Isabell Horsley started her brokerage in 1975. Image: Cheryl Costello

Va. Waterfront Real Estate Pioneer Passes at 87

The matriarch of one of the Virginia Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula’s most prominent real estate firms has passed away at her home on Dymer Creek in White Stone, Va.

Isabell Horsley, born in Mathews, married Nelson Horsley from Gloucester when they were 16 and 18 years old in 1952. They would go on to be married for 69 years. While raising their son, Nelson Horsley Jr., Isabell worked at the Naval Weapons Station and went to night school at the College of William & Mary, studying business. According to her obituary, Isabell and her husband liked to buy small pieces of land, clear them, and sell them. That sparked her interest in real estate and she got her license in 1973. Finding she had a knack for it, in 1975 Isabell earned her broker’s license and founded her own brokerage, Isabell K. Horsley Real Estate in Urbanna. She specialized in waterfront real estate and her husband and then-college-aged son soon joined the family brokerage.

It remains a family business as today her son, Nelson Jr., her granddaughter, Katie Horsley Dew and husband David Dew run the brokerage, and it has more than 30 agents and multiple branch offices. Katie tells Bay Bulletin her grandmother certainly blazed a trail for today’s female real estate leaders. “When she started her company in 1975, there was hardly any women in the business, let alone any that owned their own firm.”

Katie Dew recalls Isabell’s confidence and her advice in business: “Do one thing and do it well.” She says while other children had grandmothers who cooked and looked after the kids, “at this point in my life I got to watch this dedicated woman run a company, lead by example. [She was] constantly working, yet took care of all of us, from family vacations to school events and more.

The Horsley-Dews pride themselves in living the lifestyle they’re selling, as sailors, boaters and oyster-growers. They often visit real estate listings by boat.

Isabell’s example has led to great success for the brokerage, named in multiple publications’ “Best of Virginia” polls. You’ve seen some of the dream homes and estates they sell in CBM’s real estate section.

-Meg Walburn Viviano