Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 11, 2019

From steakhouse to selling houses

Smith finally embraces path his parents suggested

Keller Williams Realtor Sean Smith is the founder of Smith Property Group. In addition to providing comprehensive home buying and selling services, he serves as a real estate investor and adviser. - Photograph provided

When Realtor Sean Smith thinks about the beginning of his adult life and compares it to where he is today, he can scarcely fathom the difference.

He pictures himself at 19, toiling at a miserable job in a cut-rate steakhouse in Smyrna, making $30 a night polishing brass rails and breathing secondhand cigarette smoke.

Smith remembers his parents asking him if he’d ever thought about going into real estate, but at that age the only thing on his mind was getting as far away from home as $30 a night could carry him.

He made it as far as Chattanooga, where he started studying to become a nurse. When Smith realized the medical field was not his cup of tea, he switched gears to business, then deviated from that plan, too, when he started earning good money in the restaurant business.

Then he met Mackenzie, the woman who would become his wife and the mother of his 2-year-old son, Elijah. As romantic interests tend to do, she irreversibly altered the course of his life.

There was just one problem: he was rarely able to spend time with her. “We never saw each other because I worked nights and weekends,” he recalls. “I would pay my friends to take her out, and then they would come to the restaurant to see me. It was the only way I could spend a little time with her.”

Smith thought the solution rested in opening his own restaurant, but the lack of capital held that dream at bay.

Facing a dilemma, Smith’s ears perked up when a friend suggested he speak with the leader of a successful real estate team in Chattanooga about becoming a Realtor.

By that time, Smith and Mackenzie were married, but their paths still rarely crossed due to conflicting schedules, so the thing that didn’t appeal to him when mom and dad proposed it now sounded like the right opportunity.

By January 2016, Smith had ditched his bartender’s apron and become a Realtor. But his journey to his life today was only beginning, as he still needed to sell his first house.

That happened five months later. And after it did, Smith’s business took off like a racecar crossing the starting line at the Indy 500. In the six months that followed, Smith closed 24 houses, almost one per week.

As many Realtors and brokers can recall, 2016 was a lucrative time for agents. But Smith was not just another rookie the boom carried to quick success; rather, he started thinking outside the proverbial box the moment he earned his license, and that ushered him to even greater heights.

In addition to selling homes, Smith started flipping houses on his own and helping other people build wealth through real estate by identifying potential investments.

He mentions a couple he advised as an example.

 “Our friends bought their first house in Highland Park last year,” he says. “They just bought another house two weeks ago and rented the first one. In a year or two, they’re going to buy a third house as they continue to strategically build their rental portfolio.

“People will always need shelter, so rentals are a safe investment.”

Smith says he maintains three income streams so he and his wife can “keep the lights on” should one of them stop producing. That said, his heart is not in his paycheck but in creating opportunities for other people.

“Mentors and coaches have invested in me, and now I want to invest in other people, whether it’s creating jobs or finding ways for people to invest in real estate,” he says. “I want to help people realize their dreams and grow their businesses.”

Smith has been at Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty since last year, drawn by KW owner Gary Keller’s efforts to keep agents at the heart of real estate transactions.

In addition to national companies like Redfin, Purplebricks and Opendoor, which are disrupting the agent-based real estate model, Smith says many Realtors in Chattanooga are cutting their commissions.

So he says he appreciates the investment Keller is making in its agents through company training and other means.

“Whenever I go to a listing presentation, people say, ‘This agent said he’ll do it for 4.5%,’” he points out. “But if you’ve ever passed up a name brand product to buy a lower value version of the same thing, then you probably got what you paid for. It might not have lasted as long or produced the best results.

“There’s a reason I get paid what I get paid.”

Smith has also formed Smith Property Group at KW and hired Kylie Davis as director of operations. With her help, he hopes to sell 40 houses by the end of this year and 80 houses in 2020.

“It’s strategic growth, there’s no reason for me to bring on another agent at this point,” he adds.

Smith is implementing a number of mechanisms he says will spur the growth. One of these is a membership card that will provide his real estate clients with discounts at local businesses and exclusive benefits.

Clients will receive a membership card containing their name, the expiration date and a QR code that loads a website with links to the restaurants and other businesses with which Smith Property Group has partnered. To renew their membership for another year, clients will need to make one referral during the preceding 12 months.

The program might sound like a Hamilton County coupon book, but it’s not, Smith explains. Instead, his goal is to generate referrals. “I’m focused on building relationships,” Smith says.

Now 31, Smith can look back 12 short years to his days at the steakhouse and marvel at how far he’s come. Before, he was a 19-year-old with wanderlust and wobbly aspirations. Now, he’s a husband, father, business owner, homeowner – and college graduate.

“When I met Mackenzie, I decided I needed to satisfy her parents, so I went back to school,” he says. “It took me 13 years, but I have my degree.”

Also, Smith is doing more than working to further himself, he’s striving to create opportunities for others. For these reasons and more, he’s glad he listened to his friend who suggested he become a Realtor – and he even admits his parents’ proposal all those years ago was on the mark.

“I’m thankful I became a Realtor,” he says. “It’s given me a passion and lifestyle I never imagined I’d have.”