Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - November 9, 2012

A mover and shaker

Tom Foy looks back at a half century of real estate in Palo Alto

by Carol Blitzer

Tom Foy calls joining Midtown Realty in Palo alto "the best move I ever made."

Now, 48 years later, the almost 83-year-old is retiring, leaving the firm that he ultimately acquired from the original five partners in the hands of his son, Tim Foy.

Born in Naugatuck, Conn., Tom Foy had no idea he'd be in the real-estate business in California for much of his adult life. After graduating from St. Bonaventure University with a major in journalism, he joined the army. His assignment at Fort Lewis, Wash., was his first vision of the West Coast.

But his brother had already teased him with the ideas of palm trees and ceramic tiles.

After just a few months back home, he headed west, first studying at University of San Francisco, then taking a job as a technical writer at IBM in San Jose.

For the next few years, he worked at IBM, then as a foreman for a contracting firm that built churches, then under Fred Maher's tutelage at Midtown Realty.

He almost didn't get the job.

When handed a cup of coffee during the inter4view, he spilled it. But Maher took him on anyway — and Foy's never looked back.

Along the way he married Pat and together they had six children. Their first Palo Alto house was in St. Claire Gardens, followed by several Eichlers in Greenmeadow and finally a home in Crescent Park.

It's a vast understatement to say that the real-estate business has changed in nearly half a century.

When Foy was just learning the business, each week the Palo Alto Board of Realtors would prepare 3 by 5 cards with the address and price, as well as the listing and selling agents. Soon this information was accumulated into books, with the cities (Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View, for example) listed separately.

Today, Realtors check their iPads often for new listings, he said, and the once-a-week walk-throughs of new listings take place once a month.

Likewise, a real-estate contract used to be one page; today it's nine, with tons of disclosures.

He smiles when he thinks about showing a property in pre-disclosure days: One seller said, hey, he'll throw in the large mirror. After the sale was final, they discovered a huge hole in the wall behind the mirror.

"(With) all these disclosures now, the buyer gets knowledge," he added.

And the agents have "become more knowledgeable, more professional" with more continuing-education requirements, he said.

Foy circles back to how lucky he was to have walked into Midtown Realty.

"I'm from a small town. Midtown Realty was making a statement," he said. "Gradually, we found people who felt the same way we did."

Two of Tom Foy's children have joined the business, Molly and Tim. Once, Tim remembered, he and his father were representing the buyer and the seller. One asked how it felt negotiating here with his father.

Tim pointed out that they were sitting in the conference room around what had been their old kitchen table. "We've been arguing over this table for years," he said. And they completed the deal.

"We've never really had a significant argument working together," he added.

He attributes that to their agreement: "When you walk in the office, you're colleagues. When visiting, you're family and you don't talk about business.

"What goes on at the office stays in the office. What goes on at home stays at home."

Asked what Foy found most satisfying about his real-estate career, he quickly said, "Ninety-nine percent of the time I was dealing with someone who knew my skill, worked with me closely and ended the transaction.

"It was fulfilling the dream."

Occasionally, there would be disappointments, such as when a former client chose another Realtor.

"I let it go. There's (always) another one. I never allowed any negativity in the office," Foy said.

Foy attributes his optimistic, can-do attitude to his mother. "My mother used to say, "You're as good as anybody and better than most."

In addition to his attitude, Foy said his success came from knowing the product, creating the right atmosphere in the office and working long hours.

Although he doesn't call himself a "simple soul," he admits to being "an easygoing guy" who really enjoyed his work.

Foy isn't retiring suddenly; he's been segueing towards that goal for the last few years. Most recently he's been managing properties rather than buying and selling them.

Top of his list of things to do is visit his daughter Molly and her family — which includes a husband and three children — who are living in Ireland for the next few years.

And he'd like to spend more time at their home in Pajaro Dunes.

"Tim has generously offered my office and parking space for as long as I want it. ... It's over for me. ... I'll find something to do," he said.

Maybe play a bit of golf?

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

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