By Ashlei Williams, High Ground News
Hustler. Socialite. Intermediary. What comes to mind when someone says they are in real estate? Try matchmaker.
Leasing Angels, a full-service real estate firm, acts as a leasing agent for apartment communities. As a prospective homebuyer would solicit the services of a Realtor, renters can come to Leasing Angels to get matched with the best location to suit their credit score and income. But the services go both ways; leasing Angels also represents landlords and property managers who need to fill vacancies.
Nannette Bean founded the company in the summer of 2015. She initially focused on being a residential leasing company for management companies and entered new territory when she took on a public client.
In the fall of 2015, the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) closed three housing communities in the city and had to relocate those tenants, according to Bean.
“I heard they called a company out of Atlanta and I literally went to the MHA and was like, ‘I’ve been doing this, let me help you guys out,’” Bean recalled. “I remember them looking at me like, ‘Um, who are you?’ I was like, ‘I’m your answer.’”
Bean had the credentials to back up her boldness.
“Property management has been my entire life since 2005,” she said.
In 2012, she moved to Memphis from Holly Springs, Mississippi for a leasing consultant job. She continued to work in on-site property management and went on to hold regional and national leasing advisory positions before starting Leasing Angels. Her company was open nearly two months when she landed the MHA opportunity.
“MHA was out first referral source for clients. I saw we were needed equally on the renter of and management side of things,” Bean said.
Leasing Angels is headquartered in the Audubon neighborhood, 5118 Park Avenue, Suite 246. Similar to others in their industry such as Apartment Locators, Crye-Leike and CrestCore, Leasing Angels offers direct marketing and leasing to renters as well as property and investment management.
“The only difference [from others in the industry] is that we don’t try to force one product. We rent for about 27 different owners and management companies,” Bean noted.
“We have a very unique concept and it’s challenging in Memphis because it’s new to people,” added Reginald Byrd, senior vice president of Leasing Angels.
Putting people first is how Leasing Angels has held up to its name, according to tenant Danette Butler.
Butler moved into her two-bedroom, one-bathroom North Memphis home in December 2017. Just one month earlier, she had come to Bean in need of immediate housing amid divorce proceedings after leaving an abusive marriage.
“I prayed so hard that I would find a place that I could afford because I’m disabled,” Butler explained. “One day, I was on a website and I saw the Leasing Angels.”
At her first meeting with Bean, Butler signed a two-year lease and paid the deposit for her current residence.
“If you are looking for someone to hold your hand while you’re looking, especially if you’re going through something, Leasing Angels is there to help with paperwork, credit checks, good neighborhoods, you name it,” Butler said.
Similar sentiments are echoed from Leasing Angel’s landlord, management and investor clientele. In 2017, Chris Robbins, owner of the management company Talus Properties Inc., was referred to Leasing Angels by a peer in real estate. He was told that Bean could help him with marketing and finding new tenants for his property in the Midtown neighborhood.
“They’re smart, incredibly cheery and effective at what they do,” Robbins said. “Nannette [Bean] has brought 20 to 25 people to our property, easy.”
Lease-ups, the time period for a newly available property to attract tenants and reach occupancy, is one of the services Leasing Angels offers its investment and property management clients. It is free to join the Leasing Angels network as costs are not incurred until Leasing Angels hosts a successful tenant placement. Additionally, on the development and construction end of the business, Leasing Angels performs market studies by request in order to help shape new residential building projects and opportunities.
Leasing Angels recently accepted a project with a management firm seeking to lease 30 to 40 homes in the Westwood neighborhood and another project with a South Memphis apartment community. Both companies evicted former tenants in an effort to reduce crime, reinvent their tenant prototype and ultimately spur economic growth, according to Bean.
“Leasing Angels has not only shown and proven its ability to drive people, but also its ability to revive neighborhoods,” Bean said. “We place deserving families in equally deserving neighborhoods where otherwise the communities may have continued to run dry.”
One challenge that Leasing Angels has faced is the learning curve for its business model. Bean’s services can be co-opted by online scammers who advertise properties for rent.
“The rate of professional predators is growing faster than ever with rental scams at an all-time high, which doesn’t make our jobs any easier,” she added.
Bean explained that Leasing Angels is contacted four to six times per week regarding one of their properties. Scammers list reduced rates for Leasing Angels-represented properties on sites such as Craiglist.
From there, interested tenants reach out and scammers collect fees and deposits. Eventually, the scammers redirect the potential tenants to Leasing Angels to finalize the phony paperwork.
“It is to the point where at the bottom of our ads we have to say we’re the leasing company and also list the management company to combat that scammer behavior,” Bean said.
Bean has found luck in some aspects of her business. She bootstrapped the venture with her savings and in November 2018 celebrated a milestone of working with 25,000 clients. She has gotten more involved with the local entrepreneurship community. In February 2019, she traveled to the state capitol with Epicenter to advocate for affordable housing investments in Memphis.
“I think we’re all part of the urban renaissance,” Robbins noted. “We’re incredibly excited about the progress we’ve all made. Not just Nanette and my company, but all of us who invest in the area and have watched the public follow. Prices are up. Rents are up. Demand for our product is up.”
Memphis’ estimated overall rental vacancy rate was reported at 8.2 percent in 2016, which is down from 14.1 percent in 2010, according to the Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development.
Byrd would like to see the city’s schools formalize entrepreneurship curriculum to create pipelines to business that will ultimately result in future generations investing in Memphis. Bean wants more community-driven ecosystems for entrepreneurs in the city that offer intentional support systems like those of Epicenter Memphis and Buy 901.
“Small businesses are direct influencers of people,” Bean explained. “The rental housing market is our vehicle. Leasing Angels will continue to generate and increase city revenue.”