The Land Man: Meet REX Real Estate’s Rex Glendenning
By Brandon J. Call (Executive editor for D CEO magazine)
The Land Man: Meet REX Real Estate’s Rex Glendenning
Land broker Rex Glendenning has patiently waited for activity to extend to the far north, where his family first settled a century ago.
By Brandon J. Call | |Portraits by Sean Berry
Rex Glendenning loves the land he grew up on. His appreciation and reverence run deep. So do his roots. Glendenning’s great-grandfather, Alexander, first settled in West Celina after immigrating from Scotland in 1887. Alexander was the beneficiary of the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted new immigrants to the United States a 160-acre plot of public land to settle. He would work from sunup to sundown to put food on the table and provide for his wife and 11 children.
Glendenning’s grandfather, Thomas John, was in the womb during the family’s voyage from Scotland to America. He was born in Texas in October of 1887. Family lore maintains that by age 14, Thomas John (affectionately known as Daddy Tom) had amassed some 40 mules. “That was how you measured success,” Glendenning says. “My grandfather dropped out of school in the eighth grade to work, but he developed a reputation for being one of the hardest workers in Collin County.”
Some of Glendenning’s earliest memories growing up on the family farm involve waking up at daybreak to help in the cotton fields. “By the time I’d get up at 6, my grandfather would have already been out there working for at least an hour,” Glendenning remembers. “He’d always tell me, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ So that’s where I think I gathered some of my work ethic.”
The young Glendenning followed behind the cotton stripper to pick up the green bolls that would fall on the ground. His job was to dump the unripe bolls on a trailer in the sun and then diligently flip them every day or two with a pitchfork until they finally opened. “Whatever that cotton yielded, I’d take it to the gin, and that would be my pay for the summer,” Glendenning says. “One year, my brothers and I split $150, and, boy, did we think we were rich. That was a lot of money back then.”
When it came time for Glendenning to leave home for college, his father, Don, told him that if he got a scholarship, he’d have a brand-new car to take to school. If not, his father said he’d have to find his own transport.
Glendenning says his brother, Don Mark, got the brains of the family, being accepted to every Ivy League school except Harvard, and ultimately graduated from Stanford Law School. (He’s now a senior partner at Dallas-based firm Locke Lorde.) His other brother, Craig (now a real estate developer in San Antonio), was a star athlete who was heavily recruited out of high school and ultimately attended Texas A&M on a full-ride football scholarship.
Fortunately for Glendenning, he’d gain enough weight his senior year to help lead Celina High School to its first state championship in 1974. His 26-tackle performance in the championship game caught the eyes of scouts, and Glendenning ultimately accepted a scholarship to play football at North Texas State (now the University of North Texas) under the legendary coach Hayden Fry. Glendenning drove his 1976 White Pontiac Grand Prix to Denton that fall. “It was a chick magnet,” he says.
After graduating from North Texas, Glendenning’s first job out of school was selling land in Collin County for Dan Christie. Back in those days, the Texas Veterans Land Board granted $20,000 for veterans to buy rural property. So, each weekend, Glendenning drove into the country office and waited for the veterans to show up. The experience gave him the perfect opportunity to hone his sales skills: “I’d drive around and show some properties,” he says. “I’d talk about the history, tell some stories about growing up in the area, and then drive back and get a contract signed. My wife, Sherese, was my secretary, and she’d type up the contract. And then we’d do it all over again the following weekend.”
Glendenning sold 43 properties to veterans in 1981. The entire commission was $1,200, and he split it with his boss. “I learned that if I could sell someone a $20,000 plot of land, I could sell a $2 million property,” Glendenning recalls.
Knowing he didn’t want to follow a corporate track in commercial real estate, Glendenning founded a land brokerage called North Texas Land Cos. with his brother, Craig. By 1986, though, the market began to cool, and the company faltered. Broke and discouraged, Glendenning received encouragement from broker Robert Grunnah Sr., who was with rival firm Henry S. Miller Cos. at the time. “By then, we had done a few deals together, and he was known as the seasoned veteran broker who had been around the block a few times,” Glendenning says. “He picked up the phone and said, ‘Rex, you’re an up-and-coming young gun in this industry. It’d be a shame if you called it quits now. You need to stay with it.’ He gave me the pep talk I needed.”
Grunnah, now with Younger Partners, says he remembers the conversation well. “Rex is someone I saw a lot of potential in,” he says. “I admired his skills and called to remind him that everything in real estate is cyclical. What goes down must come up again, and he’d be just fine if he stuck it out.”
Glendenning and Sherese founded REX Real Estate in 1987. And just as Grunnah predicted, the market began to improve. “We were plum broke, and my wife and I rolled up our sleeves and worked our way out of a very deep hole,” Glendenning says. “I’m proud that we’ve built our company over the past three decades into the name brand it is today in the commercial and investment real estate brokerage business.”
To this day, Sherese helps maintain the books for the company—and for the farmhouse and 156 acres they bought in 1991. Together, they’d go on to raise three kids and a small herd of Longhorns.
“In the real estate business, you pay your overhead, you pay Uncle Sam, and you pay everybody, and then whatever I had I left, I would buy land,” Glendenning says. “I did that for about 30 years.”
Glendenning has learned more than a few lessons in his career that made him the broker he is today. First and foremost, he says ethics are of the utmost importance and that young brokers should strive to do business with honorable folks. “My dad used to say, ‘Son, if you hang around with shit long enough, you’re going to get some on you,’” he says.
He got his boots-on-the-ground training during college when he accompanied his dad on business trips to Louisiana and Mississippi to buy farm equipment. Ever the sponge, Glendenning listened to his father negotiate, haggle, and trade to make a deal. “I learned many of my people skills from my father, the stuff you can’t learn in textbooks,” he recalls. “Negotiation skills. When to take a cigarette break. The right thing to say at just the right moment. When to give a little and when to stand firm. That all came from watching my dad work.”
Glendenning and his father had a unique calling card for when they finally reached a handshake deal. “In those days, Coors wasn’t available east of the Mississippi River,” he says. “We’d stop at the Cork and Bottle liquor store before the Louisiana state line on our way out of town and buy eight or 10 cases of Coors and put them in our trunk. Then, we’d go from one dealership to another meeting with managers. I always knew when we were getting close to a deal because my dad would kind of wink at me, and then I’d go and put one of those cases of Coors in the manager’s front seat.”
It’s no surprise that Glendenning has built a reputation for going above and beyond for his clients, helping to rezone, creating municipal improvement zones or land easements, and more to ensure smooth transactions. As a result, he has built up a company where he says 75 to 80 percent of business is repeat. He also tells investors that if they ever want to divest the land they’re buying, they should use his brokerage. This strategy has led Glendenning to negotiate the sale of a single piece of property in Frisco a record 13 times. “A lot of brokers, once they close the deal, they’re gone,” he says. “That’s not me; That’s not what I’ve built my reputation on.”
Glendenning says his best advice to emerging real estate pros is to listen more and focus on developing people skills and relationships. “As a broker, you’ve got to carry around a doctor’s bag and act like a psychiatrist,” he says. “You must learn how to make everyone feel good about what’s going down and how they’re being treated in a deal. They’ve all got to feel like they’re the most special person in the world. A client always wants to know that everything is OK, and if they call at 11 o’clock at night, you’d better be there to answer the phone to reassure them.”
After more than four decades in real estate, Glendenning is being honored with the Legacy Award in D CEO’s 2023 Power Brokers program. Later this year, he will be inducted into the North Texas Commercial Association of Realtors Hall of Fame. They’re high-profile honors for someone who largely operates under the radar, despite orchestrating many of DFW’s most notable developments, including Frisco Bridges, Granite Park, Viridian, Trophy Club, The Gates of Prosper, and more.
One of Glendenning’s biggest deals involved moving the Dallas Cowboys headquarters from Irving to Frisco and establishing the iconic project now known as The Star. “When I found out Nebraska Furniture Mart was headed to The Colony, I looked for other big opportunities for that prime piece of land,” Glendenning says of the property in Frisco. “With my business partner Matthew Kiran, we had our architect draw up plans for a mixed-use project and headquarters.” The next day, the duo took the plans to Stephen Jones. Within 72 hours of their aha moment, Glendenning and Kiran were sitting down with Jerry Jones in Highland Park. Within 30 days, they signed a memo of understanding between the buyer (Jones) and the seller (the city of Frisco). They were able to close the deal in 60 days. And the rest is history.
Glendenning has patiently waited for progress to move ever closer to the far northern regions where his family first settled more than 100 years ago. Along the way, he has learned lessons from the visionary clients and investors he has worked with. “I have been shot at and hit; I have enough lead in my ass to make a cannonball,” Glendenning quips.
He originally estimated that Celina would be ready to sustain a large-scale mixed-use development by 2030, but when COVID-19 sped up housing development in the area at never-before-seen rates, Glendenning now says that payoff is closer to 2024 or 2025.
The timeline coincides with the Dallas North Tollway expansion that’s currently underway. Frontage roads now extend all the way north to the Grayson County line. A bridge over U.S. 380 is expected to open within the next 90 days, and soon, new bids will open and construction will begin on the next phase, which will expand the tollway to six lanes all the way north to F.M. 428. A roughly five-mile stretch of the roadway now bears the name Glendenning Parkway. “It’s an honor not only for me but for my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father,” the broker says.
Glendenning is busy on infrastructure improvements to prime acreage he owns along the planned tollway expansion. The project doesn’t yet have a name, but that’s when Glendenning’s dream will truly come to fruition. That’s when he’ll build his legacy project in the place where he grew up. That’s when he’ll know he has made it. “When you broker deal after deal for 3 percent, you hope that one day not too far off, there’s a deal for you to make,” he says. “That’s when you’re the guy, finally, after 43 years of waiting.”