Culture Counts: Build It Right

Christie HicksChristy Hicks remembers spending early mornings with her dad scouting real estate before the sun came up, as he drove her to school in Eastern Tennessee. Her father’s construction company, Thomas R. Hicks Construction, developed more than 15 subdivisions in the Knoxville area, and has been involved in building projects of all types –multi-use, medical, industrial, retail and more—in roughly 40 years of business in the city.

“If you could sell it, we have probably built it,” says Hicks, who took over the construction company following her father’s passing in 2015 and now runs it full time, alongside her full-time role as Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Tri Star, a two-office brokerage in the Knoxville area.

Wearing both hats—that of construction company owner and real estate broker—has gone surprisingly well, Hicks says. “The two roles really work well together. Honestly, our construction company helps our RE/MAX office because, like everybody, we’re low on inventory, so we get a lot of people saying, ‘I can’t find what I want.’ So we say, ‘Well, we can build it for you.’”

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Hicks went to work for her dad’s company as a project manager. She earned her real estate license in 2001 and worked as an independent agent for more than 15 years before taking the plunge in 2016 and opening her own RE/MAX office in Clinton, a Knoxville suburb.

Last year, Hicks expanded into a second location in downtown Knoxville, hoping to help RE/MAX TriStar’s team of 12 agents capitalize on the area’s booming revitalization.

“Everyone told me, you need to be in this area,” she says. “But I didn’t want to just jump into an area where there was an agent on every corner. I wanted to be strategic about it and think about how we could attract the types of clients who would want to work with us.”

Ultimately, Hicks chose a historic, 1910 home near downtown that she completely renovated into office space. “We had a grand opening, and more than 100 people came because they wanted to see our cool office,” she says. “It was this automatic connection with potential clients, who were immediately drawn to the history of the building and the area.”

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Building a Positive Work Culture

Hicks is actively working to recruit additional agents, and she reassures all new candidates that as a Broker/Owner, she won’t be competing with them for residential listings. Her own listings are strictly commercial. “They’re making an investment into your business, and I feel like when you can say, ‘I’m not a competing broker,’ there’s this huge sigh of relief,” she says.

Still, she admits that recruiting and interviewing potential agents – and then identifying and hiring the right fits—is a lot like dating. “I have to trust my gut,” she says. “I’ve taken on several first- time agents, and people say, ‘Are you crazy?’ But someone gave me my first chance, and sometimes you have to be that person to give other people their first chance, too.”

At RE/MAX TriStar, Hicks works hard to create a cooperative culture where learning goes both ways. She finds herself learning new tricks from her younger, millennial agents about how best to implement social media and online marketing into her business model. Meanwhile, she often shares “old-school” marketing pointers – including simply “making use of the ready-made networks” her agents already have, whether through college ties, sports clubs or family connections.

“There’s that old saying that real estate is all about relationships, and it’s so true,” Hicks says. “But the other thing I tell people is that you’ve constantly got to be creating new relationships as well.”

In the office, Hicks tries to set a tone that’s informal and collaborative—but also supportive. “I don’t like to have office meetings,” she admits. “Instead, we’re ‘meeting’ when we’re sitting around having lunch together or in the kitchen having our morning coffee. I’ve found it’s important to listen to my agents. That’s the most important thing I can do as a boss. Instead of just saying ‘Do this,’ I try to have an open communication that’s based on questions like ‘What do you need?’ and ‘How Can I Help?’”

The investment into a positive work culture pays dividends for the entire agency, she believes. “When you have the type of relationship with your agents were they feel they can talk to you, then it makes for a better environment for everyone,” Hicks says.

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