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Updated: August 5, 2019 Women to Watch

Women to Watch: Kim Swan, a ‘people person’ building a real estate agency and more

PHOTo / David Clough Kim Swan, president of The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and Swan Hospitality Group

As a child, Kim Swan was immersed in the Swan Agency, in Bar Harbor, a real estate and insurance business founded by her parents, Cary and June Swan.

When she went to college, her father encouraged her to obtain her real estate license and sell homes during the summer. That turned out well, so she joined the family company in 1981 and bought the real estate division in 1994.

Today, Swan has grown the business into a juggernaut that is a market leader in Hancock County for overall real estate sales and a market leader statewide in hospitality properties. Dealing in multi-million-dollar listings, in 2018 the agency brokered about $75 million in sold volume. The agency was the first in Maine to specialize in bed-and-breakfast properties. In 2006, Swan affiliated with Sotheby’s International Realty, a move that gained a global customer base.

“We’re always growing,” says Swan. “Even through down times, like 2008 and 2009, we didn’t stop. We grow because we have brokers who are very aware of putting their clients first.”

“Kim’s energy, passion and knowledge of the real estate and hospitality industry are evident when seeing her interact with clients,” says Erica Brooks, who started at the agency in 2006 under Swan’s mentorship and is today one of the company’s top producers. “She has the ability to be humble yet confident at the same time. Those are qualities that truly make buyers and sellers feel at ease when pursuing or selling their often largest investments.”

Personal attention

Swan herself has seemingly non-stop energy. The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty has about 30 independent brokers at offices in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Blue Hill, considered three of Maine’s strategic locations for value retention and growth. There is also a brokerage team in greater Portland. Swan personally focuses on business development and luxury and commercial sales, and oversees the agency’s marketing, public relations and social media programs. She’s an active real estate investor with a concentration in hospitality properties.

Photo / David Clough
Kim Swan, right, owner of The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and Swan Hospitality Group, speaks with Betsy Stires of Frog Hill Designs, designer of the dining room pictured.

She produced a show called “Living Acadia TV,” a marketing tool that featured listings in the context of lifestyle segments. She served 10 years as a Bar Harbor town councilor and was awarded the 2017 Cadillac Award by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Other interests include music and film production. She’s the founder and creative director of the Bar Harbor Designer Showhouse, a ticketed showcase featuring interior design, with proceeds benefiting local causes. Other nonprofit activities include serving on the board of the Bar Harbor Historical Society and working with animal rescue organizations.

“Kim has the ability to stop what she is doing — which is always several important things like listing a B&B, running a busy real estate company, opening a new hotel, attending a board of directors meetings for the historical society — and offer to help coordinate volunteers or to be a volunteer, especially when it comes to animal welfare,” says Brooks.

Unexpected career

The kicker is that Swan didn’t expect to get into real estate.

Swan was born in Rumford and raised in Bar Harbor. Her sister, Deanna Sherman, was a 2016 Mainebiz Women to Watch honoree. Swan attended the University of Southern Maine, where she majored in political science and pursued a degree in business. Her plan was to go to law school.

“I kept putting it off,” she says. “Real estate was a mistake, in a way. It was the family business, but it was so lucrative that I never moved on.”

A natural “people person,” she realized she had a talent for brokerage and soon grew to love it. That was especially true when she found her niche in the hospitality brokerage that her father started in 1986.

“Dad listed a Bar Harbor inn,” she recalls. “I took over the listing and loved it. I loved the hospitality business. I loved the people.”

It was the late 1980s and sales of inns were hot. In the 1990s, she handled a listing for one of Bar Harbor’s innkeepers, Don Johnson. Johnson decided to get into real estate and had connections throughout Maine.

“He and I broadened the business throughout the state,” she says. “This was before there was anyone else specializing in hospitality. In 2005, 2006 and 2007, we sold millions of dollars worth of hospitality real estate.”

That success started Swan in investment, initially in Portland.

“I bought a lot of apartments and little condominiums and a loft,” she says. She renovated and flipped the properties. Then she began buying inns. She redesigned, repositioned and sold some, and held others.

Hospitality properties combine many of her interests.

“I love design and I love art,” she says, noting that she’s also owned art galleries. “I love the idea of people coming to places because they’re on vacation and relaxing.”

Her most recent purchase, in April, was the Bayview Hotel in Bar Harbor, acquired for $5.4 million. Five months later, she spun off the property’s townhouse units to neighboring College of the Atlantic for $2.2 million.

“It’s everything I ever dreamed of in one place,” she says. “It’s directly on the ocean, the rooms are huge. Every room has ocean views.”

Swan enlisted an interior designer, wine connoisseurs and artists — all friends — for the redesign.

“It’s a way to have fun,” she says.

Sotheby’s brand

The agency received a big boost when it became affiliated with Sotheby’s. The global agency approached Swan in 2005.

PHOTo / David Clough
Kim Swan, president of The Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty and Swan Hospitality Group

“We resisted at first because I’m a big believer in independence,” Swan says. “But they worked hard to show us how the affiliation could help us and our clients.”

After a year of talks, the Swan Agency Sotheby’s International Realty was born.

“It’s a wonderful tool for the luxury market,” she says. “I think people in the million-dollar-and-up range look to luxury brands like Sotheby’s to find properties. Sellers like those brands because it’s a global market. When a new high-end listing goes out, we get emails and I interest from all over the world. If we were an independent, we probably wouldn’t get that kind of global attention.”

In 2013, Swan organized the first of three designer showhouses. Featuring donated interior designs, proceeds have benefited the Bar Harbor Historical Society and Jackson Laboratory. Like hospitality and investment, the showhouses combine several interests, including the ability to work with designers, help local causes, network with media outlets and, not incidentally, enjoy the sociable nature of the events.

Her interest in the arts extends to production of local documentaries and co-owning Maineville Music Publishing with singer-songwriter Aaron Benward. She’s working on launching a co-operative media management and design company, offering smaller businesses services like PR and design resources. With broker Dana Moos she’s launching a program of “aspiring innkeeper workshops.”

Her business strategy? It’s about people. “I would not have accomplished anything if I didn’t have all these cool people around me,” she says. “I love to connect and I love to share. I just ride the wave and see where it goes.”

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