Realtor Nathan Stoker knows what it’s like to achieve the American Dream of homeownership and then see it crushed like an aluminum can in a weightlifter’s fist.
The first home he and his wife purchased was not a luxury listing, but it had everything they wanted, including a garage, a spacious kitchen and a full basement – all for a cool $65,000.
It was the perfect home for that stage in their lives – so perfect, in fact, that Stoker didn’t let the small puddle in the basement stop him from buying it.
“I said, ‘I can fix that,’” Stoker remembers.
He couldn’t, though, and three years later the basement was caving in.
“It was going to cost $20,000 to fix a $65,000 house,” Stoker recalls. “I couldn’t afford that and I couldn’t sell the house, so I let it foreclose.”
The experience was painful for Stoker, but it also was a defining moment. He had enjoyed searching for and buying a home, so he became a real estate agent with Crye-Leike in Ft. Oglethorpe, where his agent, C.G. Griffin, worked.
Zealous about helping his clients avoid the mistakes he made, Stoker spent more time pointing out problems than plusses when showing a house to a prospective buyer.
“I didn’t want my clients to go through the same things I had gone through,” he explains. “Most of them were first-time homebuyers who didn’t know what to look for in a house, and I was able to use my experiences to help them.”
Despite sometimes sounding like he was trying to talk a client out of buying a house, Stoker says hard work and good marketing enabled him to become the fourth-ranked selling Crye-Leike agent in the greater Chattanooga area.
There was just one problem: The harder he worked and the more money he made, the less time he was spending with his family. This led Stoker to his second defining moment as a Realtor: The formation of his team in 2017.
“I knew if I wanted to have any quality of life, I was going to have to have help,” Stoker says.
Help came in the form of an administrative assistant and a buyer’s agent. Here again, Stoker spotted an opportunity to apply his experiences to helping another person.
Stoker had met Nathan Poteet at the day care their daughters were attending. Originally a car mechanic, Poteet earned his real estate license in 2007 but then let it lapse during the housing crash. Not wanting to return to car work, he went to work for the Walker County Sherriff’s office.
Like Stoker, Poteet found himself spending more time on the job than at home, so he returned to fixing cars. “I was never with my family,” he says. “Other people knew them better than I did.”
Stoker says he saw not only a kindred spirit who was struggling with some of the same issues he had overcome but also potential, so he asked Poteet to join him at Crye-Leike.
After Poteet turned down his offer, Stoker asked him again. And then he asked him again and again. Eventually, Poteet said yes.
“Nathan had learned to market not just himself but also the team, which allowed me to come in and already have clients to serve,” Poteet says.
As Stoker was building his team, a real estate brokerage called PalmerHouse Properties reached out to him about opening an office in Northwest Georgia. He says the firm, which is based in Atlanta, liked what he had done to market himself at Crye-Leike and wanted him to apply his talents on its behalf.
Stoker agreed and began to look for a home for his new venture. As providence would have it, he argues, he had been driving by the perfect spot all his life.
Before PalmerHouse had asked Stoker to open an office, the company had struck a market agreement with a Chickamauga agent, who in turn rented a small building located alongside the intersection that serves as the heart of Chickamauga, Georgia.
A small town by every definition of the term, Stoker says Chickamauga is the kind of place where children still walk to school, where the pizza place still displays a rack of DVD rentals and where a fabric shop and a mercantile can bookend a real estate brokerage, and all three businesses seem perfectly placed.
When the agent offered to allow PalmerHouse to set up shop in the building he was renting, Stoker accepted. Then, as Stoker was moving in, he says his aunt told him something that “blew his mind.”
“Sixty years ago, this was my grandfather’s service station,” says Stokes, who’s seated in a small conference room in the building. “This room was one of the car bays. The old garage doors are still up in the ceiling.”
Even better than his familial ties to the building is the way its location publicizes his business to the occupants of every vehicle that passes through the well-traveled intersection, Stoker adds. Standing out among its neighbors with its bright white facade and the deep blue lettering on the sign above its door, PalmerHouse is all but impossible to miss.
“Last Halloween, the city showed a movie in the streets outside our office. The town literally brought over a thousand people to our doorstep,” Stoker smiles. “We like being in Chickamauga.”
After Stoker opened the office in January 2018 and took on the responsibility of serving as PalmerHouse’s Tennessee broker, he added another buyer’s agent to his team: Bob Graves.
Graves first became a Realtor in Indiana after retiring from 40 years of making windows.
“My job nearly killed me,” he explains, preparing to tell a story familiar to his fellow team members. “I was working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. After I had a quadruple bypass, my wife said, ‘You need to quit.’”
Graves had spent much of his career opening plants in the U.S. and around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Hungary and Israel. When the company for which he worked would transfer him to a new city or country, he would sell his house and then buy another one at the new location.
Over time, Graves came to enjoy the process, so when his wife suggested he quit his job, he purchased a real estate company from a broker who was retiring and began selling homes in rural Indiana.
That was 2014. In 2016, Graves’ brother, a missionary to Albania, talked him and his wife into moving to Rossville, Georgia, to keep an eye on his property while he was out of the country.
“Our kids had moved away and our parents had died, so we sold everything and moved down here,” Graves recalls.
Graves hung his license at Crye-Leike in Ft. Oglethorpe and began to slowly build his business. He also came to know Stoker, who would answer his questions about Georgia law and contracts, both of which differed from those in Indiana.
Later, when Stoker asked Graves to join him at PalmerHouse, the former glass manufacturer says he jumped at the opportunity. “Nathan knows his stuff,” Graves explains. “I wanted to learn from him.”
Now that Stoker has assembled his team, he and the others are continuing his tradition of drawing on personal experience to provide client-focused service.
Stoker, who went through credit repair after the bank foreclosed on his first house, says he’s especially passionate about working with buyers who initially are not in a position to purchase a home.
“We don’t sell houses, we solve problems,” he says. “A lot of our clients told us other agents couldn’t help them, or their deals fell through, and we were able to find a way to get them in a home.
“We take the issues people have and brainstorm a solution.”
These solutions sometimes fall outside the tradition purview of a Realtor. Poteet, for example, once accompanied a client to a car dealership to resolve an issue with a trade-in that had damaged his credit. And Stokes says he once asked a lender to go with another client to a cable provider to remove damaging items from their credit.
The Nathan Stokes Team also does buyer consultations for aspiring homeowners whose credit falls below what lenders find acceptable. Poteet says he’s closed several homes in 2020 for clients with which he’s been working for over a year.
“I stay in touch with them and encourage them because we’ve all been in their shoes,” he notes. “That’s what I love about doing this. It’s great to sell a $3 million home, but I’m just as happy when I get someone and their kids into a $65,000 home. That’s what this business is about.”
The Nathan Stoker Team also remains committed to the soft sell, but this hasn’t stopped it from delivering solid numbers to PalmerHouse, Stoker says. Licensed in both Tennessee and Georgia, the team collectively sold 75 houses totaling over $13 million in volume in 2019.
Once again, Stoker’s success has drawn the eye of other brokerages, but he says he’s turned down every offer to move to another company.
Poteet cites both the support and the flexibility PalmerHouse affords them as ample reasons to stay with the firm.
“They provide the training of a 30-year-old company with over 2,000 agents, but at the same time, we have the freedom to operate this team like a family business,” he says. “We aren’t going anywhere else because what we have is working for us.”
The family Poteet mentioned is growing. In addition to recently adding a third buyer’s agent, Stoker has brought on a marketing intern and is considering hiring an inside sales agent.
“I plan to double or triple the amount of business we can do, but we’re going to need help,” he says. “I would like to have a large team with everyone happy and making money and spending time with their families.”
Getting there will take more than manpower, Stoker says; it will also require prayer.
“Someone asked me why we’re as successful as we are. I said, ‘Because I pray,’” he says. “I pray for us and our clients. They looked at me funny, but we wouldn’t have this success if it wasn’t for the Good Lord.”