This is his second tour of duty in the real-estate business. In the late ’90s, he left Semonin and put his MBA to work for Papa John’s in marketing as owner-founder John Schnatter’s speechwriter, a job that took him all over the country as Papa John’s pizza boomed from small business to nationwide chain. He then worked for an ad agency before joining the tech world, eventually running bnet.com, which he started for CNET Networks (now owned by CBS Interactive). But his travel schedule meant too much time away from his sons, Oliver and Dylan, so he reconnected with real estate, and his mother, in 2005. In 2010, Jay began managing Kentucky Select — 75 agents strong, which last year ranked fifth among agencies with $122.4 million worth of home sales.
I ask how he likes working with his mom. “For the most part, it’s great,” he says. “I’m very much a pragmatist, and 99 percent of her life is her work. But I have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for her. She’s competitive. She wants to win but never at the expense of doing something sleazy, and there are plenty of sleazy people in this business. I’ve seen her walk away from deals if things weren’t right.”
“Oh, here’s the thingy doodle,” Sandy Gulick says, finding the lockbox on the front porch of a ranch-style house in Hills and Dales. Sandy, Jay and I have beaten the clients to the showing by a good 15 seconds. Then Kate Underwood, a former WAVE 3 television anchor, and her husband Jack Underwood roll up, carrying with them a typical Sandy Gulick back story. They’ve known her for years. She’s worked
with them forever, so now they’re as much friends as clients.
The Underwoods are close to selling their beach house on the Carolina coast, and they also want to downsize from their house in the Highlands. But there are snags; the house in Carolina is having “bank issues” even though the buyer is willing to put down close to 75 percent of asking price.
“And that’s the real-estate market right now,” Sandy Gulick says, acknowledging the web of red tape and endless bank queries demanded of even the most qualified borrowers since the housing bubble burst.
The days of no-down, interest-only loans and other easy-entry lending gimmicks have gone the way of Bear Stearns. Although Louisville never saw the extreme highs and crashing lows of the coasts or, say, Las Vegas, the market here peaked in 2006-’07 (see chart, page 50) and is just now returning to the pre-bubble days of a decade ago. But the new federal bank-lending regulations are nationwide — so as much documentation is required of gold-standard borrowers in Louisville as San Diego.
The Underwoods have been in the market for the last six months, but they’re not complaining. “It’s been a lot of fun,” Jack Underwood says, “and I didn’t think I’d say that about six or seven months in the housing market. But she has an infectious personality.”
“And she’ll say things you need to know,” Kate Underwood adds. “She won’t sugarcoat it.”
Lunch is at Mojito. The atmosphere is small and intimate and the lunch rush could double as a Sandy-and-Jay reception. It takes a good 10 minutes to get from car to table because it seems as if every diner wants to stop to chat. “Everybody knows her,” Jay says. “She’s the absolute best networker in town.” Indeed, when I would mention to, oh, pretty much anybody that I was doing a profile on Sandy Gulick, the stories and imitations would follow. They’d mimic that hoarse voice. Or pretend to be smoking a cigarette (though Gulick only snuck a couple of American Spirit smokes during our time together). Or they’d note that Gulick sold them a house, or two. When I tell Gulick, she inevitably remembers those sales, and those clients, in detail.
“Sandy has a mind like a steel trap with regard to properties she has listed,” says Cheri Suchy, a veteran realtor with Re/Max. “She deals with a high volume of properties, but she can give you pertinent details on each of them.”
Example: Gulick met Matilda Andrews (we’ll have lunch with her later) at an open house in 1990. Gulick remembers the house — a little yellow cutie on Napanee in St. Matthews — and other people who dropped by that day. Except there was one drop-by, a judge, whose name escapes her. So she picks up her BlackBerry and calls somebody else who was at that fateful open house 22 years ago. “Who was the judge at that open house?” she practically screams into the phone. She turns to the table. “He says he can’t hear; he’s on a boat.” She’ll remember later. It was the late Judge Ellen Ewing.
At Mojito, Jay has the fish and Sandy has a few bites of her palomilla steak between phone calls and emails. She estimates she gets an email every three minutes.
She tells war stories, too. One time she walked in with clients to show a house at the appointed time and found the owner at the kitchen table. Stark naked. Her clients didn’t buy. Another time she was showing a house, entered the master bedroom, and discovered the 90-year-old owner asleep in bed. They finished the tour. Quietly. Sale.
She’s shown some clients houses regularly for 10 years without them ever making an offer. “Over a 25-year period, one couple looked at the same house every time it went on the market,” she says. “They never bought it. I think they sort of regretted it every time.” Even that kind non-business generates word-of-mouth recommendations, which are the lifeblood of the real-estate game.
Open House. Sunday. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. 531 Garden Drive, off Lexington Road.
It’s Cookie Day for the agents of Kentucky Select. Jay Gulick’s idea. Bake cookies before open houses, fill the rooms with the smells of freshly cooked dough and hand out the goodies to potential clients.
Sandy Gulick hates the idea because it means cooking. She picks up her dough from Café Fraiche, has a friend help her work the oven and, when I arrive, she’s taking them out — unburned, mind you — to much fanfare and frustration.
“How do you turn this damn thing off?” she asks, staring at the oven as if it were the controls of a 747. Finally, the two of us discover OFF and all is well.
“See? I’m a good cook!” she says, sliding the chocolate chip cookies onto a platter.
A couple walks in, eyeballing the kitchen/family room (complete with a big-screen TV tuned to the Kentucky-Baylor regional final). They’re visiting from England. Just browsing.
“I like England,” Gulick says, “because they speak English.”
Her phone rings.
“Which one? Brick one or stone one? We’ve got an offer, and I’m meeting them at five.”
A family walks in — mom, dad, two young kids.
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