Like a lot of mid-sized cities in the U.S., Atlanta has undergone tremendous growth and revitalization in recent years, and local brokerages like Keller Williams Realty’s Intown office are learning to navigate those changes.
“For us, I think the challenge of the year ahead is to continue to find ways to identify new inventory for sale,” says Mark Jones, 49, Intown’s new CEO. He says that keeping up-to-date on the shifting market while preparing agents to keep their heads in the game is one of his top priorities in the new role. Jones is tasked with helping agents find ways to support clients in a low inventory environment.
Finding Solutions That Work
Jones has been licensed for nearly 20 years. He has a diverse background in business, banking, marketing, and selling real estate as an agent. His varied career path has translated into the skill set necessary for his current role. In fact, Intown’s recruitment efforts now focus on drawing people from outside the real estate industry, especially in fields like fine dining services and education because of the skills they bring to the table.
“Agents are bombarded with shiny new products, services, or solutions every day. Their email and social media have become nagging distractions. One of our biggest challenges is to keep them focused on the right things for their clients and their business,” Jones says. To take some of that load off of agents, Jones is welcoming new automated systems and other upgrades in 2019 that will reduce the amount of manual work required and increase the amount of time agents can spend in the field. Agents are also being trained to use technologies for capturing leads from websites, social media, and texting.
These upgrades set the stage for what Jones sees as a key opportunity to focus on a hyperlocal approach to real estate which stems, in large part, from Jones’ appreciation for the city itself. Born in Connecticut, he has called Atlanta home for his entire adult life. After a six-year relocation to San Diego, he returned to Atlanta drawn by what he calls a “unique energy.”
Pivoting With Market Changes
For Jones, Atlanta’s development boom seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. After living in California for six years, he was stunned by the changes upon his return to Atlanta in 2015. Major restoration projects dotted the city, like the adaptive use project called Ponce City Market that sits across the street from the Keller Williams Intown office. Housed in a fully renovated historic landmark that was once a Sears, Roebuck, & Co. store, the space is now is home to a full market and commercial space with artisan foods, coffee shops, retail, and offices with the upper floors occupied by residential flats. Jones likens it to Quincy Market in Boston or Chelsea Market in Manhattan.
Another of the city’s biggest revitalization projects is the Atlanta Beltline—nearly 10 years in the making—with a long-term vision of turning old railroad tracks that encircle the metro into a citywide bike and pedestrian pathway. The Ponce City Market is located right along the Beltline, and other restaurants and coffee shops are popping up in response to its success.
On the flip side, Jones says the higher density is driving a lack of inventory for first-time home buyers. After the 2008 recession, construction of new homes froze, and while resales soared after the economy bounced back, new construction sales have yet to recover. Sales at the Keller Williams Intown office hit nearly $676 million in 2017, however, despite a sales increase north of 13.2 percent in 2018, Jones says the overall sales growth trend has slowed as the economic bounce back has plateaued.
Jones’ agents are now challenged to introduce people to new areas of the city, helping them to recognize opportunities in areas they aren’t familiar with, often in neighborhoods where characteristics vary street by street. He credits a younger generation of home buyers with being more open to living, working, and exploring in farther reaches of the city—a shift in perspective that bodes well for Atlanta’s future as its destiny continues to rise and Jones’ agents search for creative new ways to market the city’s real estate.
“This is where it really helps [for agents] to know the area. If you can dig deep and ask questions to find out what it is the homebuyers love about one neighborhood, you can help them identify and fall in love with another neighborhood they may not even have considered but is more in line with their goals and budget,” Jones says.
With Atlanta taking on a new shape, the issue of gentrification has emerged. To combat displacement, Jones says the city is searching for ways to prop up long-term homeowners who can no longer afford their property taxes.
“We’re investing a lot of time in making sure our agents are going to different neighborhoods, going on Beltline tours, and learning about what’s happening so they can speak intelligently about it to their customers,” Jones says.
Handling Growth and Challenges
Managing a 10 percent growth in agent count is another challenge Jones has had to navigate as CEO, coming from an office with less than half as many agents. The Intown office has seen an uptick from 193 agents at the end of 2017 to 212 at the end of 2018, 25 percent of whom work on teams. “Just the sheer number of conversations to be had and the relationships to grow and nurture was a little intimidating,” he says. “But that’s the fun part—getting know each agent, their business, and their goals—it lays the groundwork for helping them grow.”
For broker-owners and managers who oversee a large volume of agent, Jones says it’s important to create a sense of trust, honesty, and confidence that real estate professionals can rely on when big market changes happen. People want to know their brokerage will help them adapt to fluctuations in the economy, housing market, or technology which requires conviction and vision in the leadership.
Having been an agent himself, Jones finds that he can relate to his agents easily and gain trust quickly. Combining his multi-craft background with a crew of agents from diverse walks of life is the formula that keeps Jones’ Intown office ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing world.