Selling real estate to deaf and hard-of-hearing persons comes naturally to Robert Wehrli of Silver Spring.
A full-time professor of physics and chemistry at Gallaudet College, Wehrli has been on duty evenings and weekends at the Olney office of Schick & Pepe Realtors for less than a year. He has sold two houses to deaf persons and helped another couple avert a loan foreclosure.
He is one of several agents here specializing in selling houses to deaf persons. Alan E. Danziger of Colquitt-Caruthers' office in College Park, said that he has sold nearly 50 houses to deaf persons in recent years. He uses a teletype machine and sign language to communicate with his clients, as do a few other agents in Maryland and Virginia.
Wehrli and his wife are the parents of six children, three of whom are deaf.
"In a way we were lucky," he said recently. "When our oldest daughter was two, a doctor at Boston Children's Hospital told us to seek answers for her in education instead of medicine. And we have."
Later, when he spent a year in the Job Corps in Montana, Wehrli said his deaf children were enrolled in the Montana School for the Deaf. He said they had their first introduction to communication with hand-signing, instead of the oral method they had been taught in Boston. He said he later was overjoyed to be able to converse easily with the deaf children and with adult deaf persons "in a casual way."
Wehrli said that the "total communication" system involves signing, lip-reading, expressions, gestures and body language. His experience in learning it and working with his children prompted him to go into education of the deaf and eventually come to Gallaudet.
In regard to his work in real estate to supplement his teaching income, Wehrli said he has sold a house to a deaf couple who needed someone like himself -- willing and able to converse with them -- to explain the processes and the details. Wehrli said that the process, including getting the couple qualified for financing, took a long time.
"Frankly, if I had to write all of it to them, we both would have quit along the way. It would have been terribly slow and confusing too," he added. a