Helping community — from social work to selling homes

By Jim Bisco

“For us, it’s about helping people.” That’s the value statement of Olear Team/MJ Peterson Real Estate, a phrase that characterizes the team leader’s inclination since his social work pursuit four decades ago.

“Helping people has always been important to me. I’ve always felt gratifed doing that,” explained Michael Olear, MSW ’84. After starting out in a broad array of social service positions including child care, developmentally disabled adult care, mental health counseling and coordinated care administration, Olear became “enamored” with the real estate profession. “It’s still helping people, but more business oriented,” he noted. “I always had an interest in numbers, financing and more of a global picture of how things work.”

The 60-year-old real estate leader fondly recalls his experience in the School of Social Work. He was particularly influenced by then- faculty member William Epstein. “He really helped me understand the democratic process and the underlying concepts affecting the development of public policy,” Olear said.

As a macro student, Olear worked for Karen Schimke, former Erie County commissioner of social services. “Some of the things I do now, I absolutely mirror from what I learned from her,” he said. “One of the things she involved me in was raising awareness of the need for employer-sponsored child care at the workplace, as well as the establishment of a child care resource and referral center. I am grateful to have been involved in those efforts — there wasn’t anything like that in Western New York at the time.”

After receiving his social work degree, he was employed at Coordinated Care Management. It was a time when the government was realizing that an incredible number of people were languishing in hospitals and driving costs up, and that the system needed to change.

“There was a grant program that I worked on where we were trying to establish the fact that emergency response systems — pendants that people wear to easily signal for help — would actually save the system money if Medicaid or Medicare paid for them,” Olear recalled. “This was ‘stone age’ new technology. It had all the things that piqued my interest. We proved an incredible amount of savings.”

Olear maintains that his experiences both as a student and in the field helped mold his subsequent career. “In particular, listening. That’s number one,” he said. “I worked with a lot of difficult clients in behavior houses at Baker Victory Services and People, Incorporated. Getting people to agree on things is huge for us.”

Those accumulated skills were transferable to the need for helping people who are overwhelmed with the thought of selling the place where they lived, getting homeowners, siblings, children, stepchildren and others to agree on a plan.

“It became more experiential,” he said. “We started going more in the direction of specializing in older adults; I also got active in the professional community that serves older adults. In a short period of time, I found myself on the boards of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Network in Aging.”

Olear also credits his experience in the UB School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in 2007 with enhancing his business acumen; he’s remained an involved alumnus there, mentoring other developing businesses.

The 12-person real estate team he’s built over the past 25 years, which covers all of Erie and Niagara counties, takes a cooperative approach to ensure clients always receive the most comprehensive and helpful service — from decluttering to sensible planning to ultimately selling the home and moving. In a current Western New York housing climate averaging 54 days on the market, the Olear Team’s average is 19 days, with an exceptional list price/sale price ratio of 99.4 percent.

The success is a tribute to the team’s adherence to every detail in one of life’s most emotional transitional experiences. And it doesn’t stop there. “We try to give back in our business,” Olear added. “For every house we sell, we make a donation to Meals on Wheels.”

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