Laura Crowl Leaves Ebby, Joins Nathan Grace: “I Have Always Looked Way Outside the Box”

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For Laura Crowl, major change started with a birthday.

Laura, a veteran Dallas agent who was previously with Ebby Halliday for 11 years, turned 60. It was a milestone that made her reflect back on a long real estate career and start mapping out what she wanted to do in the future.

“You get reflective,” she said, “You ask yourself, who do I want to spend my time with, and what do I want those hours to look like? I was at a great brokerage firm, but as Stephen Covey says, sometimes you have to sharpen your tools.”

She decided to make the move to Nathan Grace Real Estate. The firm, she says, fits her personality, business model, and client base.

“I paint with a broad brush,” says Laura, “from a $25,000 condo to a $6 million home.”

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Nathan Grace will celebrate their six-year anniversary this January. Nathan Grace is part of the Winchester Carlisle Companies, owned by Richard Dix and was the vision of Vickie Parker, President. The vision was to bring a freshness to real estate that wasn’t, well, traditional real estate-y and the end result has produced a refreshingly boutique company.

Vickie Parker came from the home building biz (VP of Customer Relations – Pulte Homes) and hospitality (VP of Learning and Development at Brinker / Chili’s). Richard gave her carte blanche to create and grow the company. The mantra was to invert the traditional broker-agent paradigm: at Nathan Grace, the agents are on top and the broker on the bottom.

“When an agent joins us,” says Vickie, “we recognize they are a small business owner and we provide help, custom-tailoring services for each agent.”

Yes, the brokerage owns the listings, but Nathan Grace treats the agents like clients.

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The rise of the independent broker is a major trend in U.S. real estate. Indies, as they are sometimes called, are growing in strength. According to an article on Inman, 8 in 10 U.S. brokerages are independents, and the majority of U.S. agents are with indie brokers.

Dallas is an indie broker stronghold, and really has been since the beginning. Ebby Halliday, the fifth largest independent real estate brokerage in the country, was started here by the company’s late namesake, Ebby Halliday Acers. We have a healthy dose of franchise brands, too, but the indies are making their mark:

The overall agent population is growing, but independent brokerages are currently capturing agents at a faster clip than franchisors, according to NAR member profiles for 2013 and 2014. From 2013 to 2014 the percentage of agents at independent firms jumped from 52 percent to 54 percent.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Inman readers surveyed (86 percent) think independent brokerages are becoming more popular among real estate agents.

While 71 percent of affiliated brokers surveyed by Inman report that they have thought about going independent, 97 percent of indie brokers say they aren’t considering joining a franchise brand.

What accounts for this shift?

Brokers and real estate professionals surveyed by Inman say local control of branding and technology gives indie brokers the ability to craft nimble, profitable businesses that can adapt quickly to local market conditions—without the burden of franchise fees.

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Nathan Grace currently has four stores (offices); East Dallas, Park Cities, Richardson and Frisco but 2016 will see additional locations across the DFW Metroplex added to the mix.

The firm is just shy of 200 agents and growing. Some of the founding and early-joining agents are some of the strongest in town.

“We grow smart and slow,” says Vickie. “The goal is to maintain a great culture.”

In the last three years, they have been awarded Best Places to Work and Top 100 Places to work by the Dallas Business Journal and Dallas Morning News, respectfully.

Ironically, Laura Crowl worked the other side of the very first real estate transaction at Nathan Grace, which she calls a “not your normal foreclosure.”

“I have always been given lemons, and had to make lemonade out of them,” she says. Laura Crowl has the wisdom of experience that makes her a great mentor to other Nathan Grace agents. She is particularly fond of Nathan Grace’s “square table” sessions, where Laura can practice what she calls “head checks.”

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“My M.O. is everyone deserves a home,” says Laura, “whether it’s a $25,000 condo or whatever.”

Speaking of whatever, Laura has been marketing a $3 million house in Brownwood, Texas, which was selected by the New York Times as a real estate feature, one of the “What You Get For $2,950,000” segments. A photographer noticed the listing, and a writer called her. Laura, with her deep Texas drawl courtesy of her native West Texas roots, had to set the Yankee straight on a few things.

“Sir,” she began, “a geography lesson first. I want you to be clear, this house is not in the DFW area.”

Well, where is it?

“Brownwood Texas, sir,” said Laura.

“Sir,” said Laura again, “how many contemporary homes would you think you might find in Brownwood, Texas?”

The writer had no idea.

“That would be zero, sir,” she said.

In the New York Times article, in fact, the writer writes about Brownwood as if it were a western suburb of Dallas:

Brownwood is a quiet city of about 19,000 that forms a triangle with Austin, about 140 miles away, and the Dallas/Fort Worth area, about 165 miles. This hilltop house is on nearly five acres, on a dead-end road bordering a country club. Most of the other properties in the neighborhood also have large lots, though contemporaries are rare. Lake Brownwood is about 15 miles away, edged by more than 500 acres of state parkland.

He then later goes on to indicate, in a photo caption, that the Texas Hill Country is right outside the window.

“He had no concept,” says Laura.

Still, how many luxury agents can get their listings published in the New York Times?

It just takes getting out of that box.

 

Laura Crowl

 

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Candy Evans

A real estate muckraker, Candy Evans is one of the nation’s leading real estate reporters. She is also the North Texas real estate editor for Forbes.com, CultureMap Dallas, Modern Luxury Dallas, & the Katy Trail Weekly. Candy has written for Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography, Inman Real Estate News, plus a host of national sites. Constantly breaking celebrity real estate news, she scooped former president George W. Bush's Dallas home in 2008. She is the founder and publisher of her signature CandysDirt.com, and SecondShelters.com, devoted to the vacation home market. Her verticals have won many awards, including Best Blog by the venerable National Association of Real Estate Editors, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious journalism associations. Candy holds an active Texas real estate license but does not sell. She is on the Board of Directors of Braemar Hotels & Resorts (BHR).