up, reaching the 18–19 percent range in the early 1980s.
But Thomas’s business did just fine, he says, partly because of a California Supreme Court decision that required lenders to enable loan assumptions.
With his business background, Thomas was quickly
tapped to serve on the local association’s budget and finance committee. By 1986, he was serving as president
of the Saddleback Board of Realtors®.
At the brokerage, he had dreams of expansion, but
his broker balked at the idea. So Thomas set off on his
own, opening a RE/MAX office in Mission Viejo. By
1991, he had offices in Dana Point, Mission Viejo, Lake
Forest, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano.
At that point, he was no longer selling. “I was strictly
managing and recruiting, and the RE/MAX brand was
a big advantage,” he says. “As a salesperson, I’d always
gotten a rush from a sale, that moment when an offer is
accepted and you know the transaction is under way. I
got that same rush from recruiting. I didn’t really proactively go after people, but I met a lot of good people
through my involvement in the local association.”
At the height of the business, in the mid-2000s, Thomas
owned and operated 14 offices and 450 agents. It was a
heady time—but also a time of increasing unease. “As
prices got so high, I felt something had to give. Housing
couldn’t stay on the steep climb it was on,” he says. “But
I don’t think many of us foresaw how deep the recession
was going to be or how long it was going to last.”
Having kept the company intact during the early
1990s recession, Thomas felt he could hang on until
the market improved. “By 2007, we realized we’d have
to consolidate and reduce. It was very difficult,” he
says. “My first thought was, ‘I’ll maneuver.’ I pulled eq-
uity from the house, which we later sold in a short sale.
I owned a commercial building, and we pulled money
out of that, too.” To save money, he ended his affiliation
with RE/MAX and formed Altera Real Estate.
In retrospect, Thomas says, he didn’t start soon
enough or cut fast enough. In early 2011, he filed for
corporate bankruptcy. The experience has been
wrenching. But this father of five and grandfather of
16—all of whom attended his presidential inauguration
in November—is nothing if not resilient. He opened
the Evergreen Realty office in October 2011. Fifteen
Altera agents, including his daughter Jill and her
husband David, came along, and Thomas has since
recruited 15 more agents. Evergreen, an apt symbol
for someone who has lived through the long real estate winter, is doing just fine, he says optimistically.
He’s making plans for the future, which may even include a return to active selling next year.
In a way, Thomas’s career arc makes him uniquely
suited to serving the NAR membership today. Thomas
flashes a wry grin at the suggestion. “No matter what
your situation, I’ve been there,” he admits. “I can re-
late to the CEO of a big company. And I can relate
to members who have lost their home and their com-
pany but are committed to coming back. NAR is for
Gaylord echoes that notion. “Our members have
been through a very difficult time, and Gary is acutely
aware of that,” he says. “You can count on him to be a
great listener and to make the right decisions.”
“He’ll bring a sense of empathy to the job,” Brown
says. “But more important, he knows what it takes to
come back, and he’ll do everything he can to provide
positive opportunities to help our members make a
Page 28: Thomas in NAR’s
Washington, D.C., office
Page 30: In 2013,
Thomas will lead the
efforts on Capitol Hill.
Above, top: At an inaugural
gala in November, Thomas
(with wife Frances by his
side) is sworn in by NAR
Past President Dick Gaylord.
Above, bottom: Thomas’s
16 grandchildren attended
the inaugural, where they
led a crowd of 1,500 in the
Pledge of Allegiance.