BERRYVILLE — When you love what you do, you stick with it, real estate agent Jim Barb reasons.
Yet 50 years is a long time for anyone to have a single career. Studies show the average length of time that people stay in one job nowadays is only 4½ to 5 years.
Observing different housing styles and working with different people, and never having two days exactly alike, are what Barb enjoys about his business and keeps him going.
Houses used to be simply built, and some still are. Over the years, though, houses have taken on more complex architectural designs accommodating the wishes of specific buyers. No longer do people just want a roof over their heads, but they also want specific exterior and interior appearances they find pleasing and amenities making their day-to-day living more comfortable and efficient.
Comfort is what makes a house a home. And homes today are "much easier to live in" than ones built decades ago, Barb said.
His daily itinerary frequently includes meeting with various customers and consulting with different contractors, inspectors, financial lenders and others involved in the process of buying and selling houses.
Because of the variety of people and tasks he encounters, "I never get bored," he said, smiling.
Despite being born at the old Winchester hospital, Barb considers himself a Clarke County native, having moved to the county when he was young. He's a graduate of Clarke County High School.
He began his professional life as a computer analyst for the federal government at the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center on the Clarke/Loudoun county line. That was when computers filled up enormous amounts of space and were slow to process even simple commands.
"I'm into the technology thing," Barb said. He mentioned, for example, technology now enabling buyers to take tours of prospective homes online. Although many people still prefer to visit houses in person, the virtual showings have helped homebuyers tremendously during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
"I think it's going to stick around," he added.
Spending his days pushing buttons at Mount Weather, he felt a yearning to work within the community and be around people other than his coworkers.
In his youth, Barb became interested in property matters after his father bought a farm on Parshall Road (Route 608) in 1948. As some of the land was subdivided and sold to others, he helped to install surveyor's stakes.
"When you grow up on a farm, you develop an appreciation for the land," he said. Plus, "I have an appreciation for houses. It all came together, I think."
Barb, 80, entered the real estate business after obtaining his license in 1971.
"I started working in it, and I found out I really liked it," he said.
But as his business increased, he felt like he was working two full-time jobs.
"I knew I was going to have to give something up," Barb said.
He decided to scoot down the mountain. He went into real estate full time in 1978.
Forty-three years later, Jim Barb Realty Inc. has a staff of 12 at its headquarters on West Main Street in Berryville and a satellite office on Millwood Pike in Winchester.
Employees recently threw Barb a party to celebrate his half-century milestone in the business.
One of his coworkers is his wife, Margaret. They've been married for 58 years. She joined the firm in 1985.
He has no intentions of slowing down, let alone retiring, as long as he remains in good health.
Of his four-page résumé, 3½ pages list numerous professional and civic associations in which Barb has been involved throughout the years, as well as some honors he's received. Among those honors, he was named Realtor of the Year by the Blue Ridge Association of Realtors in 1983 and CRB (certified real estate brokerage manager) of the Year by the Virginia Association of Realtors in 1996.
In his spare time, he's been as devoted to community service as he's been to his career. Last year, Berryville Town Council honored Barb for serving on the Berryville Architectural Review Board for almost 30 years. In 2019, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors honored him for serving almost 20 years on the county's Economic Development Advisory Committee.
In addition, Barb was on the Clarke County School Board from 1981 to 1985 and the county's Equalization Board in 2002. He's been a member of the Clarke County Lions Club since 1969, having served as its president in 1982.
He has three daughters, seven grandchildren and four great-granchildren; his degrees from Shenandoah and Shepherd Colleges, as they were known during the 1960s; and his six months of active duty and 5½ years in the reserves of the U.S. Army National Guard during that decade.
"I've tried to participate in as much as I could," Barb said.
Clarke County is a special place, he believes, because it's a rural oasis amid a sea of urban development in surrounding localities.
He predicts that Clarke's population will grow as more people become able to do their jobs at home via the internet.
Newer residents "come here because they want to get out of those urban areas" and go somewhere it's more peaceful, said Barb. "A much better quality of life is what I think people are seeking today."
In turn, there's a heavy demand for homes locally, which drives up prices and housing values.
According to his firm's website, Berryville's median home value is $430,745 and Clarke's is $402,500. Those figures are far greater than the nationwide median home value of $277,796.
Noting two new subdivisions under construction in Berryville, Barb said he anticipates seeing more housing developed in the county, particularly in areas served by public water and sewer systems.
He'll be happy to sell it to families, if he has the opportunity.
But measures established to control growth — such as sliding-scale zoning and conservation easements — should keep the county from becoming too urbanized, he said.