ASHEVILLE – Two former hoteliers invest in local real estate firm “Asheville Realty & Associates”. Rick Lamb and Bob Ray purchased Asheville Realty & Associates in early January 2015. Both Lamb and Ray evaluated the company based on their hospitality backgrounds. The company is a dominant force in the mid-range home sales, foreclosures, and short sells. The most immediate plans are to increase the company’s share of the luxury and commercial market. Asheville Realty & Associates is a 23+ year old business which is highly knowledgeable with proven successful results in the local and surrounding markets.

Between Ray and Lamb, the pair share more than 50 years of experience in the hotel business with brands such as Hilton, Starwood, Holiday Inn, Radisson and others. Though the homes for sale at Asheville Realty & Associates do not come with room service, the duo said their plans for the company have been inspired by their time in the hotel industry.

After working in the hospitality industry for so long, customer service remains one of Lamb and Ray’s top priorities. For the first time, the company will have in-house financing and appraisers. The new owners plan on adding a lot of new technology to the firm and focus on digital marketing as well as social media marketing. However, the primary focus of the company is to ensure each and every client’s real estate goals are represented to the best of the firms ability.

When Charles Giezentanner decided to open Asheville Realty & Associates 22 years ago, he wanted to sell homes for the everyman.

“I didn’t want people to be afraid to come in our office just because we all wore black suits and white shirts and ties,” Giezentanner said. “I wanted the guy who was a working-class guy, in his working uniform, with his name on the pocket, to be able to feel just as comfortable in my office as a doctor, lawyer, or anyone else.”

Since 1993, that model has worked well for the local firm. Even during the recession, Giezentanner said, the doors stayed open and under the same ownership.

The 66-year-old rattles off the reasons.

Modular homes? They sold them.

Foreclosures? They planned for it.

Raw land? They ran toward it.

New homes? They built them.

“You can’t just run the same company for 22 years the exact same way, doing the exact same thing. That does not work. You have to see what’s happening in the market, read about the market, see what’s going to happen and try to get your business set up for that,” he said. “Every business evolves and changes like that.”

Now the time has come for the next major evolution for the local real estate firm. In January, Giezentanner decided to sell the business that he started with five brokers in 1993 to two former hoteliers, Bob Ray and Rick Lamb.

Between Ray and Lamb, the pair share more than 50 years of experience in the hotel business with brands such as Hilton, Starwood, Holiday Inn, Radisson and others. As Lamb put it, “Who haven’t I worked for?”

Though the homes for sale at Asheville Realty & Associates do not come with room service, the duo said their plans for the company have been inspired by their time in the hotel industry.

“What we’ve learned as hoteliers — the beliefs, the philosophies, the way we treat people — are absolutely applicable to this business,” said Lamb, the new CEO of Asheville Realty & Associates.

Ray, the president and principal broker for the company, nodded his head, adding, “There are more similarities than differences between the two.”

And, according to the numbers, it’s working.

Ray said the company has seen a 10 percent increase in its sales record during the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2014. The projected sales for April look even better.

“I think what we’re building is a new desire,” Ray said.

Getting a digital facelift

The first place the new owners wanted to build this desire was online.

When Giezentanner started the real estate company, the website was a bonus not a necessity.

“There weren’t computers and cellphones and downloads and emails and all that. There was none of that,” Giezentanner said.

These days, a website is an opportunity for a company to make a strong first impression long before a customer ever visits a business. According to Ray, who was a broker at Asheville Realty & Associates for three years before he became an owner, a great website could be the difference between attracting homebuyers and losing them.

With plans for a redesigned and responsive website in the works, Ray said this digital-first mindset will be crucial to the future of real estate and the people who will be buying homes in the next decade.

“Some of the research is saying that millennials are starting to come together and are thinking about purchasing a home,” said Ray, who handles day-to-day operations of the real estate firm. “They are certainly much more adept at finding what they want online and pursuing it. We want to be a part of that.”

According to a March 2015 research study on homebuyer and seller trends conducted by the National Association of Realtors, the first step in the home buying process for all generations of homebuyers is looking online for properties.

The same, both said, holds true for hotels. Most people will book their hotel rooms online, rather than by phone.

That’s why Lamb said each realtor will also have their own page on the website free of charge.

“I’m a big technology believer,” Lamb said. “When I was doing research, about 65 percent of all agents have their own personal website. In Asheville, not so much. This was one of the things Bob and I talked about extensively because we thought it was important.”

However, Lamb said the new website for Asheville Realty & Associates will not be a substitute for other forms of marketing and outreach to potential customers.

“We’re going to make use of all the Internet and social media as well as the old school — the direct mail, the email campaigns, solicitation — none of that with real estate ever goes away,” Lamb said.

Diversifying the portfolio

In addition to hopes for stronger search engine optimization, the company will now be venturing into more expensive homes and, for the first time, commercial properties.

Though these properties will be a new offering for the firm, it will not come at the expense of what the local real estate firm was known for: homes for everybody.

“The foundation in this agency is the mid-scale homes, $200,000-$250,000. Then there’s the foreclosure market,” Ray said, noting the firm will still have a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) broker. “The foundation of the company is there, it’s stable. To improve the business, the bottom line, is one of the focuses that Charles had not moved into was the luxury and commercial market.”

Lamb added, “Let’s face it, when you sell a $1 million home, it’s like selling five $200,000 homes.”

In the hotel business, the need to offer accommodations at different price points has been at the core to its success. Not everyone will rent the penthouse, and an economy may not fit the bill, either. There must be something at every price point to meet people where they are, the duo explained.

“In a hotel, if you’re not in touch with what’s going on in your market, how your employees are being treated and how your employees are producing, you’re going to fail because hotels are extremely volatile animals. It’s not much different than the real estate business,” Lamb said.

Staying service-oriented

When Ray ran a hotel, there were two things he could always count on no matter where he was working: regular staff meetings and training opportunities.

That tradition has continued at Asheville Realty & Associates.

“In a hotel we did it daily, but Bob has a monthly breakfast with all of the staff where he goes over training, numbers, what we’re doing, and how we’re hanging with things. Instead of doing an office meeting, they go to a local restaurant for breakfast to make it comfortable and nice,” Lamb said.

After working in the hospitality industry for so long, customer service remains one of Lamb and Ray’s top priorities. For the first time, the company will have in-house financing and appraisers.

“A real estate purchase is probably the largest purchase a person will make in their entire life. Now we can bring people in, talk to them, and take them back to the financing company where they can get pre-qualified for a home,” Lamb said. “They can know exactly how much money they can spend on a house, and walk out with a letter in their hand saying they can buy this.”

Giezentanner said this service-oriented mindset reminds him of the way he was raised and also the way he ran the company before he got sick. Growing up, Giezentanner took note from his family’s business, Giezentanner’s Grocery.

“I learned from my uncles and my dad that you have to be honest in your business. You want people to come in and spend a dime everyday instead of a quarter once a month. You want people to come back and feel comfortable. You want them to feel like they can trust you,” he said. “The real estate business is the same way. You want them to feel like they can trust you. You want to help people take care of their families.”

Though Lamb does not have a real estate license, he said he finds the work that his company is doing to be meaningful.

“There’s no better feeling than getting somebody into their first home or helping somebody get into a home that they really want,” Lamb said.

For Giezentanner, the selling of his company was bittersweet. However, he said he has faith in the new owners and what they will do with the company he founded.

“I wanted to sell my company to somebody that I trust, and I trust Bob and his business partner,” he said. “They’re really into the new and modern. I’m a little old-fashioned, but you’ve got to mix the two.”