William Raveis Marks Fifty Years and Counting

above: Bill and Candy Raveis

Self-made mogul Bill Raveis charts his own history, from a tiny office atop a grocery store to more than $20 billion in annual sales for William Raveis Realty

Two dozen William Raveis employees sip and mingle on the deck of their boss’s sprawling Greenfield Hill home in Fairfield. They’ve gathered for lunch in the founder’s honor, thanking him for organizing the Raveis company’s 50th anniversary party at Mohegan Sun earlier this year. More than 1,500 real estate agents and employees showed up for the two-day bash, training by day and dancing by night, with 77-year-old Bill Raveis leading the conga line.

Toasting the 50th anniversary at the 2024 convention

Here at Applewood, Raveis’ home, the real estate mogul leads a handful of guests through a living room and into his Revolutionary War room. Glass display cases highlight powder horns with engraved scrimshaw. Rifles, pistols, muskets and spears adorn the walls, alongside bayonetes, spontoons, war clubs. Raveis lingers by portraits on parchment of the Founding Fathers.

“It’s amazing how this country began,” says Raveis, tanned and sockless, in jeans, sportcoat, crisp white shirt and leather loafers. “These people didn’t like the way they were being treated so they started their own company, took on the biggest power that existed and fought with everything they had. They were the greatest entrepreneurs in the world.”

Bill Raveis addresses the crowd of award-winning agents and sales managers

After Raveis points out a few treasures—Paul Revere’s wallet; George Washington’s vest; a blood-stained, 13-starred flag from Baltimore—the gathering disperses, most guests returning to William Raveis real estate, mortgage and insurance headquarters in Shelton. But half a dozen remain. They gather in Raveis’ sitting room, strategizing for another battle.

In March, the National Association of Realtors agreed in an antitrust suit to eliminate the 6% sales commission traditionally paid to agents selling a home. Historically, those agents shared that commission with a buyer’s agent. Soon, as agents lower fees to compete for business, buyers might be paying for an agent’s help.

The Tommy Hilfiger Estate on Round Hill, a noteworthy Raveis transaction

“What everybody else does, I couldn’t care less,” says Raveis. He and his soldiers are planning a counteroffensive, which includes arming agents with materials for buyers touting his agents’ worth.

Raveis settles himself between his marketing director—Princeton-, Harvard- and Stanford-educated Lisa Carpenter—and two Yorkshire terriers snoozing beside him in a baby carriage. He reviews new brochures and coos, “We’re the only ones who have this. Nobody else comes close.”

Chris, Bill and Ryan Raveis celebrate 50 years at William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage and Insurance

Raveis has spent a lifetime inventing, pivoting, reinventing. In 1974, he rented a 9-by-7-foot room over a grocery store in downtown Fairfield and set out to launch his real estate empire. He was 27 years old, a married father of two and had just quit a tech job in New York City, dismayed by the attention lauded onto a hire from Harvard who had little interest in the Bridgeport-bred computer wiz but happily took credit for Raveis’ accomplishments. Raveis had barely made it through high school, willed and worked his way through college and hadn’t yet learned that severe dyslexia was what hampered his ability to see things as everyone else did. He credits dyslexia with forcing him to devise inventive strategies to master material.

Overall Winner of HGTVs Ultimate House Hunt 2022, a deal done by Raveis

When he opened up shop, Raveis had a desk, a phone and an office reachable by walking through a doctor’s office. What he didn’t have: experience selling houses. “I’m looking out the window talking to myself, saying ‘How am I going to build a business?’ Then I realize, if I hire an agent, they make money and I make money. They make more money and I make more money. If I help them make more money we all win.”

Raveis believed that an agent was his customer, not a buyer or seller, a mindset unique to real estate companies at the time. Even so, “None of the big agents wanted to come over and be with me because I was some kid from Bridgeport.”

He knew what it meant to be an outsider and he hired five agents who, he believed, were ignored because they were female and Jewish. After he hiked their commissions and referral fees, the established guys who ran the local multiple listing services didn’t like it, Raveis says, and refused to list Raveis properties. They invited him to lunch one day to deliver a message. “They said, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. If you don’t go according to our rules, we’ll run you out of town. I said, ‘The heck with you.’”

The Raveis Family

At this point in the conversation, Raveis reminisces about his upbringing, a favorite topic during interviews as well as in the two books he’s written. Raveis’ dad was a bricklayer, and mom made lipstick in a factory. They encouraged their son to get what he wanted by rising to meet, rather than backing down from, a challenge; by working hard, by treating people kindly. Raveis vowed to treat his colleagues as family. Those five agents worked with Raveis for more than 20 years.

His little company has grown to 4,500 agents in 145 branches from Florida to Maine, boasting $20 billion in sales. The family-run firm (sons Ryan and Chris are company co-presidents) finances mortgages and sells insurance. Last year, industry analysts Inman awarded Raveis the Top Brokerage in the United States.

And the company continues to grow. When Raveis moved to Florida eight years ago, he mentioned to locals that he might like to hang a shingle there. “A guy from the No. 1 firm in Naples laughed. He said to me that no outsider has ever made it here,” Raveis recalls during an interview on Zoom. He’s calling from his house in Port Royal, where the average home costs $20 million and a current Raveis listing goes for $88 million. That guy didn’t know he was laying down a gauntlet. Today, Raveis says, “We’re the No. 1 firm here, and they’re No. 3.”

photography: father and sons portrait by KYLE  NORTON; HGTV house contributed; group family photo by Samantha Yanofsky

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