INDIANAPOLIS — Real estate is real estate, for the most part. Until Jim Irsay puts his Zionsville mansion up for sale. Or Malcolm Brogdon sells his Fishers estate while he’s still with the Pacers.
Real estate is real estate until Matt Ryan is looking for a castle or Paul George loses half a million unloading his Geist palace or speculation swirls around which Indy house or condo Andrew Luck is about to call home.
When real estate involves professional athletes and coaches, it can take a slightly different turn. A media-frenzied, inquiring minds want to know, kind of turn.
Casey Ward Lewis and Matt McLaughlin have more than 55 years combined experience catering to the professional athletes of Indy as real estate brokers for F.C. Tucker. They have decades of seeing those subtle and not-so-subtle differences when it comes to buying and selling homes alongside a sports star.
Colts Insider: New punter Matt Haack turns in impressive debut amid chaotic week
Yes, real estate is real estate, of course. But there are differences.
Take the F.C. Tucker lobby. It’s often off-limits for athletes. Lewis and McLaughlin have been known to sneak athletes into the building through the back door to avoid the public eye.
When an athlete is ready to purchase a home, both agents typically suggest that an LLC be formed with a different person’s name or a trust as the buyer.
“You come in with an alias because people make assumptions,” said McLaughlin. “Just because you make a certain amount of money doesn’t mean you’re going to pay whatever somebody’s asking. Your negotiations need to be pretty careful.”
And then there are the tight, ever-so-tight deadlines — real estate on high speed. An athlete coming to Indy often has little time between learning his new home will be in Indy and moving into a new home in Indy.
Maybe he’s been traded and has just a couple of weeks to close on a home. Lewis has picked up players from practices to look at houses, then dropped them back off. She has greeted them at the airport to immediately take them on a home tour. She has met the player’s mother or spouse to show a home while the athlete reports to training.
“It’s intense,” she said.
“You might show 10 houses in a morning,” McLaughlin said. “You might show 20 houses in a day.”
And if an athlete has his eye on a neighborhood with little inventory, Lewis said, “you might call and try to ask people to move.” There are plenty of nuances to working with high-profile clients.
But in the end, real estate is real estate. McLaughlin can’t stress that enough. From luxury to modest housing. From high-end to traditional homes, the core process is the same. Care, privacy and service.
“Everyone’s house is a luxury, if you really think of it,” he said. “Whether its $200,000 or $2 million, it’s a luxury to have a house.”
Yes, everyone’s house is a luxury. Everyone’s house is their mansion. It just so happens some athletes actually live in mansions — and people want to know whose mansion is whose.
‘People will come knocking on doors’
“I hate name dropping” said Lewis, who has worked 22 years with F.C. Tucker’s Bif Ward Real Estate Group. She and McLaughlin are not here to name drop. They are adhering to the ethics and rules any good real estate agent does — privacy, caution and discretion for clients, any client, but definitely professional athletes.
Lewis and McLaughlin are known in the Indy real estate market as elite agents, in a small pool of go-to agents who are experts in high-end, luxury homes, also known as those lavish mansions. They work with the big names who come to town — Colts, Pacers, IndyCar drivers, CEOS, pro coaching staffs and self-made millionaires.
But the clients who most often pique interest, everyone knows, are the athletes. The Colts and Pacers players. Those guys Indy calls their sports heroes. Everyone, it seems, wants to know where they live and what it was like to help them buy or sell their dream home.
McLaughlin keeps it simple when asked to rattle off a few Indy pro athletes he has worked with.
“Whomever you would think, we have. Whomever was the top Colt, yes, whomever was the top Pacer, yes,” he said. “We have worked with everyone you could imagine.”
Franchise quarterbacks, superstar Pacers, elite coaches. And in working with them, there needs to be a certain secrecy.
“People will come knocking on their doors,” said McLaughlin, who has worked in real estate for 33 years and is with F.C. Tucker’s Matt McLaughlin & Associates. “Really, they will.”
“And they will take advantage,” said Lewis. She has seen companies, the not so reputable ones, charge more for services like lawn irrigation, outdoor lighting or an alarm installation if they find out a pro athlete owns the home.
Together, Lewis and McLaughlin have so many stories.
As McLaughlin walked through new construction with an athlete he says “was and is a big deal,” they were noticed by a subcontractor on the job.
“We were going around the house,” McLaughlin said. “And they were peering from other corners of the house looking.”
Then, all of a sudden, the contractor ran out to his car. He came back with a sports card (encased in glass) of the athlete looking at the house. He asked for an autograph. When the athlete said yes, he broke the glass around the card and pulled it out.
“He could barely even speak,” McLaughlin said. “He was so awestruck and he was so excited to get that signature.”
That exchange, that signature, was organic and that was OK. But Lewis and McLaughlin have gotten other carefully planned requests that are definitely not OK.
‘Could you sign this for Billy?’
In a tight real estate market, when an athlete is trying to find a house quickly or get into a home that is not on the market, Lewis and McLaughlin might have to disclose the name of the buyer just to get him in to see the home.
And there have been times when they get to the house for a showing, Lewis and McLaughlin have found footballs or basketballs left behind with notes. “Could you sign this for Billy?”
“That can kind of be annoying for the client,” said McLaughlin. Neither McLaughlin nor Lewis have ever asked a client to do anything to help the real estate cause, be it buying or selling a home. No autographs for sellers, no T-shirts for buyers.
But those types of requests aren’t the worst of it. Lewis said she has seen sellers change their asking price when they find out a professional sports figure is trying to purchase a home.
“Which is really frustrating and that comes back to discretion being so important. Because you’ll always find somebody who is ready to take advantage in some capacity,” she said. “They will change the asking price or say ‘I’ll give you this price if you will write a letter of recommendation for my child to get into …'”
Yes, people do that. And people also want tickets, they want signed merchandise and more, said McLaughlin.
It’s a different kind of real estate.
‘We know what they want before they know what they want’
Pro athlete real estate transactions make up a minor slice of Lewis’ and McLaughlin’s business, fewer than a combined five each year. The rest of their sales come from other luxury clients and, more often than not, homes in the $200,000 to $500,000 range.
“That is our bread and butter,” said McLaughlin, who along with Lewis is a platinum level broker at F.C Tucker. “Those are the homes that go like that.”
But with athletes’ homes come media reports. And as the agents listed on those homes, Lewis and McLaughlin said they often get pigeonholed as only high-end brokers. And they don’t want that.
“I have had people say, ‘Oh I didn’t call you because I thought you only focused on luxury,'” said McLaughlin. “That is not the case.”
While they do have immense experience with luxury properties, Lewis said, “as the market is good and bad you want to have all price points to stay busy and successful in real estate.”
Lewis and McLaughlin are among F.C. Tucker’s highest performing agents not because of Colts and Pacers players, but because they recorded the highest volume in sales at all price points.
But since they are in a conference room at F.C. Tucker to talk with IndyStar about their work with Indy’s pro sports figures, they talk about that.
“They’re pretty much down to earth and easy going,” McLaughlin says. “They all tie their shoes the same way.”
“They really are so genuine and humble and kind,” said Lewis, who has been known to babysit for an athlete who has just gotten to Indy, so he can go out with his wife.
“I’ll say, ‘Go out to dinner,'” said Lewis. “I just feel bad. They come here and don’t know anyone and they’re in a pinch.”
Because of all they have done — sneaking clients in back doors, fighting for their privacy and those 55 combined years of experience — when Lewis and McLaughlin land pro athletes as clients, it’s usually as a referral from a previous sports figure.
“We have been doing this for so long,” McLaughlin said. “We kind of know what they want before they know what they want.”
And that’s the key in the secret, high-speed world of real estate.
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow . Reach her via email: [email protected] .
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Real estate agents who help Colts and Pacers buy and sell homes