Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, June 23, 2023

Nouveau trio has faith in success

All-Black, female-owned brokerage breaks barrier

Pastor Jeffrey Wilson of New United Missionary Baptist Church is standing before an assembly of nearly 50 Black people and speaking about faith.

“The Bible says faith without works is dead,” Wilson all but sings in a brassy voice that seems tailored to easily reach the back pews of his church. The group declares its agreement with a chorus of scattered amens.

Despite paraphrasing the Scriptures, Wilson isn’t speaking at New United on a Sunday morning but outside Shallowford Commons on a sweltering Saturday night.

He’s not preaching, either, but addressing dozens of friends, family members and other well-wishers who are there to congratulate three Black women who have done something they say women of color in Chattanooga have never done – banded together to launch an independent real estate brokerage.

“It takes a lot of faith to step out on your own,” Wilson continues. “So, you should commend these women.”

“People say they’ve seen this in Atlanta and Birmingham but not Chattanooga,” adds Sabrina Hagood, one of the three women. “Now you have.”

Hagood’s partners – Jai Williams and Tamekia Brewer – are standing with her. Williams’ face can barely contain her smile, which seems tailored to be easily visible to the people in the back of the gathering.

The trio is about to cut a golden-hued ribbon at the bottom of a staircase that leads up to the second floor of an endcap at Shallowford Commons, a business center located at 6116 Shallowford Road.

Up there, jazz is streaming through a television in the lobby, the hosts have laid out a generous buffet in a conference room and clusters of plump gold and black balloons are waiting to welcome the crowd to the grand opening of Nouveau Realty Group.

Earlier, the three seasoned Realtors spoke about the genesis of Nouveau Realty as they rushed to complete last-minute preparations in Hagood’s office.

“This lady tapped me and said, ‘You’re going to start a brokerage with me,’” Hagood recalled, nodding at Williams as she wiped an hors d’oeuvres plate with a napkin. “And I said, ‘No, I’m not.’”

“Sabrina’s ‘no’s’ mean nothing,” Williams laughed. “When I asked her to join NAREB, she said no.” (NAREB is short for “National Association of Real Estate Brokers,” the oldest Black trade organizations in the U.S. Hagood initially declined to help Williams start a Chattanooga chapter in 2021 but later consented.)

“Yeah, my ‘no’s’ don’t stick,” Hagood confessed as she picked up another plate.

“That’s a good thing because I wouldn’t do this without her,” Williams said.

Williams has been marching steadily toward this moment for several years, during which she represented homebuyers and sellers while working at a number of Chattanooga brokerages. In each case, she says her goal was to learn not only how to run a real estate business but also what she would do differently.

As Williams drew up the blueprints for Nouveau Realty, capping was the first thing to go, she says.

“I don’t like pitting agents against each other. Competition can be motivating, but when you’re part of a real estate firm, it can also be defeating. Seeing a wall of photos of the people who have capped can be discouraging and keep someone from moving forward.”

Williams says she’ll hang every agent’s photo on a wall at Nouveau Realty and encourage each one to set and achieve their own goals.

“As an independent contractor, you’re in charge of your business, and only you can decide how many houses you want to sell and how big you want to grow.”

As Williams endeavored to redefine local real estate, she also limited the number of agent fees to one and settled on using a transaction fee rather than a commission split. She did these things, she continued, to provide a unique agent experience.

“I want our agents to feel comfortable and to be free to be who they are.”

Hagood used Williams’ latest statement as a segue to express who she is – a fervent Christian who says no to every proposal until she believes she hears from God.

“God picked us,” Hagood said as she explained how she, Williams and Brewer came together to form Nouveau Realty’s ownership group. “It was a divine connection.”

True to form, however, when Williams first invited Hagood to join her in the venture, Hagood flatly declined.

“I said, ‘Jesus hasn’t spoken to me, so I wouldn’t be interested,’’ Hagood remembered. “Then one day I woke up and Jesus said, ‘Get your broker’s license.’ I said, ‘Why would I do that?’ And He said, ‘Sign up today.’ So I did.”

Hagood claiming to converse with the Almighty must be nothing new, as both Williams and Brewer nodded their heads as their partner told her story. However, Williams’ response to Hagood suggesting they bring in Brewer was surprising, Hagood said.

Hagood had mentored Brewer while the two of them were with Keller Williams, so she and Brewer were already friends when she says God told her to ask Brewer to be a partner in Nouveau Realty.

When Hagood mentioned her latest conversation with her Higher Power to Williams, she was stunned when Williams agreed without hesitation, she said.

“Jai is very analytical; she’ll take several days to come back with an answer. So, when she said yes just like that, I was shocked.”

Williams was not acting out of character, however, as she’d already tossed around the idea of bringing on Brewer in her own mental tumbler and decided it would benefit the company, she said.

“I’ve always liked Tamekia’s work ethic and the way she carries herself.”

When Williams and Hagood approached Brewer with their proposal, Brewer was surprised but agreed to climb aboard.

“I said, ‘Me? Really? Me?’” Brewer recalled, the second “me” sounding like an incredulous query. “Then I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”

As the trio begins to work, each woman has a singular role to fill. Williams, for example, is serving as principal broker, while Hagood is concentrating on international sales – with a focus on serving investors – and Brewer is tackling team management.

From there, the lines on the blueprint occasionally intersect, with Williams and Hagood both training new agents, for example. In addition, all three continue to work with homebuyers and sellers, Williams added.

While launching a business is seldom easy, Williams said forming Nouveau Realty has been one of the rare exceptions, with no discernible bumps in the road. However, as the women open the doors of their brokerage, they face a number of local challenges, including falling home sales, as Greater Chattanooga Realtors President Steven Sharpe details in this week’s column. (See page 11)

Despite this obstacle, Williams and company have already added six agents – all of whom are Black and five of whom are female – to their roster. This includes a blend of veteran Realtors, newer agents and rookies.

Williams also reported that agent training is going well. In one case, an agent who had sold nothing while aligned with another brokerage for one year made her first sale on her second day with Nouveau Realty.

As Williams, Hagood and Brewer serve the entire Chattanooga community, as well as pay attention to elevating the local Black homeownership rate through education and outreach, they hope to help lift the entire Chattanooga market, they agreed.

“We’re typically of one accord,” Williams said. “When one of us suggests something, the others usually say, ‘Yup.’”

(Nationally, the Black homeownership rate sits at its lowest level since the 1960s: 44%, a March 23, 2021, MarketWatch article reports.)

As Wilson concludes his remarks, he urges those present to support all Black-owned businesses as part of this effort.

“I’m teaching my son what it means when a dollar circulates throughout a community. A dollar circulates through other communities 10 times but through ours only once. When we have a dollar, we run out and spend it and it never comes back. We have to support our own and especially encourage these ladies.”

Wilson then implored his God to intervene on behalf of Nouveau Realty.

“As the children of Israel crossed the river Jordan and stepped onto the promised land, these ladies are crossing into their promised land. It’s a land flowing with milk and honey, but there are also giants in the land. God, just as you were with the people of Israel, be with them. Lead them on this journey.”

“We believe He will,” Hagood adds.