The Year Ahead

Here are some of the top issues Berry and the 2022 Texas REALTORS® Leadership Team plan to work on in 2022:

The MLS system: The system is under attack, Berry says. People don’t understand it and don’t see the value of it since there are other ways to access listing information. Berry will be closely following the developments surrounding the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to withdraw from an antitrust settlement with NAR. “The Department of Justice is looking at the way we do business. They’ve looked at it before, and they’ve come up with the fact that the MLS system is the absolute best way to grow the economy. This is the way transactions should be handled.”

Professionalism: Berry sees great value in NAR’s Commitment to Excellence training and the online courses provided by Texas REALTORS®. He hopes to foster a culture of professionalism, especially among part-time practitioners and the 43% of members who have been REALTORS® for less than five years. “They may not understand why selling a home is different than selling a car. We have to provide the tools so they can understand what professionalism is and hold themselves to that standard.”

Accountability: REALTORS® have a responsibility to ensure the industry operates at a high level. “Members need to understand their value proposition. We’re there to make sure the transaction is smooth and done correctly. They have to know their craft, the contracts, and the process itself.”

Staying focused on real estate: “Staying in our lane makes the association much more powerful,” Berry explains. “It makes Texas REALTORS® much more respected if we only tackle things that pertain to real estate and our related interests. Some people think the association should be far-right or far-left or a money-making opportunity. But the association is here to promote all REALTORS® and private property ownership in our state.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Berry wants to concentrate on getting more people from all different backgrounds involved in the association. “The leadership should look like the association, and it doesn’t always,” he says.

The last thing Russell Berry wanted to do after college was work in his mother’s Virginia Beach brokerage. He was going to make his own way and change the world.

I realized that’s what real estate really is. You’re changing people’s lives, and there’s a lot more in it than just you.

Berry set off on an eclectic career. After several years and many exciting jobs, he finally came back to what he initially rejected. He decided that a real estate career had what he was looking for—a chance to make a difference. “I realized that’s what real estate really is,” he says. “You’re changing people’s lives, and there’s a lot more in it than just you.” He started selling properties 20 years ago and never looked back.

Today, Berry is still making a difference—and on a larger scale. As the 2022 Texas REALTORS® chairman, he leads more than 146,000 members who help Texans buy, sell, and manage properties every day.

To hear him tell it, his leadership journey has never been about Russell Berry.

His approach has always been to surround himself with talented people and push them to achieve. He’s an idea guy and a consummate facilitator. “I’m a team player,” he says. “There are no accolades for me. I’m just looking to get the best out of everybody.”

Being chairman doesn’t feel different than his previous leadership roles. Everyone on the Texas REALTORS® Leadership Team works together to promote the REALTOR® association. “You may get introduced first or get to wave at a meeting. You may get to do a few other things, but really, the chairman is there to guide the team.”

As the first openly gay chairman in Texas REALTORS® history, he feels a responsibility to mentor and support the next generation of LGBTQ leaders. “It really doesn’t matter if you are the first if there’s nobody else behind you,” he notes. Berry adds that while it is always interesting to be a trailblazer, his path to the chairmanship has always been about being a good leader.

Even though he’s sold roughly a thousand homes, he doesn’t dwell on the numbers or recognition. Real estate isn’t competitive or adversarial for him. He’s there, he says, to make the transaction better. “It’s not just a job—it’s a profession. It’s part of making the American Dream. I need to go out there and make sure everybody I talk to or interact with in the real estate industry understands that.”

Berry’s Real Estate Journey

Berry researched several firms before starting his career as a sales agent at a Century 21 franchise in Grapevine. The brokerage was a large firm with excellent training opportunities, yet it operated like a small family business.

“They did the best job to prepare me for the business. We would do business plans together. We would do mock listing appointments. We would do buyer net sheets. There was always something you could go learn about, which is how I got into foreclosures,” he says.

Berry kept taking real estate classes he thought would help him in his business. Eventually, he realized that he had the CE hours to take his broker’s exam. “I never really made opening a brokerage a priority. But the opportunity came available.”

Being an entrepreneur and his own boss always appealed to him. He was a competing broker juggling sales, transactions, supervising, and commission distribution forms. “It isn’t for everybody. It’s very difficult to grow your business,” he says.

After seven years at his own firm, he was recruited to become broker of record for a boutique firm that sold a lot of luxury properties. That company was bought by a larger company; Berry became a manager in a large firm that had five offices and 185 agents.

In 2020, Berry returned to full-time real estate sales. He sells Dallas-area luxury properties with Coldwell Banker Apex, REALTORS®. He has found client expectations are higher with million-dollar properties. The costs are also higher, he reports: It’s more expensive to market luxury homes. He says getting his Luxury Homes Certification really helped him grow his skills.

Getting Involved

Berry started getting involved with his local association through small donations to TREPAC. He volunteered for projects, then started organizing events and auctions. He discovered he was a good fundraiser.

A pivotal moment in Berry’s career was when his broker asked him to participate in the Texas REALTORS® Leadership Program. “The program makes sure you understand that this is a volunteer organization. We really do need you to be involved. It grabbed me by the collar and said, Hey, make something happen.”

It’s not just a job—it’s a profession. It’s part of making the American Dream. I need to go out there and make sure everybody I talk to or interact with in the real estate industry understands that.

Berry became an enthusiastic advocate for the program and served as chairman of the MetroTex Leadership Academy. He was elected to the MetroTex Association of REALTORS® board of directors, and then he became chairman.

Well before becoming MetroTex chairman, Berry enjoyed going to the state conventions and legislative meetings. He got involved with governmental affairs and was a TREPAC trustee for MetroTex. “It is a lot of work … You have to be up-to-date on all of the ethics commission rules and regulations as well as creativity and compliance related to fundraising.”

He worked on the Public Policy Oversight Committee, which he later chaired.

Berry says his leadership journey came together naturally. “It was one of those things where you get involved a little bit, and then you get involved a lot, and then you learn about the leadership program, and it catapults you to wherever you want to be.”

Meet Russell Berry

Russell Berry genuinely loves people: being with people, talking with them, learning about their situations, and finding out what makes them happy. He seems to know people everywhere he goes. “In my local area, there are over 40,000 REALTORS®; I think I know every single one of them,” he jokes.

When he connects with people, he stays in touch. His very first clients hired him several times before they moved out of state. Thanks to Facebook and email, he chats with decades-old friends and colleagues from past careers. “I feel like I’m still a manager because a lot of my agents who used to work for me will still call me to talk about various real estate topics,” he says.

Soon after he got into real estate, he began reaching out to the first person he knew in the industry. “My mom never prodded me or asked me about my business. But I found myself calling her and asking: What would you do? What do you think about this situation? Our experiences in real estate were different: some of the issues are different in Texas versus Virginia, and the business is completely different now compared to when she was working. But she always had really great advice. She was a great sounding board and asked questions that helped me feel confident in my decisions.”

Berry loves travel. “There is something you can learn every time you go outside of your comfort zone,” he says. He won’t be doing much personal travel this year or next due to association obligations, but he’s planning trips after that. Maybe he’ll go back to Europe or Africa.

Berry’s dog, a rescue shih tzu named Shaka*, is a huge part of his life. “When I die, I want to come back as my dog, because that dog is treated so well,” he says, laughing. “It’s spoiled. It gets everything it wants. It runs the house.”

Berry actively supports the charity Dwell with Dignity. People don’t realize that when a nonprofit or charity connects a family in need with housing, the housing is unfurnished. “So this charity goes in and actually makes the house a home,” he explains. He also works with Easter Seals and the American Heart Association.

Berry rarely gets upset. “I’m always looking to the future and how we can get better. My way of looking at things is: Oh well, this too shall pass.”

He views every experience as an opportunity. “There is something that we can learn from whatever we do, whether it’s traveling or having hard discussions about MLS. I try to make sure that everything is on the table. We’re looking at every possible angle to come up with the best solution. Maybe that means we try what’s been done before or something completely new. Maybe something that didn’t work 10 years ago will work now. How can we get the best result and make it a win-win?”

Lessons From Past Careers

Before he got into real estate, Russell Berry had a globetrotting résumé. The experiences shaped how he thinks and manages. They also taught him about networking, customer service, and other cultures.

Berry started working as a flight attendant for United Airlines. He traveled around the world. “It was the best way to meet different people and find out where I wanted to be,” he says.

He then took a job with Club Med to teach waterskiing and snow skiing at resorts in the Caribbean, Europe, and the U.S. “It was one of the best learning experiences of my life because I worked with people from around the world. I got to learn their cultures and languages.”

Berry joined a traveling circus for a year. The job wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds. When he wasn’t performing trapeze, teeter board, and high-wire acrobatics for audiences, he was practicing, spotting other performers, assisting with safety checks, and setting up equipment. Life on the road meant staying in a different place almost every night.

“With the performing comes a lot of practice. For every time you master a skill, there are a thousand times that you fail.”

After the circus, Berry got into the restaurant business. Supervisors valued his work ethic, judgment, and managerial skills. He was promoted to manager at every restaurant he worked in.

“There is nothing I would do differently. It’s all been a great ride. Everything I do, whether it’s turned out well or not, has been an experience for me to become the person I am. One reason I am a fairly decent leader is because I have all of these experiences to draw from.”