Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories profiling the personalities in the real estate business.
More than 40 years ago, Virginia Cook was trudging up and down Preston Road in the dead of winter, pleading with homeowners to let her list their house. Today, you’ll still find her near Preston Road, but she’s since traded in her walking shoes for a corner office.
A lot has changed in the course of a few decades, but Cook’s passion for helping families find homes has remained constant.
“It’s an industry made for me,” she said.
But for someone who has been in the upper echelon of producers in Dallas real estate since her start, Cook didn’t have an
average introduction into the industry.
While studying English at SMU, she saw a family friend’s success as a Realtor. Cook was married and not yet 21. In the ’60s, that meant she had to get her “disabilities” removed, but that didn’t slow her down. She obtained her husband’s signature, got her license, and called the woman she looked up to most: Ebby Halliday.
But Halliday had some heartbreaking news; she wasn’t hiring.
“I went home and cried,” Cook recalled.
Although Halliday didn’t have a place for Cook, she didn’t give up on the young rookie; in fact, she helped Cook find a job with Judge Fite. Cook spent a year with Fite — who was responsible for those aforementioned walks — before being hired by Paula Stringer. She later purchased the office for a grand total of $8,900.
From there it was full speed ahead, and the Virginia Cook name has since been synonymous with success.
In 1971, Cook sold her company to Henry S. Miller Realtors and stayed on as president for nearly 30 years. The veteran retired when Miller sold the residential company to the National Realty Trust.
“I thought, ‘I’m just going to take life easy and do all the things you think about,’ ” she said. “Like travel, make every pie and cake you never made, and host every dinner party that you never had.”
But kneading dough and traipsing borders didn’t quite cut it, and Cook just couldn’t stay away from the job that was tailor made for her. By 1999, she was back to showing houses, and this time she indulged a lifelong dream by starting a namesake firm with one of her best friends, Sheila Rice.
“Virginia is an icon in the industry with an impressive, decades-long career,” Rice said.
That career includes being the first woman president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors and of the Texas Association of Realtors, both of which named her Realtor of the Year. But her success goes beyond the Lone Star State. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Realtors.
When asked about her secrets for success, Cook swears by traditional business practices. She’ll take a handwritten note over an email any day, and she stands by the testament that a phone call goes a long way.
“Customer service is customer service,” she said.
But it’s not all about signing the dotted line.
“She has more energy than the next three people, works circles around everyone, and she’s lots of fun,” Rice said.
Cook attends a weekly book club, enjoys reading autobiographies, and she spoils her eight godchildren, all of whom she thinks of as her own. And whether it’s through her work as president of the Dallas Woman’s Forum, or her advocacy for the Northaven Trail, Cook is invested in the city she calls home.
“We don’t sell homes; we sell communities,” she said. “Being immersed in the communities we serve is important to our business.”
She’s also immersed in her employees’ lives.
“I’m a real open-door girl,” she said, citing plenty of fireside chats in her office. “I don’t even have a lock on my door.”
Cook closely mentors each new agent who joins her ranks — a number that now surpasses 400 — hosts frequent events to celebrate milestones, and remembers that her business is more than a company; it’s a family.
It’s no wonder that her employees laud her for recalling pet names and anniversaries at the drop of a hat.