Above: Billy Houston
Billy Houston has the database success story to end all database success stories. It happened shortly after he decided to come out of retirement as a senior executive in the banking industry to sell real estate at age 57.
Now owner of the eponymous Billy Houston Group in Knoxville, Tennessee, aligned nationally with Realty Executives, he spent over 20 years in banking, starting out as a loan officer and working his way up to CEO. During that time, he helped people finance homes, personal property, businesses and other types of commercial endeavors.
“When I got into the real estate business, it was really just something to piddle around with,” he says. “I never really thought about all the people I knew personally, made loans to or who worked for me. But then someone contacted me and said, ‘Hey Billy, I want to buy a house.’ Another said they wanted me to sell their house.
“It showed me that the database you’ve got from your life and work experiences are going to be your clients for years to come. I had someone call me a couple of months ago from Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is about an hour and a half from Knoxville. He said, ‘Hey Billy, this is so-and-so. My mom passed away in Knoxville, and I want you to sell her house for us.’ And I thought, how did I know his name? I could not think of who he was.
“At the end of that conversation, he asked, ‘How’s Chase?’ That’s my son. I said, ‘He’s doing fine. He’s running a branch bank up here, and so forth.’ When we hung up I called my son, who’s 36 years old. I said, ‘Chase, who the heck is this guy?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that’s Jake’s dad. I went to kindergarten with him.’ That guy remembered me, and called 30 years later to sell his mom’s house!”
Houston knew he had made the right decision transitioning to real estate. Here he provides his opinions, advice and backstory on a second career that has surpassed the first.
Michael Catarevas: How many team members are with you right now?
Billy Houston: It has varied through the years; probably the highest I ever had was 14 members. I started to pull back a little bit and got down to six, plus two part-timers. Things picked up recently, and I ended up bringing more agents on, so I have eight now.
MC: How has 2023 been for you so far in the Knoxville area?
BH: It has definitely slowed down. The interest rates have slowed us down, but it hasn’t slowed it down to not having business. It’s been sporadic. Definitely down from last year. I don’t know what November and December are going to be. We wrote three contracts recently, all new construction, so they won’t close until next year.
There’s still a housing shortage. We’ve had a huge influx of people who have moved here over the last three to four years that are renting, and that’s driven up rental prices. Every week I get phone calls from those folks renting that they’re still wanting to buy, and we’re out there trying to find them houses as they come on the market.
MC: What are the conversations like for you with your people when the market is so skittish, especially with new agents who maybe thought they were going to come in and have instant success?
BH: Basically you’ve got to work a little harder. I try to teach them some of the basics. I’ve been in it for 10 years. I’m not a 20- or 30-year guy. I was a bank CEO for several different banks and managed people and processes. Then I was involved with a company that did student loans across the country, and I had 350 employees. So you have to understand that times go up and down, and you have to change the way you do things.
When I got into this business, you had to market yourself and go out there and get the business. Just last week I had a client wanting a home in a particular area, and I went door-knocking in that subdivision. I tell my agents, when you get into this business in today’s world, don’t try to be everything to all people. Pick three or four subdivisions that you want to own. And then do everything you can so that everybody in that subdivision knows you. Postcards, flyers, door-knocking. You can do emails, get ahold of the HOA directory, however you can do it. Market yourself to those people. There’s one subdivision last year where there were 33 sales. Well, I sold 18 of them.
MC: How do you get agents to expand their databases?
BH: I had this one person who wanted to get into the real estate business. She used to own a small business here in West Knoxville. She said, ‘How do I get started? I’m ready to go, and have my license.’ I said, ‘You’ve been in Knoxville for a long time and know a lot of people. How many phone numbers do you think you’ve got in your phone?’ She had around 1,600. I said for the next two or three weeks, go through every number and text them and get email addresses, and vice versa.
If you’ve got email addresses, I want you to get their cell number. If you’ve got landlines, I want you to call them and give them your information, get their information and build your database. She came back in about two and a half weeks with over 3,800 names in her phone. And there’s her database. She sells four or five houses a month to nobody else but people that she knows.
Again, it just shows the value of the life experiences that you had if people know you and you’ve made a good impression. And that’s what I tell my agents on the team. We’ve closed a little over 3,000 houses in 10 years.
MC: What’s the interaction like with Realty Executives?
BH: Originally, I didn’t really want to be with anybody. I wanted to do my own thing. But I liked what I saw with Realty Executives. In Knoxville, it’s the No. 1 brand by far. Last year, Realty Executives and its member groups like me did $3.4 billion in real estate sales in East Tennessee.
MC: Do you utilize their technology?
BH: Not as much as I should. They do a good job in what they put out there. Their apps and stuff that they do put out there makes it a lot easier for the consumer. When they’re driving around looking at houses or looking at neighborhoods they might want to be in, it pops up all the houses that are for sale. And it notifies me. I don’t want my customers ending up in somebody else’s hands.
MC: Anything else specific you do to help sell homes?
BH: We believe photography is everything. It is vital that the visual representation of the home will immediately “wow” a potential buyer. Our goal is to create a portfolio of the home for buyers with an eye for luxury and excellence. We also have the ability to use 3D modeling virtual tours and drone aerial videos and photos.
Recent Billy Houston Group Listings
108 Oostanali Way
2,857 Sq. ft.
108 Yona Way
2,146 Sq. ft.
For more information, visit https://www.billyhoustongroup.com.