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Front Page - Friday, September 20, 2019

Spann builds 7 Bridges for the long run

From Chickamauga Dam to downtown Chattanooga, seven bridges reach across the Tennessee River, connecting communities on either side of the waterway.

One bridge carries pedestrians from the City Center to North Shore (Walnut Street Bridge), and another reminds drivers of those who served in the U.S. military (Veteran’s Memorial Bridge). A third carries trains across the tributary (Tenbridge).

“Everyone forgets the railroad bridge,” says Realtor Neal Spann, 45.

Spann is the founder of 7 Bridges Group, a team of real estate agents that offers residential services to buyers and sellers in Tennessee and Georgia. He based the group’s name not on the classic song recorded by the Eagles and many others, or the popular Chattanooga marathon, but on the bridges that help to define the city’s landscape.

“We wanted a name that conveyed local experts in real estate,” Spann says. He did not, he adds, want to call his collective “The Neal Spann Team.”

“Your agents can’t take ownership of the team when it’s named after you,” he adds.

Spann formed 7 Bridges Group a year ago with a twofold purpose. First, he wanted to give other agents the opportunities he had when he joined The Edrington Team back in its days with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Realty Center.

“I had put a lot of homes under contact and done a lot of closings, and I wanted to share that knowledge,” he says. “I wanted people to understand how rewarding this profession can be.”

Spann says the creation of 7 Bridges Group was also motivated by his desire to spend more time with his family while doing the same level of business.

“When you’re an individual agent, real estate can dominate your time. But an agent can do only so much, work with only so many people at a time,” he says. “My kids are going to be off to college before I know it, and I don’t want to look back on this time and say, ‘Wow, I worked 90 hours a week.’”

Spann says he moved 7 Bridges Group from Realty Center to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices J Douglas Properties in August to take advantage of its nurturing environment for real estate teams.

“This brokerage is set up for team growth. [J Douglas Properties CEO] Doug Edrington started one of the biggest teams in town. That, and his coaching with [national real estate coach] Tom Ferry, gives him unique insight,” Spann says.

“Also, teams aren’t the easiest thing for brokers to manage. You need a broker who’s understanding and willing to be involved with their growth.”

So far, Spann says, he believes he made a good decision.

“There are systems in place for guiding agents through everything that goes into this chaotic business,” he says. “There are systems for organizing your team, training new agents, making offers – everything.

“This is a snap-your-fingers, let’s-go-right-now business, and organizing things is difficult when you’re starting out. To come to where all those things are already in place has been invaluable.”

Spann says he also chose wisely when he elected to earn his real estate license in 2008. “Real estate is the most rewarding career I’ve had; it allows me to have the income and lifestyle I want while also helping people,” he says.

Spann can trace the genesis of his real estate journey to age 10 years when he was living in a small Indiana town with two businesses, a Pizza King and a gas station. The roots of his career formed when his father bought a dilapidated house built in 1868.

“It had 13 bedrooms and a lot of problems,” he says.

Soon after, Spann began helping his father renovate the timeworn structure. Other houses and remodels followed, giving Spann a foundation in construction.

“That’s how I earned my way through high school,” he says. “When I wanted to pay for driver’s ed, I worked for my dad.”

A detour to California followed, with Spann spending a decade in the restaurant business. He eventually returned east and formed a contracting company with his father.

Fifteen years and countless home renovations later, 2007 happened. While the recession forced many agents out of the real estate business, it actually pushed Spann into it.

“We had three houses we needed to sell, and the market had crashed, so we couldn’t afford a real estate agent,” he remembers. “I had to become my own agent, so I took the class, passed the test and listed my house.”

The crash course in real estate and the sale of those houses opened Spann’s eyes to a different side of the business.

“I realized being an agent could fulfill my thirst for real estate – and it was easier on my back,” he says with a laugh.

Launching his career during a severe downturn gave Spann a perspective that allows him to calmly think his way through small hiccups in the local market. As a result, he views the current small dip in the Chattanooga area as healthy.

“Prices spiked during the summer rush, and now we’re experiencing a slight backlash,” he says. “Price spikes give local buyers pause. They tend to stay where they are because everything is overpriced. But when the market is more balanced and buyers feel like they have a fair shot, they’ll be more likely to consider moving.”

Besides, Spann doesn’t believe Chattanooga is heading into an extended slowdown. “Our economy and the people who are moving here from out of town will continue to drive our market in a good direction,” he says. “I feel good about where things are going.”

Spann intends for 7 Bridges Group to ride the healthy market to greater levels of success. The team currently consists of five agents who are on target to collectively reach $15 million in sales in 2019. Spann would like to double the team’s sales in 2019 and expand his roster of agents to an even dozen.

The key, Spann says, will be to do good work for good people.

“If you treat real estate like a career, it can pay you like a career. That’s the kind of person I’m trying to attract to our team,” he says. “It doesn’t take a lot to earn a real estate license, but it takes a lot to become a Realtor.”

For his part, Spann will lead 7 Bridges Group while working with clients he’s helped over the years.

He’ll also take advantage of one of the perks that led him to form a real estate team in the first place: spending more time with his wife and two sons.

“We love sports and going out on the boat,” he says. “And when someone has a birthday, it’s a 40-person affair. We’re just a big, fun, Catholic family.”

By doing “good work for good people,” Spann also hopes to help nurture a positive public image for Realtors.

“People have a misconception about Realtors. They think we do very little work and get paid too much money. But if you’re doing your job right, you’re worth every penny,” he says. “Bad things can happen in a real estate deal, and you want to have someone who knows how to deal with those things working for you.”