Times are tough in real estate, but you'd hardly know it at Manis & Wright.

In fact, things are looking up for Nicholas G. Manis and David L. Wright, boyhood friends who started their own firm three years ago in Annapolis.

When they opened their second-floor office on West Street, "it was Dave and myself and the plants," recalls Manis, broker and vice president.

With no money for secretaries or janitors, the Realtors filed their own letters and emptied their own trash. But from the start, they didn't hurt for business. Manis remembers writing a sales contract the day they opened their doors.

Today, Manis & Wright Realtyemploys 25 agents. The company settled into spacious, first-floor offices on Forest Drive in mid-December. And the firm plans to add 10 more agents.

Manis, 33, and Wright, 40, both sons of attorneys, grew up one block apart in Annapolis' Homewood neighborhood. Their pathsseparated but took similar courses.

Each played lacrosse in college, Manis at the University of Maryland and Wright at Denison University in Ohio. Each got real estate licenses. Later, they played lacrosse together for a local Annapolis club.

In the late 1970s, Wright sold real estate for Chris Coile, president of Champion Realty, then managed a Merrill Lynch office in Edgewater for two years. When that office closed because of the early 1980s recession, Wright began selling property again for Merrill Lynch.

In 1986, Wright began talking with Manis about starting their own business. Manis, who got his real estate license while working as a Nike regional sales representative in Maryland and Delaware, left the shoe company to work for developer Ira Bloom.

When Manis and Wright opened their first office in January 1989, the development boom years had begun to slow down. Manis recalls people saying, "Nick and Dave, you're crazy. Why are you going into the real estate business now?"

But each year, they say, the firm met or exceeded projected sales and hired new agents.

Evenlast year, one of the worst for residential and commercial property sales and leasings, "we managed to hold our own, while other companies were folding," said Wright, the firm's president.

They've done so, he said, by watching expenses, adding agents and increasing the number of listings.

"Listings are always the lifeblood of a business," Wright said. "If you have a listing inventory, you'll have sales. Because of our local roots or knowledge, we never had difficulty in attracting good, sellable listing inventory."

Also, the firm can offer a more personalized service than some larger companies, the Realtors say. Manis insists he and his partner want to keep the firm smallenough to keep doing so.

For instance, the entire staff tours allnew listings once a week, so any agent can discuss any property withpotential clients.

"We're personally aware of every listing and every sale," Wright said.

The realty lists about 50 resale homes and more than 100 new homes in Quarterfield Farms in Severn and Hunt Meadows and Ambridge in Annapolis.

Manis & Wright lists 70 percent residential properties and 30 percent commercial, with the bulk of sales in previously owned homes in the $125,000 to $175,000 range -- mainly in Annapolis or North County.

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