Sitting down with three generations of the family-owned and operated business, it was obvious that the admiration for what they do trickles down through the love they have for each other and touches the lives of those around them. From employees to clients, the recipe for success and growth of IsaBell K. Horsley Real Estate over the past forty years is dedication, hard work, and a great sense of humor.
Nelson, the only child of IsaBell and her husband Nelson Sr., remembers how it all started with his family’s real estate business. “When I was a pre-teenager, growing up in Gloucester, Mom and Dad both were working at the Naval Weapons Station - civil service jobs,” said Nelson. IsaBell stated that at that time those jobs were steady, good and safe. Through those years, IsaBell worked her job during the day and went to William & Mary College at night to earn her degree in business. Nelson remembers those as long days spent with his father and jokes about relying on TV dinners in the freezer. “Half of the freezer was bread, and the other half was frozen fried chicken TV dinners. No variety; just chicken.”
When asked about how her love for real estate began, IsaBell says, “We would see something small and we would buy it. One thing would lead to another.” Nelson talked about how he would help his father. “The Ware Neck lots they bought were full of briars during the summer. From the fall until spring, Dad and I would spend Saturday afternoons hand clearing. It was hard work. It made me look forward to military school,” Nelson said as his mother smiled.
Those investments in the Ware Neck area and others paid off, and the Horsleys began to invest the profits into other properties with larger payouts. Eventually IsaBell’s ability to flip properties caught the attention of a local real estate agent, Charles Kerns, who owned a small real estate and survey business. He and Nelson Sr. convinced IsaBell to get her real estate license and sell real estate part-time. IsaBell had the full support of her husband from the very beginning. “She really enjoyed it, but you can’t do real estate part-time. Even back then it was hard,” Nelson remembered.
It was a leap of faith when she took leave for one summer from her full-time job to pursue a career in real estate. However, she fell in love with her new path and never looked back. She worked for Kerns in Gloucester for a couple of years. “I learned a lot from Kerns because he was also a surveyor and he knew everything about the land and he knew everyone in Gloucester,” IsaBell remembered. She eventually went to work for another real estate firm in Middlesex and in 1975, established her own firm. IsaBell was a go-getter and was ready to do things her own way.
The first office they purchased was a small, two room former gas station in Urbanna, which still is the site of the main office location. While most companies lease buildings, IsaBell Horsley believed in making a commitment to the community which you serve, as well as believing and investing in your own business by purchasing a work space. “By purchasing the building you make a commitment to the people around you that says, ‘We are here to stay,’” says Nelson.
IsaBell credits her immediate success to innovative ideas. She was the first broker to completely change the way real estate ads were run. She was not content with listings that gave very little detail on the house that was up for sale. IsaBell explained that, “At that time, if you wanted to know more about the home listed, you had to find the listing agent to gather any further details.” So, IsaBell revolutionized the field when she began to add photographs with well-described advertisements for her listings. IsaBell loved advertising, “I kept a clip board with me at all times, so that when ideas would come to me I could write them down. Sometimes I would
wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, and I would have to get up and write it all down. Then I would turn off the light and go back to sleep,” IsaBell said. “Advertising just seemed logical to me.”
IsaBell also had the creative idea to use her office building as an advertising space. She had a display case created by a local artist in order to post new listings outside her office. Then, anyone who passed by could see all listings available through IsaBell K. Horsley Real Estate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
At that time, no one else was collecting information on the listings of other agents because they were focused on selling their own properties. However, true to IsaBell’s innovative business mind, she had another way of thinking. One of her mottos remains, “Half a pie is better than no pie at all.” So, IsaBell would show any property to her clients that would fit their needs. By focusing on the client, IsaBell became a huge success in her field by selling “half a pie.”
In the early beginnings of her company, agents did not have access to an organized system of listings like the current MLS. In the 1970s, IsaBell’s family used their own “cut and glue” system. “Every Thursday we would gather all the local papers, and my job was to go through every paper and see if there were any new properties that had been listed and I would cut them out. We had a big book that was like our own version of the current MLS system,” Nelson said.
Initially, IsaBell had other aspirations. She admits, “I really did want to become a lawyer.” With her experience in government offices, IsaBell had quick clerical skills and her sharp business mind put her above her competition from the very beginning. With her attention to detail, IsaBell was able to write her own contracts that were tighter than any legal document available at that time, and much more logical, according to her son.
With a legacy of strength and commitment, IsaBell paved the way for her family in real estate. IsaBell’s granddaughter, Katie Horsley Dew, now works with the Horsley firm along with her husband, David Dew. Katie has a great relationship with her grandmother and fondly talks about how detail oriented and creative IsaBell has always been. Katie said, “I remember when I first started in real estate, and I kept having all of these obstacles in my way. I went to IsaBell and she simply said, ‘It’s all just a learning experience.’” Frustrated, Katie then asked her grandmother, “When am I going to stop having learning experiences?” to which IsaBell calmly replied, “When you retire.”
Katie’s husband, David Dew, came into the family business with a full financial background. David said, “I left a great paying job with great benefits to come and work here just as the housing market crashed. That was very scary.”
Like her grandmother, Katie also relies on innovative thinking. “With real estate you have to be creative. There is always some way to work it out.” David explains, “It’s just like putting a puzzle together. You just have to find the right way to make it all fit to come to the end result. I’m in the trenches every day, and I play a supportive role to all our agents.” From appraisals to bankruptcy issues, David is actively involved in the day to day activities of every transaction and provides answers to agents’ questions as they come up.
Again, forward thinking allows IsaBell K. Horsley Real Estate to run smoothly. While most offices have competition within, the current principle broker, Nelson Horsley, Jr., takes a different approach. As the principle broker of Horsley Real Estate, Nelson does not actively pursue listings or clients. Instead, Nelson’s role is to support the agents by being available to make sure that everything is running smoothly, answering questions and taking care of any issues that may arise.
The entire room spoke very highly of their assistants, Vickie Callis and Sandra Dize. Vickie has been with Horsley Real Estate since high school and has now worked there for 35 years. Sandra joined the firm over five years ago. Both of these ladies help run the company and are like family. Currently Vickie, Sandra and Katie are inputting data into a new company website. Everyone in the office is excited about the new, modern look that will be rolling out soon. “It has been a long year of design, trying to keep the loved parts of our old website and incorporating new ideas into the new website, but we hopefully have managed to keep it simple and user friendly. We do everything in house and this way our listings are the most up to date. It truly looks beautiful!” says Katie.
When asked about her most memorable moment in her real estate career, IsaBell said, “It’s not what you would expect it to be. It was when we built our first office. I just loved Urbanna and I still love this little town. It was a very special moment because it was an exciting beginning with my own business, doing what I absolutely loved.” IsaBell, with her son Nelson Jr., grew the Horsley firm into four office locations, Urbanna as the main location, with branches in Mathews, Deltaville and White Stone.
IsaBell, though retired, still comes into the offices and checks on the website, advertisements and such. She resides on Wilton Creek with her husband of 63 years, Nelson Sr. Her son Nelson Jr., granddaughter Katie, and grandson-in-law David help to keep the family business strong with the roots from IsaBell. IsaBell’s grandson, Bailey and his wife Ashley (who is also Horsley agent) reside in Kilmarnock. Another grandson, Christian, resides in Kilmarnock.
With forty years of continued service and four “purchased” office spaces throughout the area, IsaBell Horsley’s commitment to the community around her is a legacy. The hard-working mindset that has been passed down through her family continues to serve the community today.