A real estate company that got its start during the 2008 housing market crash is now the largest minority-owned real estate firm in the state of Arkansas. Sandstone Real Estate Group reached $23 million in residential sales volume in 2019 and has 15 agents in Conway, Little Rock, and Pine Bluff. Of the nearly 40 real estate firms in Faulkner County, the company consistently ranks among the top 10.
Owner and principal broker Korry Garrett said Sandstone’s success did not come overnight. The Forrest City native got his start in real estate in 2006. His first customer was his mother.
“She never owned a house, and I ended up selling her one.”
Garrett worked for another company at the time. He and a fellow agent, Greg Hunt, decided to open their own firm. Garrett bought his first house from Hunt in 2001.
“That’s how I came to associate with Greg,” Garrett said. “I knew him in college, but we never talked; we just always avoided each other.” The two were part of different fraternities during their time at the University of Central Arkansas. “After he sold us our house, we began to socialize more, and I found out he was a pretty good guy.”
Between the nationwide housing crisis and being a new company, Sandstone initially had difficulty recruiting agents to come work for the firm.
“We ended up targeting school teachers, which is what led to our slogan, ‘The Smart Choice for Real Estate,’” Garrett said.
Agents Denise Perry and Jamille Rogers Thomas joined Sandstone part-time while they worked full-time as teachers. Both are still part of the team, and Perry has since left her teaching job. Sandstone continued to expand with the addition of agents new to the real estate industry. An experienced agent, Kara Bloomfield, eventually joined Sandstone Real Estate Group, which Garrett described as a “game changer” for the firm.
“Kara coming to work for us gave us credibility because she is respected in the industry. From that point forward, we started picking up more agents.”
Sandstone Real Estate Group continued to grow in both number of agents and sales volume. Hunt, who was principal broker, was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2014. He died from the disease in 2015.
“I was in operations under Greg, and that’s where I learned how to run a company. Little did I know that I would soon take over the business,” Garrett said.
The Smart Choice for Real Estate
The decision to recruit two teachers as its first agents is not the only way Sandstone Real Estate Group integrates education into its business model. The real estate firm wants to inform prospective homeowners about the homebuying process. As a black business owner and as the immediate past president of the Arkansas Association of Realist – a chapter of the historically black National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) – Garrett is passionate about doing his part to increase the rate of home ownership in the African American community.
“I feel like I am responsible for helping my community know about home ownership. Because a lot of us just don’t know.”
NAREB produces an annual report on the State of Housing in Black America (SHIBA). According to the 2019 report, the black homeownership rate is at 40.6% compared to 73.1% for non-Hispanic whites. This disparity is attributed to a number of historical and modern-day factors – from “decades of discrimination against Blacks in employment, education, housing, and other areas” to predatory lending practices and implicit bias from real estate agents.
Because home ownership remains one of the primary ways to accumulate wealth in the U.S., the team at Sandstone wants to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity.
“I and other African American agents approach our family and friends and ask them, ‘Do you rent or own a home? Do you know a lot about the home-buying process?’ A lot of times the answer is no,” Garrett said. “Sometimes people are afraid to ask questions. Through education and homebuyers’ workshops, we help educate people. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Garrett said being a minority business owner is a balancing act. While he pays particular attention to black home seekers looking to learn more about the homebuying process, he wants to be clear that the Sandstone team works with anyone – from helping first-time homebuyers achieve the dream of home ownership to finding the dream home for a longtime homeowner.
“We service all people here. It doesn’t matter what their ethnicity or their income is,” Garrett said. “Conway is a wonderful community. Our story may have looked much different had we opened a real estate company anywhere else in 2008.”