From Farming to Commercial Real Estate Broker: Finding His Passion

November 23, 2018

From Farming to Commercial Real Estate BrokerBill Caton grew up in Pennsylvania, a coal miner’s son. When the coal mining recession hit, it changed his life, but not the way he might have expected. The first change came when he was 11 and he left home to live with a dairy farmer and his family, working as a hired hand.

“It changed my life,” Caton said. “They were very well connected in the community, deacons of the church, on the board of banks, and his wife’s brother was the state’s attorney. I found a whole other way of life and went to a different high school than my other four siblings did. That set me on a different path for life.”

A Career in Education

Caton’s degrees and experience started out in Education. “I spent two years in Pennsylvania teaching in Jr. High. It gave me an appreciation for children moving into adolescence and I discovered that was difficult for me to relate to.”

Then, he moved to Illinois where he began teaching high school biology. He eventually became the science department chairman at Bolingbrook High School, and retired after 34 years there.

A life-long learner, Caton was a quick study when he set his sights on a second career in real estate.

Moving into Real Estate

Caton’s life on the farm taught him to embrace a work ethic of keeping busy, no matter the day or time–dairy farmers work 24/7, 365 days a year. This, more than anything else propelled him into a second career, while he was still in the midst of his first.

“While I enjoyed a teaching career, being done at 3:30 was like working a half day. I had excess energy and that’s why I decided to do something additional,” he said.

“Something” started out as purchasing an insurance company with a business partner.  It was the early 80’s and Caton planned to take over the insurance side of the company and his partner was going to head up the real estate end.

“Somewhere along our eight-year tenure, we flip flopped,” Caton said. “I thought real estate was more fun, more tangible, and an easier product to sell.”

Starting a New Company

In 1988, Caton decided to open his own real estate company in Plainfield, a town just starting to develop.

“I was the second one to come in. The other {company} had been there for many years and was a good old boy network,” he recalled. “We did things completely differently and achieved success in that marketplace. We grew until our office was destroyed in 1990 by the tornado, so we had to start all over again in Plainfield. That started the community developing rapidly also.”

Starting the Transition to Commercial Broker

Caton quickly found he was dealing with a lot of commercial brokers from outside the area. At that time, commercial real estate brokers and residential brokers didn’t mix well, but Caton, as a broker/owner who knew everyone in Plainfield, was able to overcome that obstacle and find common ground.

A few years later he started selling farmland. Local farmers didn’t trust the outsiders and asked Caton, “Would you help me?'”

Growing Pains

Taking a year sabbatical from teaching, Caton focused on real estate and opened his second office in Morris, Illinois. He then completed his teaching, so he could retire and focus full time on real estate.

Caton began opening new offices in 2002. Soon after, his son and daughter joined him and between 2004-07, they opened eight new offices, six handling residential and two in commercial.

“We had 30 commercial agents and 170 residential agents. It was a crazy point in my life,” he said. “Then the great depression hit. People called it the great recession, but if you were in it, it was a depression. I was fairly stubborn. In 2007 I said, I got through the 80’s when interest rates were 18 and19 percent. I’ve got a war chest, I can make this two years. But it wasn’t two years. It was five. I’ve never claimed to be the smartest person around, but I am certainly the most determined.”

Caton said, “In 2010 I sold off my residential company, reincorporated with my two children as partners, and have been growing steadily ever since.” Growth jumped again when they moved from Will County into DuPage County, affording them new opportunities.

Wise Advice

As he looks back, Caton offers some advice. “The support of your family and the people around you keep you centered. Pay more attention to your physical, mental, spiritual and family life and balance that with your business goals.”

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