August 03, 2015

Surviving & Thriving: While Other Firms Fold or are Sold, Marx-Bensdorf Looks Ahead to Better Times

Surviving & Thriving
By:  Tom Bailey, Jr.
Commercial Appeal
Marx-Bensdorf Realtors has a transaction ledger so old — 144 years — that partner Jim Black keeps it under a glass dome in his office.
The firm’s scrapbook contains mementos from a time when the sale of an $11,000 house warranted a newspaper story with photo.
It’s a firm that has weathered depressions and recessions, withstood wars, epidemics and bankruptcy, survived Reconstruction, endured social upheaval and embraced social media.
So it should be no surprise that Marx-Bensdorf just made an expansion move at a time when some other smaller agencies have been swallowed up by larger firms.
Two weeks ago, the 32-agent Marx-Bensdorf moved about 100 yards across an East Memphis parking lot.
It had been at 959 Ridgeway Loop for 24 years, and now calls 5860 Ridgeway Center Pkwy. home.
In their new place, the ceilings are four feet taller and more natural light bathes the rooms.
“It’s been just two weeks, but already you look forward to coming in here,” Black, one of three partners, said of the atmosphere.
The new site also allows Marx-Bensdorf to have the exterior signs it couldn’t have in its former place.
But perhaps most telling, at 4,300 square feet, the new headquarters is 1,100 square feet bigger. This is a firm that plans to grow by 10 agents in the short term and to a total of 50 agents long-term.
When it comes to its focus on service to clients, Marx-Bensdorf embraces any reputation as a niche firm, indicated Jimmy Reed, who joined the firm in 1982 and has been an owner since 1999.
The partners say the agency offers the broad scope of services expected of larger firms.
For example, Marx-Bensdorf has a relocation department, Web search tools, and social media presence with Facebook and YouTube.
It’s one of three agencies of record for International Paper, and one of two for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The agency doesn’t limit itself geographically in the Memphis area, selling homes from Downtown to Eads.
It also lists a wide range of houses, from a $20,000 home on Burns Avenue to a $4.95 million house on Cloister Green Lane.
The firm deliberately repositioned itself after the market downturn in 2008.
“We recognized in 2007 the market would change,” said David Tester, a former architect who joined the firm in 2002 and became the third partner two months ago.
“We didn’t know how significantly.”
Marx-Bensdorf had become comfortable, maybe too much so, with the way it had done business over the years, Tester said.
That has changed with the embrace of better technology, from smartphones to texting to laptops to media.
“We absolutely dove in” to new technology and new media, Reed said.
While Marx-Bensdorf is not selling like it was before the recession, “we’re pleased with our production,” Black said.
In 2010, the firm doubled its 2009 sales, and so far this year it is on track to match 2010.
“If you hold your own in this environment, you’re way ahead of the game,” Reed said.
Marx-Bensdorf has long been way ahead in seniority. Established in 1868, it’s the city’s oldest name in Memphis real estate and 11th- or 12th- oldest business, Black said.
The firm plants its roots in the community in other ways besides property sales. For example, through one of its Realtors who specializes in the Binghamton neighborhood, Marx-Bensdorf filled 120 backpacks with school supplies and donated them to Dr. William H. Brewster Elementary.
Another of its agents, Teri Trotter, is a breast cancer survivor, and the agency sponsors her in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
Since another agent is affected by ALS, the firm has supported efforts to fight that disease.
Because real estate can be an all-consuming, 24/7 business, Marx-Bensdorf encourages agents to live balanced lives.
“Our lives have to be whole and complete and integrated,” Tester said. “To be successful, agents have to have lives.”