The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with Phyllis Brookshire of Allen Tate
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he gets the latest dish on real estate trends and technology with Phyllis Brookshire, President of Allen Tate, REALTORS®, an independent real estate company headquartered in Charlotte, NC. In her role as president, Phyllis oversees all residential operations for the company, which consists of more than 1,600 Realtors, and 300 staff, across a 5-region footprint in the Carolinas.
Eric: Phyllis, welcome to the podcast.
Phyllis: Well, thank you, Eric. I’m glad to be here today.
Eric: I wonder if you can give our listeners just a brief overview of your background, and your current role as president of Allen Tate, Realtors?
Phyllis: Yes, I have the great privilege of overseeing the operations here for the real estate company at Allen Tate in the Carolinas. So, we are a 47-office company that covers 5 regions, from almost the Georgia border on I-85 all the way through to Raleigh, NC. And I work with the branch leaders in our 47 branches. And then I also have a regional vice president group that helps me oversee those. So I’m very much in the real estate space every day with our agents and our leadership team.
Eric: Yeah, I’m sure you are. Last time we spoke, you mentioned that it’s a really exciting time in real estate right now. There’s a lot of change. Can you tell us more about what excites you right now, given the timing of everything happening in real estate?
Phyllis: I find that every day there’s a little bit something new. I started my real estate career in 1985, so a lot has changed since then. But, right now we’re seeing so many different aspects of change. There are different business models for real estate companies. There’s a lot of Wall Street money, looking at different ways. There’s a lot of people talking directly to consumers. So, there’s a lot of confusing messages in the space. We like to position ourselves as a knowledge resource for our clients. Sometimes, when there’s a lot of noise, that actually gives you an opportunity to shine, and we work really hard to be a trusted advisor to our clients. But, it’s interesting to see how different people are approaching it. And I always feel like you can learn something from everybody and their take on things. So, we try to dig deep and see what challenges they’re trying to solve for, or what new concepts they’ve thought of, and what we can take, and implement, and make a better experience, both for our agents that work with us, but also for our buyers and sellers.
Eric: So, if we turn the clock back a little bit, you were in university to become a chemical engineer. You didn’t have real estate in mind, I believe. Correct?
Phyllis: True story. That’s accurate, yes. My family was in commercial real estate, and commercial construction, and also residential construction. And I just loved the idea of a family business, but just not the family business my family had. So, I went to UNC Chapel Hill. I was getting a chemistry degree. I thought I’d be a chemical engineer and work in the Research Triangle Park. We have so many great opportunities there for leadership-type positions in pharmaceuticals, which would have checked a lot of boxes. And my brother called me my junior year and said, “I think I’m going to start a residential real estate company. Do you want to come help me?” And so, I said “Sure. I don’t exactly know what that all means.” But, the family business part really intrigued me. So, I switched from a BS to a BA and picked up a bunch of business courses. And I helped him start the business and basically been doing it ever since.
Eric: And I’m sure you have no regrets.
Phyllis: I have no regrets. No regrets at all. And people would always say, “Ah, a chemistry degree. You never have used that.” And I said, “Well, actually you do. Because chemistry is very much about problem-solving, and it’s about changing a variable until you find the answer. And that’s basically what the majority of my day is. It’s problem-solving and trying to help find solutions for people. So, it’s very much the way I’m wired. I can’t recite the periodic table to you anymore, but I do use a lot of the skillsets.
Eric: So, that was your start in real estate. You have a really interesting family, or farm life, we talked about previously. You and your husband train and show horses. I wonder if you could tell us more about that.
Phyllis: Right. So, we have a small farm in Asheboro, NC. Asheboro is actually the exact middle of the state of North Carolina. And we have American Saddlebred horses. And I’ve been riding since I was 8 years old. My dad bought me a horse when I was 8 and wanted me to learn how to ride. And my husband has been in the same business his whole career. He started the minute he graduated from high school. He jokes that he walked off with his diploma and walked into his first job. So, we met through the horses, obviously. We usually have 4 or 5 horses. We currently have 4 horses. I show them myself. I have a trainer and caretakers who are doing the day-to-day. But, I ride most every weekend and show competitively. And my husband is a great judge of horse athleticism, and so he’s out looking and scouting for horses for us. It’s a business for us. We’re buying and selling horses, bringing them in and improving them, hopefully.
Eric: That’s fantastic. So, you said you do 6 to 7 shows a year. And what’s the season for that?
Phyllis: We show from March or April to September or October. We go to some different shows each year. It’s mainly a spring and summer, early fall. The last show of our whole entire industry was this past week, so the latest anybody would go is November. We have a lot of horse shows in the southeast, and so it’s the best time of year—spring, summer and early fall.
Eric: Your dad got you a horse at 8. Was it something he wanted you to learn? Or was it something you wanted?
Phyllis: I was not the little girl who said, “Daddy, buy me a pony.” I’m one of three daughters, and he felt like it was such a good sport and occupation—really, that was my occupation in the afternoon—because, my other two sisters are older. Sports for girls were not as plentiful as they are now, and he felt like it was really important that we have a physical activity to do. He really believed working with horses taught you so many great life lessons. And so he wanted all of us to do it. He also wanted all of us to be a waitress, because he said “If you learn how to be a waitress, you could always get a job.” Yes, we all did that too. It just totally clicked with me, the very first ride I had. I just had found my home. And they had no expectation that was going to happen. I’m very fortunate that he bought me that first horse.
Eric: That sounds like an incredible balance. So, tell me about when you pull in your driveway… what does it feel like to leave the real estate world and get back to the farm life?
Phyllis: Yeah, I tell everybody I pull in my driveway and take a big, deep breath and exhale. The pace slows down immediately. For me, being out in nature always is a happy place for me. I can look out in my back yard, basically, and see horses. The pace is much slower. My husband and I spend a lot of time at home and we love to cook and entertain. That’s the place that we do all that. So, it’s a very happy place for me.
Eric: How has it impacted your leadership style in your role as president now?
Phyllis: It definitely has had a huge impact, I think, on my whole business career. It teaches you responsibility, and it teaches you focus, and it teaches you how to be patient. When you’re working with an animal, they have good days and bad days, too. And getting them trained to do a certain thing, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not like you just wake up and say, “Do this, this way” and they say, “Oh, yeah. I totally get it.” You have to work with them, so I think patience has really been big. I think the ability to focus in on what you’re doing to sort of push everything out of your mind is really important in business, just like we need to kind of leave things at home when we come to work, and we need to leave work when we go home. That’s that compartmentalizing. And one of the things I say about riding horses is you have to be 100% focused when you’re riding. The horses are very sensitive to your thoughts, and your emotions, and your energy level. They know when you’re not focused in, and usually you don’t have your best success when that’s true. You know, it’s a 1,200-pound animal, and you need to be thinking about what you’re doing. Of course, teamwork is a big piece of it. We have a great team. You know, I say I get to have the glory because I’m the one that shows the horse, and wins the ribbons and stuff. If it weren’t for all of those 4 or 5 people on my team that are helping me day in and day out, we wouldn’t have the success we have. I think the last thing is it teaches you to focus only on the things that you can control. When we show, there’s a judge and it’s their subjective opinion whether or not you’re the winner that day. I don’t control that, I just control the performance that I have. My dad was really big on the Serenity Prayer—only worry about the things that you can have an impact on. I really took that to heart, and I think the horses reinforce that. It really helps in a busy day, when you have a lot of different things going on at work that you say, “That’s really out of my control.” Using time and energy on that is not going to be productive. And that’s definitely one of the things the horses have really taught me.
Eric: You know, I can’t help but think your father had a big influence on your life. Was he a natural born leader like you are, as well?
Phyllis: I think if you ask people about my dad… my dad lived to be 91. He was born in 1912, so he saw a lot of different things. He was very involved in the growth of Raleigh, and he learned a lot. Early in his career, I think, he was overly demanding, and not as cognizant of how the people that he was working with, how they were responding to him. But, over time, I could see him… how he changed, even in my lifetime, and how his leadership style changed. He taught me a million great life lessons. And some of the things your parents teach you are the things that you don’t want to do. He was married twice, and so I’m from the second set of kids. And the first set of kids said, “Oh, my God! Y’all had it so much easier!” But, you know, he was a big risk-taker. He was very entrepreneurial, and I definitely got that from him. I’m not afraid to make a decision. I’m not afraid to take a risk. I want to weigh all the variables. But, no question. I mean, all of our parents influence us. But, he never took any leadership roles. My brother was the Mayor of Raleigh for 8 years. So, a lot of his kids have had leadership positions. He liked to be the guy kind of on the back side of things, making things happen.
Eric: Well, very good. So, turning back to real estate, what are you looking forward to in 2020? Are there any themes or activities taking place that you’re really looking forward to?
Phyllis: Well, I think 2019 saw a lot of different things happening. And I think now we’re at a place where we understand what they are. We know what our strategy is. And so, I’m excited about 2020 being the year that we really further refine our strategy, and get it out and help our agents. Our responsibility is helping our agents understand the market, and how to respond to it, and how to best help our buyers and sellers. So I think we have a really clear vision of what 2020 is going to look like. And I wouldn’t have said that at the beginning of 2019… 2019 was still a little fuzzy, because there were so many things changing. But, I think 2020 is going to be another solid year. The election year is always interesting, how it impacts business. So, that will obviously be something we’re all watching. And we’ve got a lot of good things going on at the company, and we’re very excited about 2020.
Eric: I like the term you had mentioned, “trusted advisor” to your clients. And that really speaks to the family nature of the business, and the regional presence of your company. Can you tell us more about that? That’s really an interesting theme, and it’s probably a big part of your 2020 strategy, I would think. Correct?
Phyllis: Yes, it is. Being a trusted advisor, in the world that we live in today, when you have more information at your fingertips than you can even… like, you even have to remind yourself, “Oh, my God. All I have to do is Google that.” or “Let me just ask Siri.” I mean, like, sometimes I forget “Oh, there’s a way to find that answer out right now.” So, to have so much information is also very confusing, especially with a transaction that you don’t do very often. So, there are numbers out there now that we’re typically in our homes for 13 years… or longer, right? So, if you’re doing something that infrequently, it’s going to be difficult to know all the things that you need to know about it. I think one of the challenges about real estate is buyers and sellers don’t know what they don’t know, because they only do it every 13 years, maybe. So, we really feel like our role is to be their trusted advisor. Like, if you need any help with anything to do with homeownership, we want to be your go-to person. If you need to know about refinancing, we can help you with that. We can have you talk to our partners. If you need to know about the insurance on your home. If you need to know about how to remodel your house, or if you need a referral for somebody to do repairs. Everything around homeownership, we should be your go-to resource. And then when it comes to the transaction time, we need to be able to explain to you all the different options that are out there, because there are some different options than there were. For example, iBuyers. One of the things we really got ahead of with our group is let’s go explain iBuyers. Let’s go tell ourselves, “If you are interested in getting an offer, that’s a buyer. Our goal is to find you a buyer and to help you reach your goals of getting your house sold.” Whether it’s the right answer or not, we’ll help you wade through that. But, it’s an option. And so, there have always been investor-buyers out there. “We Buy Ugly Houses,” I mean that’s been around for 30, 40 years.
Eric: Yeah, in the 1970s.
Phyllis: So, they’ve always been out there. It’s just a lot more communication and a lot more access to information now. So, that’s the way we approach every conversation we have with our buyers and sellers is, “Here are your options. Let me explain them. I’ll help you through every step of the way. And if we have something that comes up, I’ll know how to help you work through it.”
Eric: So, when I hear you use “trusted advisor,” it sounds like you’re closing that 13-year gap and you’re creating a thread between the consumer and the Realtor that continues throughout their homeownership so that it really is a smooth transition when you’re buying and selling. Does that sound accurate?
Phyllis: That’s certainly our goal. We’re really in the relationship business. We’re not in the transaction business. If you’re going to have a relationship, you have to nurture it, and you have to be present in it. To talk to somebody every 13 years, I don’t think anybody would classify it as a relationship. And there are just so many places along the way that we can assist. So, that’s definitely what we’re focused on.
Eric: Oh, fantastic. Sounds like 2020 is going to be a very interesting transition. Last year, Allen Tate and Howard Hanna formed a new partnership. Large organization… 11,000 over 10 different states. Tell us more about that. How is that working out?
Phyllis: It’s been fantastic. Yes, we did form a new partnership, and it’s really a joint partnership between us, and a groundbreaking way to approach partnering with other companies, as opposed to being 100% acquired. It was a great fit for us. We were both founded in the same year, family-owned, family-operated. You believe in the business, believe in trusted advisors, believe in partnering with their agents culturally, which is so important when you’re doing these partnerships and transactions. Culturally very much aligned. And so far this year it’s been amazing, the amount of information we’ve shared back and forth. So, we’ll have an idea of something and we have a group of people out there who say, “Have y’all ever done this? Have you thought about this? What do you think about it?” And they’re doing the same, so we’re sharing programs and ideas back and forth. Just a great resource for us. And then also, we’ve been able to expand this year through our partnership. We’ve had 2 acquisitions this year, and moved into another region. That’s all part and parcel of being with the Hanna partnership.
Eric: I think one of your last acquisitions was Blowing Rock, was that correct?
Phyllis: Yes, yes. We headed up into the mountains a little bit. So excited about that. It’s sort of been on our radar, and you take advantage of opportunities when they happen. Great group of people up there. I was with them last week, They’re excited, and it’s a wonderful second home to me, Blowing Rock itself. But right next to it, Boone, which is the home of Appalachian State, which is a big university in our state, and well known. So, a lot of good stuff going on in that region.
Eric: Well, very good. I really like that farm/life balance. I didn’t know that part about you, and I didn’t realize you were still training at an elite level. This has been great. Thank you very much for the time this morning. I’ve had a lot of fun.
Phyllis: Thank you, Eric. I appreciate it. I enjoyed speaking with you this morning, as well.
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