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Winter 2020

Photo by Joyce Marshall

Allie Beth Allman is a North Texas Real Estate Mogul

The Dallas real estate agent sells high-end homes and gives back to the community.

Allie Beth McMurtry Allman ’62 does not create vision boards. Nor does she write lists of goals at the beginning of each year or draw up master plans. Instead, she negotiated her way to a North Texas real estate empire that includes almost 400 agents who sold $2 billion in 2018.

Allman’s collective personal sales rival that figure. Her storied career includes an A-list clientele ranging from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Preternatural energy helps Allman run a business that thrived during economic downturns that crippled competitors. She also finds time to give back, embracing a range of civic roles. Lifelong friends say that the signature exuberance she brought to the TCU campus six decades ago remains undimmed.

“College was such a magical time in my life,” Allman said. “TCU is what made me what I am.”

Early Influencer

Allman grew up in Graham, Texas, a rural community about 100 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Her tightknit family included an older sister, Cora Jean, and Sadie Lou, the youngest of the three McMurtry girls. Their father, who died while Allman was attending TCU, farmed about 20 acres and owned a furniture store.

“My mother lived in the same house for 65 years,” Allman said.

Even as a child, she loved school for the people and activity but struggled with some of the academics.

Realtor extraordinaire and business leader Allie Beth Allman uses people skills to build her empire. Photo by Joyce Marshall

Realtor extraordinaire and business leader Allie Beth Allman uses people skills to build her empire. Photo by Joyce Marshall

“School was difficult for me because I had a reading problem,” she said, though she never sought a formal diagnosis for dyslexia. “For anything like reading or spelling or history, I had to work very hard.”

From childhood through college, Martha Kay Scott Morgan ’62 would spend hours reading textbooks and schoolwork aloud to her best friend. “We practically lived together, either at my house or her house, and then we roomed together at TCU,” Morgan said, noting they moved into Sherley Hall their freshman year and were delighted with the air conditioning in the new building.

“Allie Beth’s problem was reading, but she was always good in math, and she was so smart, and she has this incredible work ethic,” Morgan said. “She was going to make it no matter what.”

While studying for her bachelor’s degree in radio/TV/film, Allman enjoyed getting to know her distant cousin, novelist Larry McMurtry, who taught literature at TCU. She also immersed herself in the social swirl of collegiate life.

“We were in the same class, and she was always someone that everyone knew,” said Luther King ’62 (MBA ’66).

In fall 1958, Allman pledged sorority Delta Delta Delta with Joan Kitley Cantwell ’62, who became a close friend. “Her personality just draws people to her and always has,” said Cantwell, who traveled in Europe the summer before her senior year with Allie Beth and Sadie Lou McMurtry.

“Allie Beth is not inhibited by anything, and she’s genuinely interested in others,” Cantwell said. “She wins people over without even trying.”

That included a communications professor who decided Allman needed to shed her distinctive Texas twang. “I would go to his office, and he would work with me to correct my diction,” Allman recalled. “I drove him nuts. Finally one day he said, ‘Allie Beth, if you never come back, I will give you an A.’ So I got an A.”

“She has always surrounded herself with people who would also progress with her.”
Jean Wiggin Roach

“If you talk to any of our sorority sisters, they would all tell you that Allie Beth is a genuinely good person,” said Jean Wiggin Roach ’64, who along with her husband, John ’61 (MBA ’65), established the Jean W. Roach Chair of Laboratory Schools in the College of Education in 2005.

“Allie Beth cares about others, and she certainly cares about her family,” Roach said. “She has always surrounded herself with people who would also progress with her.”

In addition to serving as her sorority’s social chair during her undergraduate days at TCU, Allman was a cheerleader, serving as head cheerleader for two years. As a TCU Sweetheart, she represented the university at events throughout Texas. Pangburn Candy Co. also tapped her to travel around the region promoting its chocolate.

“At TCU, everything clicked for me,” Allman said.

Bound for Dallas

The day she graduated, Allman started working in the radio department of WFAA, the ABC network affiliate in Dallas.

“At the time, you were either a teacher or a secretary, and I knew I didn’t want to be either of those,” Allman said. “They asked if I could type, and I said yes because surely anybody can type. Then I got near a typewriter and realized it wasn’t that easy.”

Allie Beth Allman focuses on selling high-end real estate in the Dallas area, including this property in Highland Park. Photo by Joyce Marshall

Allie Beth Allman focuses on selling high-end real estate in the Dallas area, including this property in Highland Park. Photo by Joyce Marshall

An older employee took Allman under her wing, sometimes finishing Allman’s work while the new graduate learned her way around the keys. “All through my life people have helped me,” she said.

She gave up her position in 1963 to wed Pierce Allman, a program director at WFAA. The couple has two daughters, Margaret Allman Cowan and Amy Dean.

In 1981, a friend and fellow Tri Delta called to ask if Allman would put a “for sale by owner” sign in their yard and sell their house. That friend was Alicia Landry, wife of legendary Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry.

Without hesitation, Allman said yes.

“There were two Super Bowl trophies sitting there in his study, so I roped it off for the open house,” Allman said. “Tom came back from Washington after a Redskins game — which he lost — and he asked which of the two offers we got that day he should take.”

After she made a recommendation, the football coach spoke the words that would resonate with her for years to come: “Tom said, ‘I’ve always been a real good judge of talent, and you, Allie Beth, have got talent.’ ”

The Landrys encouraged Allman to get her real estate license. About six months later, Allman took the test. “I failed because I couldn’t read that well, but I didn’t quit,” she said. “By the third time I finally got it.

“I thought nothing of going back three times,” Allman said. “I’d learned at a very young age that the word ‘quit’ isn’t in my vocabulary. ‘No’ isn’t either. I persevere.”

“I’d learned at a very young age that the word ‘quit’ isn’t in my vocabulary. ‘No’ isn’t either. I persevere.”
Allie Beth Allman

Allman went to work for a small real estate agency before striking out on her own in 1985 — arguably the worst time in Dallas history to do so. “A few weeks after I opened, the phones stopped ringing,” she recalled.

The savings and loan crisis hit Dallas — and the rest of Texas — without much warning. Real estate brokerages around the city folded like a bad hand of cards.

Queen of Trades

As brokerages failed all around her and agents abandoned the industry, Allman devised a strategy to shore up business.

Back then, banks would foreclose on properties that were underwater, sometimes even when owners were current on their payments. But many homeowners had fallen behind on their mortgages, compounding the problem.

“What’s the incentive to make payments on a loan for a home that is now worth $150,000 less than what you paid for it?” said Leslie Purvis, associate director for TCU’s Center for Real Estate in the Neeley School of Business. Purvis grew up hearing about Allman from her father and grandfather, both of whom worked in Fort Worth real estate.

During the savings and loan crisis, homeowners would deed their property back to the bank in negative-equity situations or the bank might seize it. Allman worked with financial institutions to move that glut of properties. She also helped people who lost their houses buy less expensive foreclosed homes.

Those sales generated enough income in commissions to sustain Allman as the overall market screeched to a halt. “I had to succeed, so I figured it out along the way.”

Allie Beth Allman's storied career includes A-list clientele like former First Lady Laura Bush and former President George W. Bush. Courtesy of Allie Beth Allman

Allie Beth Allman’s storied career includes A-list clientele like former first lady Laura Bush. Courtesy of Allie Beth Allman

After weathering that initial storm, Allman’s company began to take off. In 1995, she sold the agency to Henry S. Miller, then one of the largest independent real estate companies in Dallas. She and her husband traveled, and she occupied herself with her daughters and the family’s Highland Park home, one of only three houses in which she has ever lived.

Yet she felt restless. “You think you’ll do all this stuff, but then you realize you need something more challenging,” Allman said. In 2004, she reopened Allie Beth Allman & Associates with the blessing of Miller, who promptly asked if she would list his condo.

Six of her original agents joined the new firm, where the focus remained on high-dollar Dallas neighborhoods, including Highland Park, University Park and Turtle Creek.

“The real estate business has cycles, and I knew that,” Allman said. “I never had any debts; I grew up that way. I’m real conservative, but it paid off.” To that end, Allman has long owned a cluster of three buildings in Dallas that house the firm’s business offices.

When the company started, her husband joined the venture, at her insistence, to oversee public relations and marketing. She said Pierce Allman is an innovator, among the first to invest in high-quality marketing materials and adopt cutting-edge technology, including drone video.

“My philosophy is you can’t sit still,” Allman said. “You’ve always got to keep improving. I’m a big believer in improving. If you make a mistake, learn from it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but my glass is always half full.”

By 2007, when another mortgage crisis precipitated the Great Recession, Allman had about 200 agents working for her. “It wasn’t scary to me because no matter what the economy is, houses move,” she said. “The best way is to have them move because homeowners want to move. But when the economy is not good, they move because they have to move.”

Allman said she never had to lay off agents even as other real estate companies merged or closed. “My niche was always my negotiating,” she said. “You do a lot of hard deals and word gets out.”

She survived in part because of her sterling reputation, which added to her renown in the region. “She’s so committed to her business,” said Teresa King, wife of Luther King. “When she and I went fly-fishing in Montana, I’d be fishing in the front while Allie Beth would be in the back of the rowboat on her iPhone.”

Allman typically works 14-hour days during the week. Most weekends, she does something related to real estate. “If you’re not going to work hard,” she said, “you’re not going to make it in this business.”

Committed to Community

About a decade after she opened her second company, Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s HomeServices of America began to court Allman. In 2015, she sold Allie Beth Allman & Associates with the understanding that she would stay on as president and CEO.

“Everyone I’ve met associated with HomeServices has wonderful ethics,” Allman said. “Ethics are more important than money any day.”

In 2016, a year after joining HomeServices, Allman brokered the largest single-home transaction in Dallas history: the $100 million sale of a North Dallas estate on behalf of Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars.

“I dream about it at night when I am doing the deal, and I do think it’s a talent I have, knowing how to deal with the customer,” Allman said. “They’re all different. When do you not talk, when do you talk, when are they going to become irritated when you push them? My people skills help.”

Despite orchestrating some tremendous real estate closings, “I’ve never really looked at the past. I just look to tomorrow,” she said.

To that end, Allman has no plans to walk away from the empire that bears her name. “The word ‘retirement’ is not in my vocabulary,” she said. “I’m so lucky I have a profession that I love.”

She also describes herself as a patriot with an abiding love of country. In many ways, Allman embodies the American dream, rising above humble beginnings to ascend to the upper echelons of the business world.

That gratitude in part motivates Allman to give back to her community. She and her husband sit on the Center for BrainHealth advisory board at the University of Texas at Dallas.

In 2011, the Allmans were honored with a special Jubilee History Maker award from the Dallas Historical Society. She has chaired balls, overseen committees and won accolades for a host of philanthropic causes.

TCU, however, receives an outsized portion of her civic-minded endeavors. “Her service for TCU begins with love and loyalty and passion,” said Luther King, a trustee alongside Allman since 1992.

“She’s very active and highly respected both civically and professionally in North Texas, and the fact that she loves people is an important part of that.”
Luther King

“She also brings a certain stature to TCU that I think is important,” King said. “She’s very active and highly respected both civically and professionally in North Texas, and the fact that she loves people is an important part of that.”

King also cites her inquisitiveness as key to the contributions she makes. “Her observations and questions are excellent,” he said. “Being a trustee isn’t a résumé item for her. She loves the school.”

Plus she’s fun, King added. Other longtime friends wholeheartedly agree.

“One time, Allie Beth and Pierce came to visit us at our place out in the country, and she said that she always wanted to steal a watermelon,” Cantwell said. “So she went out and stole a watermelon from us.”

“Allie Beth and I have traveled quite a bit together and were at a birthday celebration in Las Vegas,” Teresa King said. “She put rubber snakes in our beds and brought jump ropes.”

Allie Beth Allman celebrated the TCU graduation of her eldest granddaughter and namesake, Allie Beth Cowan, along with Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. Allman presented Cowan with her diploma during the May 2019 commencement ceremony and called the experience "one of the great joys of my life." Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Allie Beth Allman celebrated the TCU graduation of her eldest granddaughter and namesake, Allie Beth Cowan, along with Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. Allman presented Cowan with her diploma during the May 2019 commencement ceremony and called the experience “one of the great joys of my life.” Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Through it all, Allman remains devoted to her family, which includes grandson Robert McMurtry “Mac” Cowan, an undergraduate at Notre Dame, and granddaughter Cora Elizabeth Dean, who attends school in the Washington, D.C., area.

Allman said she was delighted to participate in the May 2019 graduation of Allie Beth Cowan, her eldest grandchild and third-generation Tri Delta.

“One of the greatest honors I’ve ever received was when [Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr.] called and asked me if I’d like to give Allie Beth her diploma,” Allman said. “Handing her the diploma and being with her in that moment will always be one of the great joys of my life.”

“It was such a surreal moment but made the ceremony that much more special,” said Cowan, who now works in Washington, D.C. “Anyone who makes the connection between the two of us will stop and tell me how much they think of her and say wonderful things about her. Every day being her namesake is such an honor and a blessing.”