ENJOY MILL VALLEY…
ONE-ON-ONE WITH Kathleen Clifford and Jan Hiti
Interviewed by: Danna Lewis
November 15, 2022. On a bright blue late Fall Mill Valley morning, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kathleen Clifford and Jan Hiti at their Compass Real Estate office. Located a few doors down from Le Marais at 250 E Blithedale Avenue, with construction going on in the background, a reminder of the progress and upkeep required to keep a town thriving, we spanned 28 years of life and living in Mill Valley.
Danna: It’s so nice to get to sit and talk with you. And, since our story centers around life in Marin, how did you both end up here?
Jan: “I lived in the city and moved to Sausalito where I had been spending so many of my weekends. My husband and I went golfing one day at Mill Valley Golf Course, looked up and saw a house on the hill, and just knew that’s where we wanted to live. Very soon afterwards, we found a home near the golf course with that same view. 28 years, two remodels, and two kids later we still love it as much as the day we found it. We are not going anywhere, this is our forever home.”
Kathleen: “I grew up with first cousins on both sides in Marin. We were living in LA for a few years when we decided to move back to the Bay Area, and decided upon Marin. That was 26 years ago. We’ve been in our second Mill Valley house 21 years- you would have to drag us out of here, we love our home and the town so much. It’s the live music, the lifestyle, the community. This is it.”
Danna: How did you two meet?
Kathleen: “I was involved, volunteering, with the Discovery Museum, the schools, kids sports and so was Jan. We are the doers and we like it. We kept running into each during all of this volunteer and community work with the schools, tennis club, church, etc… Jan sponsored me to join the Mill Valley Tennis and Swim Club. We were connected in so many ways with the community and each other. When my kids come up from SoCal, they hate going to town with us because they can’t walk ten feet without us running into someone we know.
Jan: “But, that’s what we love so much about it here, that throughout our day, just living, we connect with and see people we know.
Danna: It’s such a good feeling to walk through town and see people you know, stop and talk with them, and feel that sense of connection to the bigger community. So how did you two decide to then go into business together?
Kathleen: “I had been a realtor for 20 years. Jan was working for a relocation company in San Francisco getting people into their relocation homes when they moved to SF and the Peninsula for the big tech companies. Then she got her real estate license and made a list of people to have informational interviews with. I was on that list.
Jan: “We had lunch and Kathleen said ‘give me the weekend to ponder this’ because it was the first time Kathleen had openly considered a partner in the business. The next week she offered for me to join her in creating a partnership. I have learned the business through working with Kathleen for the last four years.”
Danna: Besides the great team that you two make, what is unique about your business?
Kathleen & Jan: “Part of what is unique about us, is that we do this for the happiness of our clients. It’s not about ‘killing it’ or being ‘number one,’ we do it because we are so enthusiastic about bringing people to Marin, and particularly Mill Valley. People that contribute to the community, and are going to be these great new additions in the neighborhoods are important for us to mentor/foster here. Our business expands through all of Marin (minus west Marin) but have a very special love for real estate in Mill Valley from being immersed in the community for decades from having our homes here, to our kids in the school system to all community events and outdoor activities.”
What vision do you have for your business?
Kathleen/Jan: “It’s about referral. We have a referral business. We are in a place with it where now former client’s kids are coming to us to help them with their home purchase.”
Danna: Let’s talk about the big P- how did the pandemic affect you? Two of your four years in business together were in the pandemic.
Kathleen: “Real estate was the national sport of the pandemic. It was insanity- people were moving because of the circumstances and now rethinking those choices. It was an abnormal market. Today is the more cyclical and actually the more normal market that is flowing with the seasons. We were extremely busy during the Pandemic, so much so that we had to commit to figuring out how each of us could very occasionally have one weekend day off a week.”
Jan: “We were boots on the ground, meeting vendors, etc… taking care of business for our clients all in accordance with the many Covid rules and requirements that were in place to follow. But Americans are adaptable, it was fascinating to watch and be a part of that.”
Danna: How do you think it affected people’s psychology?
Kathleen: “I’ve noticed in traveling and locally, people are really grateful to be together again, enjoying events again.”
Jan: “I just can’t believe how we navigated the changing rules and requirements and adjusted in our work and social life…together.”
Danna: What has surprised you (so far) about your business and working together?
Kathleen: “I appreciate having Jan as my partner because it’s a high pressure business and she takes a lot of pressure off by sharing the responsibilities. And, we make it fun.”
Jan: “We can bounce ideas off of each other and face the challenges of all of the moving parts and functions in having a business together.”
Danna: What delights you about your customers?
Jan & Kathleen: “When they are grateful and happy, we feel so rewarded. And, when we see them out and about becoming part of the community, that’s success for us. We’ve helped integrate someone into the community.”
Danna: What would you like your customers to know that maybe they haven’t tapped into yet?
Kathleen & Jan: “The uniqueness of our town. We show our clients the town, we go through the whole calendar of the year of events as we drive them around so they can get the engagement that’s possible.”
Danna: What does community and small town business mean to you?
Kathleen: “It’s just a big version of the sitcom Cheers – you know people and they know you. Everyone knows your name.”
Jan: “ I love the Chamber for what it creates in the town. We don’t let the big box or chain stores in very much and that helps promote shopping locally and our small businesses.”
Danna: What are three things about your personal life that bring you joy and or inspire you that customers/the community may not know?
- The beauty of Marin and Mill Valley, the hiking trails are my peace of mind.
- My kids and family, it’s my son’s 27th birthday today!
- All the great restaurants we have in Mill Valley and the live music.
- I love to walk places and you’ll see me walking around town to and from appointments, etc…
- Being outside and exercising everyday (the Mill Valley Rec Center is a gem, as well as a gym)!!
- I’m also a homebody, I love to be cocooned at home reading, cooking, and entertaining.
Danna: Is there a business within Mill Valley that you’d like to give a shout out to for a great experience you’ve had?
Kathleen & Jan: “The Lumberyard and everything that Matt, Jan, and Ged have done there that has created an experience. It’s a huge gift to Mill Valley. They pulled off something unique. It’s very ‘Mill Valley.’
Jan: “Bungalow 44. They have done an incredible job during the Pandemic. Bravo to them for the changes they made during the Pandemic that continue to create a great, fun dining experience for everyone.”
Danna: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kathleen & Jan: “We are going ‘feet first’ meaning we are retiring here, it’s our forever place for both of us and our families. We both love to travel but we are so happy to come home to Marin and Mill Valley.”