By Dorothy Bliskey
What do nurses, Lawrence Welk and kuchen (a German pastry) have in common with local real estate guru Debra Heller? Before getting into the field of real estate 30 years ago, Heller worked as a registered nurse in Fond du Lac. Nursing was her initial career choice just out of high school in her hometown of Strasburg, North Dakota – also the home of Lawrence Welk who just happens to be her great uncle. “My grandmother was Lawrence Welk’s sister” Heller explains, noting she and her husband Larry enjoy attending the Welk family reunion, which is held every four years in Strasburg.
As for the kuchen, the German pastry is a popular treat with coffee at weddings in her hometown, Heller said. “I’ve never been much for baking, but in my mother’s final year of life, she taught me to make kuchen. “She told me, ‘Debra, I want you to be the one to carry on this tradition in our family.’” “I was just floored. But during those trips back to care for her, my mother taught Larry (Debra’s husband) and I how to make kuchen.”
Heller, who eventually gave up her nursing career for the real estate field 30 years ago, at one time owned and operated Exsell Real Estate. After 12 years of running a successful business which grew to include 21 agents, she opted to fold her company in with Roberts Homes and Real Estate at the invitation of owner Jim Roberts. Doing so gave her more time to do what she loved most – work with people to list and sell real estate instead of having to concentrate on the management tasks of owning a company.
Giving up her own firm also freed Debra to more easily head to North Dakota to be with her parents who both died of cancer within a two-year period a few years ago. Her husband Larry accompanied her on those long weekend driving trips west. It was a very stressful and sad time in Heller’s life. In spite of it she learned to make kuchen from her frail but determined mother – all while continuing to excel at selling real estate in Fond du Lac.
As she celebrates 30 years in real estate, Heller’s achievements are commendable. A mover and shaker in the field, she has achieved more than $260 million in real estate sales. That translates to more than 1,240 closings (one per week) at an average price of $209,677.00 per closing.
“Those statistics are impressive,” says Jim Roberts of Roberts Homes and Real Estate where Heller leads in sales. “She has two closings this week.”
“Prior to joining our firm seven years ago, Debra had built her Exsell Real Estate into a very well respected and efficient firm,” Roberts said. “I knew that adding Debra and her company to our team would only strengthen us, and it definitely has.”
The Road to Success…
Heller is quick to credit others for helping her achieve high goals in real estate. Larry also has his real estate license and assists with some of her showings and open houses. “I couldn’t have accomplished all of this without his support,” she said. “Many evenings he brought dinner to the office.”
“I’ve always had wonderful staff, assistants and agents who’ve supported and helped me,” Heller said. “It’s definitely a team effort. I couldn’t have achieved all that I have without two very special people I work with at Roberts – Brooke Schneider, along with my dear friend Rose Schneider who’s been working with me for 18 years.”
When she ran her own firm, Heller says her office manager Nancy VandeBerg, niece Kara Meier, and daughter Kathe Magoline were instrumental in helping her operate a successful business.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded with helpful staff and wonderful clients who continue to refer new business to me. We also are fortunate in Fond du Lac to have such great local lenders, appraisers, inspectors and title companies who help make closings happen seamlessly.”
So, what attributes make Heller shine?
Roberts points to her keen ability to build relationships and trust. One client who has become Heller’s good friend and fan is Sherry Holmes, a retired professor from Marian University. “She has a very loyal client base,” Sherry said “and as I began to work with her I noticed how hard she works at keeping them happy. Real Estate is largely about trust. Debra is honest, ethical and driven — all of which set her apart and contribute to her success. Many of her clients grow to become her fans and friends, which is crucial to success.”
Over the years, Sherry and her husband Dave have faithfully sought out Heller’s expertise in their quest to sell five homes and buy four homes and a lot to build on. This January, they closed on a spacious condo that Heller found for them.
“From the time you first meet Debra, she gains your trust and confidence because you feel she is truly interested in your home needs and wants,” Holmes said. “She loves what she does and it shows.”
And some of Debra’s strongest characteristics are her communication skills and follow-through. Sherry noted they first met when Heller was a student in her class at Marian. “She has always given us answers to our questions quickly and concisely. Her calm manner and attention to details makes buying or selling a home an enjoyable experience – and she knows the Fond du Lac market. She sold our last house in less than two weeks.”
Heller has also been active in the community. She’s received honors such as “Reader’s Choice for Best Realtor in 2013, Career Woman of the Year and Wisconsin Main Street Volunteer of the Year. She has also served on many Fond du Lac boards and is currently on the board for New Beginnings and Fond du Lac Lutheran Homes & Health Services.
“Debra has been a leader in our company since the day she walked through the door,” Roberts said. “She is never too busy to offer advice and assistance to other agents or to share something she has learned to better our company. I appreciate the fact that she has utilized her passion and skill to help our company continue to grow and evolve.”
Dorothy Bliskey is a Fond du Lac-based freelance writer who has been writing for newspapers, magazines and businesses for 25 years. She earned a B.S. Degree in Journalism from UW-Oshkosh during the same years her three sons were in college. Grad parties occurred frequently in the Rosendale “Rindy” household (her former last name before marrying Brian in 1997 and moving to Fond du Lac).
Bliskey formerly worked in the tourism industry as a writer and marketing director. In 2005 she wrote her first book, The Martinsons of Springdale, which is set in her hometown of Mt. Horeb – home of the trolls.