Industry Tips Its Hats to Halliday

[Editor’s Note: The following story ran on Jan. 25, 2013 in our Real Estate Quarterly Section. Appropriately, it was the first of a series dedicated to legends of Dallas real estate.]

Her headquarters, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, could easily be mistaken for the Oval Office. Her walls boast countless awards, and signed pictures of local celebrities fill every surface.

But it’s appropriate that her office mirrors a room at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. After all, she is known around these parts as the “First Lady of Real Estate.”

At 101 years old, Ebby Halliday is one of the most well-known names in the Dallas real estate industry; and after nearly 65 years in the business, she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

“I often wonder what I could have done had I been taller,” Halliday said with a smirk on a rainy day in her North Dallas office.

But for someone who spent her 99th birthday dribbling basketballs with the Mavericks, played the ukulele at Ross Perot’s surprise 80th birthday party, and was named the Texas Realtor of the Year by The Texas Association of Realtors, you wonder what a few extra inches really would have done.

After a modest start in rural Kansas, Halliday, born Vera Lucille Koch, stepped off a train in Dallas in 1938. She came to Big D for a job selling hats at the W.A. Green department store.

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” she recalled about her first glimpse of the Lone Star State.

But by 1945, her livelihood transitioned from hats to houses when Clint Murchison, an oil magnate and real estate developer, sent his wife, Virginia, to Halliday with a message.
“She told me, ‘If you can sell those crazy hats, maybe you can sell his crazy houses,’ ” Halliday recalled with a grin.

Real estate was a man’s world then, but Halliday broke onto the scene with sheer determination. After a year, her ability to sell the “crazy” was indisputable — she’d sold 80 percent of the inventory.

More than six decades later, Halliday is just as hands on as she was on her first day. Her agents still enlist her help to secure deals, and she takes time to personally welcome each addition to a roster that has surpassed 1,500.

“She called me one day on the phone, and I literally jumped out of my chair,” said Keith Newman, who joined the Ebby Halliday Realtors team last April. “She was calling to welcome me.”

These personal touches are routine for Halliday, whose accolades include a spot in the Texas Business Hall of Fame and the Horatio Alger Award, an honor given to only a few distinguished Americans each year.

Aside from selling houses, Halliday is a devout philanthropist. She lends a hand to Happy Hill Farm & Academy, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and the Dallas Historical Society, among other causes.

But no matter how many awards she accumulates or committees she joins, Halliday rarely takes the credit. She deflects any honors to her colleagues, who, in 2012, participated in nearly 16,000 property transactions with sales totaling nearly $4.8 billion.

And others have taken notice.

“Ebby and I have several things in common,” Roger Staubach wrote in her biography. “We were both blessed with great teams.”

One vital part of that team is Mary Frances Burleson, president and CEO of the Ebby Halliday companies. Burleson is approaching her 55th year as Halliday’s right-hand woman, but she is still in awe of her boss’s achievements.

“None of us will ever know how many people she has helped individually,” Burleson said.

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