As real estate markets have changed throughout the years, the one thing that Rehoboth Bay Realty owner TJ Redefer has been able to rely on to help sell or rent a listing is his photographic eye.
“I always thought of myself as an artist. I’ve always been taking pictures, but real estate has given me an opportunity to take pictures that I wasn’t expecting,” he said.
Redefer's passion for photography began as a young man, spending summers in Dewey.
His grandfather, John Redefer, was a realtor, and when he held open houses, TJ would take pictures.
“I would sit there, and I could see the angles and light the owners loved about the home, even if they were trying to sell it,” said Redefer. “I always had fun with that.”
Redefer, 52, grew up in Philadelphia, but he was born at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes and spent every summer of his childhood in Dewey Beach.
Dewey Beach was a different place during his childhood, he said. His hair would turn strawberry blond because of the copper pipes in the cabins. He watched the moon landing at his grandfather’s house because it was the only television in the neighborhood. There was only one cabin with a phone.
“My grandfather wouldn’t believe how things have changed around here,” he said. “He wouldn’t believe the value that things are today.”
Redefer is clearly proud of his family's connection to Dewey Beach. The first thing a person sees when sitting down in his office are the pictures of family members who have been coming to the small town bordered by water to the east and west for nearly 100 years.
In 1925, Redefer's great grandfather, George A. Mcmahon, his sons and a son-in-law, purchased land in Dewey Beach and turned it into Rehoboth By the Sea. Inspired by little white cottages he had seen in Florida, his great grandfather decided to get people from Wilmington or Philadelphia to come to the beach at a reasonable price, Redefer said.
The cottages Mcmahon built were 20 feet by 20 feet, made of knotty pine, had a screened porch, half a bath and an outdoor shower.
“It was all you needed in his opinion. And they were well constructed,” said Redefer, adding that a couple are still standing on New Orleans Street.
After the Great Depression and then World War II, Mcmahon thought a better approach for the property would be to lease the land, which he did at $350 a year.
“It wasn’t about bringing rich people to the beach,” said Redefer, a man with a handshake meant to seal a deal and smile that says he's loving every minute of working in a beach community. “My family has a tradition of trying to bring people to beach who weren’t brought up going to the beach. There's something special down here, and he wanted to figure out a way to get people to enjoy it.”
Redefer moved to Dewey Beach full-time in the 1980s and opened Rehoboth Bay Realty Co. in 1986 with his dad. There were two locations – Dewey Beach and Peddler’s Village on Route 24.
By that point, the beach areas were beginning to get expensive, so the father and son team focused their attention on the Angola Bay area – a place where for $50,000 people could get the vacation amenities they wanted and still be close to the beach.
“Dad’s focus was to find affordable ways to bring people down here. It was a fun way for my father to be able to do what his father did,” said Redefer, with a genuine look in his eyes. It was a look that said, "I can still remember the good ol' days."
The company currently has one location, on the north side of Route 1 in Dewey at the fork with King Charles Avenue. The building is fashioned after a life saving station.
Redefer describes the company as a real estate boutique and prefers to stay small.
“We need to make a living, but there are sales and listings we don’t take. We don’t need the problems,” he said.
Redefer’s newest photographic tool is a DJI Phantom quadcopter. It’s a device with four rotors, controlled from the ground, with a camera attached and a gimbal that prevents vibration.
“This is something I’m doing to enhance my business. If you take a picture of a house from 40 or 50 feet in the air, it gives people a better shot of the home and the surrounding properties,” he said.
Redefer has also been using the quadcopter to photograph more than houses. Rising 3,000 feet in the air to vantage points only a bird should be able to get to, Redefer's quadcopter has captured photos of Dewey Beach, Indian River Inlet bridge, the Sea Witch Festival and the Polar Bear Plunge.
Redefer said the quadcopter can sometimes bring unwanted attention, including one time when it flew over the courthouse in Georgetown. Redefer wanted a closeup of the ornate detail on the weathervanes, so he set up shop in The Circle and directed the copter over the courthouse.
Shortly afterwards security came out and told him to stop.
He also flew the quadcopter near Cape Henlopen High School, taking video of a perfect sunrise over the barn that sits across King's Highway from the Cape Henlopen District Office. A yellow Camaro drove by and he thought it would be a great way to finish off the video. The car drove into the high school parking lot, Redefer flew over the car, landed the quadcopter and packed up, not thinking anything more about it. The next thing he knew, he was reading a story in the Cape Gazette about a drone flying over the school while kids were arriving.
“There is a negative side and I'm still learning,” he said.
For the most part, the quadcopter is well received.
“Fortunately, we live in a beach area were people tend to think it’s interesting,” he said. “People love this silly thing.”
Redefer knows the new tool won't sell a house or get an ocean front property rented by itself, but he also knows it's something, that for the time being, sets his business apart from others - and in a competitive market everything helps.
“This is something that's pretty powerful for real estate," he said. "If you can show a house from the sky, it's incredibly amazing."