As Black History Month comes to a close, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee is spotlighting one of MAAR's Black-owned brokerages. The Committee reached out and interviewed brokers who might be interested in being highlighted and selected one to be featured.
Below is an interview with Leah Wooten, a broker at Progressive Realty Services. In her responses, Leah recounts her path to becoming a broker, shares her experiences, and details how she handles her business and what it's like to be a Black woman running her own brokerage.
Leah's responses are reproduced in full here:
My name is Leah D. Wooten, CEO/Broker of Progressive Realty Services, LLC. I got into the real estate industry in 1989 after encouragement from my supervisors while I worked as a marketing rep at a home health agency. They made the decision to go to real estate school and I was swept along.
Prior to that, I had no interest in real estate, but now I love my job. As I tell it, I did not choose real estate, real estate chose me. Once I got into the industry, I realized that it is embodied by life purpose. To help people, I threw myself in full throttle, enjoying the work so much that the pay was simply a by-product.
I've never been big on advertising. My business is 100% referral-based. I have always taken care of my clients and they became my cheerleaders. In my 30+ years in the industry, I have sold my original clients' children their homes, which has been very rewarding.
After moving around to several different companies and gathering business models, I decided in 2001 that the market was stable and it was a great time to launch my own business, Progressive Realty Services, LLC. In my experience, once a client decides to purchase a home the issue becomes financing. In most cases, you would send them to a local lender or bank. However, you would be depending on them to initiate that process and see it through.
Because of that, I set my business model as a one-stop shop where clients could purchase a property and obtain a mortgage at the same location. At the time, this was unusual in the state of Tennessee. We had to get special permission from the state, but it worked and is still working.
When the market crashed, I was forced to reinvent myself. No one was buying homes at the time, so I began renting homes. I worked with builders in the city and rented their high-end properties that had been sitting vacant for months. Because I was not generating enough income, I researched what I needed to become a property manager. One class and one contact later, I birthed Progressive Property Management out of the ashes! When the market started to turn around, I added rentals and property management to my one-stop-shop model.
I have worked in every kind of market, with every kind of interest rate. When I started selling real estate, there were no computers, cell phones or emails—just good old-fashioned ;hustle. In my experience, it still works today. I emphasize personal contact and one-on-one interactions with each client, to find out their needs and let them know that we are in this together.
I am a first-generation Black female broker-owner, but I stand on the shoulders of Loyal Featherstone, who was my broker for over 10 years and was one of the first Black builders in the state. Because of his training, I never pass the opportunity to help the next new affiliate broker to get into the business. My company is completely Black-owned and operated and it is part of my business model to always partner with other Black-owned businesses. Every attorney, contractor, insurance person, inspector, etc is always another Black-owned business.
In order to stay in this business, I think you should be intentional about supporting who supports you. I have a strong team of sales agents, leasing agents, property managers, mortgage brokers, credit repair and contractors et al. to make my business flow smoothly. The only advice I would offer a new Black start-up is this: Make sure this your purpose. It cannot just be about money. It's got to be about the people. Find two or three people you can depend on—one to cheer you on and one to tell you when you are off course—and then let go and let God!
— Leah V. Douglas-Wooten, Broker/Owner at Progressive Realty Services, LLC
We want to thank Leah for sharing her experiences and perspective. As always, we at MAAR remain committed to diversity & inclusion, both during Black History Month and beyond.