Coleman-Etter, Fontaine Merges with Crye-Leike

By Sarah Baker

Crye-Leike Realtors Inc. continues to expand its standing as the largest real estate firm in the Mid-South area by merging with Memphis-based Coleman-Etter, Fontaine Realtors.

The decision was finalized Friday, and Fontaine Taylor, president and broker of the company, made the announcement Tuesday to her team. Taylor will remain a broker, but will now be a vice president of Crye-Leike and will continue to sell.

“She’s going to sell and manage because her people are coming with us,” said Dick Leike, president of Crye-Leike. “I don’t know how many are going to come but those that come, I want them to feel as comfortable as they possibly can.”

Founded in 1951, Coleman-Etter is among the oldest residential real estate firms in the Memphis area, with about 30 agents. Crye-Leike is the sixth largest firm in the United States, with just fewer than 900 agents.

“The business models for most everybody are changing,” Taylor said. “As I saw it, we are a small office and Crye-Leike being a bigger organization has more access to tools and different things we can possibly to on our own. To me, I was looking out for the long-time interest of my agents and what the business models are going to be looking at. I didn’t even talk to anybody but Crye-Leike, they’re the ones that I wanted to be involved with.”

The plan to join forces has been in the works for quite some time, Leike said, and it’s a win-win for both parties.

“It’s something we sort of bounced around for a period of time and got into some real serious discussions and said we think this will work, so we came to an agreement,” Leike said. “Coleman-Etter always had a good niche market in what you might call the upper-crust communities in Memphis – Central Gardens, Chickasaw Gardens, Hedgemoor, East Memphis – it’s a complement to us, in a lot of respects. It’s an opportunity that we’ve always wanted, but now we have an opportunity, so we’re taking advantage of it.”

Coleman-Etter, Fontaine’s office at 651 Oakleaf Office Lane will close and the staff and brokers will have the option to move to any of Crye-Leike’s 18 locations in the city. The South Perkins Road Crye-Leike office is close to Coleman-Etter’s current location, and most agents will chose to relocate there, Taylor said.

Coleman-Etter, Fontaine’s white and blue colonial signs will gradually be replaced with Crye-Leike’s familiar red and white. The Coleman-Etter, Fontaine name will see a change as well.

“‘Coleman-Etter’ will probably go dark, it won’t be used,” Leike said. “We may use some sort of transition that indicates that there is a connection there, but I don’t think that we will be using the name from that standpoint.”

Current economic times provide both firms with an opportunity for reposition.

“I see it as a sign of the times, but I also see it as to be competitive in today’s world, you’ve got to combine forces to be able to do that,” Taylor said.

Realty firm mergers are becoming more common in a declining market. In December, locally owned Kendall Haney Realty Group announced its merger with Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams Realty Inc. – the second-largest real estate firm in the Mid-South.

It wasn’t the only example. The Memphis market’s shaky conditions became evident in January 2009 when the realty offices of RE/MAX on the River and RE/MAX at Mallard Creek closed their doors, forcing about 42 agents to seek employment elsewhere.

“Since the summer of 2007, (the market) has certainly taken a downfall. It’s been tough with a number of different brokers; this isn’t the only one,” Leike said. “You’re always out there talking to people right now because of how real estate brokerage has had to reposition itself in the declining market that we’ve been placed with, and this is part of it.”

While Crye-Leike has increased market share during the downturn, it too has taken a hit. At the height of the housing market, the firm had about 4,000 agents across the Mid-South. Now the Memphis-based firm has about 2,900 independent contractors.

“We sold 600 homes last month, so it’s not a dead market, but when we were really rolling, we might have sold 1,000,” Leike said.