Hoffman grew up in Dallas. A year into East Texas State, she started selling real estate on the side. Before long she was making a living. Hoffman sold average-sized houses for a decade or so, gradually discovering that she had a taste for the exotic. In 1984, she sold the Troy Post home at the corner of Park and Inwood. At the time, the highest price for a house sold in Dallas was $2 million. Other agents had told the owner that he’d be lucky to get $2.5 million. Hoffman said she could get more—and she did. She sold the house for $5.2 million to Jack Pratt, the owner of Pratt Hotels. Since then, Hoffman has sold spec houses for $4 million, horse farms in Kentucky for $6 million, and estates in Ireland.
Hoffman got the listing on Greystone because the owners thought she was the only broker who could sell it. For almost $9 million, the buyer gets a world-class hunting ranch two hours west of Dallas and a turreted castle that serves as the lodge and ranch headquarters. In addition to sporting clay courses, Greystone kennels 25 to 30 English pointers and can accommodate as many guests. Presently, it operates as a private and corporate retreat. Deer hunts start at $4,000 and sell out early.
Greystone was the dream of Jack Daughtery, founder of the Cash America pawnshop chain. Daughtery spent millions acquiring and improving the property, but when his business soured, he was forced to sell. The castle sat unfinished. The current owners completed it and instituted a game management program that monitors red stag, blackbuck antelope, aoudad sheep, and elk. For bird hunts, Greystone imports pheasant, chukkar, Hungarian partridge, and quail.
In the booth next to Hoffman, an outfitter from the Northern Territories of Australia leaves his sales video running. It features a client stalking an Asiatic buffalo in heavy brush. Every couple of minutes, I hear a familiar pattern of shots and know that the great beast is down. After hearing the final blast sequence for the 30th time, I walk over. “What are you using?” I ask.
“Remington 416,” he says, “with a 400-grain, swift, A-frame bullet.”
Marilyn Hoffman hunts her clients with four-color brochures that invariably have gold trim around the borders. The brochures make liberal use of “World’s Finest,” “World Class,” and “World Famous.” Of her 22 current listings, Hoffman is selling the “Finest Townhouse in Kentucky,” “Dallas’ Finest Townhouse,” a “World Famous Texas Cattle Ranch,” and Greystone, billed as the “Finest Hunting Ranch in Texas.” Of the listings displayed in her booth, only one is priced less than $1 million; the rest are listed between $2 million and $7 million. The most expensive, “The Ultimate Texas Ranch” located near San Antonio complete with a show barn that seats 325, is a bargain at $11 million.
Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I tell Hoffman that if I were a buyer, I’d snatch a brochure and bolt. “Sometimes,” she whispers, “it is better if we’re not here. Some people don’t want the pressure.” Just then, a man walks up. No khaki. No camouflage. No leather or fur. Hoffman pounces. Point blank, she asks if Greystone is big enough for him. Might be, he says. In the space of two minutes, Hoffman discovers that the man has a jet. A big jet. Hoffman is not uncomfortable around such people. The man signs her book and leaves. She walks back over to me.
“Whenever we do a show,” she says,”we go to the private airports and stock the lobbies with brochures every couple of days.” Andrews overhears this and throws Hoffman a sideways look. “What?” Hoffman says to her. “That’s no secret.”
Hoffman takes her brochures everywhere. If she came to your house for dinner, she’d leave townhouses under the placemats and lakehouses in the playroom. “Here’s what I do,” she tells me after I flinch at learning that she takes brochures to formal parties. “I pull up to the front door. I give the valet a big tip and tell him that I want to leave my car right there. I go back and forth all night. I put brochures in the bathrooms and leave them at the buffet table. My loyalty is to my customer. I’m not worried what people think of me.”
The worrying may have stopped long ago. When Hoffman was 16, she put her quarterhorse up for sale. A father and daughter came to look at it. Hoffman explained to them that the horse was trained to respond to the rider’s leg movements. Perhaps the girl couldn’t control her knees, because the horse bucked her off. “I told the father that her getting bucked off accentuated how well the horse was trained,” Hoffman says. The man bought the horse.
No one bought Greystone on Saturday, so I go back on Sunday an hour before the show ends. Most of the booths are already closed down, run off by bad weather and the Super Bowl. Monument Springs Lodge is gone, as is Benders Outdoor Adventures of Castle Green, Mo. Hoffman isn’t in her booth, but Andrews and another associate are straightening brochures, stacking glasses, and still hunting a hunter for Greystone. “Where’s Marilyn?” I ask.
“She’s down in booth 501,” they tell me. “She’s getting a listing.” As I walk away, they yell to me. “We’ve got three people interested in Greystone, and we may have another place sold.”
I find Hoffman walking back toward the booth. She’s traded in the previous day’s black Annie Oakley outfit for a tan Annie Oakley outfit with a suede collar and matching cuffs. “When I went to the party last night,” she says, “I took my brochures. Like always.” Hoffman points to my convention badge. “I met the man who owns that company.” One of the sponsors is a maker of binoculars and riflescopes. “He gave me a listing on his house in Boston for $800,000.”
When the show finally closes, Hoffman and Andrews pack up their brochures and displays. The next stop is a horse show in Scottsdale, Ariz. Maybe they’ll find a hunter there, or someone who knows a hunter. It’s all about making connections, hustling, being flexible, and giving out brochures.
On my way out of the hall, I spot the hyena lady splayed out in a director’s chair. “Did you sell it?” I ask.
“Traded it,” she grins. “To the fur guy. I told him, ’I’ll swap you the black bear and the hyena for a fur coat.’ He said ’that’s a deal.’” Someone walks up and asks the hyena lady about the trade. It’s the talk of the east concourse. “Yeah,” she says. “They’re making me a hood and some earmuffs, too.”