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Real Estate Executive Magazine

Mary Lou Lanaux: Former Movie Executive Becomes a Star in Real Estate Sales
by TC McClenning
A Real Estate Executive cover story,July 1999
(This is one of nearly two dozen cover story profiles completed for this publication.)

    Mary Lou Lanaux never planned on a career in real estate. For 20 years, Mary Lou had a very successful career in the entertainment industry, where she had worked her way up from an office clerk to become the president of a major motion picture distribution company. Real estate was about as far from her mind as traveling to the moon, unless it was to set up a branch office there.

    As president, Mary Lou developed an impressive array of marketing skills and expertise, as well as a contact list that read like a who's who of corporate executives and entertainment industry icons. Remarkably, she was able to run the Los Angeles-based company from Atlanta, with frequent travel to the company's eight branch offices spread around the globe.

    The fork in her life's road came when the owner of the company requested she relocate to L.A. and run the business from there. An Atlanta resident for 29 years, Mary Lou just could not bear to leave her chosen home. She also had to consider her husband's tenure in his career. She reluctantly resigned her position.

    Three days later, disaster struck when Mary Lou's husband lost his job. Suddenly, their comfortable joint income had plummeted to zero. Faced with this unexpected dilemma, she knew she had to make a quick decision and find herself a field where she could capitalize on her strong marketing experience and valuable contacts.

    "I still hadn't thought about real estate as a career," she explained. "Then a few area real estate brokers started calling me. They'd heard I had left my job and knew I had many contacts in the industry."

    Mary Lou's entrance into the real estate field was unusual because the profession had selected and recruited her. She and her husband, Tom, decided it was a career in which she could make excellent use of her negotiating, marketing, and people skills. Lanaux hired a design firm to customize a logo for her and signed with a major public relations firm to help promote her. With absolutely no guarantee of any income coming from the real estate profession, she and her husband committed their life savings to this new venture.

    "Although I'm very fortunate to have achieved some success now, most people don't realize that I didn't sell one penny's worth of real estate my first year," Mary Lou explained. "But I was learning, I believed in myself, persisted, and never allowed myself to give up."

    After her first year, Lanaux joined Coldwell Banker Buckhead Brokers and, in her mind, that's when the final piece of the puzzle fell into place.

    "In my opinion, my broker, John Barnes, is the finest broker in Atlanta. He instills so much enthusiasm in his agents and is extremely knowledgeable and supportive. He believed in me before I had accomplished anything and that meant the world to me."

    To add to the loyalty she feels for her office, on her second day with the company Mary Lou put one of her largest listings under contract. From that day forward, there was no looking back. Mary Lou Lanaux, in the span of just a handful of years in the business, is the number one agent in her office, ranks in the top one percent nationally with Coldwell Banker, and sold $15 million worth of real estate in 1998. In addition, because of her unique marketing approach and outstanding success, she has been profiled in such publications as Unique Homes, Accent on Atlanta, Powerhouse International magazine, and Daily Variety. One of her proudest moments was when she was recently profiled by the Atlanta Journal/Constitution in their special feature called "Why I Love My Job."

    John Barnes, her managing broker, perhaps said it best when he commented, "I knew the moment I met her that Mary Lou would be one of the finest real estate agents in the city. She has amazingly high energy and abundant enthusiasm. And she loves her business with a passion."

    When talking about this second career that she has so completely embraced, Lanaux said, "I love what I do! I just switched from selling films to selling houses! I feel at home doing this and wouldn't do anything else. I'll probably be 90 and still out there showing property!"

     Mary Lou Lanaux certainly has the right attitude and personality for the work she does with elite clientele. She has seen and heard it all in terms of odd requests. One client expected a stretch limousine with four phone lines and a fax line; another client requested a special soft drink and specific brand of mixed nuts be available. With a few of her famous clientele, Mary Lou must still go through and clear their security each time she takes the entourage out to tour property.

    "It takes a special kind of personality and understanding to work with these clients. I've just learned that you have to be very flexible. I've dealt with these kinds of requests most of my professional life. They have come to expect supreme service. I'm used to it and willing to do whatever it takes to make my customers happy. If they want accommodations on a specific floor number or only want to go see properties late at night, then that's what we'll do."

    The interesting and often humorous stories Mary Lou tells about her real estate experiences could probably fill an entire magazine. One story involved an executive who wanted to buy a large house on a lake so he could fish occasionally. With Mary Lou's help, he found the ideal property, complete with a private boat dock. However, before he would finalize the contract, he insisted on fishing at the lake one afternoon! He wanted to be certain the lake was as stocked as the owners had represented. So Mary Lou arranged it with the sellers, put on a pair of shorts, packed a picnic lunch, and took her customer fishing for the day. They both caught a fish that day!

    Another customer refused to look at properties without his dog accompanying them. Mary Lou, in her typical fashion, said no problem. The owner of the property they had arranged to see, however, was not as understanding and refused to allow the pet inside the house. Being an avid pet-lover herself, Lanaux managed to get around this temporary setback by taking the dog on a leash and going from window to window of the house as the dog's owner examined the inside of the home. Crazy? This was the multi-million dollar house the dog selected to buy!

    For Mary Lou, no time, place, or mode of transportation is out of the question when it comes to doing her duties as a Realtor. Her listings have spanned the state of Georgia and included parts of North Carolina. Besides being the exclusive agent for new homes and resales at the Estates of Atlanta National in Alpharetta, she's gone to such places as Lake Spivey, Peachtree City, Conyers, and the Flint River area in the name of serving her clients. Mary Lou has shown property using several modes of transportation—car, stretch limo, helicopter, and a client's private plane. (One of her favorite ways to show waterfront homes is with her custom pontoon boat, appropriately known as "WaterLou".)

     One outing was particularly memorable when Mary Lou and her CEO client ran out of gas in Buckhead. Laughing as she told the story, Mary Lou explained, "I'd had my new car for only a week and the gas gauge malfunctioned. To make matters worse, my car phone, which was built into the dash, quit working! There we were, stranded in Buckhead late in the evening. My client was so understanding and took the whole situation in stride. He told me to stay put and walked up the long driveway of a nearby mansion to call for help. He just knocked on the door, showed them his business card, explained the problem, and asked to use the phone. We ended up having coffee with the homeowners while we waited for the auto club to arrive!"

    The story, however, doesn't end there. As they chatted with their rescuers, the discussion eventually turned to the type of home her client wished to buy. Upon learning his needs, the couple recommended the home a friend had on the market. After a couple calls to set up an appointment, Mary Lou took her client to see the home and he bought it the next day.

    Although Mary Lou frequently works with corporate executives or people who have become household names, she stresses that in just five years as a Realtor, her clientele has grown in large part because of referrals from her clients, and working with entire families. Helping some of her clients' children and grandchildren, her client list now spans three generations!

    With all the prosperity she's achieved through real estate, Mary Lou is quick to point out she did not achieve this level of success on her own. "You never get to the top alone! I have a great team of people backing me up including a media specialist, an assistant, my broker, photographers, closing attorneys, a PR firm, and even legal counsel available at a moment's notice. The people who surround me are the ones who make me successful.

    "For me, it's the thrill of the challenge that keeps me going—the desire to excel and be the very best I can be. I've always been a person who went for the gold and I believe everyone should strive to be the best they can possibly be in whatever they attempt. By doing this, I know at the end of the day, when I go to sleep, I've done absolutely everything possible for my clients."

    TC McClenning, a PR/marketing consultant with her own company, Top Cat Creative Services, works regularly with area Realtors and home builders. She can be reached at (7o6) 253-3129.