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Nov 2, 2020

The Rockin’ Realtors: Dream sellers by day, melody makers by night: meet this quartet who achieve peak bliss at the intersection of music and real estate

Tim Wood

Photography By

M.Kat Photography
They are two professions at the core of the growth and soul of Hilton Head Island. Yet, while there are more than 3,000 registered real estate agents in the Lowcountry, only a handful of those realtors are getting paid doing the musical side hustle.

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Both worlds are all about performance. Both require elite skills, rarified self-belief, and years of relentless commitment to honing the craft. Few are able to truly excel in each pursuit, let alone thrive in both spheres.

We caught up with four examples of this rare breed that pull off this dual occupational state to find out how they make the performing home/peddler lifestyle work.

The elder statesman of realty rock
He’s sold more than $1 billion over 30 years of real estate and has $20 million in home sales this year alone, including a $6.5 million sale in Palmetto Dunes. With that kind of résumé, you might expect David Carroll to be a cutthroat “Wolf of Wall Street”-level personality. You’d be mighty wrong.

Truth is, the Pittsburgh native is far more at home singing and playing guitar for tips, as where we met him one recent Saturday night at Southern Barrel. As for his proven sales strategy, Carroll said it’s far less bravado and much more hard work and empathy.

“I call it real estate with heart,” said the Charter One Realty fixture who migrated to Hilton Head Island in 1986. “My heart is five times too big, gets me in trouble a lot, but I’m not going to do it any other way. And my clients count on it.”

The self-taught, long-time Chilly Willy Band drummer played six nights a week in his college days and had offers in his 20s to hit the road professionally, but he opted to focus on philanthropy, planting roots and equally feeding his music passion and his entrepreneurial fire through real estate.

Through the years, he’s found a way to balance the pressures of million-dollar sales with his mission to spread peace, love and positivity in an ever-angrier world.

“It’s a tricky mix, but it’s all I know to be,” he said of his mission. “People are buying houses sight unseen here since COVID. They need to be here, and I feel like they need this music. I’m doing this to change the world, make it better. We have to fight this hatred.”

Carroll still occasionally plays in four different bands but is more focused on family life, songwriting and playing with his youngest of three daughters, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Emma.

He is hard at work on his fourth album, Peace, Love and Music, which will include cameos by members of Pocket Full of Sunshine, a group of special needs teens that has become a personal and musical inspiration for him and his family.

“These kids, they’re amazing. I love working with them,” he said. “Real estate can be a backstabbing, greedy world. They remind me that music, it’s a privilege, it completes me, it makes me better at real estate, makes me whole and more passionate to deliver for my clients.”

Rick Saba

The dean of rockin’ open houses
In an island world known more for T-shirts and shorts, Rick Saba has thrived during the day with a more formal attire. The 150-sales-per-year realtor and frontman for the legendary island Rolling Stones cover band White Liquor said that the secret to pulling off his double-agent life is knowing that he’ll get to lose the suit and tie, pucker his lips and shake his hips like Jagger and fill the stage with frenetic energy.

“I don’t think it’s two hats, really,” said Saba, who has been with Carolina Realty Group since 2004. “I’ve always got this energy; I just get to express it different ways.”

The gigs aren’t quite as plentiful as 20 years ago, as he and his bandmates are all married with kids. And at 50, Saba’s body takes a few days longer to recover from all the on-stage gyrating. But the outlet the music provides is as vital as ever.

“The market, it’s wild. Busier the past few months than any of us have ever seen it here. Those gigs, that’s three hours of ‘me time’ where it’s mostly 24/7 for my clients,” he said. “I get out all the tension I absorb in the real estate world by just having balls-to-the-wall fun with my friends.”

Saba said that while the schedules may conflict, the worlds work well off each other in so many ways.
“Fans turn into clients. Clients love to hear my stories and end up at the shows,” he said. “I bring such a love and a passion to both gigs. Clients and audience members, they can see it; they can feel that passion.”

When not channeling one of the most iconic bands ever, Saba and his bandmates can collectively handle every facet of a real estate transaction. “We have a Realtor, a banker, two lenders and an attorney, so for sure, we work together a lot off the stage as well,” Saba said. “It’s convenient to hear about a commitment letter on a loan between sets.”

He marvels that he’s been around long enough to see his 14-year-old son Brady taking up guitar and planting seeds for a new generation of Saba rocker.

“What a ride, man. My high school sweetheart, Jada, Brady, my 10-year-old girl, Breanna, they’re my heart,” he said. “I give my soul to clients and to the music, but they are my heart.”

The Clark Kent of the Lowco creative scene
He proudly owns the everyman look, complete with the dad gut, the glasses and, at first glance, a store-brand vanilla vibe. But Chip Larkby’s journey to the peak of the rockin’ Realtor game is anything but pedestrian. The Midwest native got into the family real estate business at age nine and later became a stud of the Chicago corporate world and rising star of the international pro motorcycle racing circuit before ever setting sights on island life.

“I don’t do vacations or idle time. Learning is my vice. I’m at peace when my mind is on the move,” Larkby said of his unique personal history.

He inherited the habitual workaholic genes from his mom and dad, Sherry and Sheldon, a trait that served him well in his urban property management chapter. But unlike his parents, he has a creative side that “must be constantly fed and satisfied,” he said.

“Turns out I fed that need by racing bikes. It’s where I found myself. Hundreds of races in the late ’90s, plenty of broken bones and probably the thing I was best at in my life,” Larkby said.

Competition is the common thread in his uncommon story. Whether learning to paint or discovering music when he first came to the Lowcountry full-time in 2000, Larkby is addicted to excelling.

“I bought a set of drums and a guitar and was taught by Jevon Daly at John’s Music. Jevon told me I sucked at guitar. That killed me. I don’t do ‘you suck’ well,” Larkby said. “But I focused on mastering the drums, dedicated every available minute to the craft.”

He quickly realized music wasn’t going to be just a hobby, and his skills garnered band invites within months. Flash forward to 2019, when Larkby played 300 paid shows as part of nine different bands, including Silicone Sister, Lowcountry Boil and Jojo Squirrel with his teacher-turned-bandmate Daly.

All that while being a dad of three and a top producer with Bluffton-based Brokers Real Estate alongside his parents, where, in line with his M.O., he refuses to settle for just one niche.

“Some realtors dominate just by selling in one neighborhood, but I know everyone can’t buy into Wexford,” he said. “We do residential, commercial, every price point up and down 278 all the way to Charleston.”

Larkby has played music half as long as he’s posted MLS listings but says while he may semi-retire from the realty world, he’ll keep jamming full-out as long as there’s a welcoming stage. “Jeff Franklin, Chris Russell, Greg Critchley, they are technical beasts—gods around here on drums. I just know no one will outwork me in learning, in always wanting to improve,” he said. “When I’m playing, I’m just a fan. I love watching singers own the crowd, guitarists shredding. As the drummer, I’m sitting in the best VIP seat.”

The brokering piano man becomes family man
Unlike the other members of this club, real estate has been more of the B side to David Ross’ existence, the supporting character in his musical main stage life. The upstate New York native has been on the road for most of the last 30 years, tickling ivories from New Orleans to Hawaii, Beijing to the Caribbean and every venue in between that offered a piano and an audience.

Now, at age 48, the dueling piano man is tackling a new lead role: family man. “I found love and fatherhood later in life, and it has just been a blessing,” he said of his wife of five years, Dhapne, and his seven-month-old daughter Ysabella.

Ross took up drums as a kid in a musical family, but he said he always felt more destined to be less John Bonham and more Billy Joel. “The dream was to own the room like Billy, to be that brilliant at making people feel entertained and feel the music,” he said.

Ross migrated with many of his relatives to the Lowcountry but spent much of his 30s and early 40s playing dueling piano shows in New Orleans, Las Vegas and on Carnival cruise ships before returning to live on the island in 2017.

Along the way, he discovered real estate to be a fitting ingredient in his recipe for inner joy, practicing most during his time in Vegas. “I love being part of giving them that first house or seeing a dream realized,” Ross said. “Music and real estate, what makes them so compatible for me is you’re getting paid for selling happiness.”
He’s paused home showings to focus on daddydom and morphed from 300 shows a year in his 30s to two to three shows a week now, mostly island-based dueling piano shows with cohort Sterlin Colvin.

After meeting Dhapne at a gig in Hong Kong, Ross said music and real estate now hold a different place in his life. “The people part of both are what I love, but my people are what drives me now,” he said of his newfound family, joking, “I need the diaper money” before turning serious.

“It’s a difficult time; people need music now more than ever. I’ve always been 100 percent energy on stage, but where I’m at in life, where fans’ lives are at, the shows have more energy the last few months,” Ross said. “It’s just an amazing reward when you know you’re creating a party. I appreciate music more now that I have Dhapne and Ysabella. Going home, that’s where my true party is now, and that’s a blessing.

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