By age 10, Peter Walter already displayed a knack for home sales.
The spunk and his ability to talk his way into people’s homes as a youngster came from his love and appreciation for fine, elegant houses.
“I have always liked houses, neighborhoods and downtown,” Walter said.
“I had great roots,” he said. “Tulsa has had an abundance of beautiful homes. As a kid I wanted into all of them.”
Today Walter owns and operates his own real estate firm, Walter & Associates Inc., at 1319 E. 36th St. The premier real estate firm lists dwellings from homes to cottages to estates of all price levels, Walter said. Walter & Associates employs 20 people.
Ride, Peter, Ride
Walter, starting from his home at 25th Street and Terwilleger Avenue, would “go as far as my bike would take me” to look at area homes.
Shyness did not stifle Walter’s curiosity about local houses.
“I explained [to the homeowners] that I wanted to see their house,” he said.
However, young Walter heeded age-old advice and did not talk to strangers. Walter knew the owners of the homes.
“Of course I knew a lot of the people. But, if I did not, I would still knock, introduce myself and ask to see their home.”
More than 40 years ago, that tactic worked “a lot.”
“Now, they would call the police,” he said, chuckling. “I had a lot of energy. I would explore all day long. Lots of times I would be gone in the morning, and I would always be late for dinner.”
Catch a Movie Downtown
Growing up just blocks from Philbrook, Woodward Park and the Garden Center, Walter spent hours playing at Tulsa landmarks. Or, he would head downtown.
“In those days, I’d get on my bike, or take the bus downtown. I would watch movies or shop downtown,” he said.
In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, his parents were not concerned.
“People did not think about safety like they do now,” he said. “I pushed the limits. Today is a different world. I do not have kids, but if I did, I would be a nervous wreck.”
Since graduating from the University of Tulsa with a degree in communications, the Tulsa native’s career has focused on real estate and selling homes.
After working for his uncle Dan Davisson seven years, Walter launched his own firm in 1986.
Walter’s roots in real estate go way back. Walter’s great-uncle, a real estate mogul in his day, sold the land for the Philbrook and Philtower to Waite Phillips. He also sold the spot downtown now occupied by the Phil Tower. Walter recalls a story his uncle told him.
“My uncle Dan Davisson was introduced, as a young man, by Waite Phillips, to Phillips’ friends visiting from Kansas City on the terrace at Philbrook. ‘This is the son of the man who sold me all my land.’”
Walter’s advice to beginners in the real estate was to “find your niche and stick to it.”
At the same time, agents need to know and work the entire city.
“Be familiar with the market, whatever it is. Work hard.”
During his college days – when he first entered real estate — Walter worked nights as a waiter to make ends meet.
“I could not pay the rent with the commissions I was earning. It was six months before I sold my first house,” he said. “My uncle, who was a staunch conservative, would ask me, “What do you plan to do once you’ve sold homes to all your friends?’”
“I worry a lot,” he said. “I have always been a worrier. I would worry where the next deal would come from.”
He might panic at times, “but I’ve always had a good business.”
Today, he feels responsible, but he also enjoys his work.
“I run the office, and all these people depend on me,” he said. “Plus, I am very competitive.”
Besides, he doesn’t know of an occupation for which he would be better suited.
“I’ve only had one job since leaving college.”
Walter’s firm is known for sales of upscale and unique homes. He was not able to offer definitive numbers for 2007, but already this year he reports making three home sales of more than $2 million-plus each.
“It used to be that a million-dollar sale in Tulsa was a big deal,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong — they still are. It’s just that we have a lot more of those than we used to.”
“Tulsa has a lot of great little neighborhoods. There are a lot that are not terrifically expensive but have nice, quality homes,” he said. “I am interested in any price range — as long as the house is ‘interesting,’” he said.
Over the past 10 years, home prices have shot up, he said. Walter attributes home price inflation to the rising costs of construction.
Home prices in Tulsa have not risen at the same rate as prices in other areas of the country. “But, they’ve not come down like others, either,” he said. “It has been more of a steady increase in price.”
Construction costs, driven by the increase in transportation and materials costs, has put upward pressure on custom home prices, Walter said.
“Sometimes, people look at what it will cost to build and decide to buy something instead,” he said.
Tulsa has some “tremendous” homes. Walter said.
“I can think of 10 newly built world-class homes in Tulsa — homes that have not been built like that since the 1920s,” he said. “They are of exceptional quality. Great architecture, outstanding design and detail.”
What makes these homes stand out is attention to detail.
“The focus has been on design. Now, everybody has so many options — kitchens, bathrooms,” he said. “Used to be, people did not remodel much. Today, though, our society promotes remodeling.”
Over the past 30-40 years, people added onto their homes in a haphazard manner. No more.
“Now, they hire people to do the design and architecture. There are those who advise homeowners,” he said. “And, people are more in tune with doing the right thing.”
Tulsa’s market is appealing to people from other parts of the country because prices are relatively reasonable, he said.
Walter is seeing a resurgence of the kind of construction that happened 80 years ago.
“I think people are trying harder to build homes that have permanence,” he said. “Well-constructed homes declined after the 1930s. Today, I think there is more of an interest in doing that kind of work. There are more craftsmen around today than in the ‘30s. It costs a lot to get things right. But, people are willing to pay to get it right.”
Building a Legacy
Of all his work with non-profits and his efforts to put people in the right home, Walter is proudest of the historic Tulsa homes he has saved from the wrecking ball.
“I have been able to influence people to buy a lot of homes and save them,” he said. “The biggest is the 80-year-old Parriott house. It was within weeks of being torn down.”
One couple put “a lot of money in it,” he said. They sold it, and another family has continued to update and remodel it.
Walter hopes to be able to retire one day.
“I hope I can afford to retire,” he joked.
Otherwise, Walter plans to pour his energy into improving Tulsa overall, and downtown in particular.
“I have high hopes for downtown,” he said.
He wants to see more retail, redevelopment and even grocery stores downtown. One advantage Tulsa has, Walter said, is that the area within the inter-dispersal loop is in pretty good shape.
“There are really no bad areas around it. There is very little urban blight around downtown, compared to other cities.”
Walter hopes to see the East End blossom. He also looks forward to development along First Street and the Arkansas River.
He is confident in the plans for downtown, and he is sure river development will move forward.
“I am very optimistic.”
Tulsan Through and Through
After all these years, Walter is still terribly interested in Tulsa.
Walter is a current or veteran board member at Philbrook Museum of Art, Gilcrease Museum, The Arts & Humanities Council, Tulsa Ballet, Up With Trees and the Tulsa Food Bank.
“It is an interesting time to be here,” he said. “I am impressed with all the change in just the last five years.”
Yet, Walter describes himself in a self-deprecating manner, explaining he does not “do much.”
When he isn’t selling Tulsa’s residential jewels, he enjoys traveling in Europe. He recently took a trip to the Caribbean.
Of his hobbies he said only, “I eat too much.” ?