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Front Page - Friday, July 12, 2019

Premier Property makes its move

Rapidly growing real estate firm goes from ‘garage band’ to ‘Aerosmith’

Christi Painter is moving up in real estate. Literally.

Two years after launching Premier Property Group, she’s moved the company from the second to the third floor of One Park Place, an executive office building on Lee Highway, and expanded from a single, small suite into three larger suites.

“We were a garage band and now we’re Aerosmith,” she says with a laugh.

Premier’s quick growth from small startup with five agents and Painter serving as principal broker to an ever-swelling force with 43 agents with Painter still at the vanguard partly necessitated the move. She wanted her sales associates to have a comfortable, attractive space in which to work and meet with clients.

But Painter had something else in mind, too, as she climbed the stairs at One Park Place to look at new offices: she wanted to give her company’s commercial division a boost.

Half of Premier’s commercial arm is flanking Painter as she proudly opens the door to their own space, a sizable room with generous views of the greenery outside.

On one side stands a commercial real estate veteran, Ken Armstrong; on the other, Michael Taylor, a newer commercial agent who has a few years under his belt but is still in the seasoning stage of his career.

This isn’t the first time Taylor has seen the space – he’s already claimed a desk – but his excitement over having a dedicated office in which to work has yet to fade.

“Having our own space gives us the stamp of professionalism,” he says, sounding a little like he’s just opened a gift on Christmas morning. “If I have a multimillion-dollar client and I’m meeting them at Panera, that’s an issue. I could go to his office, but what if he’s from Miami? I need a nice place to take him.”

A third agent who’s not present and Painter herself complete Premier’s commercial division, giving Painter a small group of agents to serve businesses and investors in Chattanooga and beyond.

Painter is fine with small. As she curated Premier’s commercial group, her goal was not to fill it with bodies but to choose quality brokers.

“We’ve been a residential and commercial firm from the beginning. However, hand-picking commercial brokers isn’t like hand-picking residential agents. There are close to 2,000 agents on the MLS, and only a handful of those are excellent commercial brokers,” Painter explains. “Finding the right ones took time.”

At the top of Painter’s criteria for joining Premier’s commercial team were professionalism and integrity; strong sales was a distant third. “I wanted people who would represent my company well,” she adds.

Taylor was the first commercial broker to join Painter. She welcomed him aboard after a long conversation.

“I don’t just open the doors and wave people in; I needed to know about Michael’s real estate education, his experience, if he was up-to-date in the industry, how well he serves his clients and if he met my criteria,” Painter says. “After we spoke, I wanted him on our team.”

Taylor began his real estate career as a residential agent but switched to commercial work after finding it better suited his personality.

“My patience for spending nights and weekends checking drapes and finding out the kind of wood floors a home had was low,” he acknowledges. “There was plenty of money to be made but it wasn’t worth the return on my investment because I couldn’t buy more time.”

After learning the ropes under a top commercial broker, Taylor joined Premier, drawn by the simplicity of the company’s business arrangement with its agents.

“Everyone starts at an 85-15 split and there are no fees. When I hand someone their paycheck, it’s 85% of their commission,” Painter explains.

Painter had wanted to work with Armstrong since meeting him at a business basics course she was teaching at BrightBridge Women’s Business Center over two years ago. “He had his CCIM designation pin on and was there to find out about the class,” Painter recalls. “I used him on the spot to provide input for the new entrepreneurs.”

Like Taylor, Armstrong was attracted to what he calls the simplicity and generosity of Premier’s model. He also liked the freedom he’d have to run his business the way he desired. “Christi manages what she needs to while putting as much control as possible in the hands of her agents,” he says.

Each member of Painter’s commercial team has a unique focus.

Taylor was weaned in an environment which taught him to “shoot at anything that moves,” but he had no desire to be what he calls a generalist. He’s instead chosen to focus on triple net leasing investments, agreements in which the tenant is responsible for the costs associated with the asset being leased.

This pits Premier against larger, more recognizable commercial real estate firms, Armstrong says. “Our commercial division can serve anyone, but JLL, CBRE Group and Colliers International will win the corporate accounts.

“They’ll win the Starbucks and McDonald’s.”

This doesn’t concern Taylor, who prefers to work with a small number of clients with high net worth in order to give them his full attention and provide a tailored approach to investment.

“Commercial real estate is not a qualitative business; it’s a relationship business,” he says. “For example, I helped a $30 million company from Middle Tennessee obtain a small lease here. Signing that lease was not my goal; I wanted to build a quality relationship.

“That can take years. But once I have a relationship with that CEO, he’s going to come to me when he needs investment help.”

Unlike Taylor, Armstrong is a generalist. A commercial broker since 2004, his work encompasses the width and breadth of commercial real estate and investment opportunities, allowing him to be a resource for retail, industrial, office and multifamily transactions.

Armstrong also can provide representation for land deals.

Armstrong’s assessment of his arena is just as piercing as his appraisal of Taylor’s.

“The manufacturing trend in the U.S. has trickled down to the industrial asset class in Chattanooga and is above average as far as the scale of interest. For its size, it gives Nashville and Atlanta a run for the money,” he points out.

“But multifamily has plateaued and office space in Chattanooga is a challenge. There’s too much inventory. It defies supply and demand as well as micro and macro economics.”

The good news for both gentlemen, Painter says, is they’re not limited to working in the Chattanooga market. “We’re licensed in Tennessee and Georgia. These guys are not just Chattanooga brokers; they’re statewide,” she says.

“We have relationships with attorneys and brokers that can get us into any market,” Taylor adds.

Premier’s third commercial broker exists in an even tighter niche than Taylor: Crystal Meisenheimer sells and leases the real property that comes with chiropractic business sales. Her focus grew out of the business she co-owns with her husband, Progressive Practice Sales, which specializes in chiropractic and holistic clinic sales.

“My agents have to be motivated and treat their career seriously,” Painter says. “Crystal is both of those things and very professional. I was impressed with her when we first met.”

As the fourth member of Premier’s commercial group, Painter specializes in commercial and residential properties while training and mentoring new agents.

During her 16 years in real estate, she has facilitated a variety of commercial transactions, including large ground agreements, building purchases, office lease contracts, company relocation and more.

Although only four brokers make up Premier’s commercial division, Painter says the group is perfect. “The right brokers are the key to a successful firm with a commercial division,” she continues. “I might add one or two more brokers in the next year or two.”

Armstrong adds he believes in the group’s potential. “Every agent in the city has the same opportunities. And when you put more control in the agent’s hands, like Christi has done, they’re going to be more motivated,” he says. “The market is the market; there’s X amount of inventory, there’s X number of buyers and it’s all up for grabs.”

Premier Property Group will celebrate its two-year anniversary Aug. 1. When Painter founded the company, she was hoping to “shake up the local real estate industry” by distinguishing it from the regional and national franchises that have established a local foothold.

“When I was creating this model, I thought about what I wanted as an agent,” she says.“I wanted the freedom to choose my tools, I wanted to be able to reach my broker at any time and I didn’t want to pay franchise fees.

“I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but I felt like there was room for something different, and that if I created it, agents would come.”

Learn more about Premier Property Group at premierpropertygroup.biz.