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VOL. 126 | NO. 198 | Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Agents Moonlight to Cope With Slump

By Sarah Baker

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In tough times, many local real estate agents seek secondary sources of income to compensate for the market’s instability.

“I’m going month to month on payments. If it wasn’t for the three girls that own Huey’s and all of the management, I would have lost my house.”

–J. Tucker Beck
Broker, Crye-Leike Commercial

J. Tucker Beck has been selling real estate with Crye-Leike Commercial for 18 years. But when the market dried up in the fall of 2007, he turned to an old fraternity brother to help him line up a job at Huey’s.

“2008 came out of the whole, ‘everything had closed and nothing was going on’ and that’s what scared me,” Beck said. “I wasn’t born with a spoon in my hand, I’m going month to month on payments. If it wasn’t for the three girls that own Huey’s and all of the management, I would have lost my house.”

Beck bartends and manages about 40 hours a week at the East Memphis Huey’s on Poplar Avenue, 10 hours a week at the original Midtown location, and devotes about 20 hours to commercial real estate. And it’s not uncommon to leave one job and start another.

“The way real estate works is people call you looking for something, and if I can get in touch with them through phone, text or email, I can work on whatever they want me to that night and have it for them ready,” he said. “Last night, I left Poplar, went to Huey’s Collierville to meet a client, drove to Crye-Leike, prepped up a counter lease proposal that I emailed at 10 o’clock so they’d have it on their desk this morning. Today, I didn’t work at Huey’s and I showed a bunch of real estate.”

Beck just recently brokered the sale of Kudzu’s Bar & Grill in Downtown Memphis, and relocated Sylvan Learning Center of Memphis from an office to a retail space in Cordova.

While having a firm retail background is valuable – from understanding signage to demographics to traffic volumes – it’s nice to have a buffer in a sour market.

“Retail, when it’s going good, it’s a fun thing to do,” he said. “But the bulk of my brokerage in the last three or four years has been really, really bad.”

But Beck is optimistic that the CRE market will see better days. In the meantime, he has his alternative revenue stream to fall back on.

“I have a half acre across the street from The Pyramid, I’ve had it (listed) for years,” he said. “Bass Pro is supposed to happen, but when are we going to see some activity and some speculative ventures going on in that immediate Pinch area? I would have thought we would have already seen it, but we haven’t. But I’m optimistic. There’s a direct correlation between how hard you work to how much income you make. It’s an energy level thing – keep your head up, keep it going, think positive.”

Tony Westmoreland of Keller Williams Realty Inc. also works full time in the restaurant business, as general manager of Bluefin Restaurant in Downtown Memphis. But unlike Beck, selling commercial real estate is his secondary source of income, not his primary.

“I’m not a typical, I-need-to-sell-a-property real estate agent,” Westmoreland said. “My uncle’s been in the hotel brokerage business for 25 years, and I’ve been in the restaurant business most of my life. I’ve helped other restaurant entrepreneurs with finding locations or doing a business plan for them and one day, I was like, ‘Well, I’m already doing this basically so I’ll get my license and I’ll help them through their lease.’”

Westmoreland came on board with Keller Williams in December. He’s part of a nationwide network that exclusively focuses on restaurants and hotels. He co-brokers almost everything, splitting commissions on deals as they arise.

His most prominent listing right now is the hotel site at 1837 Union Ave. that formerly housed The Artisan Hotel and the Country Hearth Inn & Suites. Because the building is in need of major renovations, he’s hopeful that his network – in CRE and hospitality industries alike – will generate interest.

“The restaurant business is a melting pot of building a network,” Westmoreland said. “You meet everybody you can think of.”

And it’s not just the commercial agents that are hurting. Lexi Johnson with Prudential-Collins Maury Inc. Realtors works full time selling houses and tutors on the side for about 12 to 15 hours a week.

She got her real estate license about 18 months ago after working as an assistant to a top producer within the company. But since she had no family in the industry, she had to start at ground zero building her contacts.

“It takes awhile to build a business and I got my license in a bad market,” said Johnson, who is also president of Memphis Young Professionals Network. “I’m doing well, I’m hanging in there, but it’s not steady and I can count on the tutoring money. I’m kind of not ready to let go of it yet.”

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