To understand how Tommy Lawing Jr., 64, blends tradition and technology to maintain a high profile for his 50-year-old real estate business, a visitor only needs to look around his Seventh Street office near uptown.
Inside, there are several framed T.R. Lawing Realty Inc. “For Rent” signs from the 1950s, artistic reminders of when his parents started the business.
Outside, there’s a 24-hour touch screen display that customers and passersby can use to search his company’s rentals.
The old-school and new-style symbols illustrate what’s important to this family-run company: Always be ready to do business, and be willing change things up constantly to raise your company’s visibility.
And that includes continually evolving through technology, says Lawing, president of the company, one of Charlotte’s largest and most successful property management firms. It’s an approach that has helped grow the business to include more than 1,800 area property owners that look to his company to manage their rental investments.
“I want to make it easy for my customers to do business with me,” Lawing said, “because I know that’s what my competition wants to do as well.”
Early on, Lawing said, he saw ways of using technology and automation as competitive offerings to set his business apart from others. Over the years, strategies included drive-by phone listings, where a number leads to a recorded message about a listed property; electronic signature collection on rental leases, especially convenient when multiple signatures are involved; and Web listings with reviews, cross-referenced by size, price and location.
These days, the tech-savvy approach means maintaining a spruced-up web presence that looks good on cell phones, and using Quick Response codes on property signs to connect customers instantly with the company website.
Parents managed apartments
The family business began in 1957 when his father, Tommy R. Lawing Sr., and his mother, Catherine H. Lawing, began managing apartment buildings. Lawing Jr. joined the company in 1971, after graduating from N.C. State University with a degree in economics.
Through the next decade or so, the younger Lawing began the shift from apartments to property management for single-family homes and condominiums. He took over as the company’s president in 1995.
The firm employs 44 full-time employees, many of whom have significant tenure with the organization. His service area is Mecklenburg and eight surrounding counties. According to Lawing, his business is the largest property manager of single-family homes in both Carolinas with more than 2,700 rental units that generate over $24 million annually. His staff handles a range of services for property owners, including rent collection, tenant relations, maintenance and other services.
From classifieds to QR codes
Since the beginning of this decade, Lawing said, he has employed digital signatures in rental agreements -- a technology tool that's now standard practice in the industry.
“The electronic signatures are legally recognized and are particularly handy for roommates or multiple tenants,” Lawing said. “What used to take days or several face to face meetings can be accomplished in minutes through email.”
When cellphones began to take off in the 1990s, Lawing included recorded messages on properties available to passersby. He now has QR codes on signs or property windows that take potential renters directly to the online listing.
Lawing said he also decided early to make the web the centerpiece of his marketing efforts, instead of phone book listings and classified ads.“We were one of the first property management firms to implement internet marketing introducing five static Web pages on our own site, www.trlawing.com, in 1997,” Lawing said.
Over the years, the website evolved to now include interactive map features, social media links, virtual tours and crisp photography.
“Last year we averaged well over 1,000 web visitors per day and our analytics indicated a huge jump from 20 percent mobile access to 27 percent,” he said.
He noted that the significant traffic driven to view his properties via mobile applications convinced him to upgrade the Web-based app specifically for smartphones for ease of use. He notes that he aggressively works with his Web designers to stay ahead of the curve in terms of navigation ease, user-friendliness and providing all the information his clients need online. This means site redesign and overhaul every three years, money Lawing feels is well spent.
Visitors to his office in Elizabeth can take advantage of his 24/7 outdoor touch-screen computerized listing service, that allows potential tenants to view properties by location, price, square footage and number of rooms.
His business has grown year over year in unit rentals and revenues, even during the economic downturn. Lawing said that more people are making a conscious decision to rent and Charlotte has experienced a tremendous influx of population over the past few decades, fueling the need for housing.
High profile in the community
That Lawing has experienced such great success is due in no small part to his outreach into the communities he serves. He was appointed to the N.C. Real Estate Commission in 2011, a position that affords him the opportunity to review and act upon real estate policies at the highest level in the state.
He has also held numerous local and national positions with a number of agencies and professional associations, is active member of his church, Hawthorne Lane United Methodist, and has been an active Rotarian since 1974, all of which afford him the opportunity to hear from people about concerns or issues he might not otherwise be aware of. Lawing never met a stranger and it’s evident he loves what he does for a living.
“We have built this portfolio one property at a time over many years,” said Lawing. “That is many relationships and many, many friendships.”
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