New owners continue tradition of Janesville company
JANESVILLE—Ask just about anyone who has moved to Janesville as a renter in the last 40 years, and they can probably tell you a landlord story or two.
Odds are that many of those stories will involve R.K. Smith Realty, a full-service real estate firm that also is Rock County's largest property management team.
Roger K. Smith started the business in 1964, primarily focusing on residential real estate and farm sales. He got into property management in the mid-1970s, when the government allowed a favorable depreciation schedule that made real estate attractive to large and small investors.
“The owners off the small properties didn't necessarily make good managers,” Smith said. “They didn't want to deal with the calls from tenants, the mowings and everything else that went with it.
“They liked the monthly rental check, however.”
Smith's wife, Kathy, said her husband had another reason for getting into property management.
“I did not sell very well, and he needed something for me to do,” she quipped.
Bob and Marge Rothering came to Janesville in 1988. Bob Rothering had experience managing rental properties, and a causal conversation with Smith resulted in the newcomers buying the business in 1989.
“We started with about 210 units, from single-family all the way up to one building with 86 units,” Marge Rothering said. “I think our high point was 629 units.”
The company continued to evolve and expand its use of technology.
Early versions of mobile phones made the business much more efficient, particularly in a business where calls from tenants can come at any hour.
“We started in the days before cell phones, and when we'd travel, our kids got used to us stopping at pay phones,” Bob Rothering said. “We were able to handle emergencies from the Dells, Florida or wherever else.”
By that point, the business also had a strong stable of vendors and contractors it relied upon for tenant emergencies.
Since it opened in 1964, the company has built its reputation on customer service, both for the owners of the properties and those renting them. That's evident in the company's annual vacancy rates, which Bob Rothering said are far below city averages.
The Rotherings recently sold R.K. Smith Realty to Paul and Amanda Schieldt, who also own The Realty Group of South Central Wisconsin.
“Neither one of us wanted to stick the other with the business,” Bob Rothering said of a mutual conclusion he and his wife had reached. “Together, we ran the business really well together, and her strengths were my weaknesses.
“I just knew Paul would buy the business, just like Roger knew that we would be right.”
Paul Schieldt said he and his wife will operate R.K. Smith as a standalone business that will complement his real estate sales operation.
“It's really a perfect fit for us,” he said. “We've got the sales side, and now we have the management side.
“We truly are a full-service real estate company.”
Paul Schieldt said he'd be foolish to change the company's name, which is well established in the local property management marketplace.
Bob Rothering agreed.
“How can it not be R.K. Smith?” he said. “It was R.K. Smith, it is R.K. Smith and it should always be R.K. Smith because of its well-earned reputation.
“When we were out there—and now it's Paul experiencing it—we'd encounter prospective tenants who might have Mom or Dad along, and Mom or Dad rented from R.K. Smith.”