Hamilton Herald Masthead Hamilton Herald


Front Page - Friday, May 27, 2016

Trusted Team brings Keller Williams to Northwest Georgia

Melissa Harrison and Tom Whitsett are the founders of The Trusted Team, a full service real estate group operating out of a new Keller Williams mega agent office in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

Nestled in a short strip mall next to Panera Bread on Battlefield Parkway, a new real estate firm sports two familiar names in the Greater Chattanooga market: Keller Williams and The Trusted Team.

Inside, administrative assistant Callie Wordon is working behind a service counter, surrounded by freshly painted red and gray walls and tasteful modern décor. The Trusted Team logo – which looks like a giant seal of trust – occupies a large portion of the wall behind her, and adult contemporary music is playing in the background. Wordon’s bright smile and cheerful “Hello” add to the relaxing ambience.

Selling a home can be stressful, so it seems the decor, the music, and even Wordon were put in place to set people ease.

Standing on the other side of the counter, The Trusted Team co-founders Melissa Harrison and Tom Whitsett also display wide smiles. Whitsett walks across the room to the only closed-off area in the office – the conference room – and slides open an unpainted plywood barn door that serves as its entrance. “Tom’s sister, Ginny, built the door,” Harrison says.

Ginny Hall is also The Trusted Team’s buyer’s agent, adding an element of family to the new enterprise.

Harrison and Whitsett take seats at the conference table and silence their phones. This small sacrifice will give them time talk about their new venture: opening a mega agent office in Northwest Georgia for Chattanooga’s largest real estate company.

Keller Williams doesn’t affix the “mega agent” label to just anyone. To qualify to be a mega agent with KW, an agent or team must do either 80 transactions or $10 million in production per year. Harrison and Whitsett did 100 transactions in 2015, and have already surpassed where they were at this point a year ago. But to The Trusted Team, being mega agents is about more than volume; it’s about service.

“When you use a single agent to buy or sell a house, that agent has to be good at everything,” Whitsett says. “Working with buyers and sellers, marketing properties, negotiating contacts, paperwork – everything. We believe we offer better service as a team because each of us can focus on our strengths and the things we enjoy.”

“When you hire us, you get two agents for the price of one,” Whitsett continues. “We’re both going to work to sell your property, but you’re not going to have to pay twice the commission.”

Harrison and Whitsett recently returned from Austin, Texas, where they took advantage of one of the many training opportunities Keller Williams offers its agents. “It’s like picking up an instrument and learning to play,” Whitsett says. “You can never get to a point where you can’t learn something new.”

“Keller Williams does a good job of training its agents,” Harrison says. “They also hold you accountable. Once you set your goals, they have systems in place to make sure you get there.”

Although Harrison pipes up occasionally, Whitsett is the talkative one, which makes sense given his background in ministry. He pastored churches ranging in size from 12 to 3,000 members for nearly 18 years, then transitioned into evangelism. After six years of speaking around the world, Whitsett wanted to spend more time with his sons, so he began looking for ways to supplement his income that wouldn’t take him away from home. After buying, renovating, and selling a few houses, he realized he enjoyed real estate, so he obtained his license and went to work at Crye-Leike on Market Street.

There, Whitsett met Harrison, who was working as an agent. When the Northwest Georgia Crye-Leike office gave Harrison the opportunity to become its broker, Whitsett joined her. In time, Harrison left management to focus on listing and selling, and The Trusted Team was born.

If Whitsett gave the team an element of social charisma, Harrison brought a long history of management experience and service to her professional association, the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors (GCAR). She began her real estate career in 1998 in Lafayette, Ga., working first as an agent with Teems & Teems Realty and then as the owner of Anchor Realty, which she later franchised with Weichert Realtors First Choice. Harrison shuttered the business when the market went south in 2008 and moved to Crye-Leike.

Since becoming a Realtor, Harrison has been a dedicated volunteer at GCAR, serving on the Governmental Affairs Committee, the Grievance Committee, and as the Northwest Georgia Council’s vice-president and president.

Keller Williams first pitched the idea of opening an office in Northwest Georgia to The Trusted Team a year ago, but the timing wasn’t right, Whitsett says. After adding Wordon and Hall, the duo sat down with Nathan Brown, the team leader at KW Downtown, and took a fresh look at their prospects.

Whitsett and Harrison felt ready to make the move. “This part of Georgia has been experiencing positive things, so it was a good growth opportunity for us,” Whitsett says. “And KW thought having us here to capture a bigger share of the Northwest Georgia market would be a win for them.”

As residents of Northwest Georgia, Whitsett and Harrison do know the market. Buyers can get more house for their money in the region, property taxes are less expensive than in Tennessee, and there’s a tangible sense of community in the region, Whitsett says. But the number one thing that brings people across the border into Northwest Georgia, he says, are the schools.

“Our school system is one of the best in this area,” Whitsett says. “For many, the dreaded Georgia state income tax is a negative, but when you have access to the quality of education our schools provide without the cost of private schools, it’s money well spent.”

Harrison and Whitsett’s outlook is uniformly positive, despite the current housing shortage, as they believe this is a great time to buy. “There’s a vast shortage of houses on the market,” Whitsett says. “Three years ago, there were between ten and 12 thousand listings in the Chattanooga area; now there’s close to 3,400.”

“It’s driving prices up,” Harrison adds.

“There are more buyers than sellers right now, so it’s a great time to sell a house,” Whitsett continues. “Houses you couldn’t sell three years ago now have multiple offers. We listed a house on Sunday, and by Monday morning, it was under contract.”

Harrison and Whitsett aren’t going to wait for success to come to them, though; they’re going to put their noses to the proverbial grindstone. Their next step: hiring a marketing director. “We want everyone to know there’s a KW office in Northwest Georgia,” Harrison says. “You don’t have to go to Chattanooga to list in the Northwest Georgia area; you can come here.”

(While The Trusted Team does focus on the Northwest Georgia market, all of its agents are also licensed in Tennessee.)

Harrison and Whitsett knew calling themselves The Trusted Team would foster expectations in clients. And they were OK with that. From telling the truth about what a seller’s house is worth to zealously representing their client’s interests in a real estate transaction, they have spent the last five years working hard to live up to their name. Now they’re ready to bring their brand to a new region.

“We’re glad to be doing business here,” Whitsett says. “Our kids go to school here, and we pay taxes here. This is home.”