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Joan Herlong: The short and simple version

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Joan Herlong & Associates Sotheby's International Realty

Originally written by: Evan Peter Smith for Upstate Business Journal on September 2, 2021 

Joan Herlong likes to say she never would’ve made it in real estate were it not for two pieces of advice that had nothing to do with real estate at all.

Instead, they were about writing.

Although the first wasn’t so much advice as it was a brutal critique. It came from a teacher’s assistant in college who gave her a charitable D- on her essay about the novel “Huckleberry Finn,” explaining that Herlong “couldn’t write her way out of a paper bag.”

“If you look at your cell phone and the name on the caller ID gives you heartburn, that’s not somebody you need to work with.” – Joan Herlong

The second was from a history professor who told his students he wouldn’t accept any term paper that was longer than two pages, double-spaced because “if you can’t explain your point in two pages, you don’t have a point.”

“That first criticism taught me I wasn’t special,” Herlong said. “And that history professor taught me brevity. Even now I see so many real estate listings full of flowery words like ‘cascading’ and ‘undulating’ and ‘captivating.’ It’s ridiculous. Just say what you mean. Be authentic.”

As CEO of Joan Herlong and Associates | Sotheby’s International Realty, the bulk of Herlong’s job, while naturally centered around real estate, is arguably driven more by communication. She admits she was never the type who harbored a passion for real estate. Instead, she’s more aptly described as a writer who just so happened to have stumbled her way into running a successful real estate firm.

For a while, it looked she would remain on the writer’s path. Her first job out of school was working as a news writer at CNN, pumping out copy for minimum wage. Then came stints writing advertising copy in Chicago and Charlotte and freelancing in Washington D.C., before she and husband, William, moved to Greenville.

“I had a child in every city we lived in,” Herlong said, “which is why I told my husband we couldn’t ever move out of Greenville.”

Motherhood taught her new lessons when it came to writing, specifically the joy children take in using the passive voice.

Joan Herlong & Associates Sotheby's International Realty

“Children are absolutely champions of the passive voice,” Herlong said. “Whenever something bad happens, boom, they go right to the passive. It’s never, ‘I broke the toy.’ No, it’s, ‘The toy got broke.’ Never, ‘I spilled the juice. Instead, it’s, ‘The juice spilled.’”

Today, she tries to use as few words as possible when selling homes. She prefers letting the homes speak for themselves. The rest of her time is spent giving advice to her team just as she once got advice, herself.

“I always tell my team members, ‘Make sure you have a five-year plan.’ I mean, I never had one. But it sounds like something you should have, doesn’t it?”

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