A small, boutique real estate agency sees longevity as its strength rather than its worth to larger companies looking for acquisition targets.
And Marx-Bensdorf Realtors remained strong through the recession by staying out from under other people’s umbrellas.
“We’re just not interested,” said Jimmy Reed, co-owner and president of Marx-Bensdorf, referring to numerous inquiries his company has had regarding acquisition by larger agencies. “All of those (larger) organizations sell a brand, and we have a brand that we think they would like to have.”
Jim Black, Jimmy Reed and David Tester, owners of Marx-Bensdorf Realtors, pride themselves on having a firm with a strong independent spirit.
(Photo: Courtesy of Marx-Bensdorf Realtors)
One aftereffect of the downturn in the housing market was a trend of consolidation in which smaller real estate companies came under larger corporate brands, some with national affiliations.
As with independent physicians’ groups joining major hospital systems, the goal was to secure financial stability while the market returned to normal.
But Marx-Bensdorf has been independent for a very long time with no plans to alter that track record.
“We’re actually one of the oldest real estate companies in the United States,” said David Tester, partner and also a co-owner along with board chair Jim Black. “We’ve been in active business for 145 years continually.
“We love the Memphis area and because of the history, we know so much underlying history about neighborhoods and specific houses. You can ask almost anybody about almost any property and somebody here has touched it at some point.”
Marx-Bensdorf was the first real estate agency in Memphis, according to Tester, and one of the first companies of any kind established in Memphis. Originally founded by German immigrants, the company also offered insurance, mortgage banking, land development, and commercial property management through the 1900s, but shifted to a strictly residential focus in the 1980s.
Reed said now it is especially important for businesses to avoid a full menu of services and do one thing well because homebuyers and sellers are very well-informed about the market and very critical of Realtors.
“We want to do a really good job of helping someone buy or sell a house, period,” Reed said. “During the recession period we think our market share increased. Everybody’s business was down, but when you have 5,000 Realtors and that drops down to 3,000 and we maintained our own, our market share went up. We did not lose agents. Also we did invest in our Web presence and marketing. We’ve been in growth mode.”
Marx-Bensdorf has 34 agents, up 18 percent from three years ago. They do have one-on-one mentoring programs available for new Realtors, but generally recruit agents they’ve met through their own transactions.
“We want to do a really good job of helping someone buy or sell a house, period.”
Co-owner and president, Marx-Bensdorf Realtors
Recently the company moved into a new 4,000-square-foot space at Ridgeway Center, just across the parking lot from their smaller former office, which they had occupied for 24 years.
“I think there’s a fundamental difference and that is that those (larger) brands are really selling both to the public and to agents who don’t have identities,” Tester said. “The agents are using the brand to try and build business. Here, virtually every one of our agents has a public identity.”
“Crye-Leike and Prudential also have great training programs,” Black said. “That’s the place for somebody to start. We just don’t have that component because all of our agents are established.”
The Realtors are licensed in Tennessee and Arkansas but work almost exclusively in the Memphis area from Downtown to Tipton and Fayette Counties.
The company has a full-time relocation department to generate business with corporate job transfers, and during the recession they invested heavily in their marketing and social media to help drive in business.
Right now, they are seeing movement in construction of large single family homes in the eastern suburbs with values between $600,000 and $1 million.
“Wealthy people invest and think strategically,” Reed said. “They’ve decided to get back in the market.”