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It’s not often I make an interviewee cry.

Actually, I can’t take credit for the sniffles. Sarah Howe teared up because of what her husband said when I asked him what makes her a good Realtor.

“People love her,” he answered. “She’s just the most genuine and authentic person you’ll ever meet. She’s just…”

A somewhat startled Sarah interrupted, “That makes me cry! I would never say that. That’s what I say about you. I’m a battleaxe!”

Which seemed to bear up his next point: “She’s very self-effacing — she’ll just say things you would never share with somebody else, because that’s who she is. We think people like that personality that we have with each other, the kind of yin and yang.”

Together 10 years and married for nine, the Howes met in a sailing class at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and quickly found common ground. Both had had successful corporate careers — Don with Clear Channel in Cincinnati and Florida (at one point he managed 100 radio stations), Sarah with IBM as a marketing manager in Paris and London and with Salon Lofts, the suite-rental salon concept she launched in Florida. Their backgrounds served them well when they moved into real estate, first with Smith & Associates, and now with Coastal Properties Group, an elite affiliate of Christie’s International. When they represent a property, they treat it “like a product we’re taking to market,” says Sarah. “We do a sales plan and a marketing plan. And we don’t take any house. If you look at our listings there’s not an ugly house on there.”

Which is true — in part because, as Sarah says, “We make them do stuff.” That “stuff” — what some realtors would call “staging” but which they prefer to call “styling” — is key, and Sarah clearly has a knack for it. She shops for weeks and months for the right elements to make a house more saleable, from paint colors to drawer pulls, and even scrubs the floors and cleans the windows. The Howes also work with contractors who stand ready to make improvements in a home that’s for sale.

“We have one in Brightwaters,” says Don, “that after Sarah did what she did to the house, they didn’t want to move.”

Her styling services aren’t cheap — they can cost the seller 1 to 3 percent of the sale price on top of commission, or the list price can be adjusted in advance. But the investment seems to pay off. A couple who hadn’t agreed with the Howes’ recommendations for list price and property upgrades tried to sell their home through two other Realtors without success, then came back to Don and Sarah. After the Howe team was done making changes (new carpet, better lighting, etc.), the sellers got a cash contract in only two weeks.

Since getting into the real estate biz, the Howes have bought or rented homes for themselves in the Old Northeast, in Bayshore, in Grenada Terrace, in the Vinoy and at Signature Place. “There’s a little bit of gypsy in us,” says Don. But now they’ve settled into what they feel is their forever home, where we spoke in early December just five weeks after they moved in: a graciously proportioned 1925 bungalow in the Euclid St Paul’s neighborhood that is said to have been the residence of gangster Al Capone, a theory backed up by its steel-reinforced stucco facade.

Sarah & Don at their home’s shuffleboard court. Photo: Todd Bates

Whether chatting in their living room, posing for photos in a brisk winter breeze on the home’s shuffleboard court, giving instructions to workers in the midst of renovations, or looking after their scampering pups Howie and Deuce, they shared a charmingly easy rapport with each other and their visitors.

But Sarah still insists Don is the nice one.

“Real estate is really hard,” she said, “because there’s a lot of personalities involved. And with 10,000 licensed agents in South Country, a lot of times they’re not experienced and it can be so aggravating. I’m very impatient. But Don is so good — nothing ever explodes. I would probably get fired or would fire half the people…”

“I have to wheel it back,” said Don.

“I think he would be a good mediator or a counselor,” she added. “He has three adult boys that I’m stepmom to, and then he mentors a Ready for Life kid, and I would say he mentors me, too — because all these people call with issues, and I listen to the conversations and I’m like, ‘This is helping me!’ He’s helping people off the ledge all the time. I would say that’s our secret sauce.”

Want more REALtor® LOVE? Read about two other couples who’ve made love and real estate the perfect match:

Janet & Larry Mendez

Tracie Mayo & Eileen Donovan

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