Kelly Realtors, a household name in Waco real estate, has been sold to its longtime president, Leah Cox, in a move that frees up former owner and broker Stewart Kelly to focus on projects including growing Kelly Realtors’ commercial division and working with investors eyeing property.
Cox, 46, will oversee an agency with local roots dating to the late 1970s, when Harold Kelly opened The Kelly Co. Stewart Kelly later formed his own company, Kelly Realtors, where his brother, Trammell Kelly, is a well-regarded residential sales specialist. The brothers Kelly, Stewart and Trammell, will remain affiliated with Kelly Realtors, Stewart Kelly said.
Cox, who began her real estate career with Jim Stewart Realtors, now Coldwell Banker Apex Realtors, said she and Stewart Kelly talked often about her becoming owner of the agency that employs more than 60 residential agents and a commercial team that includes Michael Meadows, Michael Taylor and Colt Kelly, who is not related to the founding Kelly family.
“She has been extremely instrumental in the growth of Kelly Realtors for many years, the transition of ownership has been seamless,” Stewart Kelly said in a press release. “Obviously, the Kelly agents know her very well, but she is highly respected by the local Realtor community. Cox has many accolades to her name such as past president of the Waco Association of Realtors, a graduate of the Texas Realtors Leadership Program, and a graduate of the National Maestro Leadership Program for Realtors, which is by invitation only.”
Cox said the acquisition represents a dream come true for her. After starting in Waco, she spent three years in Dallas with the Henry S. Miller brokerage firm, then joined Kelly Realtors in a management position. She married Russell Cox, who also is employed at Kelly Realtors.
“There will be no name change, no cultural change,” Cox said of her takeover. “It has taken years to cultivate the great reputation Kelly enjoys in Waco. It would be irresponsible to make a name change.”
She is state director of the Texas Association of Realtors and has been an alternate to the National Association of Realtors board.
Cox acknowledged the steady growth at Kelly Realtors, 1229 N. Valley Mills Drive, but said the wealth of experience is more impressive.
“The last time I looked, our agents had spent an average of 13.5 years in the industry, and we have some incredible agents who have been brokers more than 40 years,” she said. “We hire people, bring them on and spend a considerable amount of time mentoring them. We are very protective of our culture. Everyone is made aware that it is a major consideration.”
Founded in 1992
Stewart Kelly, a Baylor University graduate, started Kelly Realtors, in 1992. He shared agency space on Waco Drive with his father for a year, employing six agents and three support staffers. He later moved to Lake Air Drive, would open a branch at Crossroads West shopping center, near U.S. Highway 84 and Hewitt Drive, before consolidating operations on North Valley Mills Drive. The firm also operates Campus Realtors near Baylor University, Kelly said.
By 1995, Kelly Realtors had grown to 15 salespeople and five support staffers, according to a previous Tribune-Herald profile of the company. It also noted Kelly had completed an internship under Walstein Smith, a local attorney and real estate authority who taught courses at Baylor, authored real estate textbooks, reorganized the Baylor business school library after World War II and served as Waco mayor pro tem.
Kelly also was chairman of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce when it hired chamber President Matthew Meadors.
He said agents at Kelly Realtors typically work full-time at their profession, are serious about their careers and enjoy giving back to the community.
“I’m certainly not retiring,” Kelly said. “This gives me more time to focus on the specific things I enjoy in real estate. I will not have more free time, but I will be able to shift my time. Instead of having a hundred things to think about, I may deal with half-a-dozen projects at a time.”
He said he fields inquiries daily from investors craving information and advice on local real estate trends and the availability of prime property.
“Fact is, Waco is getting on everyone’s radar at the national level,” he said. “We see more national and regional names looking at the market. The tricky part is pricing. Sometimes, frankly, the asking prices I’m hearing and seeing don’t add up. They are hard to believe. But there are long-term investors who really don’t care about turning a profit every five years or less. They are content with buying and holding 10 or 15 years, which is OK.”
He said prices in burgeoning downtown sometimes shock the senses. He gave as an example his take on a $3.5 million listing.
“I ran the numbers and, at best, it should have been priced at $2.5 million to $2.75 million,” Kelly said. “I thought, ‘No way.’ But sure enough, a buyer came along and paid full price. He’s not going to make any money on it. From an income standpoint, he overpaid. But he felt it was worth his time and money to go ahead and buy it. Time will tell. Rental rates on something like that would go up 30% to 40% before it justified that kind of price.”
Kelly confirmed his itch to work deals hard, as he did 27 years ago. He will not serve as listing agent but will advise and work closely with members of the commercial team. Recruiting new members will become a priority.
“I have a new hat on now. I’m not the owner,” he said. “I want nothing but success for Leah and for Kelly Realtors. I’ll do nothing but my best.”