Michael and Becky Austin founded a real estate dynasty on January 1, 1986. It includes their family agency with children, in-laws and grandchildren who sell homes.
On Sunday, January 15, the Austins invited all of their supporters and advocates to Cypress Hall outside of Hernando to mark 36 years of this dynasty, Austin Realty Group (ARG).
Becky was the family’s real estate pro, having currently been in the industry for 45 years. She finally sold her husband on the idea of the housing market years ago and he finally got it.
“I started the agency, I was selling nuts and bolts at the time for Tennessee Bolt and Screw in Memphis. My wife and I lived in Southaven,” Michael said. “I could see that job was going nowhere and, in fact, the company ended up going bankrupt. My wife was in real estate, she said, ‘You don’t want to get into real estate?’ I hated real estate, my daughter and I threatened to leave her if she didn’t get out of real estate.
Becky took a break from the industry until her peers convinced her to come back, convincing Michael at the same time.
“I worked for another company, a real estate company, for six months,” Michael said. “After (the owner) gave away half my commission and my pool table, I thought, ‘I don’t have to do this anymore!’ My wife convinced me to sell our brand new home and we quickly opened ARG.
Michael was told by his family and peers that his people skills learned over years in management could be transferred to growing a house hunting business.
“I’ve been a manager or something like that all my life, ever since I was little,” Michael said. “Before, I ran a lawn mower business. So it was a natural step, the more I got into it, the more I liked it. Now here I am.
About ten years after founding ARG, Michael not only decided to sell houses, but he also wanted to build and repair them.
“I serve Mississippi and Tennessee, Memphis area,” said Michael, who also spent many years working at a small retailer that is now global. “I spent my time in Arkansas with Walmart.
In 36 years in the business, Michael said he’s been surprised by the slow transition of interpersonal communication between agents and their customers, from a smile and a handshake to cold, calculating technology.
“When the computer came into the real estate business, we lost our personal touch,” Michael explained. “There are about 1,500 real estate agents in northern Mississippi now, and I probably don’t even know 50 of them.”
Michael, a self-proclaimed “veteran,” said he wanted face-to-face interactions between agent and customer. He sees limited benefits with computer technology when it comes to reaching potential buyers.
“Most of my clients hear about us through word of mouth or referral,” Micheal said. “There seems to be only one really good source of advertising and that’s Facebook, which is a shame.”
Michael’s agency has jumped on the social media bandwagon itself with its own Facebook page. He cites a slowly fading publishing industry.
“Our yard signs are important to us, we’re known for our diamonds (logo) and our blue and white colors,” Michael said.
Michael and Becky’s daughter, Audrey Jacobi, also sells real estate in the family business. One of Austin’s sons-in-law is a Lifestyle Homes rep, is a builder at Silo Square in Southaven. Other in-laws also work at Lifestyle Homes.
“Even though we’re family oriented, we’re not really a family business,” joked Michael. “We are the oldest, largest, independent, non-franchise, broker-managed and owned real estate company in Northern Mississippi. I have to get all those words out to be politically correct.
Jacobi, who recently overcame health issues, remains heavily committed to his parent agency selling homes. She is the best saleswoman in the agency behind mom.
“Mom put me in it,” Jacobi said. “I was supposed to start doing rentals and stuff with them, but I couldn’t. Now I’ve got my husband in on it. It’s a full-fledged family business.”
Jacobi pointed out that working in a family business is rewarding, fun and challenging too, because no bad behavior is allowed.
“When your parents know everyone in town, you can’t be mean to anyone,” laughed Jacobi.
About 80 guests filled Cypress Hall for music, socializing, a meal and the opportunity for Michael and his family to show their appreciation for the support of their community.
“Everyone who is at this party tonight, every single person has done something or contributed to ARG’s existence. It’s a party for everyone,” Michael said. “There are people who die and never know how much they are loved. I’ll never have to say that.”
Another important aspect of ARG’s success is Michael’s philosophy of listening to people.
“A mortgage officer might say, ‘These people can afford a $300,000 house.’ Buyers may only want to spend $250,000. Some realtors will only hear ‘$300,000,'” Michael said. “Loyalty is also important to me. It goes so far with honesty.
Michael said making a profit was not a top priority for his agency
“I don’t work for the money, I won’t work for the money, I work for the people,” Michael said.