EVERYONE in Whanganui knows of Ritesh Verma, but he's famous the length of the country in his industry - because in real estate, this son of Whanganui is a rock star.
He works for Property Brokers, the largest provincial real estate agency in the country and its annual convention has been dubbed "The Ritesh Show" by some who watch on as he picks up the company's top awards year after year.
Back in 2013, he won all three top awards (for unit sales, listings and marketing), the first time that's ever happened. He's been collecting awards every year since and last month was named the firm's top salesperson in the country ... again.
Myself, I'm not surprised.
I first met Ritesh in 2012 when I began an eight-month long house search. I liked him from the beginning, which was good, because we spent a lot of time together.
I likely asked more questions than any buyer he's ever met and Ritesh did better than any other agent at understanding my atypical priorities: large, north-facing section, small house.
Ritesh managed to be both amiable and efficient and he always did what he said he'd do.
He was all substance and his style was understated - he didn't drive a flashy car and I learned he lived in a modest house in a nice, not snobby, neighbourhood. I approved.
Ritesh is good at lots of things but none more than working hard.
As a little kid, he spent his school holidays picking strawberries. By 14, the boss had made "Rocky" a supervisor, and he put in eye-watering hours - surely illegal even in the 90s - directing adult pickers.
Ritesh was planning to head to university when he finished at Whanganui High School. But the summer holiday was a time to work and Ritesh spent it delivering pizzas.
Ambitious in many ways, he asked out the pizza store's assistant manager, Erin. When she was offered a promotion in Masterton, he followed, planning on studying extra-murally. Then Erin got pregnant and all their plans had to change.
Ritesh had been working night shift at a petrol station, where he discovered his talent for upselling.
With a baby on the way, it was clear someone had to get a day job.
He'd served a lot of real estate agents and remembers thinking, 'Hey, they look smart, they drive flash cars - this must be easy'.
It wasn't, of course, for a 22-year old new in town.
Ritesh credits Harcourts for training him well but he put in the hard yards.
He knocked on doors and asked strangers for their business.
He remembers lots of conversations about quitting during that gruelling first year.
He'd come home at 5pm and Erin would hand him their baby girl before she headed out to work the evening shift. Neither had any family in the Wairarapa.
"But we figured out that I only had to sell one house a month to make what I earned on minimum wage at the servo," he says.
That first year, he managed to sell 18 houses.
Last year he sold 120.
When Erin was offered a job in Whanganui in 2005, they jumped at the chance to come home, and Ritesh was hired by Sutton Real Estate, later bought by Property Brokers.
He was half the age of his fellow agents and brought new ways of doing things.
Computerised systems and social media marketing are de rigueur now but raised eyebrows back then. (Ritesh owns "WanganuiRealEstate" on Facebook simply because he was the first agent in town to think about using social media to sell houses.)
His success grew hard to manage.
He couldn't take a call without another two waiting and the stress was getting to him.
He took the risk of hiring a PA; more recently he hired a sales associate and together they are Team Ritesh.
He speaks highly of the supportive culture at Property Brokers and how the agents back each other. It's working but his life is still hectic.
He looks at his phone and notes he took 125 calls last Friday, not counting those that went to his PA Tonya.
He manages work and family by putting in 70 hours a week for 10 weeks straight, then getting out of the country with Erin and their three girls for a few days break.
He and Erin have an "out plan" that will see Ritesh exit sales within five years.
"I was always taught to work hard - but reminded that your kids grow up fast."
He has no intention of leaving, despite "huge inducements" offered. Whanganui suits who he is, says Ritesh - he loves heading off to play cricket on Saturday after a morning busy with open homes, and watching his girls play netball.
Whanganui's reasonable cost of living means Erin has been able to stay home with the kids.
"I love Whanganui. People here are great ... I've no reason to move. We [in Whanganui] haven't figured out how lucky we are."
■Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter. You can follow her at www.facebook.com/rachelrose.writer