Brokering a Better Buying Experience
By: Miriam Keliddar
In 2020, with 18 years of experience in real estate, Tessa Wilborne decided to start her own brokerage. “Real estate has been good to me but I am at a point in my career where I want to empower people, both buyers and agents making a career of it. I want to help them grow. A broker should teach you how to go out and achieve a self-sustaining business and stand on your own,” Tessa says. She told her colleague of seven years, Gary Clark, and he responded, “I’m in.”
T&G Real Estate opened its doors in the The Boro Tysons in January 2021. “We were so focused on getting it started, there wasn’t any time for joking. I’m still not joking,” Gary deadpans. He and Tessa met when she was living and working in Fredericksburg. Tessa’s husband had started a youth football association, which prompted Tessa to found a cheer program so her young daughter had an activity, too. “I played basketball and volleyball. But I knew how to surround myself with people who knew cheer!” Tessa says with a laugh. Gary cold-called her and said his business gave back to the community through youth sports, and he was coming to Fredericksburg to speak with some youth football coaches.
Initial attempts at breaking the ice failed. “He showed me pictures of himself playing for the Redskins. And I said, ‘I’ll be interested when you have photos of yourself playing with the Seattle Seahawks,’” Tessa remembers. His ideas on community involvement, however, resounded immediately. “We started running camps for the sheriff’s department down there, and now for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department, and all over Virginia, Maryland, and DC,” Tessa says.
It was the beginning of a great work relationship. They both have large families (Tessa has four children; Gary has five) and wanted to set them up for their futures. It was also the start of a great comedy team. “Tessa’s pretty dull, so we don’t have any funny stories,” Gary quips, but it’s quickly apparent the two share a mutual respect, cloaked in jocular tones.
“Tessa is hands down one of the best in the country. People try to recruit her from her own brokerage! I can’t be mad at them for trying, though,” Gary tells me. “She’s the type of person who can go up to a total stranger and ask a random question like ‘Hey, can I have a french fry?’ Not once has anyone gotten upset; they’ll ask if she wants ketchup. Most people wouldn’t think of engaging like that, but she has no problem with it whatsoever. If she asks someone getting on the elevator where they’re going, they’ll tell her. If I asked, they’d have me arrested or something.”
“You’d be the person who wouldn’t share their french fries,” Tessa interjects.
“Me, on the other hand, I’m pretty boring. One of us has to be,” Gary agrees. “Our brokerage is a success due to Tessa being the person she is. I’m just a silent investor.”
“I think you should repeat silent one more time, because you’re definitely not silent,” Tessa muses.
“I’m silent until you screw something up. Then I’ll say something,” Gary says with a laugh.
“People think T&G stands for Tessa and Gary, but I say it stands for Trust and Guidance. We’re here to guide you in the real estate market, achieve your vision, and get you where you want to be.” Gary says. That can include finding a home, a retirement plan, or a source of passive income. “We teach people how to use real estate.”
The greatest challenge for the boutique brokerage has been competing against much larger companies for business. “It’s like going up against Whole Foods or Coke. It can be difficult when people don’t know who you are at first,” Tessa explains, “But I look at the challenge as a learning experience, and a good thing. This is what we do: We adapt and figure it out. It does help that people know Gary, it can get us in the door. But you have to know what you’re doing to stay in the door.”
Just like the cheer program, Tessa has surrounded herself with strong partners. “We live here, we work here, we really want to be more than your real estate partner. It’s not just a business relationship. Don’t call me just for real estate!” Tessa says. She’s built a strong network in the mortgage, title, wealth management, and credit repair industries, and takes pride in her ability to give knowledgable recommendations. “People will call you, looking for everything from movers to contractors, so you want to make sure you can recommend people who know what they’re doing,” Tessa says.
T&G’s current goal is to continue growing their name and to have a footprint in markets all over. “Gary would say he wants to dominate everything in the next 5 years. He’s the super aggressive one,” Tessa says. “I’d say you can take over the world, but you don’t let everyone know you’re taking over the world.” Gary believes T&G’s relationship-based approach to business redefines the industry. “No one competes with the experiences we give our clients, past clients, and future clients. Our events are 5 star, every time. Right now I’m working on our Grammy viewing party, at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club,” Gary says. Their next big project is opening their Miami office, where Tessa’s oldest son is an attorney and will join T&G as a partner.
Tessa was a young mother when a friend recommended she look into real estate as a career so she could control her own schedule. Tessa grew up a “true army brat,” and has lived in 27 states. “I understand all the stress of buying real estate and moving. Moving so many times, I get it! We try to take the stress off you so you can relax a little bit. The market is crazy, moving 100 miles per hour,” Tessa says. She considers Seattle her hometown, as she lived there the longest, and her family still lives out west. In 2004, Tessa was living in Texas when her parents bought a home in Chesapeake, Virginia to be near her sister, who was playing basketball for ODU. They invited Tessa to come join them, and she’s called Virginia home ever since. She’s lived in the Tysons area for the past two years.
In her free time, Tessa enjoys spending time with friends and with her children, who have all been heavily involved in sports and school activities. “It’s hard to have hobbies when your kids are in sports, but my youngest is graduating high school soon. So if you have any ideas for entertaining hobbies, I’m open for suggestions!” Tessa says with a grin. For now, she enjoys the occasional pilates class, and food. “I cooked for 19 years, so I don’t do that anymore, but I like to eat!” Tessa doesn’t have a favorite spot, because she enjoys everything from Wendy’s to steak houses, but she does attend many a business meeting at Eddie V’s in Tysons.
Gary is from Dublin, Virginia, and is best known for his illustrious NFL career. As he puts it, “Every football player needs a retirement plan.” He first met Gus Pappas, the man who would become his mentor, at a sports bar in Tysons Corner while Gary was playing with the Redskins. “We did a TV show at that bar and he owned a ticket company at the time, and had a mortgage company and was involved in commercial real estate. He’s a brilliant man. He came out to a show and we hit it off and have been friends ever since, over 30 years. Any of my business success is due to him, for the most part, and a drive to just not fail,” Gary shares. “He gave me a job in the mortgage industry, my first job outside of football, as an account exec. I saw how well he did, and you can’t help but take notice.”
“The best thing about T&G is it’s redefining the industry, the relationships we have with clients, and how people look at and buy real estate,” Gary says. Everything comes back to relationships and nurturing bonds within the community. Real estate can be an intimidating subject, but people like Tessa and Gary want to guide the way. ”I think outside of the box.It’s stressful buying a house. I want to make it lighter for people. No one’s going to die here, we’re not doing brain surgery. If we don’t get this house, we’ll get the next one!” Tessa says with cheer.