The inflation rate topped 10%. Mortgage interest rates peaked at 18.54%. Existing-home sales had plummeted by 50% since 1978. And for the first time since the Great Depression, the National Association of REALTORS® experienced a decline in membership. To say that 1981 was a difficult year for the real estate community is no exaggeration. John R. Wood, NAR’s 1981 president, was instrumental in successfully leading the organization into better times.
Wood, founder of the oldest active real estate brokerage in Southwest Florida, passed away on Aug. 4, at the age of 91.
Originally from Star City, Ark., Wood attended Louisiana Tech University for a period of time before joining the Navy. He served for two years after World War II, finishing his degree at Henderson State College. While attending, he met and married his wife, Wanda. In 1954 he earned a law degree from the University of Arkansas, then practiced law in Arkadelphia, Ark.
But Wood soon realized that law was not his calling. “I liked the law and learned a lot from it,” he said in an interview with Real Estate Today magazine, adding that his law experience made him better at his work in real estate. “But it just didn't suit my personality. You're always inside a courtroom or an office. You're rarely outdoors, and the real estate business offers that opportunity.”
Wood and his young family followed friends and his father to Florida, eventually settling in Naples. Encouraged by his father to try his hand at real estate, Wood earned a real estate license and in 1958 opened his own brokerage. Today, that firm, John R. Wood Properties, employs more than 700 people in 19 offices.
Early on, it quickly became evident to Wood that to make it in Naples, he would have to sell mostly plots of land and acreage. The small town had few houses but lots of potential residents. At the time, Florida was infamous for the unscrupulous developers and agents who sold swampland to unknowing buyers. Wood made ethical business practices a cornerstone of his business with the slogan “Walk on it before you buy!” He offered every prospective land buyer a tour in his Jeep so that they could make an informed decision.
Wood became president of NAR just a few days before Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency of the United States. With the nation in the midst of the worst economic recession since World War II, Wood advocated for measures to ensure that real estate was integral to overcoming the economic crisis.
He and a delegation of 50 REALTORS® were invited to the White House in March 1981 to discuss their ideas for bringing the country out of recession. Wood led the “Unlock the Economy” campaign, which called for a 1–2% increase in the money supply and the appointment of a small business representative to the Federal Reserve Board.
He called the White House and Congress to task for allowing the nation’s investment in housing to dwindle. “In recent times, the commitment to a national housing goal has begun to disappear,” he told the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in May 1981. “If this anti-housing trend should continue, our children will be unable to afford homeownership, and the right to private property will be limited to the rich.”
Involvement in the REALTOR® community was an essential aspect of Wood’s career. He served as president of the Naples Area Board of REALTORS® in 1963 and 1964, was named REALTOR® of the Year in 1969, and was elected president of the Florida Association of REALTORS® in 1971. In addition to his 1981 presidency, he served NAR as a regional vice president in 1973 and as first vice president in 1980, and chaired several NAR committees both before and after his presidency, including the Education, Mortgage Finance, and Multiple Listing Issues & Policy committees.
Wood was known in the Naples area for his many charitable and philanthropic activities. He was presented with an Outstanding Citizen of the Year award by the Naples Daily News in 2007 and Humanitarian of the Year by Hodges University in 2013, among other recognitions.
Although he essentially retired in the mid-1990s, Wood remained chairman of John R. Wood Properties until his death and was known as a mentor and friend to many of the company’s employees. His son, Phil Wood, joined the family business in 1977 and is now CEO. John Wood’s two granddaughters are also members of the firm’s management team.