From West Point to West Washington: Local realtor makes her mark in the downtown condo market

Debby Dines, owner of Dines, Inc., knows how to march in step and salute smartly, but she’s also learned how to lead in a number of fields.

Dines was raised in the small town of West Farmington, Ohio. Her mother was a high school math teacher, and her father was a factory worker with an entrepreneurial spirit who later opened his own shop. For a while, daughter Debby worked alongside him, operating machinery and serving as his administrative assistant until her junior year of high school, when she developed her own entrepreneurial spirit. “I was incredibly patriotic as a kid,” Dines recalled, “so the notion of the service was very appealing to me.”

Graduating at age 17, Dines went directly into the summer training program at West Point Military Academy. But first, she had to pass a physical exam and aptitude test and be nominated by a member of Congress. 

She was the first person from her tiny West Farmington, Ohio, school ever to attend West Point. 

Like all West Point cadets, Dines earned a degree in engineering. She studied languages, specifically Portuguese, German, and French, as her second required field of study. “Now I can speak English,” Dines laughed. She also drove tanks, shot Howitzers, jumped out of airplanes, trained soldiers, and became a sharpshooter.

After graduating, she served in the U.S. Army for seven and a half years, mostly at Fort Eustis in Virginia, and in the mid-1990s she deployed to both Somalia and Haiti. 

Promoted to captain, Dines moved to Montana, where she commanded 37 men at eight military recruiting stations statewide. The job offered her more freedom than she’d previously had, and she began longing for the civilian lifestyle. Leaving the Army, though, was very hard. “I was shot at twice while in conflict. There were injuries and evacuations I had to deal with. You never know if you’ll come back, so you develop strong bonds,” she said.

But she eventually did leave after connecting with a firm that recruits top military talent, and landed the Kraft/Oscar Mayer job that brought her to Madison. During her seven years there, she also earned an MBA at UW-Madison. 

Her life changed when she designed and bought her first downtown condo in 1999. She was hooked. “For fun, I started tracking the value of my condo and studied every condo project that went up downtown, until one day a friend just suggested I go into real estate. The seed was planted.”

Dines loved the downtown lifestyle. “I never had a lot of free time,” she said. “But suddenly, I could walk to a museum or go to dinner. I became much more active and physically fit.”

She joined First Weber Realtors, which at the time was the only real estate company with a downtown office, and she continued to focus on her downtown niche. “I was doing a lot of business downtown,” she said. “Eventually I thought, if I’m going to spend this much effort downtown, I might as well do it on my own.” 

In 2008, she started Dines, Inc., just as the market bottomed out. “I walked into it knowing it would be a tough road, but I like to turn things around,” she said.

When Metropolitan Place on West Washington Avenue went into receivership, Dines, Inc., took over 100 units in phase II. “Metropolitan Place was our first big [project], with $25 million to $30 million in inventory,” she said. Today, just 12 units remain unsold.

In January of 2011, the Alexander Co. asked Dines’ company to handle the sale of 82 units in its Capitol West project across the street. “That’s another fantastic turnaround story,” she said. Only 11 units remain there.

Fast-forward to 2013, which has been a banner year. 

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“We’re running out of inventory now,” Dines said. “We’ve had phenomenal years, but this year has been exceptional. Through July, we already have over $30 million in property transactions on the books [buyers and sellers]. Prior to this, $21 million was our best full year. We’ve embraced this. We sell what we love.” 

In fact, she said, the entire downtown condo market has seen a 68% increase in activity through the first six months of the year.

Dines, 44, now owns two downtown condos and rents the extra one out. “Moving downtown wasn’t about working less, but living more,” she said.

“It was a huge epiphany for me.”

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