Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 17, 2021

Brown builds powerhouse at REP

Many of city’s best-known Realtors make the move to indy brokerage

Realtors Dan Griess, left, and Janice Robertson, right, with Darlene Brown, owner of Real Estate Partners, the No. 3 brokerage in Chattanooga and the top locally owned independent real estate firm in the city. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

In 1927, the New York Yankees assembled a batting lineup that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other heavy hitters who inflicted horrendous damage on the luckless pitchers tasked with stopping them.

In 1980, the Soviet Union put together what many sports pundits say is still the greatest hockey team to hit the ice. Ironically, many people remember the Red Machine only for its shocking loss to the U.S. in the Winter Olympics.

And no compendium of dream teams is complete without the actual Dream Team, the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball squad.

Herculean effort was poured into bringing together these famed crews. But sometimes, a dream team can take shape without the powers that be – or the person in charge – doing anything deliberate to lure talent to their enterprise.

This has been the case with Real Estate Partners, a locally-owned independent brokerage, says Darlene Brown – the person in charge.

When Brown launched REP in 2005, she intended it to be a small boutique. But over time, the company has grown to include three offices and about 150 agents who have made REP the No. 3 brokerage in Chattanooga in market share.

“I didn’t plan that, but I like it,” smiles Brown, who’s taking a breather from helping the agents at REP’s East branch on Stein Drive move into their new space.

Over the past few years, several highly productive Realtors have moved their businesses to REP, bringing with them decades of experience and sales numbers that placed them on the roster of Chattanooga’s heavy hitters in home-selling.

From Paula McDaniel, to Lynda Brock, to Mark Hite – who sold 425 units and tallied $94 million in sales in 2020 while capping his 13-year career with Keller Williams – each new addition to the REP lineup raised eyebrows in surprise. How was Brown pulling this off?

Dan Griess, who previously managed Crye-Leike’s Ooltewah office for 13 years, says Brown didn’t lift a finger. Rather, he called her.

“I’d always said if I ever left my last company, I’d land here. I have a lot of admiration for Darlene and have enjoyed watching her grow her company,” Griess says.

Griess, who labored in management roles with regionally-owned companies for 25 years, adds that he was also drawn to working for a locally-owned concern.

“Decisions that affect my business are made in Chattanooga, not at a corporate office in another state,” Griess says. “I can pick up my phone and talk with the owner of this company. Or I can speak with her in person because I see her all the time.”

Griess is suggesting there was a willingness on his part to forego the name recognition that comes with a large real estate franchise to join a local outfit.

But there was more behind his decision to move to REP than access to ownership and the possibility of having a stronger voice in matters; he was also looking for a business home with a good reputation.

“There are no written rules here about how to do things, but there are unwritten rules that we’ll do things the right way,” he explains.

“If you talk with veterans in real estate, the longer they’re in the business, the easier it gets. If you do a good job, your clients will come back you. Ninety percent of my business is repeats and referrals, which I’m blessed to have – and which I want to keep.”

Griess moved to REP in January after deciding to relieve himself of his management duties at Crye-Leike and focus on sales.

“I’ve always enjoyed leading others, but at some point, I started to wonder if I needed the stress and responsibilities that come with real estate management in my life – and I decided I didn’t.”

The move created an opportunity for Griess to excel in the latter stages of his career. Since returning to sales at the age of 61, he says he’s having one of his best years.

“These are challenging times in real estate, with low levels of inventory and competitive bids for properties, but having 25 years of experience is really helping me.”

Not only is Griess pleased with the amount of business he’s doing, but he’s also feeling less stress and is enjoying a better quality of life, he raves.

“People say they can see it on my face. I’m spending more time with my wife and traveling more, which has been fun. Our lives have chapters, and this is a new chapter for me.”

Janice Robertson has also turned a new page in her real estate career at REP.

Robertson had worked with Crye-Leike since the late 1990s when she decided to move to REP in early 2020.

Like Griess, working for a locally-owned company appealed to her. However, she says her admiration of the community work REP does attracted her to the company.

“Darlene and I connected through community service years ago, and I’ve always respected her and am thankful for what she does.”

Robertson is especially grateful for the contributions Brown’s company has made to the Snack Pack ministry she spearheads. The local effort provides food insecure students in Hamilton County with nutritious fare.

One year, Brown and the agents at REP contributed $40,000 to the grassroots effort.

Robertson and Brown also connected through the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, where both have served over the years.

“Darlene and I both feel like you should give back to the people who have been good to you,” Robertson says of her service to the association.

Like Griess, Robertson was not a recruit. Rather, she felt she’d become “a little stale” at her previous brokerage, so she picked up her phone and called Brown.

A year and a-half later, she says switching to REP reinvigorated her business.

“I’m happy with the amount of sales I’m doing. But more than that, I’ve never been happier in real estate.”

While Brown confesses to initially being concerned about egos clashing, she says her high-producing agents are actually a humble and giving group.

This is most clearly visible in the way veteran Realtors like Griess, Robertson, Geoff Ramsey and others are taking REP’s newer agents under their wings and teaching them the business, whether through informal mentoring or teaching classes at the company, Brown says.

“Our experienced agents are reaching back and bringing the newer agents forward.

“That’s important at this time in the business. New agents need to learn that this is not the way the business has always been, and it’s not the way it’s always going to be.”

While Brown’s dream team is already stacked with heavy hitters, there are more to come, including another big name she expects to reveal in the coming weeks.

Once again, she says it’s not someone she recruited, but an agent with whom she’d made a natural connection similar to the ties she formed with Griess, Robertson and other agents who have joined REP.

“I just want to do good business with good people. Am I looking to grow, grow, grow? No. Sometimes, the best things happen organically.”