Don Tarbell, founder of Tarbell Realty, dies

His OC-based firm, a pioneer in bundling real estate services, grew to 57 offices and 4,000 agents

Don Tarbell of Tarbell Realty (Facebook)
Don Tarbell of Tarbell Realty (Facebook)

Don Tarbell, founder of the Orange County-based real estate firm that grew to 57 offices and nearly 4,000 sales agents before it was sold to Berkshire Hathaway, has died, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. He was 91.

His Tarbell Realty was built on full-page newspaper ads, bundled real estate services, nurturing new agents and on the Broadway spectaculars staged at its holiday awards banquets.

“He was ahead of his time on so many things,” said Deborah Stine, a longtime marketing executive for Tarbell. “He had this innate sense of knowing where the market was going and what to do next.”

Don Tarbell was born in Oregon in 1930. He moved to Los Angeles in 1955 to study at USC. He and wife Betsy then expanded the Portland-based real estate firm founded in 1926 by his father, Frank Tarbell.

He was 25 years old when the couple started ringing doorbells, pulling a little wagon filled with handouts and looking for homes to sell. Before long, they’d grown his father’s business 10-fold in Southern California.

By the late ’60s, their Santa Ana-based Tarbell Realty had 10 offices, covering Torrance, Westchester and Palos Verdes alongside the fast developing region of Orange County.

The Tarbell name soon became known for camaraderie, and its ability to train and celebrate a growing pool of real estate agents, many recruited from off the street.

Many credited Tarbell for launching them into the business. They hailed his marketing genius and his leadership – a mentor who was kind, nurturing and always thoughtful of family.

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“I’ll never forget his smile and his saying ‘if you have the choice of doing an open house or going to your child’s baseball game, go to the game. There will be another open house but only one game,’” recalled Caroll Olivares who works at ERA Donahoe Realty in Temecula.

By 1964, Tarbell was expanding into the escrow, title and mortgage business, funneling clients into those ancillary services.
“For years, Tarbell was considered an industry standard for bundling services,” Pat Veling, president of real estate consulting firm, Real Data Strategies, told the newspaper.

He also loved a good party. Beginning in 2001, he began renting venues like the Disneyland Hotel Grand Ballroom, where he’d feature Broadway musicals, circus acts and the Rockettes at holiday award galas for Tarbell and his real estate team.

The three Tarbell children also joined the business. The 93-year-old Tarbell Realty was sold in 2019 to Berkshire Hathaway, which picked up its last 20 offices, 1,000 agents and an escrow company.

Joe McGowan, a former president with the company, said the outpouring from friends and former colleagues reminded him of the magnificent reach of Don Tarbell.

“Don‘s legacy will live on in the countless lives he touched and causes he supported,” he said.

[LADN] – Dana Bartholomew