Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 21, 2020

Southern Realty expands Chattanooga presence

Real Living Southern Realty owner Vickie McBryar can remember when the company was down to one agent and herself. It was 2009, the economic downtown had hit the housing market hard and all of the other agents at her Trenton, Georgia, brokerage had left the industry.

What a difference a decade makes.

McBryar’s company now boasts a dozen agents, and the 25-year real estate veteran has opened her second office. Located in a former Regions Bank building at 3303 Cummings Highway, the new operation is part of Real Living’s bid to claim a bigger chunk of Chattanooga’s real estate market.

“We do a lot of business in Chattanooga, but we were also losing listings here because we’re based in Trenton,” McBryar says. “We needed a physical office in the city.”

The building contains only two desks. The rest of the space consists of a long counter where the bank’s tellers worked and a vault that’s been converted into an office for the company’s in-house mortgage loan officer.

When McBryar purchased the building, it came with the bulletproof glass still intact along the counter. Now the glass is gone and tall chairs line either side of the counter, giving Real Living’s agents more space for talking with clients.

McBryar is confident the conversations that will be taking place along the counter will lead to house sales, as she claims her agents are among the most productive in the local market.

In terms of units sold, the numbers back up McBryar’s claim. Each quarter, Real Living’s corporate office provides her with a broker metrics report containing data pulled from the Chattanooga and Huntsville, Alabama, multiple listing services. At the end of the third quarter of 2019, the average number of units sold per Chattanooga agent during the preceding 12 months was 12.6; Real Living’s agent average was 17.8.

“We’re proud to say our agents have high production numbers,” says Chase Jolander, McBryar’s son and the company’s broker.

McBryar adds she’s picky about who she hires, which could be part of the reason her office performs as well as it does. After enduring agents who “expected to make $100,000 a year sitting at their desks,” McBryar says she began hiring people who were motivated to produce.

McBryar calls one of her sales associates, Robin Garner, a “go-getter” and hyperbolically claims another agent, Susan Oliver, can “knock on any door and get a listing.”

McBryar also praises Realtor Amy Mullins – the agent who stayed with her during the downturn – for going the extra mile to assist her clients.

Mullins has the stories to back up McBryar’s assertion, including a nail biter about her first sale in 2009.

“It was the last day to be able to claim the tax credit, so everybody in the world was trying to close on a house that day,” Mullins begins. “But when the appraisal came in at noon, it required that a porch railing be built across the front of the house – and our closing was scheduled for 3 o’clock.”

Mullins pushed the closing back to 3:30, pulled a carpenter she knew off a job site and went to Lowe’s and bought the necessary materials.

She then sent her clients to the closing, drove to the house and waited for the carpenter to finish the railing. When he was done, she took a photograph of it, sent the picture to the appraiser and closed on time.

“Real estate is often stressful but always rewarding,” she acknowledges.

Mullins has also paid for HUD extensions out of her own pocket when her clients ran out of money and one occasion literally went the extra mile as she drove a young couple to more than two dozen houses in three states to find one they liked.

“It was a USDA home loan in the lower price range, and a couple of agents had already dropped them,” Mullins recalls. “To this day, if the girl hears someone talking about buying a house, she chases them down and gives them my number.”

Although Mullins is proud of how well Real Living is performing in the Chattanooga area, she says there’s something more important than numbers at the company: ethics.

“Real estate is not about selling a house, it’s about taking care of your clients,” Mullins adds. “You have to care more about the people than your paycheck.”

Mullins says that’s the biggest challenge facing the real estate industry. “As an agent, you don’t have a steady paycheck, so you have to separate your needs from the needs of the client. That can be hard, but you have to be able to sleep at night.”

McBryar says she’s been sleeping like a baby since 1995, when she quit her computer programming job at TVA and became a Realtor at the behest of her husband, who enjoyed buying and selling property and wanted to deal with a broker he could trust.

After working for two companies, McBryar started McBryar Realty in 2003 and built it into one of the leading brokerages in Dade County.

When Real Living – a brand of HSF Affiliates, which is owned by HomeServices of America, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate – knocked on McBryar’s door in 2017, she didn’t answer. But the company was persistent and eventually talked her into a franchise deal.

Mullins says Real Living’s technology platform for franchisees (which includes lead routing, lead incubation, reporting, a company intranet and electronic and social marketing) was the bait that lured McBryar to sign with the company.

“Tech is always changing, and it can be hard for small independents to keep up,” Mullins points out. “But with Real Living taking care of that end of things, we can focus on doing our jobs instead of updating our software.”

While McBryar is enjoying the support of a national company, she says her Real Living franchise is the same small, local firm it’s always been. “Our motto is, ‘Clients for life,’” she says. “We’re not about selling someone a house and moving on to the next client; we become friends with our customers.”

McBryar is excited about her company’s expansion, though, and is recruiting agents for the Cummings Highway office. But she won’t be hiring just anyone.

“We’re looking for good people with small town values,” she says. “That’s who we’ve always been and that’s who we’re always going to be.”