Land, residential, resort, rentals: Sugarbush Real Estate does it all
by Rosie Wolf Williams
Cynthia B. Carr started selling real estate in Bolton Valley not long after graduating from St. Lawrence University. In 1977, she launched Sugarbush Village Real Estate. Having changed the company’s name to Sugarbush Real Estate in 1991, she brought her competitor Brian T. Shea into the business as a partner in 2000.
It was once said that a person shouldn’t climb a mountain without a team, or without first balancing the risks and rewards. Cynthia Carr, Sugarbush Real Estate’s founder and owner, and Brian Shea, principal broker, owner, and president, have brought that idea to their business. Their company’s market presence and immersion in the Mad River Valley community has continued to rise. One could say that when it comes to real estate, they move the mountain.
Carr, a Massachusetts native, was fresh out of New York’s St. Lawrence University with a bachelor of arts in English in 1969. Her educational interest was in advertising, marketing, and promotion, but she had a passion for horses.
She began horse training in southern Vermont, and at the same time, started writing copy for a new developer in Bolton Valley. “I was doing brochures for the company, and they said, ‘You like them so well, why don’t you go sell them for us?’” says Carr. “I said, ‘OK.’”
She moved to Bolton Valley and began to sell condominiums, but the company folded and was bought by Hercules Powder, which started one of the earliest condominium properties at Sugarbush. Carr was highly recommended to Hercules Powder, so she lived in one of the model homes, skiing every day and enjoying the mountain. “But I had to go to work and start selling, or they were going to send me down the road,” Carr says, laughing. That was the beginning of her business, which was then called C.W. Bedford Real Estate.
She sold Middle Earth Condominiums from the model home, and added two more complexes for rental and management. “We had names like Ent House and Troll House and all the characters from the Lord of the Rings — leftover college stuff! Then I realized there was a Middle Earth ski trail, so it all tied together.”
Carr changed the name to Sugarbush Village Real Estate in 1977 when she moved the company to Sugarbush Village. In 1979 she took in two partners, Ron Zschaler and Miron Malboeuf.
They developed a management and rental business, and brought in the first computerized system for a condominium rental program in the area. The company bought out Creedon Real Estate in 1981, and in 1984 added a second sales office in Waitsfield called Sugarbush Valley Real Estate.
Land and residential real estate were added to the resort real estate business. In 1991, Carr split with her partners: She kept the real estate division, and the partners took the rental and management companies. She changed the name of both offices to Sugarbush Real Estate in 1991 after she purchased the Sugarbush Realty name from a defunct company. Another expansion occurred with the takeover of Jennings Real Estate, and in 2000, Shea came on as a partner.
Shea is a fifth-generation Vermonter with deep roots in central Vermont. He was born in Montpelier and his great grandfather founded Paige & Campbell Insurance (then called Place & Paige) in Montpelier in 1907. But he wanted to do something other than work in the family business.
He graduated from the University of Vermont in 1978 with a bachelor of science in business administration. He had met his future wife, Maureen Charron, in his junior year. They discussed buying a Burlington property together, and decided to take the real estate licensing exam.
They received their licenses in the fall of 1978, but Maureen, a speech-language pathologist, took a job in the Burlington school system. They moved to the Mad River Valley in 1979 and bought their first house. Shea received his broker’s license in 1980, the same year he and Maureen were married.
He met Carr through their dealings in real estate over the years. He founded Shea Realty, changing the name to Dion & Shea when he took on a partner. When they decided to go their separate ways, some of Shea’s colleagues and business associates suggested he approach his largest competitor — Sugarbush Real Estate. He found that he and Carr were very compatible and Shea bought into the business in 2000.
“Brian brings things to the table that I really don’t like doing and was deficient in: organization, handling the money, and being the realist,” Carr says. “He is the organizational backbone of the company. My bailiwick is promotion. It is a good combination; we work together really well.”
Since 2000, the company’s residential sales have grown, retaining its historically strong market share average of about 34 percent, says Shea, quoting Northern New England Real Estate Network figures.
About a year ago, Sugarbush Resort approached Carr and Shea about purchasing its resort-owned general real estate company. The acquisition was completed in November 2013.
“Graves was in an office at the bottom of the access road,” she says. “I renovated my original office in the Sugarbush Village, and we picked up all the Graves agents and office manager and equipment and moved them up to the mountain.”
Now the company has three offices: one in Waitsfield, one in Sugarbush Village, and the Sugarbush Resort office on the mountain. There are 15 agents and two office managers, and a liaison with the third office manager at the Sugarbush Resort office.
Carr says she and Shea made a conscious decision to focus their resources on the Mad River Valley. “Sugarbush has been having a real renaissance. Win Smith [CEO of Sugarbush Resort] and his partners have developed an exceptionally attractive base area, inspiring other owners in the Sugarbush Village to renovate their properties.
New homeowners are coming in and giving a real facelift to older homes and condominiums. Future development will provide a true connection between the new base area and the historic Sugarbush Village, providing more slope-side residences and retail space.”
Adam Greshin is a partner in Summit ventures and executive vice president of guest and community relations at Sugarbush Resort. He recognizes the ability of Sugarbush Real Estate to serve the needs of two very different clients: the resort community and the local population.
“They are focused on sales — no doubt about that — but they run their business with integrity and a strong customer bias that fits well with our approach to business. We are delighted to partner with them to help carry out our redevelopment of the Sugarbush base area.”
More than 60 percent of sales are of second homes, but Carr and Shea say that more condominium owners are considering permanent homes in the Mad River Valley. They follow the market trends in the living areas of their clients, which Shea defines as running between Boston and New Jersey, and have learned to predict the Mad River Valley market six months ahead.
Although foot traffic to their offices and display boards is still apparent, the real estate business has changed over the years. Clients use the Internet to search for homes and connect with agents, and many younger buyers prefer texting information instead of a face-to-face meeting or a phone call.
“They want quick bites of information,” says Carr. “They’ll inquire on your website, and if you don’t respond in five nanoseconds, they are off to another one.”
She also realizes there is an important balance between technology and personal service. “You still have to do the real estate. We don’t want to be so consumed with technology that we have moved away from our clients.”
Robin Morris, founder of Mad River Valley Food Hub, says he worked with Sugarbush Real Estate because of its good references and high visibility in the Mad River Valley market. “Both Cindy Carr and Brian Shea were able to share their many years of experience in the Mad River Valley by providing knowledgeable advice both in the development of our land and the subsequent sale.”
Shea lives in Waitsfield with his wife, Maureen Charron-Shea. He hikes, skis, and cycles. They have a son, Ian, 29, who lives lives in Burlington.
Carr owns two horses and lives in Waitsfield with her second husband, Al Carr, whom she met in 1991 while skiing at Sugarbush. They were married in 1992 and maintained a 15-year commuting marriage until Al retired as a Boston stockbroker and moved to live full time in Waitsfield.
She had three children from a former marriage: a son, Nathan Bedford, who lives in Waitsfield with his family; a daughter, Megan Martell, who lives with her family in Denver; and a second daughter, Hannah, who died in 2009. Carr has three grandchildren.
Carr founded a nonprofit psychotherapy center, Hannah’s House, one year after Hannah’s death. The agency is dedicated to emotional and mental health and offers educational outreach and therapy to parents and children. Team Hannah has had a fund-raiser in The Mad Marathon each July since the marathon’s inception in 2010. The first year there were four runners and, at press time, they have signed 95 for this year’s event.
“There is a strong sense of community here,” says Shea. “We think our business is a part of it. We have grown with the valley.” •