Valley real estate company is 50
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – There are days Rod Slifer has a hard time believing he’s been in Vail for 50 years. There are more days he’s happy he stayed through the tough times.These days, Slifer is the first name on the letterhead of the Vail Valley’s biggest real estate company, Slifer Smith & Frampton. That company celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. That anniversary is possible, at least a little, because Slifer was lured to Vail by a job title.In 1962, Slifer had just finished his second season as a ski instructor in Aspen, working for ski school director Morrie Shepard. That year, Shepard decided to take a chance on a new ski resort being built at the western base of Vail Pass and asked Slifer to come with him. Since a title came with the new job – assistant ski-school director – Slifer took the job. The summer before Vail Mountain opened, Slifer was working from an office in Fitzhugh Scott’s house, showing homesites to people who had invested in the company – those who put $10,000 into the new company could buy a slopeside homesite for another $250, if they agreed to build within a year.There wasn’t a lot of real estate to buy or sell those first few years, but by 1966, Slifer had opened his own real estate company and went to part-time work at the ski school.
Those first years weren’t easy.”Nobody believed in Vail, and there were minimal sales,” Slifer said. After those first few seasons, though, more people started to build homes, and Colorado law was changed to allow sales of condominiums.Slifer was able to build his company through the 1960s and ’70s, as the resort started to build a reputation as more than just a great place to ski. That reputation gained national attention when Gerald Ford was appointed vice president in 1973. About 1982, Harry Frampton came to Vail as president of Vail Associates and soon hired Mark Smith as his vice president. The ski company executives quickly came to know and like Slifer, who was Vail’s mayor at the time.”We’d have lunch every couple of weeks and became friends,” Slifer said.”Rod realized that as went (Vail Associates), so went the town,” Frampton said. “I knew (Vail Associates) couldn’t be successful without a great partnership with the town. It was a very, very constructive partnership, and that partnership was what led us to put the brokerage together.”When Smith and Frampton left Vail Associates after the company was sold to George Gillett, they formed East West Partners and, in 1988, formed Frampton and Smith Real Estate, hiring away several brokers from Vail Associates Real Estate – at the time one of the biggest real estate companies in the valley.At first, Smith and Frampton thought they could focus on Beaver Creek, still in its first decade of development. But within a couple of months, Slifer, Smith and Frampton started talking about merging their companies.
When Slifer Smith & Frampton was created, the company quickly became the main competitor for Vail Associates Real Estate. But that lasted just a few years, until Apollo Partners, which had purchased the resort company from Gillett, decided to get out of the real estate sales business.The eventual merger, in 1994, was celebrated at Garton’s, which was at the old Vail Crossroads. And the reaction of the brokers was, well, mixed.”It was like a fifth-grade dance,” Smith said, with people from one company on one side of the room and those from another on the other. Slifer, Smith and Frampton were in the middle, looking nervous.But the merger worked and created the biggest real estate company in the valley. And a lot of the brokers with the company today were there for that party nearly 20 years ago.Frampton said that’s unusual in the real estate business and credits, among other things, the fact that the company’s owners – along with managing partner and company president Jim Flaum – all started out on the sales side of the business.”That’s a huge thing,” Smith said. “That’s what makes the difference.”
Another element in the company’s success has been its early dive into technology. “The first company in the U.S. to require everyone to have a (personal computer) was a small firm in California,” Frampton said. “We were the second.”The company’s website and various mobile apps record more than 2 million hits a year.Smith said the basics of the real estate business haven’t really changed much over the years, but technology has fueled what changes there have been.”We started early and realized it could differentiate our company,” Smith said. “It’s fair to say we’re considered in the industry to be a leader in that.”But while longtime employees all know how to use their technology, the company will need to get younger to thrive in the decades to come. And, Slifer said, that’s happening.”We’ve got (several) brokers who have brought sons or daughters in to be partners in their business,” Slifer said. “We’ve got a second generation coming along, and we’ve encouraged people to be involved.”That helps keep people with the company. But so does Vail itself.”People really care about the community,” Frampton said. “One of the things we’ve always encouraged is to work hard, but take time off and be involved in the community.”All three of the founding partners follow that philosophy. And none of the partners say they’re going anywhere any time soon – none have any plans to retire.Slifer acknowledged that he’ll occasionally look in wonder at the fact he’s been in Vail for half a century.”But the smartest thing I did was stay here – and there have been some tough times,” Slifer said. “I think all three of us have been smart enough to make changes in the company as it grew. … We kept changing with the times. And our goal is to keep doing that.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.
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