Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating Independence Day

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call then hopped on a flight to New Jersey to attend a company event for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Jersey Properties. On Wednesday, I was in New Jersey meeting with the team – thank you to New Jersey Properties Chairman and CEO Bill Keheler, President Chris Brown and Chief Operating Officer Steve Jannett for your amazing hospitality. The event was electric!

And speaking of sparks, this weekend marks the start of July Fourth celebrations and it’s a time of the year that makes me feel like a kid again.

As a way to get to know team members, I have a series of 18 questions that I ask team members and in turn, they ask me. One of those questions is: “What’s a memory from childhood that stands out?”

My answer is always the same: July Fourth.

Growing up, I lived on a cul-de-sac and during July Fourth, the entire cul-de-sac (about 10 neighborhood families) would gather. They’d all chip in to buy fireworks and we’d have a big potluck BBQ in the middle of the street. Each family brought their own meat to BBQ and potluck dishes – baked beans, a salad, desert – for everyone to enjoy. After we devoured a delectable summer meal, we’d set off the fireworks and celebrate the Fourth of July.

Even just writing about those childhood BBQs right now makes me smile.

But I don’t just love July Fourth for its youthful nostalgia. I also love it because it’s a celebration of teamwork coming together for the greater good.

Imagine we’re not in 2022 but in 1776. Most of the 13 colonies have been in existence for more than 150 years. There’s a strong middle-class economy in development made up of farmers, artisans, lawyers and tradespeople. Everyone travels by horse-drawn carriages. Food is prepared by the heat of a wood-burning fire. The American Revolution, which had begun in April 1775 was still raging and colonists were deeply passionate about winning their independence.

In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson sat down to pen the Declaration of Independence, and on July 2, the Continental Congress declared freedom from Great Britain. And on August 2, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed.

So, if the document was written in June, declared July 2nd (not 4th) and signed in August, what are we celebrating on July 4?

This.

After independence was declared, the Continental Congress needed a document to explain to the public what had happened. A smaller committee proposed the draft on July 2, and it took two days for the wording of the Declaration of Independence to be approved. With that consent, the completed document was sent to a printer named John Dunlap, who printed 200 copies of the document. When the printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed, the date on the document said July 4, 1776.

So, what’s the message? July 4th is of course a celebration of America’s independence but on another level, it’s a time to look back on what teamwork can achieve. Had the Continental Congress not been able to come to an agreement that the document was complete, had there been less synergy, less positive culture and less collaboration between them, the date of our independence might have been different – if it even happened at all. This weekend, although I’m not back on my old cul-de-sac enjoying the deliciously smoky taste of just-barbecued steaks, I will be with my family and friends, thinking about our country and the team that instilled the ideal of a nation where freedom should always ring.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thoughts on Leadership: Ideas for Coping with a Downward-moving Market

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me at home, starting Monday with my typical WIG calls then attending the NBA Finals’ Golden State Warriors game in the evening. On Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and had a 2023 plan working session with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, followed by the monthly CEO virtual leadership meeting. Yesterday, I had an acquisition dinner meeting; and today, I am in team meetings and sitting down to write this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Leading like Duke

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me in Maui, spending time with my family to recharge for the busy weeks ahead. Remember, balance in your schedule is so important. I schedule myself a year out. The first things to schedule are the most critical business meetings you know you can’t miss. The next thing before you schedule anything else is to include whatever gives you balance like your vacations and days off. So, I’ve known for some time about this Maui trip and have had ample opportunity to plan for it in my schedule.

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Thoughts on Leadership: A Post for Pride

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting off the holiday week on Tuesday at home with an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls. These WIG calls were moved from Monday but still conducted for consistency, and as an important aside, let me expand on why we held the WIG session on Tuesday rather than skipping a week: Ideally, WIG sessions are held at the same time every day and every week. This consistency is critical; without it, your team will not be able to establish a sustained rhythm of performance. Missing even a single week causes you to lose valuable momentum and this loss of momentum impacts your results. This means the weekly WIG session is sacred and takes place even if the leader cannot attend and has delegated the role of leading it to someone else.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating an AREAA President

By: Gino Bleafri

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, where I conducted back-to-back WIG calls then hopped on a flight to Orange County, California. On Tuesday, I had the weekly Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by the Gala Installation of the incoming 2022 Ventura County Chapter President of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), Theresa Nguyen, in Camarilla, California. I was honored to introduce Theresa at the event, but more about that soon. On Wednesday I presented my life plan to four offices of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties and caught a few hours of Tom Ferry’s amazing Blueprint event. Nobody does it better than Tom! And today, I attended and participated in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties Leadership Meeting in Irvine, California.

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Thoughts on Leadership: A Leadership Tune-up

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels find me starting Monday at home, conducting my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I attended the virtual Berkshire Hathaway Energy Executive Leadership Conference then departed for Minneapolis. On Wednesday and Thursday, I participated in the HomeServices of America CFO Conference and met with the Edina Realty and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices North Properties team.

Today, as we enter the final weeks of spring and anticipate the summer season, I want to discuss a few helpful leadership lessons. Let’s call this post a leadership tune-up, complete with nuggets of knowledge to help you achieve your goals:

  • Fix your roof before it rains. It’s a lesson we learned throughout the pandemic. Our businesses fundamentally changed during COVID-19 and the businesses that survived the unexpected were those with leaders who truly planned for anything. There’s no question it will rain, but it’s about having that solid roof above your head – made from the right materials, constructed the right way – so you can weather any storm. When I was a junior at San Jose State, I remember my professor, Dr. Pete Zidnak, would start his business class with the quote of the day. That Ben Franklin quote – “If you fail to plan you are planning to fail” – was among those he gave to our class. Even now, years later, it still means so much to me.
  • Be open and flexible to change. Transformational change is a big part of leadership, and it happens not just with your initiatives but also within your mind. If you have a fixed mindset, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten because you’ll do what you’ve always done. When you’re nimble and flexible and open to change, you have a growth mindset that is strengthened by focus and a commitment to complete the hard work.
  • Don’t contemplate whether you will get it done, just believe in the fact that you WILL get it done. As Yoda said, “do or do not – there is no try.” Of course, a healthy view of failure is necessary because not everything in business is going to go your way. And you don’t have to fight every battle, but the battles you choose must win the war. Also, harping on the obstacles standing in the way of getting things done will not contribute to a strong mindset. Instead, it will weaken your chances of getting the task done. The only thing that’s impossible is the thing you never do.
  • Remember that fear is a figment of your imagination. The Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Fear is all in your mind. First, because we imagine all the possibilities of a situation before they even happen. Many people who fear public speaking are nervous backstage before they step foot on the stage. Second, as human beings, we tend to cling to our fears like safety blankets. We can’t do this, we can’t do that because we are afraid, and so fear becomes the excuse and nothing becomes the result. If we remove the fear and say to ourselves, “I acknowledge this feeling, but I will not let it stop me,” then we also remove the thing blocking our way. That is how we find ourselves in the realm of limitless possibilities. 
  • Discover your zone of genius. There are four zones that a given person’s professional performance can fall into: zone of incompetence, zone of competence, zone of excellence and zone of genius. Let’s focus on the last one – the zone of genius. What is it? You know it when you experience it. Your zone of genius encompasses all that you are uniquely good at, and not just good at but also love to do. Everyone’s zone of genius is different, and that’s what makes people unique. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Identify what your zone of genius is, and structure your business around using it as your competitive advantage and professional differentiator.
  • Vince Lombardi said fatigue makes cowards of us all. You must recharge. For me, when things start to fall through the cracks, I get annoyed and that’s when I know it’s time to step back, take a break and recharge, so I can be the best leader for my team and those around me. Whenever I’m feeling tired or fatigued, I know I need to do something that motivates me to come back refreshed and ready to go.

So, what’s the message? This week spend a little time to check in on yourself. Are you facing your fears? Are you operating in your zone of genius? Are you taking time to recharge? Are you putting plans in place? Are you pushing past uncertainty to make the impossible possible? The answers to these questions should be “yes,” because when you are doing all these things, you’ll be helping not only yourself as a leader but also everyone around you. 

Thoughts on Leadership: Leading Like a Dog

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting on Sunday with a flight to Orange County to attend the Mike Ferry Management Retreat in Huntington Beach taking place on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I also conducted my regular WIG calls and on Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call. On Tuesday afternoon, I met with the team to help plan the upcoming HomeServices of America top performer’s event. On Wednesday I had morning meetings in San Diego then flew home to Northern California in the afternoon. Today, I worked from home as I had a solar panel installed in my home in Los Altos. (Sustainability is key!)

For today’s post, I want to talk about dogs. Well, people really, but first, let’s talk about dogs. According to the latest survey from the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership in the U.S. rose to an all-time high – 70% of U.S. households – in 2020. Why? Because pets are the perfect companions. No matter if we’ve been away from them for five minutes, five hours or five days, they’re exuberantly excited to greet us.

But for me, it’s not just pets, it’s dogs that are the greatest pals we could ask for. One of the best feelings is coming home from a trip, pulling up to the front door in my Uber, and seeing my dog, Kona, through the window, wagging her tail as I walk up to the house and step inside.

It makes you feel so good, doesn’t it? You just feel so loved by this animal in front of you that your heart could almost burst from the joy of it all. That kind of enthusiasm got me thinking about one of my mentors, Bob Moles, who has the same ability to make you feel welcomed and happy every time he sees you. It’s why I believe one of the rarest but most incredible qualities of a leader is their ability to be like a dog.

I met Bob when I was in the third grade (we played little league together and his dad was our coach), so it’s remarkable that we ended up working together and that he played a defining role in my real estate career. They say you are the sum of everyone you meet, and I have truly been blessed to have met Bob when I did because our fortuitous friendship shaped the entirety of my professional life.

Bob was one of my earliest mentors and he gave me a great deal of confidence in my career. As a coach and a mentor, he had confidence in me, and we all know when your coach believes in you unequivocally, you tend to believe in yourself, too.

Let’s travel back to 1988 and recall a story that perfectly encapsulates Bob’s influence on my life. At the time, I had just become manager of a Contempo Realty office – Bob was president of Contempo Realty and his father was the chairman. I was a hard-charging manager, making all sorts of changes that I felt would have a positive impact on the culture, productivity, and profitability of the office. I got a new copy machine. I extended the office hours and announced the office would be open on Saturdays and Sundays, with a receptionist ready to greet prospective clients. I changed the way we were answering the phone. I changed the way we greeted people. I required attendance at office meetings. I established a dress code for the gentlemen to wear a tie and crisp, white shirts. Mediocrity or stagnation was not tolerated. Excellence was expected.


And while the changes were created with improving the office environment and experience in mind, change can be a tricky thing. Most people don’t like it. As you might suspect, the office was up in arms about this new manager who was making all these changes to how things used to be.

The office was so upset about the changes, they all got together and arranged a lunch with Bob Moles to explain their agitation with my new style of management. After the lunch was over, I went to Bob and asked him how it went. He said, “Well, they had some issues with your management style.”

I replied: “So, what should I do?”

Bob responded, “I don’t care if you need to change out every single agent in that office. You are the leader and I trust you’ll do a great job.”

It was that kind of support that gave me the confidence I needed to  know my decisions were solid. If a leader like Bob believed in me, I knew I could believe in myself. In fact, if I was ever having a tough day or a problem I couldn’t solve, I’d give Bob a call and immediately that problem seemed fixable or that tough day got brighter. It reminded me about what I later learned from Og Mandino, author of the bestselling book, The Greatest Salesman in the World  . Og said pain is like having a pebble in your shoe; it seems so harsh at the time, but you are surprised when you remove your shoe and find only a grain of sand.

When we sold Contempo Realty and Bob became the president of Century 21, I stayed on as the president of Contempo. I called him every single day for the next seven years at 6:30 in the morning to get his advice. His counsel was that important to me and my leadership journey.

I can still remember we’d have these monthly all-company meetings at Contempo and whenever I came into the room, Bob would be waiting to shake my hand and greet me like I was the only person there. I went on to observe him do the very same thing to every team member who joined the meeting. It made them feel special, the kind of special you experience when you walk through the door and are greeted by your beloved dog. The kind of special I feel every time I step out of the car and see Kona’s tail go crazy at the very sight of me. It’s why I say, a leader who can have that dog-like enthusiasm is a special kind of leader to admire and revere.

Bill Clinton was famous for possessing this kind of charisma. In a 2014 article, Fast Company,reporter Stephanie Vozza noted that Bill Clinton has “legendary focus and can make anyone feel like the most important person in the room.”

Clinton’s political arch-nemesis, Newt Gingrich, even commented on this distinct ability, describing the former President as “one of the most charming and effective people I’ve ever negotiated with.”

So, what’s the message? On the opposite end of this happiness spectrum, when you ignore someone, or when you make them feel small, it’s one of the most awful emotions anyone can experience. But if you can uplift them –  if, like Bob Moles, Bill Clinton and my sweet dog, Kona, you can focus on how happy you are just to see them step in your direction – then you’ve got a truly special ability to connect with your team in a way not many people can. To this day, Bob is one of the few people who regularly gets together with his high school friends; and if you stop by his house, he always makes you feel welcome. It’s not often I say leadership is for the dogs but in this one instance, it absolutely is.

P.S. If you’re reading this on Friday, it’s Bob Moles’ birthday. Happy birthday, Bob, and thanks for inspiring me all these years.

Thoughts on Leadership: Mother’s Day Celebration

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me in Omaha, Nebraska over the weekend for the 2022 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting. (Watch a recap of the experience here.) On Monday, I conducted my usual WIG calls from Northern California. On Tuesday, I spent the morning participating in Berkshire Hathaway Energy calls then traveled to San Antonio, Texas for the T3 Summit, an annual invite-only think tank for residential real estate industry CEOs and C-level executives. On Wednesday, I was interviewed on stage by Stefan Swanepoel, founder and executive chairman of the T3 Sixty family of companies, during the T3 Summit. Today, I’m traveling home and writing this post to you.

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Thoughts on Leadership: Lessons from New York

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting Monday at home, conducting my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I hopped on an early flight to Uncasville, Connecticut for an incredible event at the Mohegan Sun, led by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties/New York Properties/Hudson Valley Properties President and President and CEO Candace Adams. I congratulated the team on stage and was with them for a fantastic celebration, including a team dinner on Wednesday night. The energy at the event was electric. It was the first time many of those team members had seen each other in person since the pandemic began. Candace did a fantastic job as emcee, and we heard from Steven and Debbie Domber, Steven James, Brad Loe and Allan Dalton. It was amazing to see how fired up Steven James and Brad Loe are to take over the New York market. When he spoke, Steven’s passion and energy left no doubt in anyone’s mind that his prediction to be No. 1 in New York would happen soon.

Today, we drove to Rye Brook, New York and spent the afternoon with Houlihan Lawrence and President and CEO Liz Nunan where we toured the Houlihan Lawrence offices and had a luncheon in the Houlihan Lawrence Agent Development Center. I gave a leadership presentation and then attended an agent networking open house.

We then drove to Manhattan, where I write this post to you now, and because the Big Apple is so inspiring to me, it’s our topic for today.

New York City has a vibe unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s palpable. You can practically reach out and touch it, as it buzzes in shades of taxi-cab yellow and skyscraper gray across the city that never sleeps. Here are a few ways I’ve been inspired by the people and places of this global metropolis:

First in, last out. In his aptly named book, “First In, Last Out,” New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Battalion Chief John Salka explains how the FDNY’s strategies can be applied to any business and any leader. By first in and last out, Salka references the idea that a leader, just like those who lead the FDNY, should always be the proverbial first one to charge into the room when it’s on fire, and the last one to leave before the fire is completely extinguished. It’s a lesson in ultimate accountability; as the leader, you are the person others follow and you also set the example, never abandoning even a burning building until the flames of challenge are extinguished and you’re treading on safer, more sustainable, more successful ground.

Gratitude unlocks endless improvement. When asked for our #LeadershipPGI social media series about the one thing she’s doing this week to become better than she was last week, Liz Nunan said this: “Practice daily gratitude. I find that it leads to a more positive mindset, helps when I need to deal with adversity, and has helped me build strong relationships, both personally and professionally.” Gratitude, as I say, is an attitude! And while it helps strengthen your mindset, as Liz explains, it also helps you on your path of perpetual improvement. With gratitude, you look forward, you think positively, and you see the potential in situations rather than whatever is holding you back.

Your team can never hear enough how much you appreciate them. When Candace Adams was asked the same question – “What are you doing to improve this week so you’re even better than you were last week?” – she said: “I am going to reach out to as many people as I can to say thank you for who they are and what they do.” And showing how much you care isn’t just good for strengthening trust, connection, and respect among your team, it also strengthens the team itself. In a 2020 Harvard Business Review article, authors Kerry Roberts Gibson, Kate O’Leary and Joseph R. Weintraub wrote that letting your team know you appreciate them enhances productivity and the team’s ability to perform given tasks. Why? Because everyone wants to know that the hard work they’re putting in doesn’t go unnoticed.

Team members need a voice – and that voice must be heard. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, authors Bruce A. Strong and Mary Lee Kennedy documented the process of change at the New York Public Library, one of the largest public libraries worldwide. An estimated 18 million people visit the library each year. (And one of them was Sylvester Stallone who wrote the screenplay to “Rocky” in three days at the New York Public Library.) So, when it became clear the library needed to shift its strategies amid an ever-changing digital world, what did the leaders at the New York Public Library do? They asked employees exactly what should happen next. In the spring of 2014, any of the 2,500 staff members had the chance to speak directly with senior leaders, offering their best ideas to digitize the library system. The staff was asked to propose, test and advocate solutions. The senior leaders provided guidance, support, resources and made decisions on those ideas, but it was the staff whose ideas would be carried through. “The project expanded their sense of belonging,” the authors wrote in the Harvard Business Review. And it’s a lesson any leader can take back to their teams. Sometimes problems can’t be solved unilaterally, and instead it takes a collaborative, concerted effort by all to create the change you seek, whether it’s digitizing a massive public library in NYC or providing even better service to your clients.

So, what’s the message? Artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” And I felt that this week in New York. It’s a city that constantly reminds us that sometimes leadership is a set of principles, sometimes it’s a system of execution and sometimes, it’s a feeling that guides us exactly where we want – and need – to go.

Thoughts on Leadership: Leadership Lessons from 2022 Masters Winner Scottie Scheffler

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting the work week early with a Sunday flight to Carlsbad, California, so I could conduct my Monday morning meetings from my hotel room (and not while traveling). On Monday morning, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy meeting and completed all my WIG calls from 4:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. At 3 p.m. I joined a session for the Zillow Industry Forum, which I attended through Wednesday. And I am back in Northern California today where I’m now sitting down to write you this post.

Like many people, I spent last weekend watching the 2022 Masters. (I’ve written before about the iconic golf tournament, read the post here.) I’ve long been fascinated with the Masters, and it’s probably because golf holds a special place in my heart. As a senior in high school, I started a job at Cherry Chase Golf and Swim Club in Sunnyvale, California, which I held through college. After graduating from San Jose State University, I was appointed General Manager of the Cherry Chase Golf and Swim Club. After a developer bought the land, I got my real estate license to sell the new homes that would be developed there. I had just $1 in my pocket, and I was determined to work harder than anyone else to find success. I look back on those formative years and realize how they’ve shaped my career and the way I approach leadership today.

But back to the Masters … No. 1 ranked PGA Tour golfer Scottie Scheffler finished in first place, three strokes ahead of second-placed Rory Mcllroy. It was Scheffler’s first major title. When asked immediately after the win how he felt about being the 2022 Masters champion, Scheffler said with humility: “Pretty tired.”

Being number one doesn’t happen by accident. It takes consistent work, a focus on your Wildly Important Goals and a strong, positive mindset of a winner. I watched on TV as Scheffler walked off the green and greeted his family and close friends, and you could just tell he’s not only a great golfer but also a great person. 

Here are a few facts about the newly minted Masters champion:

He started at a very young age. The Scheffler family borrowed money to allow their young son (then just age 6) to join the Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas where he began working with Randy Smith, head golf professional at Royal Oaks Country Club, who became his swing coach. Though he was just six years old, Scheffler had the focus and drive (quite literally) of a champion. Smith recalls their first meeting: “I walked down, his parents were there, and they introduced him, and he took his hat off, shook my hand then went back to hitting balls.”

His job is his passion. In high school, Scheffler played lacrosse, basketball, baseball, and football but golf was always his number one passion. “My whole life, I knew how much I loved golf,” he told Golf Digest reporter Keely Levins. “It was the one sport I always wanted to be playing, regardless of the season.”

He knows the importance of a good swing. In the offseason, Scheffler took a trip to the Scotty Cameron Putter Studio in San Marcos, California and switched one of his clubs to a Scotty Cameron by Titleist Special Select Timeless Tourtype GSS. Right after the switch, he got his first tour win. The week of the Masters, he felt like the club was off. Tour reps examined the putter and realized he was right – the loft and lie angles were off from where they should be, so the putter was adjusted the day before the Masters began. The idea that swing takes perfect synchronicity and mechanics to achieve is a sentiment echoed in one of my favorite books, “The Boys in The Boat” by Daniel James Brown:

“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called ‘swing.’ It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that not a single action by any one is out of sync with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action – each subtle turning of wrists – must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.”

So, what’s the message? When he won the Masters, Sheffler became part of an exclusive club – one of only a few players to win the Masters in the start immediately following their World No. 1 status. He joins Ian Woosman, Fred Couples, Tiger Woods, and Dustin Johnson in this feat, and proves to the world that with passion, perseverance, a positive mindset and a putter with the right loft and lie angles, anyone can win.

Pictured: Our CEO of Allie Beth Allman, Keith Conlon played golf on Tuesday with 2022 Masters Champion Scottie Sheffler. (Keith, you can let me know how it feels to tee off right after the No. 1 golfer in the world has striked one 308 yards right down the middle of the fairway.) Sheffler is giving the University of Texas Hook ‘em sign and in case you don’t know, Keith is with the TCU Horned Frogs. In another twist of coincidence, Allie Beth Allman agent Alex Perry was the listing agent and Allie Beth Allman agent Ashley Ferguson was the selling agent for Sheffler’s home.

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