Phil Castle, The Business Times
Robert Bray counts three boom and bust cycles in Mesa County since his grandparents started his family’s real estate business 75 years ago.
Competitors have come and gone. Technology and the ways real estate is bought and sold have evolved.
What hasn’t changed over three quarters of a century, Bray said, is his company’s commitment to customers and the community. “I’m so proud that’s remained the same.”
When it comes to longevity and company culture, he said one thing has everything to do with the other.
As chief executive officer of Bray Real Estate, Bray oversees an operation his grandparents, Sherman and Roxie Bray, started in 1946 in a remodeled porch in their downtown Grand Junction home and his father, W.R. Bray, guided over the ups and downs of the economy.
A fourth generation of the family has joined in the business in three of Robert Bray’s children. Kevin Bray serves as development director, Brian Bray as managing broker of Bray Commercial and Michelle Urlacher as director of operations.
The definition of family extends, though, to the 58 agents and 49 support staff that work in the various divisions. That includes Lynn Thompson, who’s worked at Bray Real Estate 34 years and serves as president. “The company is family,” Thompson said. “That’s the way it’s always been.”
“He is a part of the family,” Robert Bray said. “He just has a different last name.”
The Brays, Urlacher and Thompson sat down to discuss what’s changed and hasn’t changed in their real estate business over the past 75 years in an extended interview with the Business Times.
The 75th anniversary of the founding of Bray Real Estate constitutes an important milestone, they said, because of it what reflects: strength and resilience, but also all the relationships established and maintained over the years.
“Wow. What a strong company,” Urlacher said. “It’s just amazing.”
Thompson agreed: “Any company that can do that is a good company.”
Robert said the Grand Valley is a far different place than when his grandparents started Bray Real Estate in 1946. They moved to the area to farm, but recognized an opportunity in real estate.
Since then, the company has not only remained in operation but also grown.
Bray Real Estate operates residential and commercial divisions as well as development and property management divisions. The company has three offices in Grand Junction and a satellite office in Rifle.
Bray Real Estate ranks among the top firms in the Grand Valley in terms of residential and commercial sales. The firm provides more comprehensive services than any competitor, Urlacher said.
The Brays attributed the longevity to a combination of factors, among them a willingness to adapt to changes and recognize opportunities in challenges.
Brian said the company has always focused on people first. Kevin agreed: “This business is a people business.”
That includes clients, but also staff, Robert said. “Our people are our most important asset.”
A supportive culture creates an extended work family attracts people to the company.
Urlacher said the culture and opportunity convinced her to rejoin the firm.
Kevin worked in construction in California, but returned to Grand Junction for the same reason. “Coming home and working with family was a real draw.”
Brian agreed. “It was just a great opportunity to be part of something great.”
Robert said company culture — the Bray way — also emphasizes integrity and giving back to the community. He said his grandparents based their business on a promise and a handshake, and that tenet hasn’t changed.
An awards program established in 2016 recognizes employees who exemplify integrity and giving back to family and community. Winners are honored at an annual ceremony, and Bray Real Estate contributes to the charitable organization of the winners’ choice.
In 2018, Robert was among the winners of national awards recognizing business leaders who promote ethics and social responsibility. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy Center for the Public Trust presented Bray with the Bill Daniels Being a Difference Award. The awards program is named after the cable television pioneer and philanthropist.
In 2019, Bray Real Estate established the Bray Cares Foundation to help fund programs and projects that address housing-related needs. The foundation since has awarded more than $40,000 in grants.
In terms of the real estate business, the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions created an unprecedented situation. At one point shortly after the onset of the pandemic, real estate showings and open houses were prohibited. Since then, demand for housing in the Grand Valley has outpaced supply and pushed up prices.
Brian said the pandemic accelerated a trend that’s seen an increase in the number of people relocating to the Grand Valley. As technology affords people the opportunity to work anywhere, they’re choosing to live in places that offer a high quality of life. “Grand Junction is on the map.”
Robert said he’s excited about the opportunities the real estate market presents — but also the next generation of leaders who’ve emerged.
What’s next for Bray Real Estate?
Thompson provided a ready answer: “Seventy-five more years.”
But the more things change in the economy, the market and technology, the more Robert expects other things at the company to remain the same. “We give our best at whatever we do.”