Will Northern has explored just about every nook in real estate, moving from rehabbing historic property in the Texas Hill Country with his father, to being a landman in college, doing assemblages for an oil and gas company, rehabbing houses, and building an agency doing residential and commercial deals and managing property. His Northern Realty Group in Fort Worth, started in 2010 as a “group of one,” today has 20 residential agents, six commercial, and two property managers and works from an office Northern opened in 2013 on West Magnolia Avenue. Northern, 34, who’s active in Mayor Betsy Price’s SteerFW young leaders’ initiative and recently was reappointed to the Fort Worth Zoning Commission by Price, likes the collaborative feel of the small agency. “I’m not interested in creating some behemoth company,” says Northern, a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. “I’m not personally wired that way.”
Going South: My interest in real estate started with my dad and a partner of his acquiring property in a little town called San Saba, Texas. We own about a dozen commercial buildings around the town square, and I grew up learning how to lease commercial space and what’s involved in working with a small municipality and small businesses. He fell in love with the town, and he partnered up with [the Fort Worth investor] Don Jury and started buying property. My dad passed away several years ago, so now, my sister Elizabeth and I and Don manage the portfolio. We’re doing historic renovations. We just signed a lease to open a locally owned grocery store.
College jobs: In college, I started working as a landman and was negotiating oil and gas leases, running title and looking at maps. Then I got my real estate license. In 2008, I was laid off when the recession hit. I joined Brants Realtors; I was working seven days a week, making peanuts, living in my sister’s back house.
2010, a big year: It forced me to learn the business quickly and establish strong work ethic. And my luck started to change in 2010. I was working part-time for an oil and gas company, facilitating real estate transactions. And I had at that time passed the two-year threshold to be able to get a broker’s license. Today, it’s four years. So, I got my broker’s license and started Northern Realty Group.
Assembly line: The oil and gas company had me doing unique transactions. That’s when urban drilling was big. I would try and find an interior urban infill site that a drill site could be on. Oftentimes, there wasn’t the perfect spot just sitting there, so you had to do an assemblage. And oftentimes, it required doing an assemblage of people’s homes, which got very emotional. It introduced me to zoning. There were transactions of buying a house out of foreclosure. We would sever the minerals from the house, and we would sell the house. There were a couple of instances where the house was in bad shape and needed to be rehabbed, and so, guess who got to take over the rehab?
Building an agency: Eventually, I had friends, who got their real estate license, who hung their licenses with my broker’s license. That forced me to do all those things that a brokerage needs to do. Which introduces my mom, Karen Holcomb, to the scene. She had been the CFO of the Fort Worth Opera and had been helping me through the evenings, but she decided to join the Northern Realty Group adventure. And she legitimized the operation. We then graduated from the dining room table. I quit my job as a landman, and we went full-on real estate brokerage.
Growth goals: Today, I’m focusing on continuing to grow the company by recruiting experienced agents that are seeking a company that has a local feel. It’s important for me to maintain a size where I can still interact with agents. And we don’t charge franchise fees [to agents], so we can be really competitive when it comes to putting more money in an agent’s pocket.