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VOL. 36 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 9, 2012

A Bolder Breed of Realtor

Those who braved the housing crisis are now enjoying the rewards

By Hollie Deese

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Kenny Silva was ready for a change. A guitarist, he had moved to Nashville after music school in Boston to live life on the road. But that once-appealing lifestyle quickly began to lose its luster somewhere along the highway between Nashville and Texas.

“I was away all the time,” he says. “I had some friends, but those relationships really suffered because I wasn’t around to invest in them and build them.”

Instead, he spent his time on the road reading financial and real estate investment books. And in 2009, he left the road and committed himself to selling real estate full time, despite hearing about how bleak it was from Realtors in the trenches.

“To me it seemed like potential,” Silva says. “The business used to be so hot you could just put a sign in the yard and the house would sell. The problem with that is a whole bunch of people got in the business and never actually learned how to do it. They just kind of succeeded by circumstance.

“So when the market dropped, the opportunity for that was gone. You actually had to get in, learn what you were doing, put in the time and pay your dues. And then when the market would get hot again you would start to see the fruit of that.”

And for Silva, the market is good. Specializing in East Nashville, specifically Lockeland Springs and Eastland, he says there were 62 closings in that market last year with a median price of $250,000 and an average time on market of less than two months. Silva, who is with Keller Williams, fields inquiries daily from people looking to buy in that area, but the supply is just not there.

“At least for my neighborhood over there I am confident that as people decide to sell their houses there are going to be buyers right there ready to go,” he says.

Like Silva, many of the new breed of Realtors are hungry, focused and simply saw the down market as a challenge to overcome.

Wendy Monday of Parks Properties, a boutique agency within Bob Parks Realty, got her license in 2007 and attributes the entrepreneurial spirit borne from the recession with that aggressive mindset.

“You don’t want to be beholden to a company to pay you or hire you,” she says.

Plus, unlike a number of other small business startups, there are practically no costs to get started. “You go, get your license, and then you just really apply yourself,” Monday says. “With a restaurant or food truck, you have to buy supplies. With a real estate license, however hard you want to work, you can make it happen.”

Monday, who was the director of marketing for the Governor’s Club for six years before getting her license, tries to be a presence among a diverse group within the field, like the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors and the U.S. Green Building Council Middle Tennessee.

“It was good to get into the business when it was already down because I didn’t know any better,” she says. “I had to work hard and it was a lot of networking. It was a lot of deliberate marketing and getting involved in different groups like the USGBC so I could be around building and construction.”

It is work that is paying off for Parks Properties, which specializes in Belle Meade, Bellevue, Forest Hills, Green Hills, 12South, West End and Downtown. The agency has shown a 300 percent increase in sales this February over last February, figures that Monday attributes to both an increase in the number of agents and an increase in sales.

Gary Ashton used to think Realtors don’t really work hard for their money until he started doing it himself. A drummer from England who once got to play in front Lady Diana at Wembley Arena, Ashton got into real estate via hotel ownership with his father. But it wasn’t until he was in Nashville specifically for music that he got his license, mainly to help fund his playing.

“I thought you only had to work an hour or so a day, and the rest of the time I could be practicing and playing gigs,” he says. “But I soon found out that being a touring musician in Nashville is terrible, and if you still have a mortgage to pay you have to find another way to make your money.” He got his license in 2001, despite being told how bad the market was.

“Then it was picking up in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007,” he says. He still did well in 2008 because of Internet leads, part of which he gets from being the official Realtor of Nashville.com. “Then I started seeing the number of inquiries dropping. And just like everybody else, my business went down about 50 percent. And we have been treading water, really.”


Things are turning around, however. Ashton says his group, RE/MAX Elite, had its busiest December and January for closings in four years, and Google analytics shows a spike in online activity to his site over the last year. They are currently the No. 1 team with The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Elite in Nashville and Tennessee and in the top 50 RE/MAX teams in the country.

Clay Tate was licensed in 2008, but didn’t devote his first full year to real estate sales until 2010. The Lipscomb graduate felt the pressure to succeed when his wife was nearing the end of her pregnancy with their son, now 2, and leaving her full-time job to stay at home. Until then he had been doing it part time along with a handyman business.

“The motivation was definitely there and, if I had any reservation about being in real estate and looking for business, all of that went out the window,” Tate says. “I just couldn’t afford to be hesitant. I had to just own it.”

That first year he did just more than $2 million in sales. In 2011, his goal was to double that but fell a little short at $3.4 million.

Tate, now with Benchmark, began with Crye-Leike and was even close to making a career switch to get out of real estate. But when those plans fell through, he knew he had to put everything he had into selling houses.

“The only people during that time who were hiring sales guys were straight commission,” he says. “It was dog-eat-dog out there.”

He sent out an email blast to everyone he knew with a two sentence background bio and said he was looking for referrals. His goal was to sell one house a month his first year. It took him 367 days.

“I think people thought I was crazy when I first got my license,” he says. “In my mind, I thought that would present some opportunities for me if I just had a singular message and stayed after it and did not waver left or right. It is really the first time in my life I have picked one thing and gone at it 100 percent.”

And the consensus is that, based on the first few months of 2012, even more Realtors will make even more sales.

Kim Fennell has been selling real estate for 17 years in Middle Tennessee and her company, Main Street Real Estate, just took on two more Realtors returning to the business and a third Realtor just starting out.

“The environment is encouraging,” Fennell says. “We are a small firm, and for us to get three people like that all of the sudden is big. There is just so much more interest and excitement in the market. And money.”

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