Aberdeen — In 1985, Marsha Ballard found herself divorced in the small town of Aberdeen, with few skills and little self-confidence.
“I decided … to enter into the business community where everyone knew me and were so very supportive of my efforts,” said Ballard. “I went to work at a real estate company as a sales agent and enrolled in classes for a broker’s license. I was determined to be successful in my own right.”
In 1989, Ballard opened Southern Realty & Management Company in Aberdeen as a Realtor/broker working from her home. Her first listing fit into a two-inch local newspaper ad.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, am I ever going to do this?’” she said.
Ballard’s worries were unwarranted. She soon became the “go-to gal” for local real estate needs and began consistently being named the Aberdeen Examiner’s annual readers’ pick for Best Realtor.
In 2003, Ballard celebrated her 10th consecutive year selling more than $1 million of real estate. Last year, she passed the $2-million mark. Within the first two months of 2005, company sales surpassed $1 million.
“I know that doesn’t sound like a whole lot in Jackson and around Madison, where my daughter Deanie lives, but I’m in a town of less than 7,000 people, and it is a big deal,” said Ballard. “Our average home value is somewhere around $60,000. You might sell a few over $100,000. It takes a while to add them all up.”
Ballard knows her market well. A native of Amory, she grew up in Aberdeen and often traveled the back roads of Monroe County, the state’s fourth-largest county in geographic size, with her dad, the late Joe Q. Monaghan, a two-term sheriff and FBI special agent who helped establish Mississippi’s Bureau of Narcotics during the 1960s.
Southern Realty’s three sales agents have their own areas of expertise. DeAndra Robinson West focuses on the Hamilton area, where she is a lifelong resident, and Carolyn S. Wilson markets the Amory area, where she grew up. Dwight Stevens is an antiques expert and licensed auctioneer known as one of the most successful auctioneers in the Southeast. Thousands of people travel cross-country to attend his estate and real estate auctions, often held in the antebellum home he restored.
“When we get calls for property in Columbus, Tupelo and West Point, I refer them to people I know who know those areas,” said Ballard. “We work closely together, but we stick with the markets we know best.”
Aberdeen’s status as a certified retirement community has attracted a considerable number of retirees, boosted by an overall renaissance of small town living, said Ballard.
“People like the river, but that’s seasonal,” she said. “They don’t get that excited about it in the winter. We have what I call the old house season during Aberdeen’s spring pilgrimage. Everyone’s more interested in older houses about the time the jonquils start popping up.”
A Rotary Club Century of Volunteers award winner in 1999, Ballard is serving her third and final year as assistant governor for District 6800 of Rotary International. Paul Harris Fellows from the 81-year-old club recently named her the first female Paul Harris Fellow. A past president of the local American Business Women’s Association, she was selected Woman of the Year in 2000. She is serving her second term on the executive board of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.
“Being involved in community and charity work is so important to making a business work, but the thing is, you can tell the people who do it only to help their business because they just don’t have the attitude,” said Ballard. “You’ve got to have that want-to that shows through in your smile and your eyes.”
Ballard continues to run Southern Realty from her home in Aberdeen, and has no plans to relocate or expand.
“Right now, anybody could stop anywhere in Aberdeen and say, ‘I need to find Marsha’ and they’ll be sent right over,” she said, with a chuckle. “I want to keep that small-town friendliness. You get too big or too far out, you can lose that. I’ve been here from day one, and I want to help this county grow and to be there for the needs of the people who are lucky enough to find Monroe County and decide to move here.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.