Jay Craig had a vision for the level of activity he would see at Keller Williams’ new home at 7158 Lee Highway after the company moved there in March.
After two years of planning, renovating and moving, he saw the building buzzing with life as the sound of Realtors doing business emanated from their offices and agents and clients filled chairs and couches and conference rooms to discuss their plans.
Craig also saw the training room swarming with bodies as he dispensed words of empowerment during a team meeting.
And he saw himself sitting in his office at the front of the building, looking out at a packed parking lot and enjoying the sunlight that streamed through his window.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit just as Keller Williams Realty Greater Chattanooga was moving out of its Premier Drive office, which it had called home since 2005 but long since outgrown.
As a result, the hallways of the new building are quieter than Craig, the firm’s team leader and CEO, had imagined they would be. There are also fewer vehicles in the parking lot as many agents are still choosing to work from home.
But as Craig sits in an interior conference room discussing the new office, he is enjoying the sunlight, thanks to the thoughtful design of Chattanooga-based Elemi Architecture.
“I love how they brought natural light all the way through,” he says. “There are offices with an exterior window and an interior window that brings the light into the hallway, and then some of the interior offices have a window, as well, which brings the natural light into those spaces.”
There’s more than twice as much space for the sun to fill compared to the company’s former home. Keller Williams’ previous office on Premier Drive, which the company gradually expanded to 7,000 square feet over the course of 15 years, had become a tight squeeze for the firm’s leadership and 300+ agents.
Craig recalls agents standing in the hallway and kitchen outside the training room during team meetings. Now he and his agents will have plenty of breathing room during their gatherings, as the new building includes a 1,500-square-foot event space.
Now occupied by tall stacks of chairs, the event space sports two garage doors that open to the building’s central corridor. In addition, the far side of the space provides access to a newly built wrap-around deck where Craig hopes to install a firepit. A fully equipped open kitchen occupies a large patch of real estate just outside the room.
(Actually, the kitchen has two of nearly everything – including refrigerators and dishwashers – so it could accurately be called a doubly equipped kitchen.)
The spacious nature of the building’s layout can also be seen in its central corridor, which runs from the front to the back of the single-story structure.
Along the lengthy stretch of hallway, the company’s CAPS wall contains photos of agents who are earning 100% of their commission, an arrangement of plush leather seating invites agents and clients to sit comfortably as they strategize, and a thick array of vertically-mounted plants spruces up the businesslike surroundings with a splash of nature.
One of Craig’s favorite new features also occupies the central corridor – the company’s prospecting booths. The small enclosures resemble the classic telephone booth in size and form and allow agents who aren’t renting an office to conduct business privately.
“An agent can step in, turn on the light and make a call,” Craig explains.
Elbow room is a rarer commodity along the hallways and in the offices that branch off from the main corridor. Craig and the rest of the company’s leadership are assembled in a wing of offices to the right of the front door, while the company’s agents have rented all but two of the 48 offices that make up the rest of the building.
Craig jokingly compares the smaller offices to broom closets; however, nine of the company’s teams have claimed larger spaces and customized them to suit their needs.
Team Montieth, for example, carved out a chunk of space during the building’s design phase and customized it to include offices for administrators, buyers’ agents and the team leader, Lori Montieth. The group had enough space left over to also create a meeting area.
Keller Williams also devoted some of its abundant square footage to a mortgage company and a title company, making its Lee Highway home “a one-stop shop for homebuyers,” as Craig says.
The building once housed Chattanooga State Community College’s satellite campus. After winning a competitive bidding war against multiple buyers two years ago, the company’s investors began the renovation process.
Craig says they initially thought they would be able to save money by repurposing the building’s classrooms, but soon discovered that working around the original layout would cost more than gutting the building and starting from scratch.
So, they gutted the building and started from scratch.
The company gave Chattanooga-based Modus Build the task of giving form to Elemi’s blueprints. The builder’s handiwork is visible while driving past the structure, which Modus transformed from a gray stucco and glass construct into a visually striking cedar plank-paneled home for Keller Williams’ agents.
Adding to the building’s curb appeal is the freshly paved and painted parking lot, which can accommodate more than 100 vehicles – far more than the limited amount of parking at the Premier Drive location.
The parking is another one of Craig’s favorite features. He’s simply looking forward to seeing it utilized after the company’s investors spent $3.8 million purchasing and renovating the property.
“We did all of this work and thought it would start off with a bang, but then COVID hit, so I’ve not gotten a pulse of what this market center will look like once we’re up and running,” Craig laments.
Despite seeing only a trickle of agents coming and going, Craig says Keller Williams is thriving in Greater Chattanooga. At this stage in the life span of the pandemic, the company has a 63.5% market share in sales volume and a 58% market share in units sold.
“In just the last week, we took in $10 million in listing inventory and did 96 closings,” Craig boasts.
He attributes this to his agents working as hard as ever. “I believe this is a time to grab your unfair share of the market,” he says. “That’s what we’ve trained our agents to do. Some agents are staying at home, which makes this is a time for grabbing additional market share.”
As Craig basks in both his company’s numbers and the sunshine that’s still streaming through the building, he says the company’s leadership hopes to eventually have 400 agents working out of the new office.
But he believes the systems and training Keller Williams provides agents will draw them to the company, not the building’s curb appeal or expansive training room.
Still, the building can only help, Craig says. “We worked long and hard to get here, and we love it.”