How many of you have ever heard of the 80/20 theory?” No hands go up in the small conference room at the back of the Dawson Ford Garbee real estate office. It’s here that J.P. Vaughan, the company’s Director of Training and Business Planning, is delivering a masterclass on real estate success to four eager new agents.
J.P. is well-dressed as usual. Khaki slacks, white button-up, black rim glasses hanging from a Hampden-Sydney lanyard, blue blazer, and a Realtor Emeritus lapel pin, an honor reserved for those in the National Association of Realtors for over 40 years. The only thing missing is one of his signature bowties. I’ve never seen him in anything other than a slight variation of what he’s wearing today.
It’s his real estate uniform of sorts.
“Well,” continues J.P., “it’s the idea that the top 20 percent of agents make 80 percent of the money in real estate.” While a small group of top producers are crushing it, everybody else is just trying to make a living. Like a good coach, J.P. doesn’t start out by telling his team how easy it’s going to be. Real estate chews up and spits out far more agents than the few who make it and thrive. But even in the face of these long odds, the reward of being one of the few is enough to attract the many year after year. Because this hope springs eternal, there will always be a need for a wise guide like J.P.
His mission field is the 80 percent that are not getting the results they want.
He wants to give each of them a fighting chance because somebody once gave him a chance. As a young boy, J.P. was given that awesome gift of someone seeing him not just for who he was but who he could become and then helping him get there. J.P. has spent the rest of his life trying to pay back this life-changing gift by paying it forward again and again.
Born in 1935, J.P. was the only child of Joe and Ora Vaughan, who both worked at the Craddock-Terry Shoe Factory in Lynchburg. From his father, J.P. inherited a strong work ethic and a remarkably high level of empathy for other people. As a boy, J.P. spent most of his days playing ball with friends at his beloved Miller Park, a short walk from his Park Avenue home. In 1945, their sandlot games took on mythic proportions when Happy Lee, the park’s playground director, pulled together a group of blue collar boys to form the Mighty Mites football team. J.P. and the rest of the boys adored their young coach, who taught them how to play as a team and to always look out for each other. After two undefeated seasons and even besting the Shoeless Wonders,
the team went on to win the Pop Warner Santa Claus Bowl in Philadelphia in 1948 to become national champions.
After being the first person in his family to graduate from high school, J.P. went from E.C. Glass to Hampden-Sydney. As a man, J.P. would jump at the chance to coach. He wanted others to experience the joy and sense of belonging that comes from being a part of a team. Just like Happy Lee gave his time
and sacrificed so that he could shine, it became J.P.’s instinct to do the same. As Kay, his wife of 38 years, says now, “He loves seeing other people shine and helping them do it.” Through the years, he coached six- and seven-year olds at Paul Munro, a group of boys at the Ruffner playground, another team at Bedford Hills, the freshman boys at Virginia Episcopal School, and many other teams along the way. To this day, former players, some who now have gray hair themselves, still mail letters and call to catch up with “Coach.” While he’s not coaching sports anymore, both he and Kay are fixtures on the sidelines at E.C. Glass games cheering on their Hilltoppers.
The Sales Manager
After working his first few years out of college at the new General Electric plant, J.P. jumped into real estate in 1960. He started out as an agent, but he eventually convinced his boss to let him lead the sales team while still selling real estate himself. As a player-coach, J.P. brought the same energy and team mindset from the football field to the real estate business.
Rick Read, a longtime commercial broker in town, has known J.P. for over 40 years and worked together with him for 24 of those years. In 1980, the two men did their first big deal together when they sold 40 acres on Lakeside Drive for the Walden Pond apartments. On what it’s like to do a deal with J.P., Rick says, “It’s fantastic. He always looks out for his client. It’s always his number one interest. There’s no one more ethical than J.P.” Rick attributes J.P.’s long term success to his love for helping people, his integrity, and the fact that he doesn’t mind working hard.
In 1986, Rick joined J.P. at Forehand & Co. just before it became a Coldwell Banker franchise. Rick ran the commercial division, while J.P. ran the residential division. As the sales manager for 30-plus residential agents, J.P.’s goal was to take a loose collection of commission-only, lone-wolf salespeople and transform them into a tight-knit team that enjoyed one another, celebrated each other’s wins, and achieved more together than they ever could apart. J.P. led high-energy sales meetings, trained agents on their way of doing things, preached education and continuous self-improvement, and kept everybody pumped up with his infectious enthusiasm for the work. In about two years, the two men helped take Coldwell Banker Forehand to #1 in the Lynchburg market, a position that the company held into the mid-1990s.
In 1985, J.P. got a chance to lead all agents in the market when he was elected president of the Lynchburg Association of Realtors (LAR) for the first of an unprecedented three terms. Sandra Maschal, current CEO of LAR, has known J.P. since 1977. Marveling at his 58 years in real estate, Sandra says, “That we could all be so lucky to have a profession that we love, that we’re respected, and that we’re in our eighties and still doing it. J.P. exemplifies what a Realtor should be.”
During this period, access to real estate information was very exclusive and tightly controlled by the industry. A buyer couldn’t just browse new listings on Zillow or snoop around on the GIS website. Every Thursday, agents picked up a thick, printed copy of the new Multiple Listing Service (MLS) book from the LAR office. “Those books were like the Bible,” says Sandra, but they were not to be shared with the general public. If an agent lost their book, left it in a booth at a restaurant, or gave it out to non-agents, they could be fined. As a first-time president in this environment, J.P. came up with a creative way to share their insider knowledge with the community.
The TV Show Host
“I was home with the flu one day, just sick as dog,” recalls J.P. “I got bored, turned on the TV, and saw people on public access just talking about the community. I thought, ‘We can do the same thing with real estate.’ I went down to the studio and wrote a proposal. They accepted it, which meant I had to go find some cameramen.” Two other agents, Jeff Barker and Mary Lou Dodge, ended up manning the cameras.
The show, called “Real Estate Today,” was recorded in a small studio in the basement of Lynchburg’s City Hall and aired on public access Channel 6 alongside C-Span and local programs like “Hill City Gardening.” The half-hour show had a talk show format with a guest list that included local agents, appraisers, builders, developers, bankers, lawyers, and any other professional involved with real estate. J.P. did not allow any self-promotion on the show. No selling. No company name badges. No infomercials. Just educating people on real estate. According to J.P., their show was the first of its kind in the nation, predating a similar Chicago show by three years. The small, dedicated team went on to produce one episode a month well into the 1990s.
The Do Right Speech
At a real estate convention in the 1980s, J.P. first heard his other coaching hero, Lou Holtz, deliver his “Do Right” speech. It consists of three simple rules:
1. Do the right thing. 2. Do the best you can. 3. Treat others as you want to be treated. J.P. loved it, brought it home with him, and even made it their company mission statement. When he ran for Lynchburg City Council as an independent back in 2010, he essentially ran on a Do Right platform, saying at the time, “All I have to offer is my heart and soul that I will try to do the right thing the best way that I can.” While he ultimately lost a tight race, J.P. was able to serve his community in many ways through the years on the Lynchburg Planning Commission, the Lynchburg Board of Equalization, the Lynchburg Neighborhood Development Foundation, in several roles at E.C. Glass, and, having been touched by cancer in their own family, alongside his wife at the Awareness Garden.
At 82 years old, J.P. is still at it today. Back in our little classroom, he continues to drop wisdom for any who have ears to hear. For his four students, it’s like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant. “Hang around with high achievers.” “Protect your schedule with a daily plan. Make an honest accounting of your day.” “Every day, write three notes, make three calls, go see three people, and go see three houses in your target market.” “Don’t smoke. If you do, find a way to quit.” “Every day, try to do things slightly better than the day before.”
“What keeps most agents from succeeding?” asks J.P. “Procrastination,” offers one. “Discouragement,” says another. “Doubt,” volunteers one. Three old friends to most of us, but not what J.P. was looking for here. “Fear of failure,” he says, “but you have to get comfortable with no because rejections are part of the game.” He pauses. “Just remember, in baseball, one hit every three at-bats will get you to the Big Leagues.”
J.P. never downplays the hard work and persistence that it takes and insists that they treat real estate like a business. He preaches the value of goal-setting in all areas of your life and creating a written business plan. “You turn your aspirations, hopes, and dreams into reality by making a plan and working it,” he concludes.
To be coached by J.P. is to have someone in your life who is totally for you and wants to see you grow, get better, and reach your full potential.
Watching him teach this new crop of agents, I realize that J.P. would be teaching, coaching, and pouring into people wherever he landed. No matter the setting, teachers teach and coaches coach. It just happened to be Lynchburg. It just happened to be real estate. This place and the real estate profession are better for it.