Commercial Heart

A 44-Year Relationship

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

ault1017After 17 years selling real estate for others, in 1990 G. Ray Ault launched his own commercial and industrial real estate firm, Ault Commercial Realty Inc. He works from his home office in Proctor.
Photo: Alex Brett

Ray Ault credits his mentor, the late Jack Berkley, for teaching him that “You can’t be a good Realtor unless you are truly interested in what other people want or need and what makes them tick.” It was a lesson he saw exhibited six years ago.

Berkley and his wife, Judith, were the owners of Berkley & Veller Greenwood Country Realtors in Brattleboro and Mount Snow and, at one time, Ault’s employer. “The year when Jack was 85,” says Ault, “we dined in Walpole, and he said, ‘On my bucket list is a drive to California.’ I’d had just enough wine that I said, ‘I’ll go with you.’ And we did — a 26-day drive from Vermont — just moseyed across the country, to the Carolinas, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, up through Texas, New Mexico, and up through California.

“He would walk into a bar or restaurant and I’d go park the car. I’d go in and he was already in conversation with people. It was a lesson that he taught me, and I saw it in spades on that trip.”

A Realtor who specializes in the sale and lease of commercial and industrial properties and business opportunities across the state, Ault continues to follow Berkley’s advice at his own company, Ault Commercial Realty, which he operates from his home in Proctor.

Although he started out in residential real estate, Ault hasn’t sold a primary home in 35 years. “When my neighbor, with a home worth well over a million dollars, came to me to list it, he was flabbergasted when I said, ‘No, I can’t handle it, but I will refer you to a residential broker.’”

He stresses the importance of being up front with people, especially when it comes to referral fees or whom you represent in a transaction, and confesses to having been surprised when one of the first tasks for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was to require people giving financial advice to adopt a fiduciary responsibility with clients.

“I thought, ‘Well, we’ve been doing that in real estate for decades,’” he says. “Real estate laws require the broker has a fiduciary responsibility.”

Ault was born in Chicago, “a son of educators,” and the second of four boys. His father was a Ph.D. geochemist, and his mother taught elementary school. “Every member of my immediate family was born in a different state,” he says, adding that by the time he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois, he had been in every state but Alaska.

At Wheaton, which did not have a business school as such, he studied economics and business relations in the social sciences department, but economics ended up being his concentration.

Ault transferred in his senior year to the economics department at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and spent his last semester in Europe at The Hague, through Wheaton’s first European study program.

“I figured out the date in 1971 my classmates in Wheaton were having a sweltering graduation ceremony after the summer semester, and was sitting on top of the Arc de Triomphe with a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and a bottle of wine. It was August 18.”

After graduation, he and Lee Wilson, one of his classmates, toured Europe in a Volkswagen Microbus they bought from a Dutch mechanic. Two days after returning to the States, they moved to Vermont, where Ault’s older brother was renting an old farmhouse in Bridport.

“I fell in love with Vermont,” says Wilson, who recently retired from the Social Security Administration and lives in Shrewsbury. He was also in love with Joyce Anderson, a woman who had graduated ahead of him at Wheaton and taken a teaching job in Orange.

“We got married about a year after I moved,” Wilson says, adding that Ault had also met a girl. “He was best man at my wedding in ’72, and I was best man at his wedding in ’73.”

“I’m not a native Vermonter but I married a fourth-generation Vermonter, and our sons are fifth-generation Vermonters,” says Ault. “I married the banker’s daughter,” he adds with a chuckle.

He was working at the Skihaus, whose owner, Neil Kvasnak, would hand him the cash bag and say, “Take this over to Bob Duclos at the bank, and nobody but Bob Duclos.”

Duclos, the cashier at the time, would eventually rise to the presidency. His daughter, Cairle, a graphic artist, managed the Frog Hollow art gallery where Ault often brown-bagged his lunch.

In 1972, he left Middlebury and moved to Rutland County to build log homes, living with his brother on property in Middletown Springs owned by longtime friends Don and Peggy Carr.

That winter, Ault found work as night auditor at The Cortina Inn in Mendon. After a couple of months, he was named sales director, in charge of weddings and group business. “It was there I learned I could make a living on commissions,” he says. He proposed that arrangement to the owners, Bob and Rita Harnish.

“I lucked out being employed by them,” he says. “I learned so much about business in general.” His experience booking groups for The Cortina helped him understand the hospitality industry for his brokerage business. “A lot of my sales were country inns and B&Bs for a time.”

In October of ’73, a month before Ault and Cairle were married, he received his real estate license. He worked both jobs for six months, so he could ease into real estate.

Ault’s first full-time real estate job was with Berkley and Veller, a large independent brokerage with offices in Stowe, Rutland, Wilmington, and Brattleboro. After two years, he was named manager of the Rutland office, which he ran through ’79.

In 1980, David Desautels, the owner of Desautels Real Estate in Chittenden County, hired him away to buy an office building and open a Rutland office.

Four years later, he was again hired away, this time to start a commercial division in Killington for Bob Montgomery of Century 21 The Montgomery Company.

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. For the prior year, he had been selling and listing only commercial properties while running the office. A deal putting together a sale of several properties for a McDonald’s restaurant had been the turning point. “I realized I wasn’t as good with the emotional side of residential sales,” he says.

He worked for Montgomery for six years until, in 1990, he decided he no longer wanted to be responsible for other agents and left to fly solo. After five years in an office condo in Rutland Town, he leased the space to a lawyer and moved his office home to Proctor. He incorporated in 1999.

Ault likes being his own boss, able to plan his days around the work he needs to do for clients. Of course, flying solo means there’s nobody to pick things up when he’s away for three weeks. Enter Jim Watson, the owner with his wife, Joan, of Coldwell Banker Watson Realty in Rutland. “I turn it over to Jim,” he says, “give him my key case, let the clients know, and I trust him implicitly. In fact, he initiated a case when I was recently in Colorado.”

“That’s the best deal in the world,” Watson quips. “If the plane goes down I get to clean up the mess.”

Watson says he and Ault have been friends, colleagues, and friendly competitors “for many, many years. I would say he has consistently served Realtors and Realtors’ interests locally, statewide, and even nationally throughout his career.

“When we got into the business in the 1970s, this business was probably loosey-goosey and has changed dramatically since then,” Watson continues. “Ray is one of the reasons it’s gotten a lot better. To me, the biggest thing has been his support for making Realtors professionals, and making the rules and regulations and protecting the industry.”

Nearly every year since the mid 1980s, Ault has been called to give testimony in Montpelier on behalf of real estate and private property interests. He was elected president of the Vermont Association of Realtors in 1989, and is now on the government affairs committee. He also chaired the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and now serves on the Rutland Economic Development Corp. public policy committee.

Ault’s commitment to the community does not lie only in the area of his profession. He served three terms as the town Republican chairman, and recently stepped down after 20 years as Proctor’s town and school district moderator.

He was licensed as a pilot in 1987 and enjoyed it for 10 years, but found he was spending a lot of his time flying clients to look at inns in states where he wasn’t licensed to sell, and had to find brokers for them. He also used to have a motorcycle, but after a few close calls, gave it up.

“Right now my enjoyment is in reading and hiking and canoeing, and outdoor activities. I was a hunter until Lyme disease came along. I love to golf.” From age 44 to age 52, he enjoyed martial arts (earned a second level Black Belt in karate), and at age 59, he switched from skiing to riding (snowboarding).

Cairle retired a year ago after 20 years running the sign shop for Killington. “She’s a master gardener and has carpentry skills,” Ault says. “I, on the other hand, do not have a green thumb nor a carpentry skill.” He turns 68 next month and ponders retirement “maybe four to five years in the future — I have no set date.”

In the meantime, Ray Ault will keep listening. •