How a construction niche produced 1 of the top luxury agents in the US

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After 10 years with Engel & Völkers, Atlanta-based luxury agent Shirley Gary recently made the move to Ansley Christie’s International Real Estate.

Over the course of her career at Engel & Völkers, Gary became the brand’s No. 1 agent by unit sales in the Americas and held that title for nine consecutive years. In 2022, she closed 263 transactions across $191.4 million in sales volume.

When her contract with Engel & Völkers was about to expire, Gary shopped around to see what other options might be available for luxury brands in her market. She landed on Ansley Christie’s because of its national and international network, marketing capabilities, tech platform and culture, she told Inman.

About 25 former Engel & Völkers agents, including her former managing broker, decided to make the move to Ansley Christie’s with her. Now she’s in the process of forming a team to be called the Shirley Gary Group.

“When you have a group of people with you for that many years, it’s like your work family,” Gary said, adding that she wanted to ensure a move that would also be a comfortable option for the agents on her team should they choose to join her.

In a recent conversation with Inman, Gary shared how carving out her own niche in the industry has helped drive her success and how important building relationships has been to her business. Here’s more of what she had to say, edited for brevity and clarity.

Inman: What steps did you take to become Engel & Völkers’ top agent in the US by unit sales?

Shirley Gary: I have a big division that focuses on new construction, so there’s a group of us that really targets that market. So I set that up and I go get the business, and then I’ll bring people in on the front line with me, but I do all the getting of that business.

Before I started my brokerage, I worked directly for builders as vice president of sales. So I have that background, understand their needs and can talk their language. And I go out and can develop those relationships, and now I’ve sold over 5,000 new construction homes in the Atlanta market.

You have to find your niche, whether it’s a farming area, whether that’s construction, whether it’s estate attorneys, whatever that niche is, if you stay focused in your lane, you can typically create a big win.

Absolutely. What are some of your strategies for developing and maintaining relationships with builders?

In our world, we stay active and sponsor a lot of homebuilder events by the national homebuilders and local homebuilder chapters. So we’re very active in that. For example, we’ll hold the inter-council chapter meeting at our office in Buckhead, so we were always able to speak and be present there when they had call-a-thons to try and add membership to their chapters. We would let them use our offices for those call-a-thons annually.

We submit annual nominations for our marketing and building awards, we’ve won multiple OBIEs [the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association’s Sales and Marketing Council’s awards for achievement in the homebuilding industry] and we’re just staying front and center of where builders are. You have to stay in tune with where they are, and you continue to build relationships.

I started a [marketing] vehicle this past year which has been amazing for me. The hottest thing in the market today is video, so I created a video platform that I’m going to take national, which showcases new communities that are coming up. So it’s just things like that, anything that can feed into that builder story.

Shirley Gary Former EV Agents scaled

Shirley Gary and former Engel & Völkers agents who recently moved to Ansley Christie’s International Real Estate | Ansley Christie’s International Real Estate

When it comes to more general luxury marketing strategies, what else do you find has been working well for you in your market?

Because I am recognized for the number of units that have been sold — and I always have been recognized for those numbers with RealTrends and Engel & Völkers — what happens is that I get a lot of referrals nationally and internationally because I am a top agent, which I’ve built from being so strong in new construction. Now [that] I’m in that position, I get a lot of luxury referrals. That’s why I think it’s so important to align with a luxury brand that’s national and international because you can really get the referrals out of that.

Why did you move to Christie’s now?

As a franchise owner, you have to renew [your franchise] every 10 years. So [my Engel & Völkers franchise] was coming up for renewal, and that piece drove me to go look at what other options [were available]. When you get in a place, you don’t really look at other places, especially as a franchise owner. You’re not looking at other brands as an opportunity to go there. But with my franchise agreement coming up, I knew I probably didn’t want to be an owner of a franchise anymore. And I thought, well, if I didn’t want to be an owner of a franchise and didn’t stay with Engel & Völkers, where else would I go? And why would I go there?

So I started analyzing the other businesses throughout the Atlanta market at the beginning of the year. Ultimately, I chose Christie’s for multiple reasons. Probably one of the biggest was the Christie’s network, which is international and national, so since I already had those connections [through Engel & Völkers], I didn’t want to give those up. So it was like, well, who else has those international and national connections besides Engel & Völkers? And Christie’s does.

So that allowed me to maintain that alignment, not just for myself, but also for the agents who had been loyal to me and worked with me for the past nine-and-a-half years. So I was like, I need to make sure I don’t lose my alignment, and they provided that.

The next thing I looked at was the marketing platform and where could I get equal or better than what we had today, and quite frankly, I believe that Ansley Christie’s has the best marketing in the Atlanta market bar-none and the highest level of marketing support … And that’s really important because you want your brand to be beautiful and stand out and create that luxury feel.

And lastly, they have all the tech that you want. There was nothing bad about Engel & Völkers, but they just did not have as robust a tech platform as you can find with @properties, the partner of Ansley Christie’s … When you have a proprietary system like that, it’s just a lot easier than trying to work with different companies to create different types of platforms.

And I love the people. That’s the last thing, which is probably the most important thing, which is the culture.

What’s happening in Atlanta’s luxury market right now?

Like everyone else, we’re seeing a slowdown in the luxury space, but that’s across the board. It’s not just Atlanta … People who are still buying are the people who have to have a house — it’s not a matter of want, it’s a have to. People who want to move because they feel like they want a more luxurious space or want a second home or have an opportunity to purchase [might not buy]. I myself am looking at a house that’s a secondary home, but am I going to go through with it? I don’t know because the market is so topsy-turvy. And I think that’s what’s really holding people back.

There are pockets where it’s not slow, just because of the lack of inventory.

What are your team’s next steps going into fall?

Our next steps are, having just made this change, to align with Christie’s and Ansley to be able to push that out to the market to create interest and conversation with new clients, current clients and future clients. And by having this wonderful brand and marketing behind us, I think we can do that to create campaigns, videos and everything out there to push what we’ve done and why.

That in itself, that conversation, will help drive interest and business, and we’re doing that with all the people that came aboard as well.

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