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Features VL series examines real estate market in Franklin

Realtors finding their niche in a challenging business

As part of the Venture Local Franklin (VLF) initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Each week, MCN will select locally owned and operated businesses in a different industry ranging from retail to tourism, to manufacturing. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer. To learn more about VLF, visit the VLF facebook page or join the group for their next community hang out at Livingston's Bar and Grill on June 28 at 5:30 p.m.

When the economy began sinking in 2008, one of the first industries affected was the real estate market, and even though several industries have slowly begun to see improvements, the real estate market is one of the last to see relief after the recession.

From real estate agents who have toughed it out during the economic downturn to individuals who viewed the challenging market as an opportunity to begin a new career, the real estate market in Franklin has weathered the storm and is slowly starting to turn around.

Real estate agents in Franklin have the option of becoming a member of the Franklin Board of Realtors in order to become a part of a network within the real estate industry. The Franklin Board of Realtors, which was originally established in 1983, was created so that agents could share information on their listings with other agents in the network. Today, the network is comprised of 120 agents who all serve Macon County.

“The board's responsibility is to keep the members of the Franklin Board of Realtors up to date on changes to real estate law and practices,” explained Kathy Clifton, president of the board. “In addition, the board is responsible to maintain a standard of professional conduct by all Realtors as established by the Code of Ethics written by the National Association of Realtors. We have monthly meetings for the members with guest speakers such as bankers, appraisers, environmental health department, etc., to keep us sharp on the latest trends and county activities.”

The Franklin Board of Realtors have access to data made available through the Franklin Multiple Listing Service, which provides an overview of the real estate market in Franklin. (The data provided by Franklin Multiple Listing Service does not include for sale by owner transactions).

According to Clifton, the data shows that the real estate market is turning around, not just because of the number of homes being sold, but also the price the houses are selling for. “The market is coming back gradually,” said Clifton. “Homes sales for the Franklin and Otto areas in 2011 from Jan. 1 - June 24, 2011, were 116 homes sold. Compare that to 2012 same time period, and we've sold 130. That's a 12.06 percent increase in the number of homes sold.

Lamplighter McCoy Real Estate has been serving Franklin’s real estate market since 1960. The firm is the result of a 1985 merger of Lamplighter Realty and McCoy Real Estate.The average selling price in 2011 was $120,431 and in 2012 it's $121,477. This is the first increase we've seen in several years.”

Clifton noted that another indication that the market is improving is the increase in the number of cash buyers. “There are also more cash buyers than we've ever seen before,” said Clifton. “Out of the 130 homes sold this year, 56 were for cash. This is a clear indication that folks are feeling good about investing in Real Estate again.”

Although the market is improving, Clifton noted that the number of houses for sale is still considerably high. “Home inventories are still very high,” she said. “In the Franklin and Otto markets, currently 651 homes are for sale.”

During the recession, the real estate profession was put on hold and typically other career paths were chosen because of the uncertainty of the market. Clifton noted that over the past four to five years, several real estate agents left the business as the market slowed but over the last eight months, four new realtors have joined the Franklin Board of Realtors, another indication of the market's improvement.

According to Clifton, who has been a realtor for 25 years, the mortgage interest rates are at all time lows, which is helping the market significantly. “Mortgage interest rates currently are less than 3 percent for a 15-year fixed and less than 4 percent for a 30-year fixed,” she explained. “I've been a realtor since 1989 and they have never been that low in my career. It's a great time to buy and renters are jumping in to the market more and more as they can get into a home for payments less than their rent.”

Clifton said that within the Franklin Board of Realtors, not many foreclosures are currently in the immediate market, but instead homes at reduced prices are readily available.

“When folks say ‘nothing is selling’ it is not true for our immediate market area of Franklin and Otto,” said Clifton. “Homes are selling but it's all price driven. The more motivated a seller is, the quicker the home will sell. Buyers are looking for more than just a ‘good deal.’ They are looking for a ‘smokin’ deal.’ We have to remember that when a home does go ‘under contract’ it has to appraise for the sales price, so the homes have to be priced competitively or the sale may not close.”

Clifton works out of the Keller Williams office in Franklin at 1573 Highlands Road.

The locally built Lamplighter Realty office has been servicing the real estate market in Franklin for more than 50 years. Originally established in the 1960s by Joe and Harry Moses, Lamplighter Realty started in a small mobile home where Premiere Marketing (old Post Office) is today. Joe and Harry Moses noticed that real estate began thriving in Macon County and wanted to capitalize on the industry. As the business grew, the office moved to the current location at 340 East Main Street. In 1985, Lamplighter Realty was purchased by Beverly and Carter Mason and Beverly is still the current owner. Lamplighter Realty and McCoy Real Estate, owned by Ned McCoy, merged in 2002 to become Lamplighter McCoy Real Estate, specializing in selling large tracts of land, development of subdivisions, commercial and residential sales.

Beverly Mason has been a Franklin resident for nearly 40 years and first received her real estate license in 1979. Mason has served as the past president and director of the Franklin Board of Realtors. Mason's partner, Macon County native, Ned McCoy, has been in real estate and active with the Franklin Board of Realtors for more than 30 years. In addition to Mason and McCoy, the business houses five other real estate agents.

According to Mason, like so many other real estate offices, Lamplighter McCoy Real Estate was hit hard by the recession, but is gradually starting to recover.

“Lamplighter McCoy Real Estate has definitely felt the effects of the recession,” said Mason. “The First Time Home Buyer's tax credit was good for business during 2009 and 2010, as many people took advantage of the offer. Our office is most certainly having a better 2012 as opposed to 2011. The market has improved and will continue to improve so long as property is priced accordingly to the current market value.”

In order to remain relevant during the recession, the Lamplighter offices have begun exploring new business strategies that are intended to complement the company’s strong community foundation. “Our office has used a few new strategies to get our name and listings out to continue to bring in business,” said Erica Browning, Lamplighter McCoy Real Estate's office manager. “We have utilized services offered by a local company called SiteDart, allowing us to build and maintain our own websites.”

In addition to selling real estate, Lamplighter McCoy also handles more than 60 rentals. For the past year, their office has been operating at 100 percent capacity on residential rentals. “This is attributed to people moving to the area to start a new job, families moving in together to save money, people who can't qualify for a loan or those who like the low maintenance that a rental offers,” said Browning. “The rental market has been doing very well over the course of the recession.”

June Tassillo, who works at RE/MAX Elite Realty, has been a real estate agent for five years.Browning noted that more and more people are relying on technology and Lamplighter has altered their business plan in order to take advantage of it. “We have found that many people looking to relocate to Franklin or within Franklin go directly to the internet to search for listings,” said Browning. “The internet, smart phones and social media has helped us to reach a larger number of people. It has become much more convenient to email listings as well as contracts or listing agreements to a client. Email has become the best way to reach and keep in touch with clients. We are also able to record videos of homes and put them on YouTube and post to Facebook to share with clients and interested buyers.”

Lamplighter has also capitalized on the QR code technology to offer easy, informative access to listings. QR Code (Quick Response Code) is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode. The code consists of black modules (square dots) arranged in a square pattern on a white background and can be scanned to access a particular website from a mobile device.

“The establishment of QR Codes also allows those interested in a listing to scan the code and get details and location of any listing,” said Browning. “We are still doing some published advertising but have discovered recently we are getting more ‘hits’ off internet and social media.”

According to Browning, no one group of people are investing in real estate right now. “We have a variety of clients,” she explained. “It is definitely a ‘buyer’s market.’ We have clients in Franklin looking to relocate within Franklin and we also have clients looking to move to Franklin from other areas.”

According to Browning, lower interest rates have helped the market to an extent.

“There is a lot of ‘red tape’ and regulations a borrower must surpass in order to receive a loan,” she said. “This sometimes results in a longer duration to get a property closed, therefore, making it harder for an agent to keep a client and not lose a deal. We still do not have as many foreclosures as some areas, but we do sell quite a few foreclosures. Many new prospects looking for property tend to gravitate towards looking at foreclosures and short sales first, then often move on to other listings.”

Unlike the agents at Lamplighter McCoy Realty who were in real estate before the recession hit, Franklin resident June Tassillo looked at the recession as an opportunity to make a career transition and has been working hard in the industry for the last five years. “I decided to pursue real estate as the market began its downturn in 2007,” said Tassillo. “I knew if I could be successful during a bad market, I would have a successful career. I started at Southwestern Community College because I didn't want to take any fast-track courses. I was named the All-Star Student in our alumni.”

According to Tassillo, she transitioned to real estate after selling a home for her husband. “I was working at Future Homes by Joe Tassillo, owned by my husband. He had a spec home for sale [a home that is built with the speculation to sell] and held two different licenses,” said Tasillo. “He said that I needed to get my real estate license and sell our homes. I sold that home and stayed in the business because it was becoming successful. As for the home building business, well, it's practically non-existent in Franklin.”

Tassillo began her real estate career at Classic GMAC Real Estate, which is now Classic Properties, and worked there for three years. “I have been with RE/MAX Elite Realty since June 2011, and I love it here,” said Tassillo. “It took the owners 18 months to persuade me into joining RE/MAX Elite Realty. I am very loyal and wanted to make sure I could make it — you pay to work at RE/MAX Elite Realty. If you're successful, the return is much greater than any other company.”

Beverly Mason co-owns Lamplighter McCoy Real Estate with Ned McCoy.Tassillo's market consists mostly of homes and land. She also manages longterm rentals in the area. “I have been really successful with short sales and foreclosures,” explained Tassillo. “It has been the most satisfying experience to help distressed property owners sell their homes without a deficiency following them around while helping the new owners begin the next phase of their lives.”

Setting out in a challenging market with the goal of being successful in the real estate industry despite a crumbling economy, Tasillo has done just that. “My personal business is very busy. 2011 was my best year, but this year, my business has doubled what it was this time last year,” said Tassillo. “I may work very long hours every week, but it is worth it to have the opportunity to be helping people move on to whatever their destiny is.”

Being able to take into account her husband's perspective as a builder, Tassillo has a unique view of the real estate industry. “My husband hasn't built a home in over six years,” she explained. “That hurt, along with having to short sale our spec home and land. It took our life savings from us. That is one reason I am doing well is because I can empathize. Thank the good Lord that my business has been good to us during the past few years.”

According to Tassillo, although the number of homes she is selling has increased, the market value of her sales have remained stagnant. “I think it's starting to improve from when the recession hit. I don't think values have improved at all, but sales have picked up,” Tassillo noted. “A lot of the homeowners now know that if they want to sell, they must ‘bite the bullet’ and adjust their asking price to what the market dictates. We don't set the prices and/or values on the homes; the market does that. We suggest how much the property needs to be listed for in order to sell.”

According to Tassillo, she had to learn how to do short sales and foreclosures in order to meet the changing roles of the current market, which she says is split with 50 percent of her sales being foreclosures. “I tell all my clients that just because it's a foreclosure doesn't mean it's a good deal,” said Tassillo. “We have a ton of nice homes that are great deals. Foreclosures do not last too long on the market. If there are buyers who want that type of property, prepare them for a cash offer and be quick to close in order to win on the bidding. I'm seeing multiple bids on homes, which is new to me.”

In addition to learning about short sales and foreclosures, Tassillo said that she had to adapt to relying on the internet for marketing. “Very few agents do print ads anymore. It's mainly on the Internet,” she said. “Blogging about Franklin has helped me more than anything. Having a cell phone with internet is very important so I can respond to customers right away.”

Tassillo said that her main client base comes from referrals from former clients that are moving to Franklin from Atlanta and Florida. “Most of my clients are from out of town, but this year I have had a few locals because now is the best time to buy. Prices are at historic lows, and the interest on loans are at unheard-of rates,” said Tassillo.

According to Tassillo, she does have clients in Franklin who put their homes up for sale for a variety of reasons. “Some older people move away because they feel they're missing out on their grandchildren,” she said. “Also, we don't have a real assisted living facility here, which is a huge problem. When their health declines, I see some elderly move towards their children.”

Macon Bank has been a pillar for the Macon County community since it first was established nearly 80 years ago. In 1922, Franklin attorney Gilmer A. Jones, had an idea to organize a building and loan association. There was an urgent need for an institution offering citizens an opportunity to become home owners, and a depository that would pay a good rate of interest on individual savings in Macon County.

Jones’ idea became reality, when on October 6, 1922, the Macon County Building and Loan Association opened its office upstairs above the Bank of Franklin. Times were tough but even through the Great Depression of the early 1930’s, not a penny was lost on a loan.

By 1963, the original small office had become inadequate. In 1964 the Association moved to a building at the corner of West Main and Maple Streets.

In October of 1972, Macon Building and Loan Association changed its name to Macon Savings and Loan Association. Macon Savings continued to grow and opened its first branch office in downtown Murphy in 1981, as the bank approached its 60th year.

In 1985, Franklin’s main branch moved into the new colonial-style building located in the heart of downtown Franklin. On June 25, 1988, during a severe electrical storm, the building was struck by lightning and completely destroyed. Although disaster had struck, Macon Savings never missed an hour of service.

Since 1993 and now known as just Macon Bank, nine more branches have been opened, including another in Franklin at Holly Springs Plaza, one in Highlands, Brevard, Sylva, Cashiers, Columbus, Saluda and two in Hendersonville.

The staff and directors of Macon Bank are community residents. The people deciding your loan status often are your neighbors and friends. Also, Macon Bank is not stockholder controlled. Management decisions are not based on turning profits each quarter – the decisions are made with only the best interest of the bank and customers at heart.

Macon Bank was established in 1922 as a Building and Loan Association. This opened new doors of opportunity to local residents for home ownership.

Macon Bank has always been known for their residential lending, both for primary and secondary homes. For many years they have also been involved in Consumer, Commercial and Small Business Lending.

According to Roger Plemens, President and CEO of Macon Bank, the services that the bank provides the real estate market are beginning to improve along with the economy. “We are seeing some improvement from over the last few years with an increase in home sales and a bright spot, we are seeing an increase in new construction," said Plemens. "Foreclosure rates have slowed down, especially with Single Family Homes. We have money to lend and are dedicated to reinvesting in our community.”

As part of the Independent Community Bankers Association national effort, Macon Bank employees have joined the “Go Local” initiative to support local businesses. Macon employees have been eating out at local restaurants and enjoying catering from restaurants such as the Sweetwater Grill located on the Highlands Road.In order to remain a strong lender to Maconians throughout hard economic times, Macon Bank works to provide quality products and services to the community. Like so many other industries, the internet has become a vital tool for the business. Online Banking Services, including Online Account Access, Bill Pay, Business Cash Management and Remote Deposit Capture provide 24/7 access for your banking needs. "We also have full service branches that still provide the personal quality customer service that we have always been known for. Very soon, Macon Bank will offer Mobile Banking to better serve our customers," said the management team.

As a community bank, Macon bank explains they are looking to heavily focus on their new revised mission statement:

"To be a community bank that consistently exceeds the expectations of the customers and communities we serve by building relationships and providing quality banking services and products."

In addition to supporting the local economy by providing residents with loans to pursue their dreams of home or business ownership, Macon Bank has gone a step further and joined the Go Local Initiative that was started by the Independent Community Bankers Association. Macon Bank has teamed up with their customers and is patronizing Franklin's local businesses. Employees of the bank make it a point to eat and shop locally in order to provide the local economy with a much needed boost.

According to Macon Bank's management team, Macon Bank employs 128 staff members in Macon and Jackson County and encourages employees to shop and dine local. They believe "by keeping our business local, we are supporting our friends and neighbors by investing locally in the future of our children and community."

As a business with roots grown from a small, close community, Macon Bank works to remain actively involved in community organazations. Macon Bank and its employees are involved in many community organizations. Relay for Life and March of Dimes are just two organizations that Macon Bank employees are heavily involved in. Macon Bank contributes to other clubs such as Rotary, Lions Club, Land Trust for The Little Tennessee, and many other non profit organizations, churches, schools, and youth sporting events by employee involvement as well as monetary donations.

Although economic strategists projec that by the end of 2012 the nation's real estate market will pick up speed and reveal positive trends, Franklin's market has gotten a jump start. With the positive change in Franklin's real estate market leading the way, hopefully other industries in the area will continue to report positive changes.

See next week’s issue for the continuation of the Venture Local series


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