Realtor finds home away from home

Holly O’Connor of Hollidaysburg had been working for years in her brother’s chiropractic office as a secretary until she and her growing family had to move away when her husband got a job out of town.

When the family moved back to the area a few years later, her brother had hired another secretary, so she looked for work elsewhere. She never dreamed the job she landed in a real estate office would eventually lead to a whole new career.

“Things happen for a reason,” she said.

O’Connor is currently board president of the Allegheny Highlands Association of Realtors, which has 285 members and covers Blair, Bedford and parts of Cambria counties.

She has been a Realtor for many years and for the past decade has worked at Howard Hanna Johnston in Altoona.

After working in a real estate office as a secretary for a while, she eventually decided she wanted to get out from behind the desk.

“I just realized that I’d be happier out showing houses,” she said.

At first, the mother of three had to juggle appointments showing homes with running kids to sports, classes and all the things that come with being a mom.

In real estate, it’s all about getting clients and having them list their homes with you instead of another Realtor, she said. It’s not a 9-to-5 job because often people who want to buy a home are working during the day, which means they can only see homes for sale on the weekend or at night.

“It was tough,” she said. “But if you don’t get out there and sell, someone else will.”

It was worth it, though, because the years have brought some especially rewarding moments, although not the ones some people might think a Realtor would treasure. O’Connor said a lot of people think she would enjoy all the expensive, lavish homes she gets to see, and she admits she’s been in some beautiful places.

“There’s some million-dollar houses out there and they’re lovely, no doubt,” she said.

But what makes O’Connor want to keep doing her job year after year, even in the tough times, is not necessarily the grand homes but the first one.

“It’s especially fun for me to help put a first-time homebuyer in a house,” she said.

One big part of her job right now is serving as president of the realtors’ association, which was founded as the Altoona Real Estate Exchange in 1919. The general membership meets monthly for updates on what’s new in their business and O’Connor meets with board members quarterly.

She also travels to Harrisburg frequently to keep updated on state and national association issues, such as a recent proposal by a state lawmaker to require all newly constructed homes to have sprinkler systems. That would have increased the cost of a new home by $10,000, she said. It also would have taken away the consumer’s right of choice and the realtors’ association successfully lobbied against the bill, O’Connor said.

“There would be some homeowners that would not have been able to build their homes if that bill had passed,” she said. “That would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for them.”

O’Connor has always been a “very professional, very detail-oriented” type of person, said Richard Johnston, broker for the firm. “If I give her something to do, I don’t have to worry with her because I know it will be done very well.”

Johnston, who has also served as president of the association, has been in real estate since 1972. He said it’s a business where it’s important to form close working relationships with people and O’Connor is very good at that.

“She can deal with any type of people, people who are local or people from out of town,” he said. “She just has a very good rapport with people.”

O’Connor is also not one to shy away from putting in extra hours or going beyond what’s expected if that’s what’s needed to make the sale, Johnston said. He said in today’s market, people remember the agent, not the office, and they like the personal contact, the phone call a few months down the road just to keep in touch.

O’Connor “has a real knack for that,” he said. “I wish I had 10 more just like her.”