitable year in 2015, according to ownership.

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Terry and Tom Burns stand in front of their 50-year-old business, Burns & Ellis Realtors, on U.S. 13 in Dover. Burns & Ellis had its most profitable year in 2015. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Some 22 years ago, Mr. Ellis passed the family business to his daughter Terry and her husband Tom, with no regrets.

“I’m still active in a way and feel very fortunate to have had my daughter and son-in-law to be interested in the business and come to work for me (before the transition),” said Mr. Ellis, 88, who lives near Rehoboth Beach Country Club with wife Thelma Lou.

“They’re very good at what they do.”

Believing that a handshake is the key to sealing a deal, there’s a standard of honesty for everyone involved in every transaction.

“You have to have a passion for it and I have a passion for the industry and its integrity,” Mr. Burns said from his office at 490 N. DuPont Highway on Friday, with Mrs. Burns sitting nearby.

“I have a tremendous respect for loyal customers and clients over the years.”

That’s the way is worked in 1966, when the original Lore & Ellis Realty Company  debuted with co-founders Mr. Ellis and Mr. Lore led the way.  The partners  built the now Burns & Ellis office site that still stands today.

“You deal with people,” Mr. Ellis said. “They come to you as strangers and often they become friends.”

It hasn’t always been a rosy existence, of course, real estate being what it is.

The toughest period came in the mid-1970s under the President Jimmy Carter administration, said Mr. Ellis, noting the presence of 20 percent interest rates.

“I don’t know how we survived,” said Mr. Ellis, now 64 years old.

For the next generation, the Great Recession of 2008 continued to crush real estate interests until 2011.

“Those years were brutal,” Mr. Burns said.

Interjected Mrs. Burns, “The fluff was gone.”

In a sense, Burns & Ellis downsized its ventures based on what the market held.

“It was a time to hunker down and make shrewd decisions,” Mr. Burns. “We had to go back to the core of the business and got out of commercial and land development.”

A great run

Add it all up, though, and it’s been a great run.

“We’ve had a phenomenal business here,” Mr. Burns said. “It’s been good to us. Dover gives us an opportunity to own our own business and it’s a delightful place to live.”

Flexibility and sharp vision of what’s coming next have been key, according to Mr. Burns.

“We’ve been able to adapt to changing conditions and multiple recessions, the opening of Route 1, federal regulations changing, computers and the way the market reacts,” Mr. Burns said.

The man who started it all — Mr. Ellis — still gets that.

“The business has changed a lot,” Mr. Ellis said. “It’s become very computerized and it’s more difficult to satisfy all the requirements and regulations. It takes a lot of time and

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Longtime Dover realtors Terry and Tom Burns are pictured in an earlier time. (Submitted photo/Burns & Ellis)

effort spent by the agents before any sale is made.”

The founder believes his career path came naturally.

“As a kid I always enjoyed trying to sell something so I gravitated toward that,” Mr. Ellis said.

There’s still reason for Mr. Ellis to make regular trips to Dover, checking up on his properties and holding on to a vested interest in the community.

Burns & Ellis allows its 20 agents an opportunity to thrive, and most have reaped rewards for years.

“We’ve people who have been with us 20 to 30 years,” Mr. Ellis said. “They’ve been able to make a living and benefit us. It’s been a very active time.”

Good people keep a business going for this long, Mr. Burns believes.

“We set a level of high quality, loyal agents,” he said. “As an owner we’re fortunate to be nimble as far as operations and oversight.”

Added Mrs. Burns, “Most of them have been here forever.”

Working so hard

Hard work matters, too; for seven years before they had children, Mr. and Mrs. Burns conducted open houses for prospective clients most every Saturday and Sunday.

“That’s just what we did on weekends,” said the 62-year-old Mrs. Burns.

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Walter Ellis

When it came to raising kids and pulling back a bit, they did that well. Son Tommy graduated from Ivy League Brown University and is a high-end art storage manager in New York City; daughter Lizzie is a Williams College alumni who is a research fellow at Harvard Business School.

They both earned a real estate license in college, but aren’t currently utilizing it.

“When the two generations before you are in real estate, the third generation will probably get a license, too,” Mr. Burns said.

Even with so much of the industry marketing conducted on the Internet, there’s nothing that beats walking through the front door of a property that’s in play, Mr. Burns said.

“In our business, a picture is worth 1,000 words and a visit is worth 1,000 pictures,” Mr. Burns said. “You have to see it, you have to touch it. That kind of sets us apart …”

Yes, Burns & Ellis have a finger on Dover’s pulse.

“You’re constantly meeting new people as they come and go from the community,” Mr. Burns said.

Fitting in nicely

A Wilmington native, Mr. Burns didn’t arrive that way in 1979. After meeting his future bride through friends at Rehoboth Beach, he came to Dover as an outsider. Reaching out to the community, he soon fit in.

By 1982, Mr. Burns was president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, a position he held through 1988.

“He went out and met the people and sat beside them,” said Mrs. Burns, a Dover native. “He did it because that’s just who he is and what he does.”

Earlier, Mr. Lore, who died in 1978,  was a major contributor to community interests as well. He was named Kent County Realtor of the Year in 1977, and was instrumental in promoting and building local sports interests at the youth, high school and college level after moving to Dover in 1951.

The late Mr. Lore was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, and the annual Fran Lore Scholarship goes to a Downstate high school athlete who has overcome a disability. Mr. Lore was instrumental in starting the Lower Gridiron Club that awards the Lore Scholarship. He was also a part-time sportscaster for WDOV (1962-1977) and a sports columnist for the Dover Post.

There’s no end in sight for the family business that’s still thriving, Mr. Burns said.

“I’m in it for the duration,” Mr. Burns said. “I don’t even want to say anything about retirement, it’s not in the vernacular. What would I do?”

And of course, the same goes for his spouse and business partner.

“I wouldn’t have anywhere to go if he stays here and works,” Mrs. Burns said. “I’m quite happy where I’m at.

“One of my problems is I have a tough time turning it off. When I’m at home, I’m still thinking about it.”

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