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Front Page - Friday, November 1, 2019

McDonald adds his own twist to family tradition

Realtor learned the art of the real estate deal from father, grandfather

“You can make a lot of money in this business, but that’s not my driver,” McDonald says. - Photograph provided

In the late 1980s, when the only way to get deeds and plats was to go to the Register of Deeds office in person and pull the microfilm, young Matt McDonald frequently pedaled his bike from his family’s Battery Place home to the Hamilton County Courthouse roughly 1 mile away to print copies for his father John, one of the city’s most prolific developers.

“It was an interesting way of being brought up in this business,” says McDonald, 38, an agent with The Group Real Estate Brokerage. “Just like a shopkeeper’s kid has to take over running the shop, I knew exactly what to do (when he later took over for his dad in an emergency). I was not afraid to say that I needed to get better information and get back to you, but I had a certain confidence or swagger because I had seen it done literally hundreds, if not thousands, of times.”

That confidence now works to his advantage in a career that fits him like the perfect home. “I was never afraid to take on anything, whether it was a piece of raw land or a modest house, an expensive house or commercial deal.

“The only thing I’ve never sold is industrial property,” McDonald says. “I kind of pride myself on being a jack of all trades in the real estate business.”

McDonald grew up immersed in the profession. His grandfather Joseph, aka “Big Joe,” was a Renaissance man with a Mensa-level IQ, a photographic memory and a propensity for speed reading who became a property developer straight out of his World War II U.S. Navy service.

He is credited with developing 95 subdivisions, 13 church campuses, a couple of schools and the famous Space House on Signal Mountain. “He would put together the land in a growing area and convince the city or whatever government that this would be a perfect place for a school,” McDonald recalls. “Joe was really the cornerstone of my real estate career because he was such a mover and shaker.”

McDonald’s dad, John, with whom he still collaborates, took the company to a new level, concentrating strictly on land development. “He was really good at basically identifying any potential use for the property that others may be overlooking. He’s just a phenomenal mind also in analyzing trends and what’s to come.”

When McDonald was old enough to drive, his father asked him to cruise various neighborhoods in search of lots with tall grass. “He’d say, ‘We need to write every one of those people a letter and offer to buy their property,’” McDonald remembers. “We bought based on circumstance. And when you’re buying based on circumstance, you have to know why the property has an issue and you have to know how you can solve it.”

Such attention to detail is now the hallmark of McDonald’s work as a real estate agent.

“A lot of Realtors are very good at describing homes and exciting the public or potential buyers about how pretty this home is or how well located it is. But at the end of the day, it has to be correct in terms of title, knowing encumbrances, no encroachment, plat issues, the restrictions. That’s where I’ve got a leg up on a lot of people because I grew up in a business that was focused on that back end of real estate.”

Ironically, McDonald didn’t originally set out to follow in his family members’ footsteps. The turning point came in 2006 when the new University of Tennessee marketing graduate was selling cars in Knoxville and got a call that his dad had hurt his back and was unable to work.

“It wasn’t 48 hours that I was back in Chattanooga to take over the family business. It was fast and furious,” McDonald acknowledges. “I had to take over the family business with little to no experience other than what I’d seen over the years going on appointments with [my dad].”

McDonald learned a lot about dealing with “no-nonsense” builders and end users who knew exactly what they wanted and needed. But the more he helped out in his father’s company, the more he was drawn to the real estate side. “It’s just amazing what type of information Realtors have at their fingertips, even back then,” he says.

He got his real estate license in 2007. He recently moved to The Group from another company, partly because his background and experience “dovetailed” with the firm’s solid relationships with builders. To gain an edge against the competition, McDonald uses a high-end, 3-D Matterport camera that allows a buyer to visually scan every inch of a home online.

In addition to his undeniable public confidence – “I’ve learned to basically remove any type of ambiguity, and people do appreciate that,” he says. McDonald says his strengths are his deep experience in the field, an excellent support system and a knack for the finer transaction details.

“The real toe-stubbers are the ones where you don’t see it coming, and then you get to the closing table and there’s an issue that has to be handled,” he says. “That’s where I feel like my skill really pays off.”

By no means, however, does McDonald’s self-assuredness translate to ego or a territorial attitude. In fact, he often encourages friends and acquaintances to go into real estate too, and he’s on standby with advice when they need it.

“In reality, the pie is huge and there’s plenty of work for all of us to do well,” he says, noting the importance of cultivating healthy connections with others in the business, including lenders, appraisers, title experts, home inspectors and, of course, other Realtors.

McDonald also serves on Mayor Andy Berke’s Historic Zoning Board and last year graduated from the intensive Greater Chattanooga Realtors Leadership Academy.

“You can make a lot of money in this business, but that’s not my driver,” he says. “What I really enjoy most is being great at what I do and helping people. I know it does sound a little cocky when I say it that way, but I truly feel confident that I can help people, especially when they have issues or problems.

“I want to go to bed knowing that my effort helped my client and now they’re in a better position because of the things that I’ve done to help.”