This article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
"Why don’t you come to office at 10 and meet people?” the email reads. “They can all roast me!!”
Another email from Sandy Gulick (a realtor with Kentucky Select Properties who needs parenthetical identification in this city about as much as Rick Pitino) had invited me to dinner with some of her friends, promising a gluttonous evening of fabulous food and delicious conversation. I could also help her drive her daughter to the airport, if so inclined. It was becoming increasingly clear that my profile subject wouldn’t be difficult to draw out of her shell. (“Hah! Yeah, right. Shell. Good one,” friends of Sandy Gulick might say to that characterization.)
On a rainy morning in mid-March, Gulick arrives at the Kentucky Select offices in east Louisville — just south of Brownsboro Road next to the acreage earmarked for the new Veterans Administration hospital — precisely on time, hailing me as a long-lost friend (even though it’s the first time we’ve met) and announcing to all that “Louisville Magazine is going to shadow me today…whatever that means!” (She draws out the first syllable of the word shadow — Shaaa-dow — in that endearing way she has, as if she’s making sure you’re in on the joke and not the butt of it.)
She pulls up a chair to the receptionist’s desk and plops down a thick file. “Barbara is the most wonderful person in the world,” Gulick says, nodding to Barbara Osbourne, who’s not the least surprised to find herself suddenly sharing a desk with Gulick.
This morning, Gulick is dealing with a client in Florida who lives here and there. The client is selling a condo there so Gulick is filling out paperwork here. She’s faxing, emailing, small-talking, making and taking calls all while giving an interview. If more than 30 seconds passes between cell-phone rings, Gulick checks her BlackBerry, which, Luddite though she claims to be, she says has “made selling real estate five times easier.”
Gulick entertains with one-liners (“Eating out and jewelry are my passions.” “I’m allergic to early-blooming trees, late-blooming trees and Christmas trees.”); exchanges banter with other agents who whiz by with the urgency and frequency of residents in an ER (“You’re following Sandy?” agent Macie Nichols says. “Keep your running shoes on.”); sets up appointments for later (we now have a showing at 11:30 a.m. in the Hills and Dales neighborhood); and ponders lunch options while listing her favorite restaurants: Lilly’s, Jack Fry’s, Le Relais, 211 Clover Lane, Mojito and Harvest are currently in the Sandy Gulick Hall of Fame. (She was a foodie before foodies were foodies.)
Her son and business partner, Jay, wanders in while his mother is talking cuisine.
“When was the last time you cooked?” Jay Gulick teases. “1987?”
“No, two weeks ago,” she replies. “I cut my knuckle. Cooking is dangerous!”
Jay estimates that his mother eats out 340 days a year, and she doesn’t deny it. Later, I’ll come to find out why. Dining with Sandy Gulick is more than just dining; it’s business. The most pleasant kind of business — conducted the way people did in a bygone era when civility and long, waterfront-covering conversations were important to building relationships — but it is business.
Her cell phone rings.
“I just faxed it to you. Don’t worry. It’ll be fine. What’s that number? What time? Okay. Bye, honey.”
This is Sandy Gulick’s world — a 24/7 multi-task of business-meets-kaffeeklatsch — and has been for 27 years, ever since she earned her real-estate license in the midst of a recession and housing slump in which mortgage-interest rates ran 12 percent. (These days, if you don’t get less than 4 percent, you feel fleeced.)
Gulick, 63, has to be the best-known agent in Louisville. And she is formidable. She annually ranks among the top-selling agents in the city. Last year, as a listing and buying agent, Gulick sold homes worth a total of $13.7 million for an average of $351,743 per sale, which ranked her among the top 15 agents in the area. Over the past five years, Sandy Gulick has moved $104,786,868 worth of homes, ranking sixth among all agents. If you combine her numbers with those listings she shared with her son Jay, they would top all agents in sales. (To put that in context, there are some 4,000 agents who belong to the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors.) Since 1997, as far back as Kentucky Select’s records go, Gulick has sold 806 houses, which extrapolates to well more than a thousand during her career.
She sold one house in Butchertown six separate times, and she’s sold one person seven different homes. Another client bought a house from Gulick, moved several times (using Gulick as an agent for each buy), then later re-bought the initial house.
Through Sandy Gulick, naturally.
She seems the least likely wheeler-dealer salesperson this side of…I got nothin’. Sandy Gulick is an outlier. How to describe her? Imagine your favorite, tell-it-like-it-is, endearingly eccentric aunt who manages to stay two or three steps ahead of everybody while sending out the vibe that she’s always the last to know. If there’s a phony bone in her body, it must have been surgically inserted an hour ago — and was promptly rejected.
She typically sports three pairs of glasses: sunglasses hooked to the front of her shirt, eyeglasses at all times, and reading glasses that she pulls down over the eyeglasses. The right lens of her eyeglasses looks foggy, as if she’s just come from an air-conditioned office into the humid outdoors, but it is a prescription lens to help her with double vision, a side effect of a thyroid eye disease.
When I ask Gulick why she’s been so successful, she says in that scratchy smoker’s voice of hers, “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
“The first time I met Sandy, I don’t think my impression of her is something you can put in print,” laughs Alice Legette, another agent at Kentucky Select, who met Gulick when Gulick joined Semonin Realtors (Legette was a veteran there at the time).
I ask Gulick if she has an actual office.
“Oh sure, come see it.”
She leads me down a short hall into an office sizeable enough for two desks; they’re kissed together, Jay on one side, his mother on the other. On the wall on her side of the room is a framed copy of Casa Grisanti’s ravioli recipe. On her desk sits a computer-obscuring vase of flowers.
“Aren’t they GOR-geous?” she says.
What kind are they?
“I have no idea. Jay, what kind are they?”
“They’re lilies,” Jay says.
“Lilies,” she explains.
Gulick excuses herself to get ready for the 11:30 showing. I sit at her desk and visit with Jay, 41, who seems in several obvious ways the opposite of his mother: He’s organized, technologically savvy and overtly pragmatic.