Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 23, 2021

Sakich polishes diamond in the rough

Hidden gem now the sparkling home to Signature Brokers

Broker Gina Sakich spent three years renovating this century-old South Broad building. - Photos provided

As Gina Sakich looked at the ramshackle South Broad structure she’d purchased for her real estate brokerage, one thought rose above all the others:

“What am I going to do with this ugly building?”

Sakich is the owner and broker of Better Homes & Gardens Signature Brokers, the company she founded in 2014 in Ooltewah in the hopes of making real estate less stressful for agents and their clients.

But as she gazed at the boarded-up windows, mismatched brick and cobblestone exterior and grimy roll-up front door, she remembered what stress felt like.

“I was able to buy this building because no one else wanted it,” she jokes. “One side of it was covered with sheet metal. It was bad.”

Sakich had decided to purchase the edifice without seeing its interior – a decision she was hoping she wouldn’t regret.

“Worst-case scenario, I figured I would tear out the inside, install floor-to-ceiling windows and have a square modern building,” she recalls.

Then, as Sakich was preparing for the meeting to approve the sale, someone called her and said, “Get down here.”

A renovation crew had made a remarkable discovery as it had ventured inside: Sakich was the owner of a gorgeous set of bones.

“They told me I had windows and brick walls. It was the best present I’d ever unwrapped.”

On the surface, the inside of the building was as off-putting as its outside. A drop ceiling hid the airy height of the first floor, while blue wallboard covered the structure’s original brick walls.

“It was a post office in 1910, and then I believe someone used it as an IT office,” Sakich offers, sounding more like she’s guessing than providing a documented history of the building’s tenants. “But she was just wearing a hideous dress, so I gave her a makeover.”

Sakich spent three years dressing up the place, which now stands in pristine contrast to its former self.

With the help of Dwell Designed Construction, which handled the renovation, and KP Interior Design Studio and Chattanooga Office Supply, which filled the 6,000-square-foot space with sparkling modern furnishings, Sakich now owns a building she’s proud to call the home of her business.

From the bright and welcoming foyer and conference room on the ground floor, to the training room and collaborative workspaces upstairs, to the roomy offices, Sakich seems thrilled with every square inch.

As she tours her new headquarters, she seems to relish pointing out small details. Breezing through the break area, for example, she brings attention to a lush wall of succulent plants.

Moments later, she taps on the sign at the bottom of a stairwell that reads, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Finally, as she completes the tall climb to the second story, she notes the accents of green throughout the common space, which she says are a nod to Signature Brokers’ brand – Better Homes & Gardens.

Sakich is especially proud of what will someday be directly outside the door at the end of her stairwell: The Tennessee Riverwalk, which will brush against Signature Brokers as it winds through South Chattanooga’s scrapyards and old foundries.

If there’s one thing Sakich prefers to not discuss, it’s how much the building and its renovation cost her. “I’m in denial about that,” she laughs.

But as a doubtlessly costly investment at a time when many companies are allowing employees to work from home and Realtors are becoming more mobile than ever, it’s a question Sakich needs to answer.

Now that she has a new headquarters, what is she going to do with her beautiful building?

New agent model

Sakich, who has more than a dozen real estate ventures in the pipeline (including a new Ooltewah development, Savannah Cove), says she’s already making good use of the new space. From holding business meetings in the conference room, to schooling her agents in the training room, to hosting events in the spacious common area on the second floor, every room and open area has a purpose, she says.

Her agents also love their new professional home, Sakich assures. “They would rather bring clients here than meet them at a noisy coffee shop or sign papers on the back of a car.”

Between the Ooltewah office and the South Broad location, Signature Brokers has a stable of 40 active agents, most of whom have transferred to the new office. Eight more are boarding, too, although Sakich is being hush-hush about who.

While the building is an attractive amenity, Sakich says Signature Brokers needs more than a pretty face to attract agents, so she rolled up her sleeves and refurbished one more thing: Her brokerage model.

The foundation of her new arrangement with her agents is a $15,000 commission cap. Once an agent pays Signature Brokers that amount from their earnings, the rest of what they make that year is theirs to keep.

Jeremy Callahan, who serves as Signature Brokers’ team leader, says shifts in the market demanded the new structure.

“Inventory levels are down 60% from last year but sales are up 25%. We had to make changes to our brokerage model because the market is changing. We wanted to become more attractive and competitive.”

Rising from this foundation is the firm’s new technology platform. Called KVCORE, it’s available to Signature Brokers’ agents at no cost.

“Large teams and digital brokerages across the country are using it,” says Callahan, who seems as proud of KVCORE as Sakich is of her contemporary furnishings.

From there, Callahan says he’s built a robust training and coaching program. Comprised of in-person coaching, on-demand training and livestreamed events, it’s designed to help agents tackle the challenges of the current market, the most daunting of which is finding listings.

“We’re being very intentional about teaching our agents how to find listings,” he says. “While there’s value in talking with your sphere, that doesn’t serve agents who have been in the industry for less than two years. We can help those agents grow by showing them other ways to find listings, such as using our tech to find off market properties.”

In other words, Callahan says, there are more ways to mine the current market for business than spending a bundle on lead platforms like Zillow and Trulia.

“We want to talk with the agents who are struggling in the trenches and help them generate business in a low-cost fashion. That’s our niche.”

Much like KP Interior sprinkled Sakich’s space with tastefully curated eye candy, Signature Brokers is complementing its new brokerage model with what Callahan says are attractive fixtures, including profit sharing, an agent concierge and an agent starter kit.

“We’re trying to make it easy for agents to plug in and hit the ground running,” Callahan says.

This, Sakich says, is more important than the aesthetic appeal of her company’s new headquarters. “I do love this building, but I love our agents even more.”