Sold Mates

This pair aims for quick and stress-free real estate transitions

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

attacca_lead_2505_editIn January 2008, after years working in other careers, Barb and Curtis Trousdale opened Attacca Realty in the basement of their South Burlington home. In 2010, they bought rights to the northern and southern Vermont territories from Cabela’s Trophy Properties to open a division, Vermont Outdoor Properties, that markets country homes or “lifestyle specialty homes.”

When Curtis Trousdale says he and his wife, Barb, are “avid sports people,” he’s not kidding. The lion’s share of their recreational time is spent hunting, he says with a laugh, “and if not hunting, we like to say preparing to hunt.”

Much of the Trousdales’ off time is spent maintaining their 68-acre camp and hunting property in Ellenburg, N.Y., “priming our land for hunting — things like food plots, keeping trails clean,” says Curtis. “We’ve been to the Arctic tundra in Canada multiple times, caribou hunting; we’ve gone to Michigan deer hunting; to Illinois to hunt pheasant and quail; I’ve been to Wyoming antelope hunting.”

In Vermont, they join family members in North Hero hunting waterfowl with Gunner, their chocolate Lab. Barb is heading to Maine this fall to be filmed as a woman hunting bear, which is to appear on an outdoors TV show.

The outdoor life is serious stuff for the Trousdales. Knowing that helps explain why they expanded their South Burlington residential real estate company, Attacca Realty, to purchase the rights to the northern and southern Vermont territories from Cabela’s Trophy Properties. This is the division of their business called Vermont Outdoor Properties, launched early in 2010 to market what they call country homes or lifestyle specialy homes such as camps, lakefront property, and country gentleman farms.

Neither of them planned on a career in real estate. Curtis grew up in Weston, Mass., and, wanting to study engineering, chose the University of Vermont.

“By the end of my sophomore year I decided I didn’t want to be a mechanical engineer, but an architect,” he says. He earned a degree in architectural engineering technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston.

Just out of college, he was recruited by an IBM contractor called CDI, which specialized in computer-aided design (CAD). It brought him back to Vermont.

It didn’t last long, he confesses. “I graduated number one in my engineering class, summa cum laude. I was your standard very-high achiever, taking blood pressure medicine throughout college. I was looking for more and more very quickly. My wife will tell you I haven’t changed much.”

Curtis’ job hunt led him to a company called Softdesk out of Henniker, N.H., “a highly innovative CAD software design company.” Hired to do tech support on a program called Auto-Architect, he was soon moved to a position where he was traveling throughout the country teaching architects and engineers how to use the software and integrate it on their networks.

He had married a few years earlier, and living in New Hampshire was difficult for his then-wife — a Vermont native he met in 1991. They returned to Vermont, where he was hired by Champlain Computer Systems, d/b/a Computerland, which wanted to open a computer training center. They were divorced in 1996.

“Champlain Computer Systems eventually became Panurgy Corp.,” he says, “having been purchased specifically to go public in, I think, 1998. But the technical IPO market generally crashed around then, and Panurgy Corp. ended up selling off all of its branches. My business partner, Diane Kerbaugh, and I purchased the Vermont office.”

Panurgy was a multifaceted company that did network integration. “We sold hardware and software and had a very large training center.” Panurgy absorbed — “purchased is too much of a word,” he quips — several companies, the largest of which was New Horizons Computer Training Center.

He and Kerbaugh ran the company until 2005, when Curtis sold his interest to her. He had married Barb in 2000 and their schedules, as Barb says, “were totally going in opposite directions: I was showing houses nights and weekends, and he was working days.”

Attacca Realty had its roots in the Trousdales’ desire to see each other once in a while.

Barb is a native Vermonter — one of five children who grew up in North Hero and graduated from Colchester High School. “Within a year of graduation,” she says, “I was married and followed my husband to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was an airborne infantry paratrooper.”

In North Carolina, Barb studied bookkeeping. “I worked for an income tax agency during tax season and did some year-round bookkeeping for his clients,” she says.

When her husband’s term was up, they returned to North Hero, built a home on land her parents had given them, and started a family. Barb worked part time at the Chittenden Bank in Alburgh, then left to open her own bookkeeping business.

Along the way, she decided to run for town clerk on the basis of her computer abilities, which she says were sorely needed in the town office. She lost to the incumbent.

“Because I ran an upright campaign,” says Barb, “when she had an assistant who was not able to provide the reports the select board needed, she interviewed and hired me.” That was 1995, the year she met Curtis.

Barb needed additional training with the town’s Access and Excel programs. One of the select board members suggested she call Curtis, who was then at Computerland.

“I don’t think there was an inkling of interest in each other at first,” says Curtis, who chuckles as he tells the story of when their relationship changed. “Eventually I got divorced and Barb was separated. When we learned that about each other, I had kind of asked for a date and got turned down, because she was just separated, and separated does not mean dating.”

It was Father’s Day and Curtis had headed to North Hero on his motorcycle because the office needed to send out its tax bills. “At the end of the day, I asked if there was any local place to get something to eat. She said, ‘No.’

“She did call me the next day and apologize, but explained that the current moment was not the right time.”

In 1997, when the town clerk retired, Barb again ran and was elected for a three-year term. She divorced in 1998.

By 2000, she and Curtis were planning a May wedding. “I had a daughter at South Burlington High School and Curtis was at Panurgy at that point,” she says, “so we elected to move into the South Burlington district.”

Barb took a job as benefits manager at New England Air Systems, where she worked until 2003. After leaving New England Air, a friend offered her the opportunity to become a Realtor. She was working at RE/MAX North Professionals when, in 2005, Curtis asked what she would think if he sold his part of his business, became an agent, and joined her. She said, “Fabulous!”

They interviewed with Chenette Real Estate in South Burlington and decided it was a good fit. She started in January and, after Curtis obtained his license in April, they worked as the Trousdale Team until they launched Attacca in January 2008.

“Attacca,” says Barb, “is a classical music term that means ‘the immediate and fluid transition between two movements of a symphony.’” They liken the analogy to creating a quick and stress-free transition in real estate.

“Attacca, our residential division, has been very successful and shown great, consistent, continued growth,” says Curtis. Since becoming participants of Cabela’s Trophy Properties and launching Vermont Outdoor Properties, Barb’s focus has been the residential division, and Curtis concentrates on the new division.

“I’ve been spearheading that portion of the business,” says Curtis, “and it’s grown tremendously over the past 12 months. We list throughout the entire state. Because some of the properties are two to three hours away, we’ve arranged to have a local agent working on a referral fee to show the properties.”

The more rural agents, he adds, are happy for the business. “It allows us to do what we do well — marketing nationally — and them to do what they do well, which is understanding the local market.”

The Trousdales have a reputation for listening to their customers. “The part that always impressed me,” says Tricia Senzel, CFO of Opportunities Credit Union, who has known them over 10 years as both friend and client, “is how, with the friend/business relationship, one evolves out of the other. Barb is amazing at listening to what you’re saying and distilling out the pieces.”

The company operates from the Trousdales’ basement, which they have transformed into offices, replete with a conference room, bathroom, tiny kitchen area, and shared office space for employees, except for Barb, whose office is on the second floor.

The Trousdales employ one full-time marketing assistant, Mike Healy. “The way it works in Vermont, real estate agents are independent contractors,” says Curtis, “and we have four of those: Mike Wrobel, Tim Little, Theresa Ferrara, and Todd Bergeron.”

Little, Ferrara, and Bergeron work in the residential division; Wrobel works for Attacca Realty and is an official Cabela’s Trophy Properties agent.

Asked about the state of the market in Vermont, Curtis says, “Ask me every six weeks and I’ll give you a different answer. I’m dead serious. If you had asked in January, Barb and I would have said, ‘God, it is so busy; if this is an indication of what the year’s going to be like, it will be fantastic.’ If you ask us today, we’ll say we’re doing a lot of listing work, the buyers’ list seems to be a little slim, and offers have been on the low side. If you ask us in six weeks when the summer market has hit, we’ll say things are booming.”

Although hunting consumes much of their spare time, the Trousdales are generous with their expertise. Curtis is treasurer of the Northwestern Vermont Board of Realtors and serves on various subcommittees. Barb chairs the professional standards committee. She’s also vice president of the Colchester chapter of Business Networking International, and chairs the education committee for the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association.

They were the first agents in many years to teach the real estate portion of home-buying workshops for Champlain Housing Trust, says Barb, who uses her town clerk experience to thoroughly research a property before recommending a price. She has recently studied mediation techniques, which she’s putting to work facilitating disputes as the HBRA professional standards chair.

As for their personal relationship, it’s a challenge sometimes to separate their business life from their personal life. “It’s a standard struggle,” says Curtis, “and we get better at it every year.” •

Four independent Realtors work in the office. Mike Wrobel (left) works for Attacca Realty and is an official Cabela’s Trophy Properties agent; Todd Bergeron and Theresa Ferrara work in the residential division.