P. Wesley (“Wes”) Foster, Jr., co-founder and chairman emeritus of Long & Foster, one of the largest independent real estate companies in the nation, passed away March 17, the company reported. Foster was 89 years old.
“Wes was an extraordinary leader, businessman and person, and my heart goes out to his family and all those he touched through his caring and generosity,” said Patrick Bain, president and CEO of The Long & Foster Companies, parent company of Long & Foster Real Estate. “Working with Wes for several years, what stood out the most was his appreciation and attention for everyone he met. Wes always treated you as the most important person and knew it was the agents and employees who chose to work here, who were the heart and soul of the company. His people-first approach defined us, and his legacy lives on at Long & Foster.”
Foster first opened his real estate brokerage in 1968 with then-partner Henry A. Long, in a 600-square-foot office in Fairfax, Virginia. He and Long had met when Long toured a home Foster was showing, and the two discovered common interests, deciding to invest in a real estate company together. Long oversaw the firm’s commercial real estate business while Foster focused on sales of residential properties. Foster was often quoted as saying that a coin toss positioned Long’s moniker first in the company’s brand name and gave Foster the role of president, the company noted.
Unlike many small real estate firms, Long & Foster survived many market ups and downs, including the major downturn in the 1970s that was spurned by high-interest rate spikes. As the market began to regain its footing, Merrill Lynch offered Foster and his partner a buyout in 1979. Long was interested, but Foster declined, choosing instead to buy out Long’s half of the company.
Foster successfully grew the firm from then on by capitalizing on the surge of new housing developments throughout the Washington, D.C., area suburbs in the 1980s and 1990s, and by strategically acquiring competing real estate firms to increase the company’s presence throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.
Considered by many in the industry as a pioneer of the “one-stop-shopping” business model, Foster also grew the company by launching ancillary services such as mortgage, title and insurance, to help consumers and to diversify Long & Foster from an investment perspective. He prided the company on its ability to offer consumers everything they needed to buy, sell, rent and own a home (or investment property), and later introduced the business’s property management and vacation rentals divisions, the company said.
“Wes was a visionary in the true spirit of the word. His breadth of knowledge and his keen understanding of the industry is perhaps unmatched by anyone else in this business. He was a man of great generosity, humility and kindness whose impact on his employees, managers and agents will endure for years to come,” said Gino Blefari, CEO of HomeServices of America.
RISMedia Founder, President and CEO, John Featherston, also paid tribute to Foster, noting that he and his company were featured in one of his publication’s earliest cover stories.
“Wes was on one of the original covers of our magazine more than 30 years ago,” Featherston said. “He was one of the first brokers to grow through mergers and acquisitions and saw the value of expanding from the single-office strategy to multiple offices serving multiple communities and creating a regional giant offering a full breadth of services. He was a very honest, straight forward, good man. I greatly admired him and what he stood for.”
Jeff Detwiler, former president and CEO, who worked with Foster for eight years until the firm was sold to HomeServices of America in September 2017, commented:
“I was new to the brokerage business when I joined Long & Foster as the president, so I learned much about the business from Wes. Some of my fondest memories at L&F were long drives from northern Virginia to Hampton Roads, Philadelphia, and other parts of our footprint. Wes would want to go through every one of our 200 offices and understand what we were doing at each location. Upon completing going through the list, he would turn to telling me stories about growing up in Georgia, going to school and playing football at VMI (Virginia Military Institute), serving in the military and his early days as a salesperson. Funny stories—he would laugh and laugh remembering friends and times gone by. It always impressed me what a fun-loving and nice guy he was.”
Today, The Long & Foster Companies’ corporate headquarters is housed in Chantilly, Virginia, in a property that Foster built in 2007, and it stands as a family of companies that include Long & Foster Real Estate, Prosperity Home Mortgage, Mid-States Title, Long & Foster Insurance, HomeServices Property Management, Tailored Move, Insight Home Inspections, Long & Foster Vacation Rentals, Long & Foster Corporate Real Estate Services, and Urban Pace. Long & Foster has over 200 real estate offices and more than 8,500 sales agents and employees serving consumers throughout the East Coast.
Foster recognized that becoming part of HomeServices was the best way to protect what Long & Foster had achieved over the past 50 years, while also ensuring the organization continued to grow for the next 50 years and beyond.
Foster, who was born in McDonough, Georgia, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from VMI in 1956. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer, stationed in Darmstadt, Germany, and he was assigned as the Fire Direction Officer of the D. Battery 28th Artillery 8th Division. He also served as a special weapons liaison officer to the German III Corps. In recognition of his military service, he received the U.S. Army Commendation Medal.
After his military service, Foster moved to Washington, D.C., and went to work for Kaiser Aluminum, selling siding to area homebuilders. In 1963, he launched his real estate career by working as a new home sales manager for Minchew Corporation, an Annandale, Virginia-based builder, and in 1966, he joined Nelson Realty, where he served as vice-president of sales until he and Long opened Long & Foster.
Foster had a reputation for keeping close to his agents and for investing in tools and resources to ensure they remained the best-trained and most knowledgeable sales force in the industry. The company opened its own real estate school, which today garners ratings as one of the best in the Mid-Atlantic region and attracts many non-Long & Foster sales agents, the company noted. In addition, Foster invested heavily in the latest technology designed to make doing business with the company and its agents easy. In 2015, for example, Long & Foster acquired an equity stake in MoxiWorks, a real estate technology firm based in Seattle. The investment in MoxiWorks aligned with Foster’s long-term goal for his agents and company of having the best tools to grow their business and simplify their lives.
He often attributed much of the company’s growth and success to hiring good managers and department heads—in particular, people with both empathy and drive. Those two characteristics, which Foster reportedly first read about in Harvard Business Review’s The Mystique of Super Salesmanship, enable leaders to both connect with their clients—be they agents, buyers or sellers—and close the deal.
As a philanthropist, Foster established several scholarships and promoted fundraisers for many humanitarian non-profit organizations. He drew companywide support for the U.S. Marine Corps annual Toys for Tots campaign and designated one day each year for Long & Foster sales agents and company staff to participate in meaningful community service projects, in the neighborhoods where they live and work. Under Foster’s leadership, the business also launched its L&F Cares giving campaign, through which the firm’s employees and agents have supported nonprofits in three areas—health, housing and the military.
In the mid-2000s, Foster presented his alma mater with a significant donation to help upgrade its athletic facilities. The improvements included a facelift to the school’s football field where Foster had played the position of guard on the varsity team years before. In 2006, VMI’s football stadium complex was dedicated as the P. Wesley Foster, Jr., Stadium.
Over the years, Foster served on the VMI Foundation’s Board of Trustees and the VMI Keydet Club’s Board of Governors. Foster also served multiple terms on the VMI’s Board of Visitors—an appointment Foster had said was an honor especially because “some of the most important principles I learned at VMI I have applied to Long & Foster over the years to create a successful business.”
Foster was a founding member of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE) and the Realty Alliance, both of which are industry networks consisting of the nation’s leading brokers. In addition, he served on the board of directors of The Lane Construction Corporation, the George C. Marshall Foundation, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the First American Bank of Maryland and First Union National Bank of Virginia, among other local and industry organizations. He was also a past chairman of the Washington/Baltimore Regional Authority and the Business Development Bureau of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
Over the years, Foster was consistently recognized by real estate and civic entities as a leading entrepreneur, thought leader and visionary. In December 2017, The Washington Business Journal presented Foster with its 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor recognized his contributions to the real estate industry as co-founder of Long & Foster.
In 2011, Foster was listed as one of the 25 Best in the Business Leaders by Virginia Business Magazine. Additionally, he was named as one of Virginia’s top 100 business leaders by Virginia Business in 2008 and he became the first recipient of the Real Estate Industry Leadership Award awarded by Chabad at Johns Hopkins, the organization’s Jewish chaplaincy, in 2007.
In 2004, Foster was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame sponsored by Washingtonian magazine, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. He was also named one of the 25 most influential people in real estate in 2003 by REALTOR Magazine, the official publication of the National Association of REALTORS®, for his having been “a catalyst for change by challenging traditional business models, defining fundamental market shifts, and embracing the diversity and technological promise of the new millennium.”
In 1991, Foster was named Entrepreneur of the Year for real estate in the greater Washington, D.C., area by Ernst & Young and co-sponsors Merrill Lynch and Inc. Magazine. In October 1983, the National Association of REALTORS® recognized Foster with the Life Member Award.
In the nearly 30 years of RISMedia’s annual Power Broker Report through 2017 when the company was purchased by HomeServices of America, Long & Foster was consistently ranked among the Top 10 most successful firms in the nation for sales volume.
Foster and his wife, Betty, enjoyed international travel and spending time with family at their summer home in Connecticut. He is survived by his wife, two sons, one daughter, six grandchildren, and many extended family members and friends.
Visit LongandFoster.com for more information.