Sherman & Hemstreet plans to re-enter residential sales

Damon Cline

03/19/2016

The Augusta Chronicle

Hardy Pointe photo | Sherman and HemstreetAfter 10 years of focusing on commercial sales and property management, the 92-year-old firm intends to relaunch a residential sales arm by hiring more than two dozen agents in the coming months and opening a Columbia County branch office within the next two years.

Joe Edge, the brokerage’s co-owner, said he wants to bring in agents wanting to stay productive and efficient by learning to use the latest real estate tools and technology.

“Technology is drastically changing how we do real estate,” he said. “When I first started in this in this business, you could put a stick in the ground and put an ad online and somebody would call you and you would sell it. Those days are gone.”

Sherman & Hemstreet, founded in Augusta in 1924, was for decades one of the market’s top home sellers and residential development companies, responsible for creating some of city’s most cherished neighborhoods, including Murray Hill, Westwick and Conifer Place, during the city’s postwar suburban expansion.

During the 1990s it began evolving into a mostly commercial brokerage, with residential sales being only a fraction of the business when Edge’s former Coldwell Banker-affiliated company acquired it in 2006. The infusion of new blood – Edge and two of his three minority shareholders are all under 35 – helped triple the company’s commercial business.

But the 2008 recession and subsequent housing market collapse dissuaded the young broker from building up a residential operation sooner. It wasn’t until last year’s acquisition of Martinez-based McBride Realty, which had more than 3,000 residential properties under management throughout the Southeast, that the timing became right to wade back into the waters.

To manage the new division, Edge recently hired longtime friend Reagan Williams as vice president of residential sales. The former political operative and public relations/marketing professional is responsible for recruiting new agents and helping them market properties in a landscape where consumers are more informed than ever thanks to companies such as Zillow and Trulia.

“Consumer patterns are changing. The ways in which people search for properties are changing. The way consumers interact with agents and sellers is changing,” said Williams, 36. “But the need for quality real estate agents is not changing.”

Edge says Williams’ experience in marketing political candidates is transferable to salespeople.

“Individual name recognition is important,” said Edge, who himself recently qualified to run in the State Senate District 24 to replace retiring Sen. Bill Jackson. “A homeowner doesn’t hire a company to sell their home, they hire a person to sell their home.”

Edge said the brokerage’s training program, as well as his own accessibility to agents, will be the key to making average salespeople more productive. Historically, 80 percent of homes are sold by the top 20 percent of realtors, with the typical agent closing only one or two deals per year.

“When I first got licensed (my broker) said, ‘Here’s a desk, a phone and a phone book.’ There was no training. It was kind of feast or famine,” Edge said. “A lot of agents don’t succeed under that model.”

Edge said the residential business will operate under a more traditional broker-agent commission split, which he said is more equitable to new agents than letting them retain their entire commission under a pricey “desk fee” structure.

“Some (companies) don’t actually care if the agent sells anything because they’re getting the desk fees,” Edge said. “We don’t want a bunch of people just to occupy space – we want productive agents that want to sell. We believe if you don’t list, you don’t last.”

Sherman & Hemstreet has outgrown its 4,500-square-foot office on Walton Way Extension and likely will need to open a satellite office in Columbia County to be closer to the metro area’s fastest growing submarket and to focus on the residential operation, which Williams said he believes is a return to the company’s historic roots.

SHERMAN & HEMSTREET HISTORY

1924: Adrian and Ernest Sherman create Sherman Realty Co.

1927: Albert Hemstreet becomes partner in firm

1958: Paul Bailey acquires firm

1973: Bill Franke Jr., Hugh Connolly and Roy Scarborough acquire firm

1994: Insurance arm spun off into separate company, Roy Scarborough & Associates

1995: Firm sells residential division to investor group affiliated with Better Homes and Gardens, later known as Sherman and Hemstreet/GMAC.

2002: Jim Bennett and Mark Capers acquire firm

2006: Coldwell Banker Commercial Edge Realty acquires firm; drops Coldwell affiliation

2015: Firm acquires McBride Realty

2016: Announces reestablishment of residential sales division

Source: Chronicle archives; Sherman & Hemstreet