December 20, 2019
The RJ Williams & Co. and Northern Realty Group real estate agencies and the agent Michael Crain are merging into what the three said will be Fort Worth’s largest locally owned brokerage in transactions, with primary specialties in residential, commercial, and property management.
The combined agency, called Williams Northern Crain or WNC, brings Williams’ 53 agents and Northern’s 19 under one roof. The agency also has expertise in urban mixed-use and the workings of Fort Worth City Hall. Northern Realty founder Will Northern is chairman of the Fort Worth Zoning Commission. Crain, who recently left the Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty agency, is District 3 director to the Fort Worth city councilman Brian Byrd and a former official in the President George W. Bush administration and Republican National Committee. Northern, Crain and Ty Williams, founder of RJ Williams, announced the merger Tuesday morning.
Williams will lead the residential division; Northern, commercial; and Crain, property management, the three said in an interview with Fort Worth Inc. last week. Crain will also assist the residential side, primarily with luxury, his niche at Briggs Freeman. The three will have equal ownership, they said in the interview.
“There’s no buyout of one or the other,” Northern said in the interview. “It was a mutual agreement that, together, we’re stronger.”
While the principals will lead specialties, “the three of us collectively are knowledgeable and available to help agents in each practice,” Northern said. “We’ll have a broker hotline number, a separate dedicated line that our agents will be able to call whenever they need help, and it will be ringing all of us at one time. In addition, new agents will be assigned a mentor when they get started, so that there’s a structure to help lift people up and get them educated.”
Williams Northern Crain will be temporarily based in RJ Williams’ current quarters at 650 May St. on the Near Southside, with Northern leaving his offices on West Magnolia Avenue. “We’ll be combining, and then looking for a building to house us all,” Crain said.
Williams Northern Crain will continue its relationship with Trinity Habitat for Humanity, as broker of homes made for sale into the open market. Williams’ wife, Carmen, an RJ Williams agent, grew up in a Habitat-built home. Williams Northern Crain will launch the new company in an Oct. 17 party inside the vacant, historic Fort Worth Recreation Building at 215 W. Vickery Blvd., owned by the developer Tom Reynolds, Northern’s landlord on West Magnolia.
The merger resulted from the development and sharing of costs on a lead generation platform between Williams and Northern, in which the two agencies referred leads to each other.
Williams’ brokerage, 90 percent residential, was growing dramatically. Northern had residential, commercial and property management divisions, was “getting stretched thin” and wanted to focus on commercial, more than 50 percent of the business today, Northern said.
“We were both looking for a true operations manager, and around the same time, we were both in talks separately with Michael to try and bring him on our respective organizations,” Northern said. “Fortunately, Michael let us know what the other was doing, and really proposed the idea” of a potential merger.
Williams bought his first home at age 18, using the cash from a settlement for a car accident he was in. He sold the house for his first flip. Williams, licensed as a Realtor in 2011, went to work for an agency before launching RJ Williams & Co. in 2016, naming the agency after his father. The agency, beyond being broker for Habitat homes, encourages its agents to participate in at least a couple of Habitat builds annually. RJ Williams is known for its education and mentorship programs for agents, and Ty Williams – like Northern and Crain – is a certified Texas Real Estate Commission educator.
Northern has explored numerous avenues in real estate, rehabbing historic property in the Texas Hill Country with his father, working as a landman in college, performing assemblages for an oil and gas company, rehabbing houses, and, finally, launching Northern Realty in 2010. He opened his West Magnolia office in 2010. Northern is Mayor Betsy Price’s appointee to the Fort Worth Zoning Commission. He’s been actively involved in the Near Southside Inc. economic development nonprofit, Mayor Price’s Steer Fort Worth young leaders group, and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce’s Vision Fort Worth group.
Crain, whose final post with the Bush Administration was chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, brings expertise in running large organizations. He also was an official with the Republican National Committee during the Bush Administration. In Fort Worth, he and wife Joanna Crain launched Foodie Philanthropy, which organizes chefs who donate tables and prix fixe meals and wine pairings that are sold during an annual event to raise money for a selected charity.
Why residential, commercial and management under one roof?
“Oftentimes, our clients are not just dealing with a one-off property type,” Northern said. “There are referrals that come from the residential shop; someone buys a house, but they also own a business and that business needs a home. Or that homeowner wants to buy investment property, and they don’t have the time or the know-how to manage it. So instead of referring that out and losing the revenue, why not just get people that really know how to do that trade and have the in-house referral?”
Williams and Northern said they’ve both been approached to merge into large agencies, but wanted to retain a local agency feel.
“When we’re all looking at it, there’s two boutique firms coming together, still staying very local with local roots,” Crain said. “And then Will has his zoning mission, I’m down at City Hall, Ty has his Habitat for Humanity. And there’s tons of other things that we do, too, that keep us grounded here in the community. And I think when people turn to it, they’re going to go, ‘we want to go with someone that knows what they’re doing and has relationships to get things done’.”
The new agency gives agents opportunities to try different pursuits, the partners said. Commercial, for one, is expensive for agents to try, because of the costs required to use the CoStar commercial service.
“Plus, you have other dues to pay,” Crain said. “If someone just wants to check it out, it’s a huge financial barrier to entry. We’re going to give them the ability to see if it’s something they want before they make all those commitments.”
Compensation structures for agents will be “better than competitive with the market,” Crain said. “There’s no hidden fees, no desk fees, it’s pretty straight cut and dry. And since we’re not in a franchise or have a franchise fee, it’s pretty cut and dry.”
The partners said they want to continue to grow in Fort Worth and eventually turn to Dallas. “My thought processes on it, is let us 100 percent perfect what we’re doing here, and then we move outside of the area and go to our friends over in Dallas,” Crain said. “I think that’s where we would look to go next. We already have a handful of agents already over there, servicing clients over there, and they’re doing very well.”
“I think the bigger piece of that is we still want to be local,” Williams said. “We’re going to be local here and hire agents there that are local and want to stay local