It shouldn’t have worked, or so conventional wisdom suggests. But it did.
Diane Patty and Lisa Brown shouldn’t be on course to break $30 million in real estate sales this year. But they are.
People rarely leave a lifetime of doing other things to start a new business in their late 40s. Likewise, women typically don’t strike out on their own at that phase in life.
They especially don’t do it when the market is down, which is what Patty did in 2009 when, after 25 years of managing law offices, she launched a career in real estate.
But conventional wisdom can be wrong.
“I gave myself one year,” she says. “I decided if I could cap, which at Keller Williams means you keep all of your commission, I’d stick with it. And I capped.”
People questioned the wisdom of starting a real estate business during a housing slump, but Patty made it work. Three years later, she more than made it work when she teamed with Lisa Brown to form Chattanooga Property Shop. They’ve been nearly doubling their business annually ever since.
“We knew if we could make money during the downturn, we’d kill it when thing were rockin’,” Patty says. “So we’re killin’ it.”
The roots of their success can be found, in part, in their decades-long friendship.
“Lisa and I met 30 years ago when we were buyers for Loveman’s,” Patty, a West Tennessee native, says.
“Thirty years ago,” Brown, who hails from Ringgold, Ga., repeats, with more than a hint of incredulity.
The women are seated in a meeting room at Keller Williams Realty, the umbrella under which Chattanooga Property Shop exists. Physically, they look nothing alike. Patty is shorter, with a soft face and light red hair draped unceremoniously over her shoulders; Brown is not just taller, but tall, with long, brown hair framing a bright smile. Apparently, the differences don’t end there.
“Our personalities are polar opposites; we look at everything differently,” Patty says. “Over the years, we’ve learned to meet in the middle. That’s helped us personally, and it’s helped our business.”
The bond between Patty and Brown formed not out of like-mindedness, but out of their circumstances. Over the years, they’ve been through many challenges together, including marriage, children, and, for Patty, divorce. When running a business together has tested their mettle, they’ve drawn on their friendship to pull through.
“Running a business, especially a rapidly growing business, has its difficulties,” Brown says. “You have to be able to step back and re-evaluate. Our friendship gives us the ability to do that.”
“We’ve both dealt with a lot of issues together,” Patty says. “I’d say she’s as close to me as my sisters.”
“And she doesn’t have a bigger fan than me,” Brown says. “No one wants her to succeed more than I do.”
Although the two women are friends despite their differences, their success in business is partly a factor of their similarities. They each have a strong work ethic, Patty says, and they’re both goal-oriented.
“We treat Chattanooga Property Shop like a company,” Brown adds. “We have a business plan. We have a profit and loss sheet. Nothing is left to circumstance.”
“That’s why we’ve been able to succeed at this level,” Patty says. “We’re not playing at this.”
While iron clad resolve is important in the business world, it must combined with a bright intellect, which Patty and Brown both appear to possess. However, their business acumen seems to be more innate than learned, as they favor charting their own course over trodding down a well-worn path.
“We didn’t want to knock on doors or pick up a phone,” Patty says. “We wanted to go in a different direction, which was making sure we were in front of as many people as we could be online.”
“Most buyers look on the Internet before doing anything else,” Brown adds.
“So we knew we’d have to become tech-savvy agents,” Patty says.
If the Internet was the door to Chattanooga Property Shop, then a robust relocation business lie beyond it. Chattanooga was becoming hot, Patty says, and people across the country were googling the city. They were also searching the Internet for the best places to retire, and Scenic City was appearing near the top of the results. So, Patty and Brown decided to ride the wave.
With less intention, Brown also began to explore the commercial side of the business. “We got into commercial real estate by accident,” she says. “I started working with banks on their REO properties, and quickly worked my way through their residential and commercial properties, which led to meetings with commercial investors and business owners. It’s been a successful venture for us.”
By successful, Brown means commercial real estate will make up about 35 percent of their business in 2015. To offer the best possible service to these clients, Brown is well on the way to earning the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation.
While success was sweet for Chattanooga Property Shop, the amount of business Patty and Brown were doing was overwhelming. But instead of cutting back, they decided to grow the team. Their first hire: marketing specialist Tanya Swann, who took over the job of keeping their listings in front of buyers online.
“That was a scary hire for us,” Patty says. “It was a full-time, salaried position.”
“But Tanya is brilliant,” Brown adds. “She understands the online world.”
Brown and Patty continued to layer in people from there, including Patty’s daughter, Carmen, a buyer’s agent, inside sales assistant Robin Crump, and another buyers agent, Amy Schulman.
Each one has a specific role on the team. Carmen, for example, concentrates on millennials. “She’s good with them,” Brown says. “She’s one of them, so she relates to them.”
Crump is responsible for lead generation, which eventually will involve making cold calls. For now, she’s using the team’s data management system to make sure its agents are returning phone calls and answering questions. “We’re large enough now we need someone to keep track of those things,” Patty says. “We don’t want to drop any balls.”
Patty and Brown knew to stop growing their team when they’d achieved a comfortable balance between work and family. “When we started down this path, we didn’t expect to grow this big,” Patty says. “But the market is strong, so we’re going with it, but not at the expense of having a life.”
“We love the careers we started, and we want to continue to build them,” Brown says. “But they’re an avenue to a life worth living.”
For Patty, a life worth living includes traveling, which she enjoys doing with her two adult children. For Brown, it consist of spending time on the farm in Ringgold on which she grew up, and on which she, her husband, and their two children live.
“They live on a compound,” Patty says, laughing.
The farm is a welcome retreat for Brown, who entered the cosmetics industry after Proffitt’s purchased Loveman’s in 1988. Her work eventually took her to Charlotte, N.C., and then her roots drew her back to the Chattanooga area. Once home, Brown launched an advertising and marketing firm, which she ran for 12 years. Then one day, she said, “Why not real estate?”
Patty and Brown also believe a life worth living includes giving back to the community in which they live. To that end, Patty works with the Jordan Thomas Foundation, and has volunteered with the MaryEllen Locher Foundation. Brown, a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, serves on the school’s alumni board. In addition, they are both on the Agent Leadership Council at Keller Williams. Through the council’s culture committee, they help with the company’s efforts to raise funds for Chambliss Center for Children.
Most days, however, consist of serving clients and nurturing the team that began six years ago with Patty making a hard right turn in life. Although Patty and Brown didn’t set out to build a team of women, they do believe the all-female approach has its advantages.
“Buying or selling a home is a stressful, emotional time,” Brown says. “We have the ability to do the job and be the calm in the middle of the storm.”
“We thought we were getting into real estate, but we were getting into therapy,” Patty, a reservoir of comic wit, says.
Brown laughs, but then says people are hiring them for their strengths as women. “They come to us for our understanding, our attention to detail, and our passion,” she says.
People are also hiring the ladies of Chattanooga Property Shop for their vigor, Patty says. “The energy level is insane. It’s madness with all of those women in one office, but also a lot of fun,” she says.
While Patty and Brown are open to one day hiring outside their gender, their team is currently in perfect accord with the amount of business they’re doing, and they wish to keep it that way. Further growth will come as the market warrants. For now, they simply hope to inspire other women to turn their skills and passions into successful businesses.
“We built a strong foundation, and as a result, have achieved great success,” Patty says.
“And we see only bigger and better things in the years ahead,” Brown adds.
Convention wisdom suggests they’re right.