RealtyLine publishers and owners, Doren Carver and Tawanna Verock, remember May 11, 1995 like it was yesterday. The inaugural issue of RealtyLine had just finished its printing run in the still, dark hours of the morning. It was now up to the U. S. Postal Service to deliver 3,500 copies to real estate professionals all over Austin. The partners in business and in life weren’t experiencing delusions of grandeur by any means. Doren and Tawanna knew that it would take more than a single 20-page broadsheet to make any kind of impact on the audience. But it was the first step in the plan.
Twenty-five years later, RealtyLine is as much a part of the fabric of Austin’s real estate community as any real estate agency or lender.
The story behind RealtyLine started a few years before that May day. In 1994, a 26-year-old Doren was considering what he wanted to do with his life. One idea was to publish a newspaper. It wasn’t just a youthful pipe dream. His paternal grandfather owned a printing company in Canton, Ohio and relatives on his maternal grandfather’s side owned and worked at the daily newspaper in Medina, New York. Tawanna, Doren’s girlfriend at the time, was employed by a company that started a desktop publishing department. At 20 years old and learning about publishing and mass communications, Tawanna would soon be considering her own career prospects. The newspaper business was a good fit for both. Doren and Tawanna just had to decide which industry to build a publication around.
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Doren that he and Tawanna landed on real estate. At the time, recalls Doren, there was a publication for everything. “But we saw an opening in real estate,” he says. It was much more than a hunch. Doren also had family members who worked in the real estate industry. His father owned a mortgage company in the 1970s. So one could say that launching RealtyLine marked the culmination of his relatives’ life’s work and ambitions.
“The idea,” says Doren, “was to bring together all corners of the real estate transaction into one space, including REALTORS, loan officers, title agents and builders.” The couple also opted to base the publication in Austin, even though they were living and working in San Antonio. They weren’t interested in moving to the capital city just yet (“Austin was too expensive. Even back then!” says Tawanna). But when it came to prospects and making connections, Austin had a lot of advantages. Not to mention, Tawanna was born and raised in Austin so she was familiar with the city. And while Doren knew regional managers at real estate companies and mortgage officers and builders in San Antonio, even those connections suggested that the Austin market was rebounding faster than expected from the previous decade’s statewide recession. Doren predicted that real estate professionals in Austin were sorely in need of a unifying trade publication.
Together, Doren and Tawanna came up with the company name, Caxton Publications. Partly, it derived from Caxton Press, the printing company owned by Doren’s grandfather. William Caxton was also the name of a famous 15th century English printer and author. He started the first printing press in England. Today, Caxton is someone whose occupation is a printer.
It took one year for the partners to come up with a business plan. And then it took another six months to launch the first issue. In that time, Doren set up appointments with industry leaders all over Travis County. About a year before the paper launched, one of his first meetings was with a fixture of the real estate community. Bill Stanberry owned and operated Stanberry REALTORS and was also president of the Austin Board of REALTORS. Doren pitched his business plan to ABoR board members and recalled Stanberry’s hesitance. “Bill leans back in his chair. He’s looking at me and he goes, ‘We would need to talk about what kind of contract the board would have with you.’ I said I would be an affiliate member and would publish the paper for free for the membership. And after a beat, a smile comes across Bill’s face. He says, ‘Why didn’t you say that from the beginning? Let us know what you need from us.’” Doren remembers finding a landline to report back to Tawanna, “He was all for it!” Who wouldn’t love the idea of getting publicity for their industry and bringing their membership closer together? And it wouldn’t cost ABoR a dime.
Doren recalls how elated he was during the entire 80-mile drive back home to San Antonio. He and Tawanna couldn’t wait to get started, which, for the duo, meant Doren commuting north to Austin nearly daily. He showed up at real estate events and property tours back-to-back with what today would be described as an ancient point-and-shoot camera in tow. “The very first event I went to,” says Doren, “was for the Austin Mortgage Bankers Association. I introduced myself to everyone. They were all so warm, welcoming and curious why I was taking their picture.” Doren told them he was publishing a real estate newspaper and they should look for it. Anyone who has ever gone to a professional networking event and been told to look for a free trade publication can imagine what those days were like for Doren and Tawanna.
The duo filled early RealtyLine issues with black and white snapshots from events, but the paper also needed articles about the real estate industry. So the next person the publishers made an appointment with was Cathy Richards. At that time, she was the president of the Austin chapter of the Women’s Council of REALTORS. Doren asked if she would write a column about what the council was doing each month. “Fortunately for us,” says Tawanna, “she agreed.”
It took about two years before Doren and Tawanna started getting calls to come out and cover events. When the industry started showing an interest in the newspaper the couple decided, “it was time to move up the road.” They officially changed zip codes in February 1997, just seven months after their wedding. “That’s when things really started taking off for RealtyLine,” says Tawanna. It only took four years.
A lot happened after arriving in Austin. In short order, the couple had a daughter — Caroline. Then they hired their first employee, Doren’s brother, E.C. Carver. He was tasked with attending events and taking photos so Doren could work from a converted bedroom office and shift his focus to sales and also enable him to be a stay-at-home dad.
In ‘96, the staff bought its first digital camera and acquired its first MacIntosh computer. Until that point, Tawanna had been relying on the kindness of colleagues to borrow their desktop computers or use a computer lab at local schools and universities.
In the summer of 1997, RealtyLine broke 20 pages. It might not sound like a lot today, but it was a huge goal for the partners. “We needed to get enough advertising before we could pass the 20-page mark,” says Tawanna.
It couldn’t have happened at a better time. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, during the 1990s Austin had the largest income increase in the state. And the city was in the midst of a population boom too. Even back then, builders couldn’t keep up with demand.
RealtyLine was already a fixture in Austin’s real estate community when people started talking about a new company called Facebook. Nobody outside of the tech industry had heard the term social media, but millions of people all over the world were starting to use the platform to connect with friends and colleagues, find out about events, share news and more. Since the print version of the paper was running smoothly, Tawanna was able to concentrate on learning about the new platform and establish the company’s social media strategy. It’s actually a large percentage of the unique value RealtyLine brings to the real estate community. More than 4,000 people in Austin follow RealtyLine’s Facebook page and hundreds click on the page each day for local industry news and to browse the industry event and education calendars. It was thanks to the success of their jump to social media that Doren and Tawanna were able to hire the company’s third employee — social media strategist Martha Slawinski. Over the years, RealtyLine also has worked with various contract employees to provide writing, editing, photography, sales and web development.
One way that Doren and Tawanna track the history of RealtyLine and see how far they’ve come is through their daughter. Caroline was born in 1998, just when the paper had built a strong readership. Doren reminisces about taking his little girl to real estate events all over the city when she was old enough to walk. “Everyone was so thrilled to dote on her and keep her occupied when I would take photos,” says Doren. “At the end of the event, I would fetch her and we’d go off to the next event.” As the years marched on, Caroline grew in step with the newspaper and they each hit a lot of important milestones simultaneously. One graduated to third grade and the other graduated to a four-color press. They were celebratory developments in business and in life.
This spring, in full-swing of RealyLine’s 25th anniversary, the publication welcomed employee number five, Caroline Carver. Her title is assistant editor. Tawanna says the help couldn’t have come at a better time. Real estate professionals in Austin say RealtyLine is one of the top publications they rely on for news and event information. And 70 percent of REALTORS read the publication every month. And looking toward the future, the RealtyLine team is committed to keeping up with the new generation of agents, loan and title officers whose professional and personal lives are fully interwined in the tech world. That’s why the veteran publishers have such high hopes for their new assistant editor. One reason she got the job is due to her determination to bring a fresh perspective to the publication. “Caroline grew up seeing the business through our eyes,” says Tawanna. “She’s been here almost from the start and knows the business as much as we do.” No one is more excited for the future than Doren and Tawanna. “We’re looking forward to seeing things through the eyes of the new generation.”