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All About the Long Game

Liz Gatlin, Owner of Southern Athena talks about how

Commercial Real Estate isn’t exactly a “Get Rich Quick” type of industry.

I got licensed in Commercial Real Estate in 2012. I started my commercial real estate journey walking the streets of East Nashville as a young, inexperienced blonde in heels and a suit. Keep in mind, this was back when door knocking next to the projects wasn’t exactly a safe thing for me to be doing, and certainly not something I would encourage today. My broker at the time told me that's how I was supposed to get business, so that's exactly what I did. My mother cried for me.

But when I got licensed, I was fearless. Failure was not an option. I would joke with my girlfriends about how many catcalls I had gotten that day walking the streets looking for opportunities as a measure of my success. The start of my journey was hard, brutal even, and extremely dangerous. Yet I had fallen in love with the idea that there was no limit to my potential. Little did I know that my “potential” would take significant time to tap, and a lot of hard work.

When I moved back home to Nashville after college I was like any other overly confident grad just asking to get my a$$ kicked by the real world. I was the top Graduate from UTK’s School of Architecture (#govols), had honed my resume, and applied to over 100 jobs. I was confident in my ability to find opportunities and was determined to never give up. But when I became disillusioned with the Architecture profession, a mentor asked me,

“What do you REALLY want to do?”

This question changed my life forever. I had always wanted to get into Development and make a physical impact in the world with grand mixed-use buildings full of great food, cute parks, and people sitting around with their dogs eating ice cream. So I called the big developers in town to ask how they got started, and they told me they were all in Commercial Real Estate first. I knew there and then I had to go get licensed if I ever wanted my dreams to come true.

Image Note: Around this time I won honorable mention for a design competition of Nashville’s trash yard site in East Nashville. (And later came to lease out the exact building shown in the rendering used as the hot air balloon launchpad to CrossFit East Nashville)

Immediately there was a glamor factor about being in Real Estate. I went from being called a piddly “Architecture Intern” to a “VP of Brokerage”. When we had bought our first house in Five Points (Now a Bar- Rosemary & Beauty Queen) with money from working through college and saved from scholarships, I quickly counted my agent’s commission thinking, “How easy! I could do that. I'm going to be rich!”

If I was successful, I would be rolling in the dough. If I wasn't, it was completely on me. There would be no one to blame but myself. I liked that I was 100% responsible and there was no ceiling on what I could do or make. I could literally OWN my career and success.

In reality, however, those first 3 years were painfully unglamorous. All of those catcalls and door knocks were not leading to dollars, and I had a mortgage, and maybe too much of a party girl lifestyle for the lack of deals I was closing. Where was the money? When was all of this hard work actually going to pay off?

Image Note: Rosemary & Beauty Queen Pre-Launch Opening w/ my husband.

There was a time in my career that I had to take on extra consulting jobs, while also working full time in Real Estate to make ends meet. At one point I was so broke, I had to go to one of those sketchy car title places to get a loan. I had maxed out my credit cards for Christmas gifts and didn’t have enough money in my account to buy a coffee. I was that girl crying in my repo-ready car in the drive-through line and I wasn’t even going to get my caffeine fix that morning. That should have broken me. But I didn’t let it, because I’m not a quitter.

So I focused on the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. Many people don’t like to look at them, but they will tell you what you need to do. (Like, you should really eat fewer donuts if you are on a calorie-restricted diet.) I wish someone had shown me the numbers when I started so I at least had a map and scorecard for accountability. It would have been nice to know that Commercial Real Estate was more of a long game than I expected. (If I would have known this then, I might have waited and saved up a little more before jumping in without a life jacket.)

Image Note: A closer look at the numbers behind Southern Athena.

No one really talked about things like: How many leads are you getting in touch with? How many people are you meeting each week? What is your close ratio? Math helps to take the sting away when deals and the market don’t seem to go your way. It’s not personal, it’s math. I struggled with burnout, and sometimes still do, but that’s just a sign I need to work smarter. I’ve always believed in quality over quantity (even when I didn’t have the luxury to turn away leads). When I get burnt out, I look at my clients and my deals and start thinking about how I can do more with less time.

When my affiliate agents get frustrated with results, we always go back to the numbers. When I start to see deals go awry, I double down. Something will close if you have ten shaky projects on the books. If you only have one “sure thing”, you may be up a creek. Been there, done that!

Also, you have to go to work and show up. Something that is becoming rarer in today’s economy is just showing up. Showing up and taking a seat at the table will get you farther than 90% of your peers.

I view every deal as an opportunity to learn- for better or worse. I ask a lot of questions and listen. When I asked another Broker why they took little lease deals, I was told that those monthly commissions can add up to passive cash flow and that sometimes those deals become big sales... if and only if you stick around. He was right.

One time I met a gentleman at a networking event, and we instantly connected. After the event, I simply friended him on social media. Five years later, out of the blue, he called me to help him buy his company’s next headquarters. It was an incredible experience. If you aren’t in this business for the long haul, all of the seeds you plant today will have no one to tend to them, and they will never grow.

Commercial Real Estate is more about long-term successful relationships than it is about property. Everything in our industry takes longer. Deals take longer, construction takes longer, and businesses have longer decision-making processes. Just getting started takes longer. Anyone can buy or sell residential properties, but only 1% can buy and sell Commercial Real Estate.

Today, I own a multimillion-dollar Real Estate Development business, and we make a positive impact on thousands of people’s lives each year. Staying the course and true to my long-term vision means I am now the only licensed Broker and Architect in the State- all before turning thirty! I owe that success to determination and grit - to not giving up even when things were tough and having the patience and faith to see things through to the end. Real Estate might not be a get-rich-quick industry, but it is a profession that over time can bring a lasting legacy of wealth to you and your family.

I have pride in knowing I add physical value to our economy, neighborhoods, and the businesses I touch. With each peak rent I negotiate or top price per square foot I sell, I am raising the values of every other property in the area. To this day I am more in love with our profession than ever before. I believe Real Estate Agents hold our communities together.

In the world of Commercial Real Estate, slow and steady truly does win the race.

Liz Gatlin, Owner of Southern Athena, is notably one of the most influential women in Nashville's Commercial Real Estate scene. With a background in Architecture, Liz is the Principle Broker at Southern Athena and specializes in Property Investments. Liz continues to positively impact Nashville's growing market through her work in development, brokerage, and dedication to local communities.

CRE615 is a networking group and educational platform for Nashville's next generation of commercial real estate professionals. To learn more visit


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