Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 1, 2022

First career drives Ingram to 2nd

Lessons learned selling cars help in real estate

Keller Williams Realtor Billy Ingram is a residential and commercial agent licensed in Tennessee. He says his success derives from his desire to please his clients. - Photograph provided

Billy Ingram was 12 years old when he started dreaming of owning a car. But since his parents were busy scraping a living from a handful of jobs, he knew he’d have to make it happen on his own.

So, when he was old enough, Ingram took a job selling the very thing he wanted.

“I thought being in the car business would allow me to have a nice car,” recalls Ingram, 53. “But being in the business also changed my life. I learned I could make a good living if I worked hard and took care of people.”

Ingram says he was a natural at sales and quickly surpassed the other salesmen.

“I was as green as grass and I beat out guys who’d been in it for more than 30 years. It didn’t feel like a job to me. I loved going in and I really didn’t want to leave at the end of the day.”

As time passed, a new ambition seized Ingram: selling houses. But his lower-middle class status held him back.

“I was married and we had three kids and I needed a paycheck. I didn’t have enough money stashed away to cover us until I sold a house so I kept selling cars.”

Ingram actually sold a lot of cars – so many he had to purchase a lot to hold all the vehicles he would sell.

As the owner of Cornerstone Auto Brokers, Ingram dealt in used luxury cars. As he grew in the business, he says he developed a knack for eyeballing a used car and calculating how much he’d need to spend to prepare it for his lot and then how much profit he’d make when he sold it.

“Let’s say a Lexus GX 460 with 50,000 miles on it came through. I’d see that it needed brakes and an oil change and estimate that I’d need to spend a thousand dollars to get it ready. From that, I knew how much to offer for it and how much I would make when I sold it.”

While Ingram was busy selling cars, he and his wife gradually worked their way up from a small local house to a sizable homestead on a 10-acre McDonald farm.

Each time he sold a house in which he was living, he’d do the same math he did at his place of business when someone brought in a vehicle to sell him. When he saw he had a knack for home sales, too, he decided to leave car sales and become a Realtor.

Ingram became licensed in Tennessee five years ago and has never looked back. Potential customers are now actually looking up as they drive down Shallowford Road to read his billboard, which sports a button-down photo of him and a simple slogan in big, bold letters:

“We fix it. We list it. We sell it.”

“As I’m looking at a home, I’ll point out a few things the seller can do to make more money. Then I’ll bring in my carpenter, my electrician, my plumber, my heat and air guy – whoever I need – to make the necessary repairs.”

Although the seller pays the contractors for the work, Ingram says it’s always a good investment.

The billboard has been doing well for Ingram, who receives several phone calls from potential clients who have his motto stuck in their head like a jingle. But it’s not his only source of business; He also buys leads online.

This keeps him and his wife, Regina, who does his administrative work, busy.

“We’ve sold houses to couples from Chicago and Washington and are currently working with a couple from California and a guy from Hawaii.”

Just like Ingram wouldn’t put car on his lot until he felt it was in superior condition, Ingram says he strives to provide quality service to his real estate clients. And he doesn’t mind bragging about it when someone says he does.

“When my wife and I were sitting at the closing table with the folks from Chicago, the husband said their [listing agent] had a lot to work to do to keep up with me.

“I want the experience of buying a home to be so good it feels painless. Sales people can do well if they have a heart that wants to please people.”

Although Ingram expanded Cornerstone Auto Brokers to three locations and hired managers to help, he says his real estate business will remain a family affair, with him handling sales and his wife taking care of the books – just like she did for his car business.

“She has more interest than anybody else would in watching my money. And she’s going to get most of it in the end anyways.”

Although the couple works together, they play separately, as Ingram likes golf and his wife enjoys riding horses. While this gives them time apart, Ingram has pitched ideas for combining their two leisure time activities.

“I said we could play polo, but she didn’t like the idea,” he laughs.

Even when Ingram is savoring a pleasant outing on the links, he says it’s hard for him to stop thinking about his business. He’ll even mull ideas for his next billboard.

“It’ll probably say ‘Your hometown Realtor.’ It needs to be short. I have a lot to say but only a few seconds to say it.”