The Day

Wes Foster, 89; co-founded real estate giant Long & Foster


P. Wesley Foster Jr., a onetime aluminum siding salesman who co-founded one of the largest independen­t real estate firms in the United States, its name, Long & Foster, on “for sale” signs across the Mid-Atlantic, died March 17 at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 89.

The death was confirmed by his stepson, Rod Lawrence. No cause was given.

At the time of his death, Foster — known to his legions of real estate agents as “Wes” — was chairman emeritus of the company he founded with Henry A. “Hank” Long in Fairfax, Va., in 1968.

Long was an Air Force veteran. Foster, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, had served in the Army. They were both in their 30s and relatively new to real estate when they combined their names and ambitions to form the Long & Foster brand.

At the outset, the two men “flipped a coin,” Foster recalled in an interview with the Washington Business Journal. “He got his name first. I became president. We took off.”

When they began the operation, they employed a single real estate agent.

Long specialize­d in commercial real estate, Foster in residentia­l. Foster bought out his partner in 1979 and, over the next four decades, built the business into one of the largest privately held companies in the Washington area and a behemoth of the real estate sector nationally, with operations in mortgage and settlement services, homeowner’s insurance and property management.

In 2017, Long & Foster was sold to HomeServic­es of America, an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company headed by billionair­e investor Warren Buffett. By then, Long & Foster was the nation’s largest independen­t real estate brokerage by sales volume, The Washington Post reported, with 11,000 agents in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvan­ia, New Jersey, West Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina.

In 2020, according to the company website, Long & Foster real estate sales reached $34.5 billion.

Industry observers credited Foster with leading his company through a lucrative era of developmen­t that extended into the outer reaches of the Washington suburbs.

“If you had to start a brokerage firm ... there was no better place in the country to be than Washington, D.C., in the 1970s, when Wes started to expand,” Bill Regardie, the publisher of the now-defunct Regardie’s business magazine, said in an interview. “He founded and ran the most dominant, successful, richest real estate sales firm that Washington has ever seen and that the Mid-Atlantic has ever seen.”

Foster was also credited with leading the company through recessions that periodical­ly buffeted the real estate market and the economy as a whole.

“I really work toward making a profit, no matter how hard times get,” he told The Post in 1995, recalling one downturn when he cut his salary to zero to help maintain the company’s margins.

Over the course of his career, Foster witnessed prodigious changes in the way homes are bought and sold. When he began, agents maintained hard-copy records of active listings in their territory. With no lockboxes to dangle from doorknobs, they had to fetch keys before taking clients on a showing. There were no websites such as Zillow or Redfin where prospectiv­e home buyers could peruse properties on their own.

Foster said the recruitmen­t of successful real estate agents was always at the core of his business strategy. The ideal agent, in his estimation, possessed both “empathy” and “ego.”

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