Terry Morris Legends of Real Estate

Terry Morris, President of Morris & Fellows Real Estate Services, Inc. joins the Atlanta Real Estate Forum Radio podcast to dive into the rich company history and remark on notable career milestones. Morris joins host Carol Morgan as the fifth Legends of Real Estate series guest.

A 1970 graduate of Florida State University, Morris took his first professional leap by starting his career in retail management. After several years and a closer look at his financial goals, Morris began searching for new opportunities when a friend suggested commercial mortgage banking. In 1974, he accepted a position at The Commonwealth Corporation in Tallahassee, Florida as a commercial loan officer, a move that soon coincided with the first recession Morris would weather in his career.

The company asked him to obtain his Florida real estate license and formally trained him in appraisals. When not working on a commercial project, Morris assisted the residential lending division of the company with residential appraisals, his first introduction to the residential side of real estate. The recession hit the southeast particularly hard, prompting Morris and his wife, Cheri, to look for greener pastures to better support their family of four.

Morris said, “We studied the national economy by region and city and determined that the best opportunities at the time were in either Austin, Texas or Wichita, Kansas. For a young, dual-career couple raised in the south, this looked like an adventure and an opportunity to see another part of the country outside our comfort zone.”

Morris and his family packed up and moved to Kansas, Cheri working for Melvin Simon and Associates and Morris for J.P. Weigand & Sons, Inc., a residential and commercial brokerage firm founded in 1902.  He opened a new office for the company and eventually took over relocation services as well. Brokerage is conducted somewhat differently in every state based on state laws and customs developed over decades.  During this time, it was common for brokers to not only list and sell real estate but to also close loans in the broker’s office, which led to some interesting situations.

Morris said, “I’ll never forget the day when a buyer showed up for an all-cash residential closing and put stacks of one-hundred-dollar bills on my desk. I couldn’t get that closing done quick enough and get to the bank!”

While they loved their life in Wichita, they felt far from home. Both Morris and his wife grew up in the southeast and knew it was time to pull out the map again and choose where their next and hopefully permanent stop would be. Atlanta seemed an attractive option with its opportunity for growth in both of their separate career paths. Cheri joined up with Tom Cousins as Vice President of marketing in the spring of 1978, and Morris joined Northside Realty, run at that time by Johnny Isakson.

While working for Isakson, Morris first managed the North Sandy Springs office and then the Smyrna office, familiarizing himself with nuances of the Atlanta real estate market, Georgia laws, and customs. This was a wonderful opportunity to dig into the largest real estate market in the southeast working with a premier real estate brokerage firm.

As Morris grew in his position with Northside, the second recession of his career loomed large. In the early 1980s, Morris found himself responsible for expanding a profit center while the market experienced interest rates of 18% and higher.

Morris said, “That didn’t stop us. We developed all sorts of creative ways to sell and finance homes. In our small office in West Cobb County, we sold one house a day on average in 1982 at 18% interest rates.”

Morris and his team took advantage of the rent versus sell pros and cons and developed other innovative solutions to satisfy customer needs. Aided by Morris’ financial background, he and his team became proficient problem solvers in challenging times.

While in Smyrna, Morris worked with a talented roster of professional agents who regularly outperformed their peers in units (number of homes) sold. Competition within the company among the many branch offices was keen.  Morris approached Isakson with the idea to rethink how the team scored themselves. As a result of that conversation, the company started tracking unit sales in addition to just dollar volume sold, a more meaningful measure of production, especially given that the work required to sell any home, regardless of sales price, was nearly the same.  This was just the beginning of many more business model innovations to come.

Sometime in 1984, Johnny Isakson and David Chatham, whose family were majority owners of Northside Realty, invited Morris to be the General Manager of the company.

Morris recalled, “I didn’t have to think about that offer for very long. I had already been contemplating a move to commercial development out of frustration with a residential real estate business model that, while providing a service that was clearly needed to assist consumers in buying and selling, was archaic in its structure and in need of revitalization.  The opportunity to participate in real change was simply too compelling.  Morris eventually became EVP and then President & CEO of Northside when Isakson pursued a “higher calling” in politics.

In 1985, Morris shared one end of the Northside Realty tower with Isakson, right next to each other day in and day out. Despite the proximity, they did not regularly encounter opportunities to connect due to the high demands of their respective workloads, which also included Isakson’s additional work in Georgia state politics. The company was generating around $900 million in residential sales by this time while Atlanta was entering a significant growth phase that would bring 100,000 or more residents relocating to the metro area each year for the next 20 years.  Opportunities would be enormous.

With an educational background in psychology and management, Morris was a natural changemaker. These skills would benefit him for years to come as he navigated the rapidly changing Atlanta market backed by the unwavering support of Isakson, whose political aspirations continued to grow.

During the period from the mid-80s to mid-90s Northside Realty was regularly responsible for the exclusive sales and marketing of some 250 subdivisions on any given day, with a new development coming in quickly after the sell-out of another.

Morris believes the key to the success of Northside Realty was “its people – at every level of the organization, including its dedicated and capable management team closely partnered with the all-important agent interface with its customers and clients.” The strong foundation established by Isakson would be built upon by Morris and his team, growing the company from $1 billion to $2.2 billion in residential sales and 10,000 closed transaction sides per year by the time he exited his position in 2002.

At Northside Realty, Morris and his team effectively changed the traditional real estate single-service agent-centric business model to a company-agent “partnership” model with the client at its center, while adding additional transaction related services such as mortgage, insurance, title, closing and concierge services.

Morris and his team implemented a ground-breaking business planning, coaching and accountability program, which continued to grow long after he left the brokerage. Each agent, based on their individual needs and career goals, was provided a unique business plan supported with training and one-on-one coaching and accountability to ensure their success. Similar disciplines were implemented with the management team and department heads.

At the end of the day, Morris was passionately focused on achieving a world-class brokerage experience at the customer level that would create a customer-for-life relationship, generating repeat and referral business while growing the income and profit of its agents and the company. Part of the business model change was to expand brokerage profit in an environment where the competition was increasing, and rapidly developing technologies were changing the potential rules of the game.

Northside Realty was not only a leader in the Atlanta region but in the United States. An active participant in nationally recognized organizations, Morris joined like-minded, non-competitive industry leaders several times a year to share trade successes and failures. Morris was interested in both the successes as well as those efforts and programs that didn’t work out so well!

Morris said, “By the morning session break of the first day of any national meeting, I knew who I wanted to have lunch with, and I would pick their brains and come back with lots of ideas.”

Knowing that change is inevitably disruptive to people and organizations, some needed changes would take up residence in Morris’ mind for up to two years before his team would roll them out in a systematic and disciplined manner.  The formula worked as demonstrated by a steady increase in sales, profit and a growing sales force of professional agents, and one of the lowest agent turnover rates in the business.

Following the sale of Northside Realty to Cendant in early 2002, Morris accepted the position of President & CEO of GMAC Real Estate Services where he served for six years while implementing many of the business model changes proven out at Northside Realty.  Before his departure in 2008, GMAC RE had grown to be the fourth largest brokerage in the United States based on dollar volume of sales closed, a metric to which he had added unit sales so many years before.

In 2008, Morris teamed up with his wife, Cheri Morris, President of Morris & Fellows, Inc. …just in time for the Great Recession, the fifth in his real estate career. After the initial fall-out in the residential and commercial real estate industries in 2009, including the loss of their residential partners, the Morris’ took up the work of completing Woodstock Downtown, a commercial mixed-use project that was initiated in 2005.   Morris & Fellows next developed Alpharetta City Center, completed in 2019, another mixed-use project that, like Woodstock Downtown, has set the standard on how to revitalize historic downtowns.

The company is currently working on Woodstock City Center adjacent to Woodstock Downtown in a public-private partnership with the City of Woodstock. The four-and-a-half-acre property will consist of much needed structured parking for the highly successful downtown area as well as additional restaurants, retail, boutique hotel, office space and more!

Morris said, “Commercial real estate development has the potential to enhance the world and its communities, but they’re hard to do, which is why, sadly, you don’t see more of it.  We are passionate about building successful examples of revitalized, historic downtowns to demonstrate the point and hopefully leave a model for others to follow.”

For individuals interested in entering the residential or commercial brokerage sector, Morris suggests interviewing with two or more different companies to puzzle together a complete picture of each company and its position in the market. Morris also advised clearly determining the support systems, training and mentoring programs the company would provide that are designed to support success.

Morris said, “The real estate license is only an opportunity to learn. If you are diligent and stay on a learning curve throughout your career, [you’ll] enjoy the work you do in addition to making money.”

While not alarmed about the current housing crisis, Morris did mention his concern surrounding equity funds. In the current market, there is a larger percentage of willing homebuyers than inventory to meet the demand. Equity companies are purchasing significant numbers of homes month-in, month-out to add to their inventory pool to hold and lease, diminishing the already limited and shrinking inventory of homes available for purchase. While this was viewed as a partial solution during the Great Recession, it has the potential to create an even greater problem in today’s market.

Tune in to the full interview above to learn more about Terry Morris and Morris & Fellows or visit www.MorrisAndFellows.com.

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Georgia Residential Mortgage Licensee, License #22564. NMLS ID #6606. Subject to borrower and property qualifications. Not all applicants will qualify. New American Funding and Morris & Fellows are not associated. Click here to view the terms and conditions of products mentioned during the show. Corporate office 14511 Myford Rd., Suite 100, Tustin, CA 92780. Phone: (800) 450-2010. (July/2022)

New American Funding is a family-owned mortgage lender with a servicing portfolio of over 216,000+ loans for $56.8 billion, 171 branches and about 4,500+ employees. The company offers several niche loan products and has made Inc. 5000’s list of Fastest-Growing Companies in America seven times. For more information, call 678-898-3540 or visit https://branch.newamericanfunding.com/Atlanta.

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