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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, October 26, 2018

Three generations under one roof at 40-year-old real estate agency




Oliver and Lisa Heyer took over what is now Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Jackson Realty from her father, who started it in 1978. - Photograph by David Laprad

No one remembers why, but in 1978, a middle-aged family man named Rex Jackson left the sheet metal business and started a real estate company in LaFayette, Georgia. With little fanfare, he established a small storefront on the town square and began selling houses.

Perhaps Jackson wanted to do something different. Or maybe he saw an opportunity and seized it. Regardless, he went on to build a business that has weathered the years and still stands as a legacy of service to his community and a means of provision for two generations of his family.

Jackson no longer owns the business that now operates as Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Jackson Realty. That mantle fell on his daughter, Lisa Heyer, in 1995, when she and her husband, Oliver Heyer, took over.

The Heyers were selling real estate and rearing a family in Atlanta when Lisa’s parents offered to turn Jackson Realty over to them if they would move to LaFayette, a town of about 6,500. (Lisa’s mother, Marilyn Jackson, joined the firm a couple of years after her husband started it.) Lisa was drawn not just by the lure of home and the opportunity to run her own brokerage, but also by a desire to send her children to a small community school.

“I loved working in the Atlanta market, but my parents were ready to slow down,” she says. “We had two small boys, and our thoughts were focused on starting them in school here rather than Atlanta.”

The move to LaFayette represented a return home for Lisa. For Oliver, it was a fresh start in a smaller town. But as a native German whose parents moved to the U.S. in 1972, he was accustomed to new beginnings.

The couple met while students at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia). After graduating, they moved to Atlanta, where in 1986 Lisa followed in her parents’ footsteps and became a real estate agent. Oliver worked elsewhere for several years and then joined the family profession in 1992.

After settling in at Jackson Realty, Lisa and Oliver stayed in the downtown office until 2007, when the appearance of a Walmart in north LaFayette started drawing businesses out of the square. For their new home, they purchased a shuttered restaurant on the Highway 27 North Bypass in an auction.

Lisa jokes that she can still smell the fried chicken and mashed potatoes. “We used to come here after church,” she adds. “We would sit where our agents do now.”

After renovating the building to serve the needs of a real estate company, Lisa and Oliver picked up where they had left off, barely noticing that the housing market was collapsing.

Jackson Realty didn’t feel the effects of the crash until 2012, when it was nearly over. “We had a lot of foreclosures, and we had an abundance of buyers,” Lisa recalls.

The family’s next generation entered the picture in 2014 when Lisa and Oliver’s son, Tanner Heyer, joined the business. It was a moment of destiny for the young man, who had grown up surrounded by real estate.

“As far back as I can remember, I was riding in cars on my way to showings, or I was listening to mom and dad talk on the phone,” he says.

“I have a video in which I’m holding him when he was just a few months old, and I’m on the phone doing a real estate deal,” Lisa interjects.

Tanner even worked for his parents growing up, although in a different capacity than he does now. “If he got in trouble, he had to go clean houses,” Lisa laughs.

Tanner was studying business management at Georgia Southern University, with an eye on selling, not cleaning, houses, when he decided to “stop wasting time and join the family business.”

“It felt natural,” he says. “It was what I’d always known and heard and been around.”

Tanner’s wife, Devan, preceded him at Jackson Realty. Before becoming licensed to sell real estate in 2014, she was the office manager.

Soon after Devan became an agent, Jackson Realty experienced what everyone says was the most challenging part of its history – a mass exodus of agents.

“They thought the grass looked greener on the other side of the fence,” Oliver says flatly.

Devan initially took the departures personally, saying the agents left because she’d become part of the team. Eventually, she came to understand that the sound of agents marching for the door heralded a season of growth. “I watched a lot of agents leave, but then saw many more come on – and they’re all quality people,” she acknowledges.

Lisa agrees on all counts. “We don’t place agents here; we buy into them emotionally. They’re like another daughter or son to us,” she says. “So, when we had this big turnover, it was hard, but we had our best months after that.”

Lisa adds that her “Heavenly Father” was just cleaning house. “We can’t always see why things happen,” she says. “Although it was heartbreaking at the time, in hindsight, I can see the reasons for it.”

The brighter days that followed included the addition of the Better Homes name in 2017. It was a day no one at Jackson Realty had ever expected to see.

“Our name was important. People knew us, and we didn’t want to give that up,” Lisa recalls. “Also, none of the franchises offered us something we didn’t already have.”

That changed in recent years as the big concerns in the real estate business developed tools and began offering agents services that topped what a small company like Jackson Realty could provide.

Even then, Lisa and Oliver turned down every offer, including multiple proposals from Better Homes. After a year of saying no, the couple agreed to travel to Las Vegas, where they listened to the company’s speakers and saw the big picture. “We went from, ‘We’re not sure,’ to ‘This is the right thing do,’” Lisa says.

Lisa and Oliver were impressed with Better Homes’ online presence and lead generation tools, but they also liked that the company’s signs were green, just like theirs. “It made the transition easier for people who were familiar with the color of our signs,” Oliver points out.

Today, Jackson Realty boasts over 15 agents at three offices (including satellites in Summerville, Georgia and Chickamauga, Georgia), offers the amenities of its partnership with Better Homes and provides in-house training delivered by an experienced agent.

Sales are also stronger than ever, with the company on target to sell 300 houses in 2018.

But even as Lisa and Oliver have moved the company forward, Jackson Realty’s past is still very much a part of its present.

The sense of history is most evident in the presence of Marilyn, who at 83, is still selling houses. “She has her people who will probably come pick her up when she’s in a wheelchair, so she can close a deal,” Lisa says.

Tanner says working with his grandmother has been the highlight of his career. “Not many people can say they sell houses with their grandmother,” he smiles. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”

Devan, who became an agent at 19, has enjoyed interacting with her clients. “A house is a big purchase; it’s where the buyer is going to put his or her family,” she says. “I like being involved with that.”

For Oliver, the best thing about being a part of Jackson Realty has been watching the seeds of growth he and Lisa planted over the years bear fruit. “When we took over in ‘95, we did a handful of transactions that year,” he remembers. “We’re proud of our growth since then. It didn’t explode in the last year, either. It’s been steady and continual over the last two-and-a-half decades.”

Lisa can’t pinpoint a single highlight, so she picks a couple, including working with her family and seeing the next generation take its place in the business.

Lisa also has her eye on tomorrow, which she says she believes could see a fourth-generation family member join the company. “Our grandson, Max, was playing in his little car at our house this past weekend. He was pretending to be a policeman, but when I suggested he be a real estate agent instead, he agreed,” she smiles. “Then he started scooting around in his vehicle showing people houses.”

The future of Jackson Realty is in the back of everyone’s mind. In time, Lisa and Oliver expect to hand the keys of the business over to Tanner and Devan, although that day is far off. Oliver is only 55, and Lisa is close behind, so both have plenty of years left in the real estate business – although neither expects to be working at 83.

“I’m not doing that,” Lisa says resolutely.

“Tell her she has 30 more years to go,” Tanner jokes, looking at his father.

“No way,” Lisa says, shaking her head.

The process of succession has certainly begun, with Lisa yielding her office of over 20 years to Tanner and focusing more on community work and “grandbabies.” She expects this trend to continue.

“I’ve put in 30 years of hard work, and I want to enjoy some of the benefits of my community and family,” she says.

Lisa wants to devote more time to her other interests as well. A fitness enthusiast, she competed in her first 70.3 Iron Man this year, an event she demurely says was “just a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.”

Oliver does his best to keep up, although he limits his daily runs to about five miles.

Tanner and Devan spend their spare time raising their two sons, Max and George.

But at the end of the day, the members of this family are wrapped up in a business their father, or grandfather, started 40 years ago. It’s a legacy each is proud to continue and is dedicated to carrying forward.

“We have a great name in the community,” Oliver says. “When people hear the name ‘Jackson Realty,’ they associate it with trust. Lisa’s parents set that precedent, and it’s an honor to fill those shoes.”