by Skip Anderson
In one important way, Blue Raider Realty isn’t like most brokerage firms. Sure, it’s a privately held, for-profit business that provides the complete gamut of commercial and residential real estate services in middle Tennessee. But Blue Raider Realty distinguishes itself from other real estate companies in that it’s also an organization specifically created to give MTSU undergraduate and graduate students hands-on experience in the for-profit world of real estate transactions.
Evidence of this mission is found in the very first steps toward establishing this innovative—and independent—resource, according to Philip Seagraves, assistant professor of Real Estate and a real estate investor, developer, and broker. Seagraves birthed the concept several years ago and turned the student realty company into reality after joining MTSU’s faculty in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business.
“Instead of having students who are interested in real estate try to figure out what to do after graduating, we help them to be up and running,” he said. “The idea is to have them obtain their license and already be established and working in the real estate industry by the time they graduate. This way, the new graduates can go wherever they want to go without wondering whether they have what it takes to do the work or to get their license. And for potential employers, these graduates will already be a proven quantity—they’re not this huge risk with question marks hanging over their heads.”
MTSU students in the program are eligible to earn commissions, just as if they were in the real workforce—because, as a hallmark of this inventive program, they are in the real workforce under the guidance of experienced mentors such as managing broker Kathy Jones (see sidebar, Getting Involved, on page 36). Students also learn about other important areas of the real estate profession, too, such as property appraisals, financing, marketing, and administration. The funds that come into the brokerage firm give students opportunities to help make decisions about how to invest in the business, fund scholarships, and further educate the team.
Boots on the Ground
Blue Raider Realty started as an offshoot of MTSU’s Blue Raider Real Estate Club. The process of evolving into an actual realty company began in 2015, when club members renovated and marketed a group of commercial properties in downtown Murfreesboro that Seagraves, in partnership with Burton Street Development, acquired and handed over to students.
Seagraves and partners purchased the old Neal’s Electric and Lighting Center, as well as two other buildings on West Burton and North Front streets, at auction for $420,000. Students were paid to renovate the properties, perform market analysis, and market and list the properties for sale.
The properties provided a much-needed, off-campus location to fully launch Blue Raider Realty in April 2016. Around that time, Seagraves also enlisted then-M.B.A. student Jackie McKee to be the listing agent for the West Burton Street property. McKee had procured her affiliate broker license prior to earning her master’s from Jones College in December 2015, making her eligible to participate in the property purchase.
“There were not many of us in the club who were licensed brokers,” she said. “I had not graduated with my M.B.A. at that point, but I had my affiliate broker license. I was, in the end, the official representative for the property.”
McKee had enrolled at MTSU as a nontraditional graduate student, having previously worked in the fields of chemistry and microbiology after earning a B.S. in Biology from Old Dominion University. While at MTSU, McKee concentrated on management and marketing. She is now working as a Realtor and affiliate broker with Coldwell Banker Snow & Wall in Murfreesboro.
The experience and camaraderie Blue Raider Realty provided McKee inspired her to “pay it forward.” After the sale of the property closed, McKee decided to make a donation to Blue Raider Realty—a scholarship of sorts. “She donated part of her commission back to the program,” Seagraves said. “That has helped fund the licensing training for students who came after her.”
McKee remains available to students at Blue Raider Realty. “I am still talking to some of the students in the program,” she said. “I think of myself as a good general resource for them.”
As it is with McKee, Seagraves sees the relationships with his students continuing after graduation, helping the program grow and further establish Blue Raider Realty in the community. Seagraves hopes to inspire similar engagement not only from past graduates like McKee, but also from working professionals across the region wishing to help prepare those entering the real estate field. To help more students get their starts, Blue Raider Realty has committed to dedicate a portion of every commission earned to help provide scholarships for other students seeking their real estate licenses.
“The hope is that we’ll have more and more individuals from the alumni community and the local business community to serve as advisors or maybe be on the board of the directors,” Seagraves said. “I’d like to get investments from people to help us with marketing Blue Raider Realty or make an investment to build an online or training program to help students prepare for their licensure exams. We have the brainpower to do that, but we’d need an investment as far as technology to do that.”
Closing the Deal
If student results are a barometer for giving, potential donors can rest assured they are making a sound investment in the Blue Raider Realty initiative. In 2015, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts and two other partners sponsored the inaugural Real Confidence University Portfolio Challenge, in which teams from 15 universities nationwide vied to create the best-performing portfolio from a mixture of real estate investments.
Under the terms of the challenge, each team chose how it would allocate $1 billion to four quadrants of commercial real estate investment: public equity, private equity, public debt, and private debt. The best-performing portfolio over a four-quarter period was declared the grand prize winner on July 30, 2016. The winning university received $50,000 for use within its real estate or business program or for scholarships.
MTSU finished third, ahead of Harvard, among many others. The second annual event launched last summer and is in progress. MTSU is among 32 universities entered this year.
In the end, Seagraves has a simple mission for Blue Raider Realty. “We intend to be a first-rate brokerage firm,” he said. “We want to supply our competitors with a staff of great people in the near future. We do that by helping them to be great while they’re here, too. The students have such enthusiasm for the profession, and they can learn from our knowledge, academic theory, and, yes, even the bruises we sustained in the profession.”
By enabling MTSU students to get their real estate licenses and real-world experience long before they graduate, Seagraves and the Jones College of Business are clearly making sure students are pre-approved for success.
Kathy Jones, a long-time member of the Bob Parks Realty team, recently stepped up to lead Blue Raider Realty as the managing broker. “I’m proud to be a part of giving back to the students of my alma mater, and helping them get their start in this great industry,” Jones said.
With Jones coming on board, Blue Raider Realty LLC is now housed in the Parks Group offices in Murfreesboro but will remain its own separate, independent firm, serving as an incubator for new brokers.
Philip Seagraves, the assistant professor who birthed the Blue Raider Realty concept, said he couldn’t thank Bob Parks and his team enough for opening their doors to MTSU’s new brokerage. “Other brokerages kindly offered to help, but only the Parks Group was willing to have one of their top people help lead Blue Raider Realty and let the students continue to operate it as a separate, independent company,” he said.
Local realtors David and Ann Hoke with Ann Hoke & Associates Keller Williams Realty in Murfreesboro also committed to fund a Real Estate scholarship of $1,000 a year for a $25,000 total endowment. Those interested in learning more about real estate, securing possible summer internships in the industry, supporting the program, or getting involved in the brokerage or the real estate club should email Philip Seagraves at Philip.Seagraves@mtsu.edu. MTSU