Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 10, 2021

New office space reflects changing needs of Realtors

Lisa Crye, Crye-Leike Ooltewah managing broker Mollie Majors and Crye-Leike President and CEO Harold Crye at the Dec. 2 grand reopening of the company’s Ooltewah office. Lisa is Harold’s husband and the lead designer on Crye-Leike’s company-wide remodel. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Realtor Donna Darnes is taking a moment during Crye-Leike Ooltewah’s Dec. 2 grand reopening to survey the space she’s reserved for a client appreciation and community giveback event. Located in the back half of the Crye-Leike Realtors office in Ooltewah, she says there will be more than enough room for Santa Claus, a Christmas tree and a festive backdrop for photos – as well as dozens of guests.

If Darnes had attempted to host an event in the same space earlier this year, she would have had far less room for mingling, as it was packed with offices and other closed-off rooms.

Following a $150,000 floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall renovation courtesy of the parent company, however, Crye-Leike Ooltewah features not just a sizable event and work space but also fresh, neutral colors wherever eyes can settle, a modern kitchen and spanking new furnishings.

“We’re loving this space,” managing broker Mollie Majors says. “It’s far more flexible.”

The facelift goes deeper than the first layer of skin. In addition to the bright new look, Crye-Leike agents in Ooltewah now have access to Smart TV technology when meeting with clients – a big step up from the dry erase white boards of yesteryear.

Crye-Leike agent Diana Seavey, who generally works remotely but does come to the office twice a week to meet with clients, says she’s grateful for the tech boost.

“I could grab my laptop and meet with clients at Starbucks, but these screens are much nicer. Our office is a more professional place to talk with customers about money and buying or selling a home.”

It’s also suitable for training, sales meetings and agent collaboration, Majors says. And, despite the growing number of agents who are out of the office more than in, still necessary.

“We used to come to the office to pick up the telephone and call customers,” she recalls. “Cell phones made that unnecessary, so we no longer have a dozen desks with phones on them. But this space allows us to come together and do more as a team.”

Not only that, but prospective clients are still walking in and asking to see a Realtor, Majors points out.

“The remodel isn’t just for us,” she adds. “It’s also for our customers.”

The renovation is part of a company-wide makeover in which the Memphis-based Crye-Leike is dressing up the roughly 130 offices across its footprint, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri and – last alphabetically but not least in terms of business volume – Tennessee.

Harold Crye, the co-founder and current president and CEO of Crye-Leike, says the undertaking was a response to the number of agents who are working remotely.

Part of this endeavor involved physically downsizing the offices based in the strip malls the company owns and leasing out the extra space to other local businesses.

In Ooltewah, a dental office now resides next to Realty Title & Escrow, which Crye-Leike owns. The real estate brokerage fills in the rest of the plaza’s commercial space.

Although Crye-Leike Ooltewah’s office is smaller, its agent count isn’t. After starting in 2021 with 13 agents, Majors reports she now has a roster of 23, with more onboarding this month. Companywide, the number stands at about 3,200, Crye says.

Crye adds there will always be a place for his company’s agents to meet with clients, partly for safety’s sake.

“We’re 70% female. We don’t want those ladies showing homes to someone they don’t know. We want them to meet their customers at an office so they can check them out and follow other safety protocols.”

Crye then adds, “About half of our lady agents are packing, so be careful.”

The remodel comes as unit sales at Crye-Leike are down slightly (26,485 as of Dec. 2 this year versus 31,578 last year) but sales volume is projected to be up 15-20% above the $7.5 million the company did last year.

Crye credits the increase to rising housing costs.

“There aren’t as many houses on the market as there used to be but the sales volume is off the charts,” he explains. “We prefer a balanced market that’s good for buyers and sellers, but right now, the market is all about the sellers. Everything is selling for more than it’s listed.”

Darnes says her business reflects what the company at large is experiencing, with the homes she’s listed for $250,000 or more selling for 6-10% over the asking price.

The high cost of housing isn’t scaring buyers away from Ooltewah. Rather, the market is “hot, hot, hot,” Majors crows.

“People who are working in Atlanta are moving here and then commuting to the office one or two days a week. You get more house for your money here.

“Also, as Bradley and Hamilton counties expand toward each other, we have a lot of couples who work in both counties moving to Ooltewah to be in the middle. It’s a commute thing. They can be close to Chattanooga or Cleveland but quickly hop on the interstate and commute to work.”

If Majors could change one thing about the Ooltewah market, it would be the lack of affordable housing. She says she can recall when three-bedroom houses sold for $125,000 in the late 1990s. Today, it’s hard to find something under $300,000, she adds.

“We have a lot of new construction going on, but your average homebuyer can’t afford it. And land isn’t going to get any cheaper as it becomes scarcer.”

Regardless, the pace of real estate in Ooltewah is “insane,” Majors says, and Crye-Leike is proud to offer a refurbished and modernized space in which buyers and sellers can meet with an agent to discuss their real estate needs.

She doesn’t, however, say which of her agents are packing.