Greg Martin has a few one-liners he likes to toss around when he tells people he recently switched from selling cemetery plots to selling real estate.
“I went from selling inches to selling acres,” Martin says. He pauses, but he’s not done; he’s just warming up.
“I went from selling below-ground real estate to above-ground real estate,” Martin says. It’s a good line, but he’s saved his best for last.
“I went from selling frowns to selling smiles,” he says, offering a friendly grin as an example of his product.
Martin, 53, was in the cemetery business for 20 years. He was good at it, too, selling $500,000 a year in pre-arranged plots. He says he liked helping people prepare for a difficult day.
Now Martin is helping people prepare for a happier day. And he still enjoys his work, partly because he doesn’t like to be bored. “I love that I can work all the time,” he says. “I love being busy.”
Martin says his brother, Doug, chief operating officer at EMJ Corporation, teases him about his attachment to his phone. But that’s OK with Martin; he doesn’t just feel the need to be available around the clock to his clients - he likes to be on call. “I don’t mind answering the phone at 11 o’clock at night,” he says. “I want people to pick me because of my responsiveness. When someone calls me, if I can’t answer the phone right then, I’ll call them back like that,” he says, snapping his fingers.
Martin also wants people to be drawn to his integrity. He credits his parents, John and Dianne Martin, with teaching him right from wrong. “People will forgive you for making a mistake, but they won’t forgive you for lying to them,” he says. “So I’m always honest with people.”
Honesty is a part of a simple rule Martin has: he treats clients like he wants people to treat his mother. “I have always tried to treat people with dignity and respect,” he says.
Martin says his mom, a retired but well-known Realtor in Chattanooga, inspired his foray into real estate. “She loved helping people achieve their dreams,” he says. “Their joy upon the purchase of their home was her reward. I wanted to do the same thing.”
Martin waited until the time was right. That moment arrived last year, as the last of his four sons approached the end of high school and the start of college. “I had thought about doing this for years,” he says. “I was ready for something different.”
When Martin made the switch, there was no question about where he wanted to do business: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Realty Center in Hixson, where his mother had worked. “Mom had great affection for [owners] Ben and Karen Kelly,” Martin says. “Also, the Kellys have a great reputation.”
Martin might have switched the kind of property he was selling, but he didn’t skip a beat in terms of sales. Although a Realtor’s rookie year is usually his or her toughest, Martin has already racked up about $2,500,000 in sales, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Martin attributes his quick success to his sizable circle of influence, which he developed while growing up in Hixson and selling cemetery plots in the city for more than 15 years. “I have a lot of friends, and I’ve been in a ton of homes in this community,” he says. “So I’ve had a lot of referrals.”
While Martin is pleased with his success, money is not a motivator for him. Now that his kids are grown and gone, he says he’s fueled by the idea of helping people. “As I look at my career and what I want to accomplish at this point in my life, I want to help people,” he says. “I’ll make money along the way, but what drives me every day is solving problems for others and making their lives better.”
One of the ways Martin helps others through real estate is assisting his elderly clients with downsizing. Through a loss in his own life and wisdom from a sibling, Martin learned to empathize with his older buyers and sellers, and to guide them through what can be a tough time.
“My family and I spent every Christmas Eve at the home in which we grew up. But my dad’s death a few years ago was hard on my mom, and she wanted to sell the house. I didn’t want her to,” Martin says. “But my sister, Cindy, liked the idea because it would keep us from having to grieve both the loss of our mom and the home someday.”
Martin’s mother sold the house and moved into a smaller place, and Martin now offers his elderly clients the same sage advice.
Martin also aims to help people through public service. He’s served on the school board for district three, which includes Hixson, Lakeside, Middle Valley, and Big Ridge, since 2012, and is currently vying for the county commissioner’s seat in the same district. Martin will be the Republican Party’s nominee in the special election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
As a member of the school board, Martin has done more than occupy a seat at meetings; since joining the board, he’s gone into at least one school a week to meet with teachers, staff, or the Parent Teacher Association. He’s also talked with high school students about his favorite public servant: Alexander Hamilton.
“Hamilton came out of a difficult background to become the father of our system of government,” Martin says. “I use his story to let kids know they can make something of themselves, no matter what their background is or how they started out in life.”
Last year, Martin was named the PTA School Board Member of the Year in Tennessee for his efforts to improve public education in Hamilton County. He’s running for commissioner because he’s ready to expand his reach.
“When you’re on the school board, you’re always talking about education,” he says. “The county commission covers a broader range of topics.”
In addition to being involved in the political arena, Martin is a member of the Hixson Kiwanis and serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of Hixson, the Advisory Board of the North River Civic Center, and the Board of Directors for the Hixson Council of the Chamber of Commerce. He’s also active in his church, Calvary Chapel Chattanooga.
Born and raised in Hixson, Martin graduated from Hixson High School in 1981 and earned an undergraduate degree at Bryan College in Dayton. He then attended classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master’s degree and a doctorate. After pastoring a church on the Gulf Coast for ten years and getting his feet wet selling cemetery plots, Martin returned to Hixson in 1999.
Martin is married to Sheila, with whom he has four sons: Ben, Austin, Jay, and Peyton. Although tied to his phone, he does make time to exercise (he can be seen jogging the streets of Downtown Chattanooga on Wednesdays as part of the Hump Day Runner’s Club) and travel (he’s visited 47 U.S. states).
When Martin was selling cemetery plots, people often asked him why he didn’t sell something else, like dream vacations or a popular line of products. His answer applies as much to what he’s doing now as to what he was doing then: “I never did anything else because to do well in sales, you have to have a passion for and be committed to what you’re selling,” he would say.
In other words, Martin has never had a job he didn’t like. And he plans on keeping it that way. “I’m going to ride real estate all the way to retirement and beyond,” he says. “I love that I can be 75 and still doing this.”
It’s a good plan. But if Martin wants to stay in the business that long, he might want to come up with some new one-liners.