FAIRFIELD — Jim Stever Realty is small. The owner likes it that way.
“When you call and ask for me, you’re going to get me,” Stever said. “If you call for (wife) Darla, you’re going to get her. Not an assistant.”
Stever knows what he wants. He’s been in real estate since 1979 and opened Jim Stever Realty in 1990. His business is still standing, despite what he calls “the worst six years of my career” – the Great Recession.
Stever stuck it out – partly because he has deep roots in the community, partly because he jokingly says there are no other options.
“What else am I going to do?” Stever said. “I knew (the collapse of the housing market) was coming – it had to come . . . but I didn’t see it lasting as long or being as deep as it was.”
Jim grew up in Fairfield, graduating from Armijo High School in 1964. Darla grew up in Vallejo.
Before going into real estate, both Stevers worked in the grocery business for decades – and Darla continued to do so after Jim launched his real estate career.
In 1979, one of Stever’s friends quit the grocery business to work with his father, who was a real estate agent in Contra Costa County. Over two or three lunch meetings, the friend convinced Stever to try his hand at it – and he decided to. Stever stepped down that year as a grocery store manager, moved to the night crew and began selling real estate in Fairfield. For the next five years, he stocked shelves all night, then showered and went to work in real estate all day.
Darla, meanwhile, worked in grocery stores, ran a cleaning business and operated a bakery. It was a busy life and it got busier in 1981 when Jim and partner Dan Battaglia bought American Realty, which had a small office on West Texas Street.
“I was born and raised in Fairfield, so I knew people,” Jim Stever said. “From the time I started until now, probably 85 percent of my business was repeat and referral. In the 1980s, prices weren’t great, but we sold a lot of houses.”
One of those was to John and Carol Chilson, who returned to John’s hometown after he served in the Marines. They picked American Realty because it was on North Texas Street, so they saw it while they were on their way to and from Holy Spirit Church.
John Chilson and Stever knew many of the same people and Stever began looking for a place for the Chilsons. Carol Chilson said Stever helped them navigate through a sale – including difficulty with another Realtor – and they bought a house in 1985.
“Jim handled it and protected us as first-time homebuyers,” Chilson said.
The American Realty partnership lasted nine years, then Stever decided to open his own shop – and Jim Stever Realty was born. What’s more, Darla began working with him, which required that she get a real estate license, since that’s required to do most tasks involving home sales.
“It was all new,” Darla Stever said. “Jim is a people person, not a paper person.”
“It was kind of scary,” Jim Stever said. “There was no partner to share expenses. It was time for a change. I’m glad I did it.”
Darla continued to work a swing shift in grocery stores and graveyard shift with a bakery.
The office was on West Texas Street for two years, then moved to its current location at 690 E. Tabor Ave.
The Stevers sell homes, but also operate a property management business, with nearly 30 properties – mostly single-family homes, but a few business properties and apartments.
Among those sales were another home to the Chilsons – who also sold their first Fairfield home to their daughter, using Stever’s services. Another daughter bought a home in Vacaville, using Jim Stever Realty.
“He’s a no-baloney Realtor,” Carol Chilson said. “I trust this guy. Jim and Darla are open, awesome people. They really give back to the community and know the community.”
Darla Stever said the idea of working in a small office – during an era of mega-mergers creating large companies – is appealing.
“You don’t answer to someone else,” she said. “If you want to fix someone’s dishwasher, you can. If you want to pay the PG&E bill, you can. You make your own decisions.”
The Stevers sell primarily in Solano County, but also sell in Yolo, Contra Costa and Sacramento counties.
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.