Mccomb — Benton Gibson never dreamed of running a full-service real estate firm.
The Ralston Purina Company salesman turned Louisiana dairy farmer began moonlighting in 1986 as an agricultural property appraiser to supplement his farm income. When his side job became more lucrative than farming, Gibson sold his dairy farm in 1994 and began growing his appraisal firm full-time, gradually adding five appraisers, including one of his four sons, Greg Gibson, and an office manager to expand appraisal offerings to residential, commercial, timberland, farms, livestock and farm equipment.
“The main factor that attracted me first to agribusiness sales and then to farming, farm appraisal and most recently, real estate sales, is my appreciation for land and the people who farm, recreate and live on it,” said Gibson, who graduated from Northwestern State University in 1970 with an agribusiness degree.
Gibson had not considered expanding into real estate sales until his son, Patrick Gibson, graduated from Mississippi State University in 2002 with a degree in construction management and real estate development.
“Patrick called and told me about several job offers, but he wasn’t happy about the thought of working inside a small mobile office on a job site eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week,” said Gibson. “He asked what I thought about forming a real estate sales company. One of my main arguments against this new real estate venture was that I knew nothing about the real estate sales business. I’d sold a very limited amount of real estate over the years through private sales, but had never run a real estate ad or managed a real estate sales business. But Patrick was convincing.”
Three months later, after researching various real estate franchises focusing on rural property, the Gibsons opened United Country-Gibson Realty of McComb, and immediately learned a valuable lesson.
“When we opened the doors in June 2002, we had no listings, so we took any that came in the door,” explained Gibson, with a laugh. “One of the first was a $7,500 house located on leased land that looked much better in photos than it really was. We must’ve had 300 calls from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries and we must’ve shown it 50 or more times. We even had it contracted on three separate occasions before it finally closed. We made 20% commission on the property but we didn’t make minimum wage on the time invested. Needless to say, we’re more selective about what we list today.”
The Gibsons chose United Country, a national real estate company specializing in farms, ranches, land, country homes, vacation homes, recreational properties, country businesses and historic properties since 1925, because of its “potent-and-proven” marketing services.
“The goal of all sellers is to sell for the highest price in the shortest time period, and the ability to do this is most often provided by a real estate company with great advertising,” said Gibson. “The typical real estate brokerage firm, after listing your property, places an ad in the local paper, places the property on the local multiple listing service and places a ‘for sale’ sign on the property. We also do these three things, but we do so much more. When we go to a listing presentation, we carry a list of buyers from our United Country database that have recently contacted our local or national office via the Internet, telephone or by mail requesting information on properties similar to the seller’s.
“Once we obtain the listing, we will immediately mail or e-mail them a property report. Many times, the buyer is already in our database. We also submit the property for inclusion in one of the six United Country publications published twice yearly. Over one million copies of our main catalogue are printed each year and distributed by United Country affiliates, sold in bookstores, airports and so forth. United Country regularly places ads in national magazines, trade journals and newspapers, advertising our properties and bringing potential buyers to our 800 number and Web site.”
On a typical day, the Gibsons receive 15 to 20 inquiries on specific properties listed or from buyers who have expressed an interest in their specific market area.
“Our national Web site has over 600,000 visitors per month who stay on the site an average of 28 minutes per session,” said Gibson. “In addition, we print a publication with all our listings and mail it to every person who contacts our office inquiring about real estate. We offer more ways to advertise and place the seller’s property before more people than anyone in our market. That’s why we get the listing.”
When a group of Venezuelan water buffalo farmers contacted Patrick Gibson about a 530-acre farm he had on the market, which they found on United Country’s Web site, he was convinced that the company provided sellers unmatched advertising, especially for unique or special properties.
In its first full year of business, the office earned the company’s President’s Honor Group Award, an achievement marked by gross commissions of $200,000 or more. The Gibsons received the award again in 2004, and by September, it was named the number one United Country office in the nation in closed sales volume.
“We had no idea when we opened our McComb office that a little over two years later we would have two locations, 14 sales persons and office employees, 125 listings and gross sales of $18 million,” said Gibson.
The number of buyers from outside Mississippi also surprised the Gibsons.
“We have sold properties to people from the East Coast, West Coast and many places in between,” said Gibson. “These buyers want to live in a small town or rural area. They are attracted by a low cost of living, low crime rate, low property taxes, adequate nearby medical facilities and a moderate climate. And they want to be less than two hours from a major metro airport. Our Southwest Mississippi area has all of the requirements they seek.”
The Gibsons’ immediate plans are to hire additional qualified salespeople, improve their training procedures, improve their financial management and expand their market share. They are rewriting the appraisal company’s business plan to better track clients, shorten the appraisal turnaround time and expand their client base.
“The opportunity I have, through real estate appraisal and sales, to help people acquire a parcel of land that may remain in their family for generations to come, provide income and enjoyment, is truly a special occupation,” said Gibson.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.