Here’s the first thing you should know about Cindi Bulla: She’s counting on you. She believes wholeheartedly that every REALTOR® in the state has a role in shaping our association, the real estate industry, and Texas itself.
But don’t worry—she has faith that you will come through. She has this confidence because she has seen it play out in the member-driven results that span the 100-year history of this association.
100 Reasons to Serve
It is not coincidental timing that Cindi Bulla is serving as Texas REALTORS® chairman during the association’s centennial year. “The centennial has powerful meaning to me,” she says. “A stranger you didn’t know from a different era—someone you may have disagreed with on every other thing—did what was necessary to ensure we would enjoy healthy markets, happy consumers, and that we would stand for integrity that would sustain our profession into perpetuity. Somebody identified that in 1920, and Texas REALTORS® have been doing it ever since.
“I wanted us all to huddle up and remind one another that this is more than a career for us. Almost everyone one of us has a story that doesn’t have anything to do with how much money we made on a transaction. Almost every one of us has walked out of a closing feeling like we made a powerful difference that didn’t have anything to do with a commission check. And almost every one of us who has volunteered at any level of this association has to feel like they are part of something huge, because they are.”
I want us all to huddle up and remind one another that this is more than a career for us.
Bulla gets animated when talking about what members will experience during the centennial year. “There are so many things most of our members don’t know about that literally changed the way we do business. REALTORS®’ efforts to work with the Bar Association to create the Broker-Lawyer Committee averted a major dust-up between the two organizations. That story is fascinating.”
She points to the creation of standardized forms as one of many examples of REALTORS® working on behalf of consumers over the years for long-term benefits. Though consumers may be focused on their specific transaction, Bulla believes there is a bigger story to share with your clients. “You can tell them: ‘Guess what? I went to work for you 100 years ago! In 1920, the people who started this organization decided that consumers need a voice—consumers need us to be professional and have scruples and be accountable. We started working for you a century ago, and we’re going to be around for the next century to keep things in check. That’s why we exist. That’s the value we bring.’”
“Everything that has ever happened under the Texas REALTORS® banner started with one REALTOR®’s idea,” Bulla says. “Our whole system is set up for a flow of ideas from members to leaders—not the other way around.”
Bulla’s trust in the power of member engagement comes from her personal journey. She has traveled a path from not knowing what a REALTOR® is to becoming a new, uninvolved member to serving on association committees and now assuming the role as chairman of the board for the association’s centennial.
A Breadth of Real Estate Experience
Bulla first entered the real estate world through her employment with a central Texas-based savings and loan. She worked her way up to management of the department charged with servicing its residential mortgages and packaging them for sale into the secondary mortgage market.
After another servicing job with a savings and loan with branches closer to her hometown of Plainview, Bulla took a job as a loan workout specialist for a savings and loan in Amarillo. “It was the early ’80s, when we had almost 20% interest rates and the savings and loan crisis, so many of the seasoned drivers in that industry were either trying to get out or going to jail. That left a gap into which a 23-year-old single mom could walk in.”
The female CEO who hired Bulla told her that the board expected the CEO to go down with the ship. “If you come here, just know they expect us to fail,” she had said. But failure was not what Bulla and her boss had in mind. Bulla made the most of the opportunities in her first foray into real estate-related work.
Her job involved attending lender meetings for foreclosed commercial real estate projects—$50 million and $60 million developments—to attempt to get the savings and loan’s money back.
At one of those first lender meetings, Bulla found herself in a room with 40 other lender representatives, all men. “All they wanted was out,” Bulla remembers. When they looked around the room for someone to take the lead on working out a deal, Bulla raised her hand.
She did the same on the next project and the project after that, picking up a tremendous amount of experience in commercial acquisition, commercial development and construction, and project management. “It was an opportunity that would not have been availed to me had the times not been what they were,” she says.
Over the ensuing years, Bulla was involved in the workout of bankrupt projects up and down the I-20 corridor. She negotiated on behalf of the Resolution Trust Corporation and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. She managed the utility structure, streets, gutters, and paving of a large development on the north side of San Antonio, negotiated the sale of a famous Utah ski resort, and managed the remediation of a massive mold problem in a high-rise condo in the Florida Keys.
Perspective on Ethics and Tough Markets
Bulla embraced high ethical standards long before she ever heard of the REALTOR® association. At one of her jobs, she discovered, tracked, and reported a pattern of theft by her immediate supervisor. Instead of the attaboy she expected to receive, she was fired by the person to whom she reported it. It turned out that person was part of the scheme as well. Bulla handed over the keys to her company vehicle and walked home.
Bulla’s experience during the savings and loan crisis showed her what a real estate bust looks like. “What we saw in 2008 was bad,” she says, “but that was nothing compared to what we rolled through in the beginning of the ’80s.”
Noting that two-thirds of members have joined Texas REALTORS® since 2010 and have experience only with a booming market, Bulla offers the same advice she shares with the agents at her brokerage: Be the surgeon. Don’t panic when things get tough, she says, or you will exacerbate the problem. Whether facing a challenging market or a snag in a transaction, clients need an agent who is “looking for a solution, not curled up in a corner … somebody who will say, ‘I’ll go meet that dragon. Let me give it a try.’”
A Firm Focused on Culture
Bulla’s next career move involved originating mortgage loans at an Amarillo construction firm that built residential properties. She worked her way up to CEO, overseeing construction and operations. Bulla earned her real estate license while at the company—not with the intention to sell real estate broadly but to sell the properties the firm built.
When Bulla moved on after 14 years at the firm, she considered going into real estate sales at a well-known broker’s firm in Amarillo. After more thought, though, she chose to open her own brokerage. “I had a huge drive to create a brokerage with my own culture. I decided that culture was more important to me than money.”
Her business plan started with this: “I would rather have 10 agents making $100,000 a year than 100 agents making $10,000.” Her model focused on staying small and open to change. She relished the idea of choosing the agents she works with—even new agents—as she felt she could provide the training to help them succeed. “Everything I did was based on building a culture rather than making money,” says Bulla. In the process, she found that the culture came with “a nice living for everybody … and a great place to get up and go to work in the morning. That culture has brought me tremendous joy,” she says.
Going All In
The residential construction company where Bulla served as CEO was a REALTOR® firm, but she was not involved in the association. “Honestly, I didn’t know the difference between the REALTOR® association and the Texas Real Estate Commission,” she says.
Upon opening her brokerage and attending a mandatory orientation at the Amarillo Association of REALTORS®, Bulla’s eyes were opened. “Although I went there with the idea I would network with other REALTORS®, I realized there was a lot more going on.”
Once I was in, I was in all the way.
The biggest catalyst for her association involvement came in the form of a phone call. Randy Jeffers, a broker Bulla calls an icon of Amarillo real estate, asked Bulla to serve on the Amarillo association’s Grievance Committee.
Bulla initially did not know what the Grievance Committee did but quickly found out. “It was substantive and impactful. We had a duty to
protect consumers but also to understand that these were our colleagues, and our decisions could affect their livelihoods.”
She realized that she had a vested interest in her competitors’ success—that by making sure that other REALTORS® were professional and responsible and had the tools they needed to be successful, it would benefit her as well. She says that cooperation among competitors is like no other profession she knows.
“Once I was in, I was in all the way,” Bulla says. She started attending association luncheons. She got involved in TREPAC, served on committees at the local, state, and national levels, chaired task forces, and pulled other members into the process along the way, as Randy Jeffers had done for her.
Reflecting on her own personal experience as a member for 10 years without even realizing it, Bulla understands that many new members follow that same road. But she’s doing everything she can to shrink the time frame. Wherever she comes into contact with members, she invites opinions, encourages involvement, and urges those already involved to ask others to step up. She does this because she has seen firsthand how powerful the results can be when REALTORS® work together and take action. Remember … she’s counting on you.
Get to Know Cindi Bulla
She didn’t include her name in her brokerage’s name, Realty Central Services. Although she takes pride in meeting most of her brokerage’s clients at some point during a transaction, she wanted her agents to promote their own names without fighting against the name recognition that would come with “Bulla” being on the company sign or as the biggest name on the business cards. Realty Central Services currently has nine full-time agents, though the firm’s new building constructed in 2018 has space for a few more.
She dissuaded her daughter from working at her firm … at first. “My daughter Cristine was never, ever, ever going to be a real estate agent. And then one day I got a call from her saying, ‘You know what?’” Bulla advised her daughter to start with another broker rather than herself. She recommended Randy Jeffers, a broker Bulla considers a mentor. Cristine did just that, and eventually moved over to Realty Central Services to work with her mother.
She used to act in a popular two-woman show, Always…Patsy Cline. While she currently serves on the boards of performing arts organizations, Bulla has mostly stepped away from the stage. However, Always…Patsy Cline was reprised for a reunion show last year, and Bulla has not ruled out other future performances.