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Wells Group Real Estate co-founder Jim Wotkyns retires from brokerage

The key to thriving in the world of real estate is relationships, he says
Jim Wotkyns, left, is moving on from The Wells Group Real Estate Brokerage. John Wells, who founded The Wells Group Real Estate with Wotkyns, said it’s hard to see someone he’s worked with for years move on to a new chapter, but that he’s excited for his longtime business partner. (File)

John Wells and Jim Wotkyns established The Wells Group Real Estate Brokerage in 1985. Today, the firm stands on Main Avenue as a local example of the “pinnacle” of real estate brokerage, in Wotkyns’ words. It is the largest independent brokerage in Southwest Colorado with offices in Durango, Bayfield and North County areas. But after 36 years, Wotkyns has retired from the brokerage business.

Wotkyns is a husband and a father and an experienced real estate broker. He said he decided it was time to move on from The Wells Group so that he could spend more time with his family. He was raised where Lakewood stands today back when that area was still an unincorporated portion of Jefferson County.

Jim Wotkyns, 64, is married to his wife of 41 years, Daryl Wotkyns, who he said was his high school sweetheart. They have a son, 30, who works in engineering in Denver, and a daughter, 32, who has two little girls of her own and works in the Wyoming cattle business.

Wotkyns met Wells when he was 14 or 15 years old. Wells, who was raised in New Mexico but was familiar with Durango because his mother and grandmother grew up in the area, was in his freshman year at Fort Lewis College. Wotkyns’ older brother happened to be Wells’ roommate then.

Wotkyns went on to attend FLC as well, but after his freshman year he left for Colorado State University on the Front Range so that he could be closer to his sweetheart Daryl. Wotkyns earned a degree in journalism and technical writing, while Wells had pursued his business administration studies at FLC.

Wells got into the real estate business in 1979. He said he took his first steps into real estate during the process of buying his first home with his then wife.

“I’ll just say I didn’t have a good experience (buying my first home),” Wells said. “I got lucky and it worked out. But I decided that I need to know more about the process because I felt pretty naive about it.”

Wells jumped through the hoops of obtaining his real estate license. He went to preparation classes and took the Real Estate Broker License Exam. Back in “the No. 2 pencil days,” Wells said, it took three to four weeks before he received his letter from the state division of real estate informing him that he’d passed the exam.

By that point, Wells found he was more and more interested in the world of real estate. He met with people in the industry and finally jumped in.

Wotkyns followed a different path. After graduating from CSU, he and his wife joined a company in the oil and gas industry where they performed title research and bought gas leases for other companies.

Wotkyns said he contacted his old friend Wells because he was looking for a place to live in Durango. Wells helped Wotkyns and his wife purchase their first home.

“He helped us find our first place to live and helped us buy our first house, which was a pleasant experience, unlike his,” Wotkyns said.

When the oil and gas industry started to fizzle, Wells convinced Wotkyns to tackle the real estate exam for himself.

“I did the same thing (as Wells), it took forever,” Wotkyns said. “You go to classes at night and take the test and, well, here we are. My dad says it’s the dumbest decision I ever made. And it was the best decision I ever made.”

Today, The Wells Group has seven in-house staff members and about 42 contract brokers. Wotkyns said one word to describe what it takes to thrive in the real estate business: “relationships.”

“You can learn about the real estate business, how to put together a contract and different things you need to do in order to come to a successful closing,” Wotkyns said. “But the bottom line is relationships ... and people place a lot of trust in you. Sometimes with what is their life savings.”

Strong relationships apply both to clients and to The Wells Group’s brokers, Wotkyns said.

The brokerage’s broker services program manager was its first employee when it opened 36 years ago, Wells said. The Wells Group’s first broker remains at the company today, too.

Wells said that buying a personal residence, especially in these times, is almost always one of if not the largest investment in that person’s life.

“We have to be very respectful of that and realize that it’s a stressful process,” he said. “It’s a stressful process to sell a piece of real estate because it’s a very expensive asset. The great part about our brokers is that they have the compassion and respect for what that customer is going through.”

Wells said Durango is a special place for real estate because even with a pool of at least 470 brokers throughout the area, there’s more communication and cooperation than one might find in a metropolitan area.

“When you’re in a smaller community you kind of have to get along,” Wells said. “But you want to get along. We have friends in the industry in metropolitan areas ... that are like, ‘We wish we had that culture and we can’t really put our finger on it.’”

Wotkyns said a large part of The Wells Group’s culture is that staff members and brokers “spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to give back.”

He said the small community of Durango and La Plata County have been “really good to us.”

One might sit on a local board or become a member of a civic group. They can take part in a food drive or a trash cleanup day.

Wells has participated in various ways with FLC through the board of trustees and alumni association; he served on the financial committee for Durango School District 9-R, he said. Wotkyns is a volunteer of more than 20 years for La Plata County Search and Rescue. He spent about 15 years as a volunteer officer for Durango Police Department as well.

“Because you can’t get to the pinnacle of the real estate brokerage, which I believe that we’ve done here in Durango, and just be takers,” Wotkyns said. “Gotta give back.”

Circling back to relationships, Wells and Wotkyns agreed that their three-and-a-half decade business venture’s longevity has been their greatest accomplishment with The Wells Group.

“36 years in business with the same man,” Wotkyns said. “It wasn’t always easy. But we came to work every day and we made it work. And we were happy to make it work.”

When asked if the pair ever butted heads over business matters, Wells laughed and said, “You mean in our 36-year marriage that we’ve had?”

The two business partners haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, Wotkyns said, but disputes were infrequent and they were always able to work through them.

“We can agree to disagree,” Wells said. “... Again, that’s the flexibility of being a small business. And yet, at the same time, it’s healthy because if we agreed on everything, I’m not sure that we’d always be making the right decisions.”

For Wotkyns, Wells remains one of his go-to contacts should “the proverbial stuff hit the fan,” as he put it.

“And that’s professionally and personally,” Wotkyns said. “I don’t know what the chemistry was or is or whatever, but it is, it’s like a pretty secure marriage.”

“Don’t tell Daryl (Wotkyns’ wife) that,” Wells said, laughing.

Wotkyns referenced the relationships he’s made in Durango and across Colorado and said he’s made “some amazing peer friends that will be a part of my life until I hit the end of the trail.”

Wells said that the work culture and environment he and Wotkyns strive for at The Wells Group is one that provides opportunities for people to succeed and enjoy what they do.

Wotkyns said that he’s leaving The Wells Group after 36 years on good terms – this isn’t a “divorce,” he said. It is simply time for him to do something different.

“The hard part is when you have people that you’ve been with for a long time and they’re ready for a new chapter,” Wells said. “It’s hard for me because I don’t want that to change, you know? Because it’s been good. And then you have to step back and go, you (are) totally excited for Jim and Daryl Wotkyns, for their next chapter.”

cburney@durangoherald.com