Say "recession" to real estate broker Chris Coile and you won't hearthe usual gloom and doom.

"Recession -- a challenge, not a handicap," says Champion Realty Inc.'s president.

Despite one of the real estate business' worst years, Champion has continued to expand. On Friday, the agency opened its first North County office, on Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie.

Last year, Champion increased sales 27 percent over 1990. And so far this year, sales have exceeded any January sales in the agency's five-year history, Coile said.

The agency now handles more new homes than any other area real estate company, representing 36 subdivisions in Annapolis, Pasadena, Severna Park, Davidsonville, Arnold, Millersville, Baltimore County, Kent Island and Severn. Homes fall in the $80,000 to upper $300,000 price range.

In the early 1980s, Coile sold Chris Coile and Associates, the statewide real estate empire he'd created over two decades, to Merrill Lynch. He left Maryland to become a rancher in Montana.

He returned five years later and built Champion from a single-office, 10-agent firm to one with seven offices and more than 400 agents.

He attributed his success and first expansion since February1990 to "the best interest rate in 27 years, the best selection of inventory of properties and the most realistic sellers in recent years."

While other firms have merged, retrenched or closed, "we at Champion have a different philosophy," said Mylin Barr, a Champion vice president and former president of the Anne Arundel County Associationof Realtors Inc.

"While we are as prudent as any sensible person in spending our marketing and operating dollars, we're not waiting for a future upturn of the market or for the telephones to ring," Barr said.

Coile said new homes in Severn, Odenton and Baltimore County-- along with the preponderance of affordable homes in Glen Burnie and Brooklyn Park and dense population north of Severna Park -- convinced him it was time to open a North County office.

Dominic Cantalupo, former manager of Gary Hart and Associates in Catonsville and of Coldwell Banker-Elite Properties in Glen Burnie, will manage the new office, handling properties in Glen Burnie, Odenton, Severn, BrooklynPark, Baltimore and Catonsville.

Cantalupo plans to recruit about40 agents for that office. He's brought in 15 so far. Coile's reputation has always drawn some of the best-known agents, he said.

Agents have been attracted by Coile's dedication and accessibility, a state-of-the-art computer system and the company's expansion over the years into relocation services, marketing and commercial investment, Barr said.

"The excitement brings the agents, and the agents bring the business," Barr said.

Champion also has offices in Severna Park, Annapolis, Arnold, Pasadena and Kent Island.

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