RALEIGH — Jim Allen got a degree in materials engineering from N.C. State University. His specialty was in metallurgy, but he couldn’t find work in that area out of college and instead found himself in a job as a civil engineer.
“I thought I was going to be an engineer,” Allen told North State Journal. “I actually got my real estate license in college just to learn how to buy property for myself.”
After a year as an engineer, he realized it wasn’t his calling and thought that since he already had his real estate license, “why don’t I try that?”
Allen says he grew up working hard on his family’s tobacco farm in Caswell County, just south of the Virginia/N.C. border. He applied that same work ethic immediately to his new career in real estate.
“I attacked it where I had to be everywhere and be everything to everybody when I began,” he said.
Under the tutelage of now-retired agent Tom Powell, Allen was able to quickly learn the business, applying Powell’s style and sales models that remain part of Allen’s business strategy today. Powell’s team relied on a mix of close relationships with builders, who would use them for new home sales, as well as resales of existing homes.
Allen worked with Powell from 1983 until 1993, when he decided that in order to service his clients better, he’d need his own team. And it’s grown since then into one of the top real estate offices in the world.
During downturns, which agents will often blame for bad years, Allen says he was able to grow his business the most. He cited three major downturns in his career: one during the 80s, one in the 90s, and the 2007 mortgage crisis that most immediately think about.
“Most people, when the market goes in the wrong direction, they pack up all their money and quit and wait on the sidelines until things get okay again,” Allen said. “I’ve never been afforded that luxury. So, I just worked right through it each time, and my business grew.”
Allen says his engineering background helped see times like those through a problem–solving lens and to find the opportunities others miss. It also helped him put everything his team did into a clear, defined process that had the best results.
As the team grew, Allen focused on building a tightknit group who “were not clones” but were a highly-diverse set of people that could service the wide variety of people coming to the Triangle. Some would specialize in more affordable existing homes; others large, new homes. This focus on diversity has made his team able to succeed across the board.
“Most agencies focus on one or the other, with new homes or resales, but we’ve been able to become the top agency in both areas,” Allen said. “They actually complement each other as well. My resale business, for example, helps me to find buyers for my new homes, and the land sometimes. It gives us a more rounded view of things.”
Allen predicts that the Triangle will continue to grow for a long time, but it will begin to fill in more than just expand out. The amount of available land has decreased markedly even as more people move to the area, so these new residents will be buying smaller plots of land or living in taller buildings, like condominiums or townhouses.
“What we’ll see more in the future will be more of an ‘urban infill’, like what you’re seeing in North Hills right now,” Allen said. “You’re going to start seeing more and more of that because there just isn’t any more available land. We’re down to about 10,000 acres of land to develop in the whole Triangle, and that’s not a whole lot. It was hundreds of thousands just years ago.”
Jim Allen Group is currently involved in projects across the greater Triangle region, even further out into Johnston, Franklin, Person and Alamance counties.
Being part of this growing region has helped Allen grow his business as well. For the last three years in a row, he has been Coldwell Banker’s No. 1 agent in the world in overall production. He has also been their No. 1 in units sold since 2009. Before that, he was Berkshire Hathaway’s No. 1 agent in the world, coming there from Prudential, where he was their No. 1 agent in the world.
“We’re a no-excuse company,” Allen said. “And we can blame it that the average price in Los Angeles is $15 million or Miami it’s $10 million. You can’t worry about that when your average sale price is $400,000. Instead, you just have to sell more houses. Unfortunately for me, I might have to sell 100 houses to make up for the one mansion they sell, but that’s what we do.”
And this strategy of focusing on volume has worked. This year, Allen projects having 1,500 homes sold for just under $500 million, up from 1,200 homes sold for $460 million the previous year. He said that in the early 2000s, they were at around $100 million a year in sales, so they’ve been able to grow five-times-over since then.
For Allen, an active member of Asbury Methodist Church in Durham, faith is an essential part of his work in both his business and his community, including his strong ties to numerous non-profits from the Boys and Girls Club, to Habitat for Humanity, to the Helene Foundation, which offers daily assistance to women with cancer who have small children.
“The more prosperous you become, the greater responsibility for the community you have. Because if you become successful living and thriving in a community and don’t give back from what you received, you’re really stealing from them,” said Allen.
“I’m a strong Christian and I have values that push me in the direction of helping the community wherever I can,” Allen said. “We do a lot with the Boys and Girls Club in Wake Forest. Went there once, fell in love with the kids, bought them a bus and a scoreboard. Now part of every sale we give back to it.”