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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, May 17, 2019

Bucking the big-team trend


Foreman, Smith find they can do more alone than many with larger numbers



Realtors John Foreman and Louellen Smith credit their good business chemistry with the success of the Foreman Smith team at Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty. - Photographs provided

Real estate teams are becoming more common as agents band together in response to consumer demand for comprehensive services and continuous support.

As the number of teams has risen, so has their size. One successful team at Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty has a workforce of 23, counting buyers and listing specialists, inside sales agents and other staff.

The scope of this and other teams is staggering. But as Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston once sang, “One can have a dream, baby, [and] two can make a dream so real.” Said less poetically, it takes just two Realtors to make a team.

John Foreman and Louellen Smith are such a pair. He’s an outside sales professional turned Realtor and she’s a former personal trainer and restaurant manager who loves selling homes. Together, they make up the Foreman Smith team at Keller Williams Downtown.

Despite being a team of two, Foreman and Smith have posted numbers strong enough to make them one of the top groupings at their office, which has a roster of 314 agents and 13 teams.

In 2018, the pair sold 50 houses totaling $15 million in sales – the third highest number of units for a team and the second highest sales volume for a team at Keller Williams Downtown last year.

The success of the Foreman Smith team is built on a foundation of good chemistry. Like the attraction between oppositely charged ions that enable the creation of a chemical bond, their unique qualities as individual agents have allowed them to form a team that has the strengths needed to succeed in real estate.

Smith uses door knocks as an example of how their differences are complementary.

The pair became acquainted while working daily in the same common area at Keller Williams Downtown. Over the course of a year, they began to hold each other accountable. When Foreman, the more aggressive salesperson of the two, asked Smith if she’d knocked on doors to stir up business, she balked.

“I have a different personality than John,” Smith explains. “The idea of knocking on someone’s door terrified me, so I told him I wasn’t going to do it.”

One day, Foreman encouraged his Realtor friend to step out of her comfort zone and join him on a door-knocking excursion. She agreed and, to her surprise, their efforts yielded several appointments.

As they continued their outings, Smith noticed Foreman had a tendency to come on strong when talking with homeowners. Her years as a personal trainer and working in a restaurant had given her empathy for customers, so she encouraged him to dial his aggressiveness down a notch.

As Foreman and Smith balanced each other out, their results increased. They also learned they had something in common: the same work ethic.

“I didn’t have an office, but I treated my business like a 9-5 job,” Foreman says. “I showed up every day and worked until I had an appointment and then went back when it was over. Louellen did the same thing.”

After officially forming their team in 2013, Foreman and Smith put their good business chemistry to work. This has carried them through both lean times and times of plenty.

In 2017, the duo did $12 million in sales as the housing market boomed. Then, as a shrinking inventory threatened to undercut their success, they adjusted their tactics to keep buyers supplied.

“We started asking our buyers, ‘What’s your favorite neighborhood? What kind of house do you like?’” Foreman says. “After one buyer told us where he wanted to live, we created a flyer that advertised his interest and walked through the neighborhood knocking on doors. “We found someone who was selling in the next six months.”

“We’ve found a lot of houses for people that way,” Smith adds.

While Foreman and Smith have certainly proven Gaye and Weston right, like any partnership, they disagree from time to time. One recurrent bone of contention has been pricing.

Foreman explains: “Most sellers want to try to sell their house for more than it’s worth. If their house is worth $200,000, they might want to try for $215,000. Because of my sales background, I’m a little that way myself,” he points out.

“But Louellen will say, it’s worth $200,000; list it for that and you’ll get it.”

“In the market we were in last year, you could try to get a little more. But that can get you in trouble,” Smith counters.

Instead of allowing their disagreements on pricing to create a fissure in their relationship, Foreman and Smith talk it out.

“We’ll ask ourselves, ‘Is this something we can try in this area, or do we need to stick close to the value of the home?’” Smith says.

“In some cases, you do need to try to sell it for a little more, and sometimes you need to be dead on,” Foreman admits.

Foreman compares his business relationship with Smith to his marriage and says the back-and-forth nature of their dialogue benefits their clients.

“My wife and I disagree about all the little things. But on the big things – our values, our kids, our finances – we agree about everything,” he says.

“Louellen and I are the same way. Our values of hard work, taking care of our customers and doing the right thing line up perfectly, but we fight like cats and dogs about all the little things. That’s good because in the end, the customer gets the right answer.”

Like many Realtors, Foreman and Smith both have a background that shaped and refined them for a career in real estate.

Foreman grew up on the move, with his father’s job in the poultry industry taking his family to six states during his formative years. By the time Foreman graduated from Boyd Buchanan in Chattanooga, he’d attended 12 schools.

The frequent changes in Foreman’s environment taught him to adapt. “Every time I switched schools, I had to make new friends and get along with new teachers,” he recalls.

Foreman discovered his competitive nature while playing sports at these schools. Whether it was football, baseball, basketball or wrestling, he loved to win and distained losing.

Foreman stayed in the Scenic City as he earned a marketing degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Then it was off to the races again, with his first stop being Indianapolis, where he sold caulk and spackle for DAP.

During the next 12 years, Foreman held five outside sales positions in a variety of industries including commercial tires, uniforms, pharmaceutical products and more. This put him in contact with everyone from “the greasy guy who changed the tires to the owners and president of the company,” which he says helped him to be able to relate to everyone.

After Foreman was laid off from his pharmaceutical sales position in Chattanooga, he stayed home with his then 2-year-old twins and looked fruitlessly for his next sales gig.

Nine months later, Keller Williams agent Iris Rodger asked Foreman if he’d thought about selling houses. He hadn’t. But it wasn’t long before Foreman found himself in the common area at Keller Williams Downtown, building a real estate business.

As Foreman started working at KW, Smith was trying to determine what her next move would be. She’d grown up in Chattanooga, earned a degree in exercise science at UTC, tried unsuccessfully to scrape a living from personal training and then taken a job as a server at Market Street Tavern.

By the time the restaurant shut its doors in 2012, she was helping to manage it. Although Smith received offers to work at other restaurants, she was ready for a change.

Real Estate Partners agent Kevin Wamack asked Smith if she’d thought about selling houses. She hadn’t. But it wasn’t long before Smith found herself in a Keller Williams Downtown class, learning about the real estate business.

“I wanted to learn how to sell a house before I tried to do it,” she remembers. “That’s my personality; I like to know what I’m doing and feel comfortable with it.”

Smith was so intent on learning the ropes, she took Keller Williams’ 12-session training course, Ignite, twice. Her extra effort paid off as she rolled up her sleeves and tapped into her sphere.

“I have a big family and I went to school at Notre Dame, so I know a lot of people,” she says. “My business snowballed from there.”

In 2013, Smith won Keller Williams Downtown’s Rising Star Award; the following year, she took home the Rookie of the Year trophy.

Six years later, Foreman and Smith are the ones doing the teaching. Foreman leads Ignite classes at Keller Williams Downtown and is coaching several of KW’s up-and-coming agents.

In addition, the two are teaching home-buying seminars. While a participant could become a client, they do it to help people.

“I might be in sales, but I’m not a salesperson,” Smith clarifies. “I consider myself to be in customer service. John and I want to help people understand what they’re doing and feel confident about it.”

Although motivated by altruism, Smith does say she’d like the classes to add to their client base. “We want our business to come from people who like and trust us.”

Although Foreman and Smith work closely together during the day, they eventually part ways and go home to family.

Foreman and his wife, Allison, now have 10-year-old twins and a 5-year-old son. The family attends Calvary Chapel and enjoys taking in local sporting events.

Smith and her husband, Walter, count their two rescue dogs – a 95-pound Rhodesian ridgeback mix and a bulldog – as family. They spend their free time on the lake or at the farm his family owns and tooling around the country in their 1968 Serro Scotty Camper.

“We drove out west last summer,” Smith says. “We did 5,000 miles in two-and-a-half weeks.”

The couple also makes use of their camper during annual trips to Talladega Superspeedway.

Eventually, duty calls and Foreman and Smith team up again to serve their clients, educate the public and grow their business. In 2019, they’re aiming to sell 70 houses totaling $20 million in sales.

Their optimism is fueled by their progress in recent years and a shift to a three-person dynamic.

To help spur further growth, Foreman and Smith recently added a third person to the mix: buyer’s agent Bethany Ingham, a Colorado native who’s made a home in Chattanooga with her husband and three children.

By bringing on an agent to help serve their buyers, Foreman and Smith hope to free themselves to tackle the challenges that lie ahead of them, including a slight cooling of the market even as more houses become available.

“When we started in real estate, months of supply was at nine months. A balanced market is six months, so at nine months, it was a heavy buyers’ market,” Foreman explains.

“For the last year, months of supply has been at three months and sales have either risen or hovered. In the past quarter, months of supply is starting to rise but sales aren’t. If that continues, then we’ve peaked and are going the other way.”

Foreman and Smith say their good business chemistry will see them through. “I want to take over the world and grow, grow, grow and Louellen wants to settle down, settle down, settle down,” Foreman says. “She keeps me from going too fast and getting myself in trouble.

“Put those two things together and we’re perfect.”