ITHACA — From humble beginnings a company arose that would expand past any of its founder’s expectations. Warren Real Estate of Ithaca Inc. over the past 60 years has developed into a business that surpasses Ithaca’s borders, extending into the greater central New York area.

Bryan Warren, the business’s current president, has built upon the work of two previous generations, expanding the business but maintaining the local, family-owned base that has ensured its success despite of how stormy the real estate market can be.

Warren Real Estate has reached its current peak in expansion with its current project on Seneca Way. Warren sought to diversify the business and decided to venture into development with Newman Development Group of Binghamton. According to Warren, the finished building would contain both office and residential sapces. The downtown offices will move into the building in December of this year, when construction ends. However, Warren and his company would not be where they are now without the foundations laid by the two generations before him.

As the Second World War came to an end, the Warren family moved to Ithaca after Warren’s grandfather became head of ROTC at Cornell. The family settled in Cornell Heights and, as the children grew older, Warren’s grandmother, Ann Warren planned to do something new with her life. She decided to become a professional businesswoman and in 1953 began selling real estate out of a home office, doing all the work herself. Ann Warren broke ground into a man’s world and gained a reputation for good business and quality.

“People still tell stories to me today about what she was like and when she would dress to a tee and drive around in big, fancy Cadillacs. The whole business community really respected her,” said Warren.

Yet, she gained her reputation because of the business’s manageable size and her assertive nature.

“Back then it was all very much: somebody wanted to buy a house and somebody wanted to sell a house and she would put the two together literally,” explained Warren.

The business continued to grow along with Mrs. Warren’s reputation, prompting a change in the early 1960s. Having outgrown her home office, Warren decided to move the business to Triphammer Road, purchasing and converting a farmhouse. Along with this expansion, in 1968 Warren’s father, Jim Warren, graduated from high school and received his license while attending college.

“In ’68 was really when he became active,” Warren explained about his father. “At that point my grandmother was doing so well in the business my grandfather chose to start joining her full-time in the business and left his duties at ROTC.”

With grandparents and now Warren’s father as well as his uncle in the business, Warren Real Estate continued to grow but maintained its focus on the family. As the years progressed, Jim Warren’s vision began shaping the path the company would take. Despite Mrs. Warren’s opposition to further expansion, she allowed her son to push the business ahead throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, hiring new salespeople. Stability in the market made the business bloom with success. But, as the ‘70s culminated, a shadow enveloped the family.

“In 1980 my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, which was a huge deal for the family,” said Warren. “She was the one that started the company, kind of the stronghold of the company so it was devastating.”

Within three months, the cancer in her lungs had spread to her brain and the business’s matriarch passed away. Yet, suffering comes in pairs, and the family and business had little time to revitalize their spirits to face the incoming recession. As other businesses folded, the family company continued to struggle ahead and Jim Warren grabbed the reins and ushered the business forward.

“My father made a commitment at that point and took a lot of his personal savings, almost everything, and put it into the company so that it would survive those times,” explained Warren. However, Jim Warren did not shy away from risk and decided to also buy out a real estate company.

As 1980 came to an end, the new year started to see a gradual improvement in the market. But, skeptics doubted Jim Warren’s ability to replicate his mother’s work since she had built it from the ground up and had accrued a reputation he could only aspire to. Nonetheless, he tried to work his way from underneath her shadow and leave his own mark, according to Warren.

Having survived the recession of 1980, the company continued to prosper and Jim Warren decided to expand again and purchased a building on Hanshaw Road, which currently houses the Tompkins Trust Company. As the ‘80s progressed and prospects improved more salespeople were hired, raising the number to around 17 by the end of the decade.

The new decade, however, brought with it another recession, repeating the situation from ten years previous but consequences were direr. The boom following the 1980 recession led to many local realtors to grow beyond their means once the new recession struck, inducing another round of closing businesses. Throughout this time a young Bryan Warren grew up surrounded by real estate talk and the pressures of the business. During dinner time, Warren learned little by little about the business through family conversations.

“I enjoyed it. I enjoyed hearing the stories,” said Warren of those times. “It’s kind of a very dramatic industry so it was kind of entertaining to me.” Thanks to his childhood exposure to the business, Warren developed a better understanding of it early on.

“So certain things that might freak another business or competitor, I can understand and say, ‘This will come and go. This will pass. This has been tried before and it’s failed,’” continued Warren.

One thing he witnessed how his father managed to weather the storm by gradually expanding, without taking too many risks. And by 1993 the business had started leveling off. Also in that year, Warren left Ithaca for High Point University to study marketing and business management.

“As I neared the end of my college career, my college days, I had no intention of coming back to Ithaca, even though throughout my childhood I had dreams to maybe take over the family business.” explained Warren of what went through his mind as graduation approached. Instead, he decided to explore the world and other professions, landing a job that would take him to Chicago.

The company, a compliance testing business, promoted him soon after and offered him to move to their headquarters in Boston, which Warren accepted, but after eight months in his new position he realized this wasn’t his place.

“I started to get the understanding that corporate America was becoming more of a rat race,” explained Warren. “You have an hour commute into work every day plus an hour commute back and you start feeling a slave to the job.”

Not wanting to be kept in bondage, Warren returned to Ithaca and joined the family business with his father’s blessing. According to Warren, the move came during an opportune time since his father had started to look into retirement. The business was wearing him down. Warren returned as a salesperson and remained so for the next three years, while his father remained on board until the son knew enough to take command. The early 2000s brought continued prosperity to the market and business, allowing them to expand and for Jim Warren to pass on the legacy to his son in 2005.

This year brought more changes to the local market and the company. As the market prospered many local realty companies began selling out to large, non-local businesses while Warren decided to expand and develop the parcel of land next to their offices at the time. His father disagreed with further expansion but that seemed to be a generational worry.

“When my father got into the business, he decided to grow it. My grandmother didn’t want anything to do with it,” said Warren. “And when I came into the business, my father and I had different ideas. He didn’t want to see it grow.” But, Warren asserted that it’s part of the phases we undergo throughout life. “There’s a time to be aggressive and grow and push things and take risks and I think you hit a certain point in your life when enough is enough and you just want to be conservative,” continued Warren.

An auspicious market allowed Warren to make another risky move and open up a downtown office. Yet, the good times came to an end and the 2008 meltdown halted all progress.

“It’s almost like the carpet gets ripped out from underneath you,” said Warren. The following year saw no improvement and it financially threatened the company since its fast growth had led to new offices, upgraded software, and new marketing plans and expenses. The main issues were financial, since no one wanted to buy or sell, prompting to a loss of agents and less incoming salespeople to replace them. Yet, Warren searched for the silver lining.

“I’ve always just tried to keep a positive outlook and say, ‘How can we make light of this situation.’ Believe it or not, after having the rug pulled from underneath us, we caught our footing and made major adjustments when it came to things financially, made a lot of cut backs and regained our footing,” explained Warren of how they coped.

Things began improving in 2010 with the help of the First Time Homebuyer Credit enacted by the government, which reduced a new buyer’s tax bill or increase their refund. With this and the subsequent stabilization of the market, Warren Real Estate resumed its growth leading to the opening of the new Binghamton office and the building of the Seneca Way building.

Throughout all this the company remained within the family and it remained in Ithaca, something Warren prides himself on. Unlike real estate companies owned by out of town businesses, the profits made by Warren Real Estate are recycled into the community by spending in local businesses like restaurants and donations to local charities. The community has been supportive of the business and, in turn, the business supports the community, said Warren. And, this support also reflects the legacy of two generations of the Warren family in the community.

“The mark my grandmother left was an extreme sign of quality,” said Warren of his grandmother’s legacy. “Everything she did was meticulous and to a tee. That’s one of the things that made the company…My father was really good at what he did. He never really liked the business but I think people remember him just as always pushing through and doing the right thing.”

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For more information about Warren Real Estate, visit its website at http://www.warrenhomes.com.

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