Realtor Brandon Olinger says he can tell a White Oak from a Northern Red Oak while walking through woods, but put him in a house and he’ll be at a loss to suggest which set of drapes will go best with the carpet.
So, as a Realtor, Olinger sticks with what he knows – the great outdoors. As a self-proclaimed “land specialist,” he exclusively represents buyers and sellers in transactions involving patches of Mother Earth.
This work is a natural product of Olinger’s love for the outdoors and his interest in real estate, both of which he credits to the time he spent with his late grandfather, George Morgan.
Morgan was the owner of George Morgan Properties and is the namesake for what most locals know as Rossville Boulevard.
“They named Rossville Boulevard after my grandfather,” Olinger says. “It’s called George Morgan Parkway on state maps. At one point, I think he owned about half of the properties along that road.”
Although Olinger grew up in Chattanooga, he often spent several weeks at a time at his grandfather’s farm near Ketner’s Mill in Whitwell. During this idyllic stretch of his life, Olinger and his brother often spent days on end fishing, hunting and walking land with Morgan, and a deep passion for the outdoors took seed in Olinger’s heart.
“My grandfather bought that farm for the family,” Olinger reminisces. “He grew up on a farm during the Great Depression, so he saw hard times. He always thought if things ever got back to that, then we’d have a place to grow food and hunt and provide for ourselves.”
Morgan also exposed his grandson to real estate, which planted a different seed in Olinger’s mind. This kernel sprouted and grew as Olinger studied business at Tennessee Technological University, and after he graduated, he took a job with a land developer who was working on a 6,000-acre project on the Cumberland Plateau.
While selling small tracts of the land, Olinger identified a need for buyer representation.
“All these folks from out of state were coming in, and they didn’t know the difference between Jamestown, Tennessee, and Nashville, Tennessee,” Olinger explains. “Some of them were comfortable with buying or selling houses, but land is a different animal. I thought it was a good time to put myself out there.”
As the owner and broker of Southeast Land Solutions in Chattanooga, Olinger not only helps buyers and sellers navigate the singular complexities of land purchases, he also leads a small team of agents that do likewise.
Just like residential agents urge homebuyers to use a Realtor, Olinger warns against purchasing a piece of property without the help of an agent well-versed in the nuances of land transactions.
“A buyer will call me and say, ‘I’m here to look at your property.’ But when I offer to set them up with one of my land specialists, they’ll say, ‘No, I already have an agent.’
“That blows my mind. Brain surgeons and heart surgeons are all doctors, but you wouldn’t want a brain surgeon performing heart surgery.”
Olinger says educating the public about the differences between residential and land purchases is one of the largest hurdles he and his team face. To overcome it, they continually educate themselves on anything and everything related to land.
“When you step into a home, it’s already built; there are walls and a roof. But when you step onto a raw piece of property, it’s a blank canvas,” he explains. “So, I have to be able to paint a vision for the buyer. I have to help them understand how much clearing the land, installing a septic tank and putting in a driveway is going to cost.”
Olinger also endeavors to ensure his sellers are pricing their property correctly and that his buyers are paying a fair price. This can involve checking the quality of the soil on the land, updating the survey and mitigating a litany of potential pitfalls, he says.
In the end, his labors are worth every penny saved, or earned. “The owner of a horse farm was going to sell her property for $160,000, and I sold it for around $250,000. You need someone who knows the value of your land on your side.”
Olinger says he and his agents also face a lack of available land in Hamilton County. Like the residential market, local inventory is tight, so Southeast Land Solutions has expanded its service area to the surrounding counties, extending its presence to about a 90-minute drive in any direction.
Although Southeast Land Solutions covers everything from building lots to large timber and investment properties, the company’s bread and butter are buyers looking to purchase five to 10 rural acres, Olinger says.
This portion of the business has “exploded” since the advent of COVID-19, he adds.
“Right now is the busiest I’ve been in 15 years. A lot of folks in urban areas are selling their townhomes and running for the hills, where they can get away from people, grow some vegetables and buy a couple chickens for eggs.”
Olinger doesn’t just help others buy and sell land, he also assists in its preservation. Working alongside the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, Quality Deer Management Association and other organizations, he has helped to place many acres of land into conservation, he says.
What’s more, Olinger’s love of the outdoors has inspired him to give back in unique ways. For example, he’s led a number of youth hunts over the years through the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. Although the trips involve a lot time and work, the payoff is worth it, he says.
“There’s nothing better than seeing a youth who doesn’t have opportunities to get outdoors experience some of the things I did as a kid.”
Like many of his clients, Olinger has purchased land outside the city and is establishing a homestead for himself and his family, which include his wife, Taylor, his 12-year-old daughter, Aubrey, and his 8-year-old son, Cage.
After many years of living in East Brainerd (Olinger says his wife had always dreamed of living in a cul-de-sac where their children could ride their bikes), the couple purchased 30 remote acres on Flat Top Mountain in North Soddy Daisy and then built a home there.
Olinger says he feels like he’s continuing the family traditions his grandfather established many years ago, and he’s looking forward to hunting and fishing there, and walking the land with his children.
He’ll let his wife pick out drapes that will go with the carpet, though.