Name: Bill Sprague

Age 64

Title: Owner and president

Company: Sprague & Curtis Real Estate, Augusta

About: The longest tenured real estate company in the Augusta area.

Website: www.spragueandcurtis.com

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Two things, really.

The fear of rising interest rates. Higher rates mean you can afford a little less, or to buy the same house will cost you more. Currently, we have been at historically low rates. People have gotten used to the 3, 4, 5 percent interest rates. If they go up a little, it’s going to be a concern for the real estate industry. Rates over time have been as high as 15 percent, and more normal over history have been at 6 to 8 percent. Borrowers have enjoyed quite a few years of low rates. They have been talking about rates going up for three or four years and they haven’t, but at some point they are going to creep up. It’s kind of helping people adjust to those changes.

The second thing is just to continue adaptation to technology changes. There’s so many gadgets and apps and ideas and internet and social media — just trying to figure out what’s important. I look at it from the business angle: What’s important and what isn’t? There’s hundreds of things you can use and adapt to but probably a dozen that are really going to stick. You just have to figure out what is more efficient and what a good use of your time and energy is. Continuing to watch and learn and trying to figure out what’s going to be important and what isn’t.

What’s the best advice anyone has given you?

The best advice I ever got came from my father (Bill Sprague Sr.). He said you have to give back to your community. If you are working and making money, he said, you can’t just take; you’ve got to give back.

In my life, I have always been involved, either with my time, or donating money or energy and helping my community. And with that, there’s sort of a twofold. You are doing something good and positive for the community and second, there’s a great sense of fulfillment in making a positive changes. I can always look back now and think on the dozens and dozens of things I’ve been involved with over time. I’ve met wonderful people, but also you look back and see positive changes, and I have been a small part of those things. Over the years, the Y, the Chamber (of Commerce) the Board of Trade, the hospital, the new (YMCA), the new high school, the new bridge — I was on some committee or some board.

It made sense to give back some of the nice things that happened to me.

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

Two things.

Personally you’re reading, you’re going to seminars and you attend conventions. In these various groups and organizations, you’re talking to people and interacting with people in your industry. Me, I’m inquisitive, always watching how people do things, what are they doing, what are they doing right, how are things working how might we adapt things to work in our world.

It’s the same in the office. You’re having meetings, looking at what works and what might not work. It’s a constant, looking for positive change, and how can we better help people and do a better job. The world is constantly changing, so you’ve got to figure out what’s important and what’s not.

Kind of related to that, I am a guy where the glass is always half-full. I am always trying to find the good in things and the way to make things work better.

What is your biggest concern?

Over the years, I have learned that things tend to work out over time. I do worry about change and I worry about what impact they will have on life. It could be technology. It could be interest rates. It could be the economy. It could be the real estate industry and how to stay relevant in our world. You have to be adaptable, and I try to look for the best in everything.

My world is very local. I feel fortunate that I live in Augusta, Maine, and work in the region. We are lucky that we have a fairly stable economy, with state government being the big employer. We don’t really boom, but we don’t really bust. Over the years, this has been a good place to live and work, because we’re stable and we can ride through the changes, better than a one-industry town.

I relate a lot of the economy to people’s confidence. The real estate market boomed in ’04, ’05 and ’06. And then in ’07, ’08, and ’09, it was in horrible shape. We fared that better in Augusta better than other parts of the state did because of state government, Central Maine Power, the hospital, Togus; they don’t change a lot.

If you’re confident about the future, you are apt to make a real estate move. If not, you are apt not to make a move.

When we did get into ’07, ’08, ’09 and ’10, when interest rates went low, they didn’t stimulate the economy right off. I say that someone could give you the money for free and if you weren’t confident about the future, you wouldn’t take it. But if you were confident about the future, you might borrow money at 10 percent and move on.

So people’s confidence levels in the future is huge in my world, and probably in the business world.

Where will your business be in five years?

I hope my organization is doing something like it’s doing today. We’re in the business of helping people through a big transaction. Whether they are buying or selling, it’s one of the biggest transactions they’ll ever make in their life. They look to people like us to guide them.

I’ve been in the business 40 years, and although the business has changed, it has also stayed the same.

My father started the business in 1958, and when I got out of college I came back to work with him in 1978. He was with Tom Curtis then. In the mid-’80s, (my father retired) and Tom and I worked together with a crew of sales people until ’09 when Tom retired and I bought him out. My wife, Lesley, works in the office, and we have seven agents. We hopefully do a great job helping people buy and sell properties. We’re involved in about 500 transactions a year.

We’re counselors and guiders. It’s a people business and we’re helping people through a transition.

I hope we’re a relevant player in that world for five or 10 years in the future. Part of that will be adapting to new technology, and hopefully some technological changes will make that easier and better for people.

If my health holds out, I can stay at it for while longer. I plan to; I have a young daughter in college. I hope I’ve got a few good years ahead, and I hope that others here can take what we have and continue a career for themselves.

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