“I grew up in a trailer park in the Raleigh-Durham area; I was around a lot of people who just accepted their destiny. But then as I got into sports in junior high. I had some more affluent friends, and I saw one kid had his own bedroom. This family had two cars, and I thought, ‘Why can’t I do that?’,” said Hunt, leader of the Hunt and Associates team at Dunes Real Estate. “I heard my friend’s father talking about how he bought a rental house and how someone was going to pay him money to stay there, and how someone else’s money will pay off the house. And it just hit me. I didn’t understand why that couldn’t be me.”
Hunt has been buying and selling real estate for the past 30 years, but he made it his full-time career focus once he moved to Hilton Head Island in 2006. Fifteen years later, with inventory scarce and many Realtors throwing up a white flag of retreat, Hunt had the best year of his career in 2021, his fifth straight year leading Dunes Real Estate producers with close to 100 properties sold and $78 million in sales. That’s coming off a stellar 2020, where he closed on 87 properties and $35 million in sales.
“There is opportunity in any market. It’s all about being tenacious enough to be out there and finding solutions. Find the agents that have the properties, pound the pavement,” he said. “When you come from my beginnings, you realize hard work and outworking everyone else is the absolute key. I work with my clients to clearly identify their goals and then just turn any problem into a solution. The work that comes with a market like this is going to scare off a lot of the folks who thought this was an easy paycheck. But I’ve been out there working it in every kind of market, so I’m relentless for my clients.”
Relentlessness is in his DNA. Hunt thought sports was going to be his ticket to college and a better life. His football coaches thought he would also make a good wrestler, and they weren’t wrong. But he suffered a broken back at a state wrestling tourney that ended the pursuit of his college football dreams.
“It was the single best thing that ever happened to me. It made me think realistically about what was next, what’s the route to get out now?” He tried college for a year but could not afford it. He’d always had a fascination with airplanes and how they work, so he decided to scrape up $1,000 for aircraft school.
“I didn’t have $1,000, so I went to my aunt and uncle behind my parents’ back and sold them on my plan. They each gave me $500, and it totally changed my life,” he said. “But I was always behind in paying for classes no matter how hard I worked. There was one woman in the bursar’s office, Vicky Mabe. She could have kicked me out eight different times, but she saw me cleaning cars at Hertz, saw I had this dream. And so she let me stay, got me to graduation even though I was still behind on payments. To have someone believe in me, to lift me up, was everything. I paid them off right quick, got a job at Piedmont Aerospace. But none of that was possible without all the folks who gave me that chance to stay in the game.”
Hunt worked for Piedmont, which morphed into Eastern and then U.S. Air, for 25 years. He was smart with his money, bought, sold, and rented properties while also opening a pair of businesses in the Charlotte area.
Life took an abrupt downturn after his first marriage ended in a bitter breakup. After years of visiting Hilton Head Island on weekends, Hunt decided to head here for a fresh start in 2006.
“I came here, fresh off a divorce, and I had lost everything. But I knew that I knew real estate and relationships, and I put it to work here,” Hunt said. “A woman I worked with had a sister; I actually met her while she was on her second date with another guy. I just started talking to them—definitely butted in. We talked for five hours that night.”
That woman became his wife Christine when the couple married in 2015 after eight years of courtship. Hunt credits Christine with so much of his success.
“She stuck with me through all the rough times, she just believed in me. I’d head out to meet new folks, and every day I’d tell her, ‘Today’s the day.’ She’d joke and ask why I said it every day. I don’t believe in excuses, don’t believe in, ‘I’ll try.’ I do, period. I just knew every person I meet, I’m closer to making that right connection.”
Hunt said he has made it a point to learn as much from his failures as he could—and there were plenty.
“There is going to be more heartburn—more losers than winners in 2022. There is going to be emotional trauma with so many offers on every property,” he said. “I’ve always believed that attitude determines your altitude. This market is going to test your ability to have that positive attitude to the utmost levels, but you bring people up, keep them believing and you stabilize a lot of emotions until you get that win.”
He finds himself thinking often of his favorite Kenny Rogers song, “The Greatest.”
“It’s all about this boy, he goes out to a field with a ball and a bat. He throws the ball up in the air trying to hit it and misses three straight times. He doesn’t see that failure. When his mom calls him in for dinner, he tells her that the misses just made him see himself as the greatest pitcher instead.”
It’s the kind of mindset that led his peers from the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors® to name him the 2021 Realtor of the Year.
“Jeff is one of the real ones. He is out there every day working on sales and relationships. I’ve done many deals with him. When you work with Jeff, you know you’re going to be treated right,” said one of the Realtors Hunt admires most, Charles Sampson of Charter One Realty. Sampson is a three-time winner of the award and said that while sales are a factor, nominations are much more about how you represent the community. “It’s about making a difference in the community, about getting in there and picking others up alongside all the work. And there’s no one better to exemplify that than Jeff. He has been non-stop here.”
Hunt is proud of the award, but said his success is far from a one-person show. “We’re never successful by ourselves. It’s all about the folks I collaborate with that makes all this happen,” he said. “Working with folks like my broker Daniel Moskowitz or doing deals with long-time collaborators like Rick Saba or newer Realtors like Jenny Wells at Keller-Williams. This is the sum of the collaboration with many wonderful people.”
Sampson said he first saw Hunt’s community impact when he went to drop off holiday donations, including some bicycles, for the Deep Well Project.
“They directed me where to put the bikes, and I saw this warehouse with rows of bikes. I asked where they came from and they told me, ‘Oh, that’s Jeff Hunt.’ That kind of selflessness, that’s when you see this guy is the real deal.”
Hunt has made it a point to make the bike donations for more than 30 years, working with retailers like Wal-Mart and sometimes going right to makers like Huffy. His work resulted in more than 300 bikes being donated last year to charities on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton during a time when the cost of bikes had risen 40 percent.
“I didn’t have this growing up. There was a junkyard behind the trailer park growing up, and I cobbled together a bunch of parts. I went to King’s department store, bought a socket set and built myself a bike out of all the spare parts. And riding that was a dream,” said Hunt, who can be seen riding bike trails regularly all across the island. “That’s freedom right there. We had one woman who used the bike we donated to get to work. It just brings me back to Vicky Mabe. One turn of the kaleidoscope can change everything in your life. If I can help you succeed, I know that I will succeed as well. When you lead with principle and purpose, there’s always going to be win around the corner.”
As he hits his mid-50s, he knows it’s a time when others might be looking to slow down. Hunt said that’s just not in the cards for him and Christine.
“We are go-go people. This island is magical. I feel like I’m living a fairy tale. The white sands, being able to walk to the beach or the Arts Center. Everyone is happy here because we know what we have,” he said. “This market, our industry, and our world has changed so much. Folks can work from anywhere now, and this is the best place out of anywhere. People are buying million-dollar houses sight unseen because of that. So, you adapt, and I love the challenges in that adapting. I love numbers, and I love people. Every day is a new chance to learn, to inspire, and be inspired.”