MERRILLVILLE — McColly Real Estate Founder Ronald F. McColly is transitioning to a chairman role after starting and long leading what's billed as "the largest independent residential real estate company in Northwest Indiana."
He recently passed the torch to General Manager Tracy Parus, who was announced as the firm's new president at a recent company gathering at the Innsbrook Country Club in Merrillville.
McColly launched the company in 1974, starting with just four agents in Merrillville. It has since grown to a residential and commercial real estate empire encompassing Northwest Indiana, Central Illinois and the Chicago south suburbs.
Long based out of the sixth floor of the now-razed Twin Towers in Merrillville, McColly Real Estate provides a full range of real estate services.
McColly Companies now employs nearly 500 real estate agents and has expanded to cover many different facets of the real estate business. It also comprises Community Title, McColly Bennett Commercial Advantage and the McColly School of Real Estate.
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McColly said he learned a number of lessons in his 48 years selling real estate, such as that "the trend is not your friend," that values should always be appreciating over time and that people shouldn't invest in publicly traded companies that don't make money.
"Work on your database every day, even if you add one person," he said. "The habit of making phone calls is much more important than the phone call. Habits rule the world. If you do it all the time, it will be second nature."
In the 1970s, McColly joined the Century 21 franchise. It introduced yard arm signs, launched a relocation department and expanded to 70 real estate agents at sales offices in Highland, Merrillville and Valparaiso.
The firm later joined Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Service. In the 1980s, it moved its corporate office to U.S. 30 in Schererville, opened a Crown Point office, established First Developers of Indiana and opened McColly School of Real Estate. In 1988, it opened both the Community Title and McColly Mortgage offices.
Not every venture succeeded.
"We worked with builders to develop Bristol Farms in Schererville," he said. "We learned a lot of lessons and lost a lot of money. We don't get all winners in life."
But McColly pressed ahead.
McColly Real Estate went on to open offices in Winfield, Lowell and Tinley Park in the 1990s, when it also launched its New Homes Division. It was an early adopter of the internet, launching McColly.com in 1998.
The company became an independent firm and an affiliate of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World network in 2003. It continued to grow, launching a Property Source E-Marketing program and opening offices in Portage, Beecher, Crete and DeMotte.
It launched a Luxury Home Portfolio exclusive marketing program, went into a joint venture with Wells Fargo and was ranked in the Top 100 Brokers in the U.S. for 2007 and 2008, according to RealTrends 500.
In 2011, it launched McColly Auctions and merged with Bennett Homes and Bennett Commercial to form McColly Bennett Real Estate and McColly Bennett Commercial in Kankakee County, Illinois. It opened even more offices in Ogden Dunes, Cedar Lake and LaPorte, as well as the McColly Insurance Agency office in Schererville.
It merged Rosenboom Realty and Commercial Advantage to further expand in Illinois, where it also opened an office in New Lenox.
All in all, the firm now has more than 20 offices in two states.
The company continues to thrive as the housing market in Northwest Indiana booms, due in part to people relocating from Illinois.
"I don't make many predictions but the pandemic put work from home on the map," McColly said. "Cook County is the second most populous county in the country after only Los Angeles County. Think about it. Out of the five million people living there and even more in the collar counties, if you take 2,000 families out to come to Indiana, work from home and save some money it's a thimble full of water from the Pacific Ocean."