Welcome to the Jungle

It was the “pop” heard around the world: the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble that began as a slow leak in 2006 and had completely imploded by the summer of 2008. The domino effect from an out-of-control derivatives market that caused the collapse of the subprime market eventually impacted mortgage, credit, hedge fund and even foreign bank markets. For homebuilders, home supply retailers and real estate professionals who had profited for years on booming home valuations, the braking of the markets would result in a particularly long skid. But as the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. One of the toughest names in Savannah real estate has proven to be relative newcomer Judge Realty, which opened its doors in June 2005, at the height of the market. Lori Judge, owner of Judge Realty, remembers fondly the easier days at the company’s outset. “Our first month in business we profited $5000,” she says. “The following months it was three and then ten times that. We were off to the races.” But the salad days would not last long. In the summer of 2008, Judge, along with realtors across the region, began to feel the impact of the now widely publicized financial crisis. “It happened so fast,” says Judge. “It seemed as though everything came to a halt overnight.” Savannah’s real estate landscape has noticeably transformed since. “The economy has affected our market in every way, from our neighborhoods to our values,” explains Judge. Countless brokers have found part-time jobs or new lines of work altogether. Housing-related businesses have been forced to close their doors or consolidate with other companies. Out of necessity, others have expanded their services to include aspects of the job that they used to farm out. Judge Realty has been no different. To weather the storm, the company has had to cut costs, streamline systems, and work harder than ever for their clients. “This was like a near-death experience in business,” says Judge. “It forced us to understand the new conditions we were working in, to go beyond the conventional and get creative, and to implement survival tactics.” “Like many people in this business, I had to face down my greatest fear: the fear of failing. But once you get past that fear, there is only opportunity. This challenge made me open my eyes to the possibilities that are out there.” Adaptive approaches for Judge Realty have ranged from the expected to the highly progressive. Their brokers are now experts in foreclosures and short sales. And property management—once the “red-headed step-child” for many firms—has become one of the company’s foremost undertakings. “We now manage more than 200 properties,” says Judge. “And that makes sense to us in the overall picture of what we do, because tenants eventually become buyers and, likewise, buyers become landlords. So we’re really a soup-to-nuts real estate company.” Providing the most current online technology for clients has helped Judge stay ahead of the property management competition. Their interactive website provides comprehensive, user-friendly access, so property owners stay abreast of tenant activity and screenings, billing and maintenance issues. On the more progressive side, Judge is one of the only certified EcoBrokers in the area, a unique designation for brokers who are trained to educate clients on reducing their carbon footprints through energy efficient and environmentally sensitive design in properties. “At the end of the day, it’s about personal relationships,” says Judge. “We’re all in this together—brokers, buyers, sellers, renters. So the crisis has gone a long way toward building camaraderie among industry professionals as well as longstanding relationships between brokers and clients.”

Written by Summer Teal Simpson