A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.
We’re cousins, but we’re more like sisters, Malinda Brownlee Howell began, describing the relationship between herself and her younger cousin, Amy Brownlee. They kicked the conversation off by offering stories of their travels, Malinda sharing about their first trip together as adults. They went to Aruba, but Amy forgot to bring her money, “So, being a good big cousin, I had to foot the bill the whole trip. She did pay me back later, though,” she joked. Amy shared one of their more recent experiences and the furthest they’ve ever traveled together — Hong Kong. They reminisced about ski trips and beach excursions, describing their family gatherings as big, loud, chaotic, and competitive. “I’m sure you can’t imagine us being competitive,” one of them laughed.
Malinda is Vice President of Brokerage for Ebby Halliday, and Amy is Division President of Britton Homes, which means they fit right in with their family legacy of real estate pros, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. Their grandfather was quite the salesman, running the Chevrolet dealership in Garland, and their grandmother worked at Jas. K. Wilson in Highland Park. Sales is a regular family tradition.
“I grew up in the real estate business,” Amy noted, “I drove around communities, explored development sites, and walked houses with my dad — even on vacation, we toured communities! I watched his homebuilding business evolve and it prepared me to one day step into his shoes.” Amy’s father is Jimmy Brownlee, who retired in 2019 as DFW Region President of K. Hovnanian Homes after more than 28 years of service. Amy said her Dad and his older brother, Woody Brownlee (Malinda’s father), would refer to themselves simply as “The Banker” and “The Builder.” Jimmy, The Builder, credits Woody with helping him get started in homebuilding by loaning him the money to get his business off the ground. Woody didn’t help just because it was his brother, he was a mentor to many in the real estate business and provided wisdom and insight, having served in several leadership roles throughout the years.
Woody retired from banking and joined the Ebby Halliday team in 1996. After graduating from Texas Tech, Malinda joined her Dad at Ebby in 1998. She was in her mid-20s and ready to take on the world. Her passion for real estate never waned, and she’s been with Ebby Halliday ever since. – having just celebrated her 23rd work anniversary.
Encouragement came largely from her supportive family; namely, her mother, Linda Brownlee. “Amy’s mom is sweet; my mom was tough,” Malinda laughed, “She was the daughter of an Army lieutenant colonel, after all! She told me there were lots of strong women in residential real estate, and I thought, ‘That’s me,’ so that’s really how I ended up here as a twenty-something ready to conquer whatever came my way.”
Linda Brownlee was a mover and shaker in the mortgage business, but she’s also fondly remembered for her prominent role as a trailblazer in the Garland community — particularly when it came to creativity and the arts. “She thought the arts were a crucial part of any thriving society,” Malinda explained. In fact, she was founding president of the Performing Arts Guild, Chairman of the Garland Arts Commission for more than 20 years, and was a driving force in creating Garland Summer Musicals. In 2010, The Linda Brownlee Auditorium was named in her honor as recognition of her contribution to the Performing Arts Center.
Malinda did her part as a teenager by working in the concession stand and begrudgingly participating in community theater productions. “Make no mistake, I did not appreciate it at the time,” she said playfully, “But I’m so grateful now for the culture I was exposed to through the opera, the symphony, and theater. I had experiences that a little girl from Garland might not have otherwise had.” She also credits those experiences with helping her learn from a young age how to relate to people from different walks of life. It’s also where she learned the value of hard work, and that she could do whatever she set her mind to — the sky was the limit.
Both Malinda and Amy spoke highly and lovingly of their families and described holiday gatherings straight out of a Hallmark movie: Packed houses, roaring laugher, plenty of friendly competition, and just the right amount of organized chaos. Amy became a mom to her son, Jagger James, 14 months ago, and she credits her family as one of the major reasons she’s able to do what she does as they partner with her as Jagger’s caregivers. The family is close-knit, and they love spending their free time together, often on Cedar Creek lake, keeping a childhood tradition alive. These big family gatherings is where everyone’s personalities shine, Amy said. This environment is where their confidence and support are derived, and why they feel the freedom to not only succeed themselves but to also pull other women up with them.
They carry a lightness and energy with them, gracefully walking the elusive line between work and play and defying the stereotypes that say women must be cold or intimidating to be corporate leaders. In fact, it’s their sense of humor and passion for encouraging and mentoring other young women that keep them excited about the industry. “I love their new ideas and enthusiasm; it makes me enthusiastic about the future of the industry,” Malinda shared, “I learn just as much from them as they do from me.”
Amy, who jumped into real estate at the tender age of 21, is familiar with the challenges that come with being a young woman in the real estate and new home industry. When she started, she wore glasses and kept her hair up to try to make herself look older, because people questioned her decisions due to her young age. Nevertheless, she continued to persevere, selling more and more houses, eventually proving herself to her peers and colleagues. She worked with David Weekley Homes, Scott Felder Homes, and Darling Homes before moving to Britton/Perry, and has been the top salesperson at each company. These accomplishments and accolades have come after 20 years of tenacity and learning to build good habits, she said. Amy was promoted this January to Division President and is thrilled to be a part of the 50+ year Perry Homes legacy founded by Bob Perry and now run by his daughter, Kathy Britton – another woman who grew up around real estate.
“Amy worked hard but she was also smart,” Malinda chimed in, “She was smart with her money. Our mothers taught us to always be prepared to stand on our own if we had to.” Amy’s experiences have pushed her to lead more women to independence: “Set your goal and go after it,” she encouraged, “The income-earning potential is great, but the power of independence is even better.” The sooner one can plug into a supportive group of women professionals, she said, the better. She encourages younger women, or women just starting out in their careers, to reach out to those they admire, as most would be grateful for the opportunity to pour into others. “It’s a people business,” she said, “You need people in your corner; that’s how this world keeps turning.”
Malinda said the women professionals in her life support and encourage her regularly in her own work and help her feel prepared to take on any challenges she could face. Business is booming, but the precariousness of the world and the economy at the beginning of 2021 made her nervous, and she wondered if she was going to have to make some difficult business decisions. Knowing she had a solid network of women to lean on helped quell the anxiety and gave her confidence that she could overcome any problems that arose. Contrary to what you might expect during a pandemic, July 2020 was the best month in Ebby Halliday’s 75-year history, and 2020 was one of their best years.
This was the first time in a year that Malinda and Amy had been in the same room, as the pandemic put a damper on their rowdy family gatherings, and certainly did not allow for international travel plans. You would never guess it, though, as both women immediately fell into step, sharing stories and finishing each other’s sentences. They’re the big sisters you wish you had, and the humble leaders you aspire to be. Amy and Malinda have been told their relationship is a lot like their fathers’, and they like to think they’re carrying on a special part of their family’s legacy. Malinda and Amy hope they can model for the next generation of family members what it looks like to be a leader in a family, a workplace, and a community. They’re both working to increase their business — expanding their professional footprint with statewide and even regional growth. But the greatest impact they’ll make on the industry will not come from how many houses they’ve sold, or how many offices they’ve opened, but in their generous spirit, servant leadership, and the way they continue to leave every person they meet better than they found them.
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Malinda Brownlee Howell