Written by Jason Gilmer | Photos by Anthony Harden & Beverly-Hanks (June 2017)
Time can be a fickle monster. There’s never enough. Even when you spend plenty of time with someone, when you lose them, you inevitably long for more time.
Neal Hanks, Jr., can understand. The president at Beverly-Hanks & Associates—Western North Carolina’s leading real estate agency, with a total sales volume for 2016 of $1.16 billion, according to the MLS—had a lot of time with his father, but that time was cut too short.
“My dad and I had a great relationship. We were very close, personally and professionally,” says Neal, as he sits in a small conference room at the corporate office with an overfilled to-do list on a yellow legal pad. “He died at a young age, but, and I’ve said this to many people, I spent more time with my dad than most people would if their father lived to be 100. We worked together six or seven days a week and then seeing each other like a normal family would. We saw a lot of each other and enjoyed the same things.”
Neal Hanks, Sr., and George Beverly merged their agencies—Beverly Realty and W. Neal Hanks & Associates—in 1976 to form a new company. They located it at 16 Church Street near downtown Asheville and then grew the company through their people skills and service. This year the company celebrated its history, and while there was time to look back, Beverly-Hanks and Associates is more about forward thinking than past successes.
Still, almost 20 years after his death, Hanks, Sr., has a presence in the company. At the end of a hallway, past several glass-paneled offices, a portrait of him hangs on the wall. On the opposite wall, past the front desk and foyer and down another hall, hangs a more recent-looking portrait of Beverly.
Employees haven’t forgotten the elder Hanks. It’s hard to, especially when his son is quite similar. Maybe not in appearance, though, as Neal has a shaved head, compared to his father’s brown hair in the portrait. It’s in the way the two handle people. Real estate is, in essence, a people profession. It’s about helping people. Neal learned lessons early on from his father and continues to put them into practice.
“He had a lot of dedication and drive and personality, and his whole persona led him to be what he is today,” observed Bill Miller, who joined the company in 1988, about Neal in a video about the 40th anniversary.
Time hasn’t stopped. It has, though, changed the way Beverly-Hanks & Associates, which is a full-service firm, with residential and commercial brokerage, plus marketing, developer, and mortgage services, operates. The merger of two agencies has grown into a company with satellite offices, an in-house mortgage company, 55 employees, and 320 independent contractor real estate brokers.
“My dad used to tell me all the time that you’re either green and growing or you’re ripe and rotten,” Neal says. “I’m a big believer that you have to constantly try to get better, because if you’re not, you’re falling behind.”
Before Real Estate
Some sons don’t want to follow in their father’s footsteps. Neal knows all about that. While he shared his father’s affection for the lakes of the mountains and the beaches and ocean of the coast as he grew up, he didn’t want to go into real estate.
“It was never really on my radar,” he says. “I’ve always been a big outdoors guy, and I thought I wanted to get into the construction industry and be a contractor.”
The Hanks family moved to Asheville from Mobile, Alabama, in the late 1960s after Neal Hanks, Sr., was recruited to be the city planner and director of urban renewal. He worked that job for a few years, helped to overhaul public housing on Martin Luther King Blvd., and then decided to leave public works for real estate.
Like most teenagers and college students, Neal had a variety of jobs, beginning with grass cutter. His first job in retail included a polyester uniform and a deep fryer as he worked at Arby’s on Hendersonville Road. He then switched to the Coach Lite Restaurant, which was owned by Cecil Cantrell and located in Skyland.
“The interesting thing about that place was they gave away free red wine at night. That tells you how much times have changed,” Neal says. “You go in there for dinner and the wine is complimentary. The owner would walk around and pour wine all night.”
After graduation from T.C. Roberson High School, where he played tight end and defensive end on the football team, Neal went to Appalachian State and majored in marketing. He also worked at Hounds Ears Country Club, being a part bellman-part valet. “I loved being in the mountains in the summertime,” Hanks says. “I met a ton of really neat people who lived there in the summertime.”
Midway through college, father and son had a conversation about the burgeoning family business. The corporate office wasn’t the only physical address for Beverly-Hanks & Associates anymore, with satellite offices springing up as business increased. As a result, for Neal, the prospect of being in an office every day with his father watching over him no longer loomed, and this ultimately changed his mind about real estate. He switched majors and eventually graduated with a degree in real estate brokerage and finance. He arrived at the Skyland office in 1987 and began in residential sales.
Neal worked there for about six years and then worked for George Beverly, running the commercial division, eventually returning to Skyland, where he managed the office for five years. “I love the fact that this is such a relationship-driven business,” he says. “Both with our associates and employees and our customers and clients. I love the fact that it’s different every day, every year. The industry is evolving, the town is evolving, and what we’re doing is evolving. It’s an ever-changing business.”
In 1999 Neal was named president of Beverly-Hanks & Associates. His father was the chairman of the board. Their offices were beside each other.
Time, though, is a fickle monster.
Framed headshots of the Beverly-Hanks biggest earners from last year hang in a straight on a wall outside a large conference room at the corporate office. Inside the conference room it has a different feel, with several watercolors of Asheville scenes hung on the walls.
There’s one piece, however, that’s very Asheville without a hint of hue-laden artistic beauty.
It’s a framed black-and-white newspaper advertisement from 1977, and one that speaks volume about the company that Hanks now controls. In the ad, two handsome men, wearing ‘70s-era three-piece suits, stand on a front lawn with three “for sale” signs in view. Two are laid on the ground. Another stands between the George Beverly and Neal Hanks, Sr. “Yesterday these men were competitors,” the ad reads. “Today they are partners.”
Forty years ago, two of Western North Carolina’s biggest and most successful realtors joined forces and opened Beverly-Hanks & Associates. One man loved the commercial aspect of real estate; the other lived for the residential side of the business. It was a merger of sensibilities that would help the company go on to dominate the regional real estate market for decades.
Now Neal is charged with continuing what those two stylish, suit-wearing salesmen started.
The corporate office is in a highly visible spot, a short walk from downtown Asheville, diagonal from the new Hilton Garden Inn complex, and at the intersection of College and South Charlotte streets. In addition to their Asheville/Buncombe County offices, other offices are in Henderson, Haywood, Polk, and Rutherford counties, and the company also does business in the surrounding counties of Yancey, Madison, and Transylvania. When he became president, Neal had only been with the company a little over a decade. “I thought I was ready at the time,” he says, “but in hindsight, I was awfully young.”
He did, however, have the two aforementioned businessmen in nearby office spaces available to answer any questions. If he had a question about commercial real estate, Neal could walk out his office door, take a sharp left, and meet with George Beverly. If there was an aspect of residential real estate that needed to be addressed, he would turn right out of his office, walk into the corner space, and speak with his father. Having such nearby resources proved invaluable for the young executive.
Things would take a tragic turn in 1999, however. Hanks, Sr., who had experienced a cancer scare some seven years’ earlier and had been cancer-free since then, abruptly became ill. His cancer had returned, and he underwent a single chemotherapy treatment before he got sicker and suddenly died in June of that year. Neal was only 35 at the time.
“It was tough that he wasn’t here, but I had George Beverly, who is a brilliant business man, great real estate guy and mentor,” Neal remembers. “George was very solid foundational part of the company. There was such a strong relational bond between our sales associates and my father. With his passing, we kind of locked arms together and went charging. That made it a little easier on me because our employees rallied and kept going.”
“I have to say this, Neal, Jr., really stepped up to the plate and took over for his dad and continued to do a fantastic job,” George Beverly observed, in a video about the company’s 40th anniversary. “I’m so proud of him. I wish his dad were here to see him.”
Changes Have Happened
Since Neal took over the company as president, he has guided Beverly-Hanks & Associates through an economic downturn, an upswing in market growth, and changes in how real estate is marketed.
He oversees the administrative team and gets reports from the non-competing branch managers and the company’s vice presidents. He directs quarterly meetings where every employee and agent piles into a hotel ballroom to talk strategy and results. “My goal is to be forward-thinking and casting the vision to our leaders on where we want to go, and then to help them organize and get us there,” he says.
At the end of the day, I think people will continue to seek real estate professionals to help them understand the uniqueness of Western North Carolina and to understand the real estate market, because it is unique and diverse.
Along the way, Neal and his executive team have worked diligently to ensure that the company stays abreast of—often, ahead of—trends in the real estate business. Technology, Neal says, has been the biggest change. People, though, haven’t changed. The internet, with the ability to showcase videos, high-quality photography, and endless search options, has changed how potential buyers shop. Beverly-Hanks has sold homes sight unseen. New residents and businesses have arrived from across the country to make Western North Carolina home.
Neal wants to help people, and his company showcases that desire through its philanthropy programs. One, the Neal Hanks, Sr. Memorial Fund, gives the company a way to help local nonprofit organizations. Dozens of such groups, including United Way, Day of Impact, Manna Food Bank, and local Boys and Girls Clubs, have received assistance through the Fund. It goes farther, though, than the corporate level. Neal is happy that many of his agents volunteer, give financially, or serve on local boards. “We believe we have a responsibility to make our community a better place to live.” he says. “We believe we’re selling the community and not just bricks and mortar, so we have a responsibility to make it as good as can be.”
William Murdock, executive director of Eblen Charities in Asheville, has known Neal for 20 years—in his words, “both as a friend and as a member of Eblen’s Board of Directors. So I’ve also known him aside from his work in the business community here.”
Eblen Charities is a well-known nonprofit organization, whose mission is to help area families with medical, housing, and emergency assistance. Murdock points out that thanks to the Neal Hanks, Sr., Housing Assistance Program, hundreds of families receive help each year. “And Neal certainly has led the way in doing so,” says Murdock.
First Citizens Bank’s Bob Roberts echoes Murdock’s sentiments, noting that Neal has tirelessly and consistently “given his time and talent to many organizations, Eblen in particular. We’ve served together on boards of a number of charities, and he is quite a force.”
Roberts, a regional executive vice president for First Citizens, adds that he first met Neal around 1994. “We’ve enjoyed a mutually beneficial business relationship, of course, and I’ve had the opportunity to see him grow professionally. From my perspective, two personal qualities in particular also stand out: He’s a very humble guy, with strong family values and his Faith; and he listens, really takes your opinion into account. Just a great guy.”
Beverly-Hanks & Associates has grown as the area has grown, and it isn’t uncommon to drive down a street and see multiple signs in front yards that represent their clients. Neal is now in charge of the company after he bought out George Beverly’s stock in 2006. Beverly retired from the company, but he still maintains his office in the corporate building and manages his commercial assets from there when he is in town.
The future of the company is in Neal’s hands, and he has the vision for where the company will go and how it will continue to be the area’s top real estate agency.
“I think Western North Carolina is going to continue to grow. It will continue to be a popular place. Everyone wants to be here,” he says. “The good news, in my mind, is that we have some limitations to growth because we are in the mountains and the national forest. Those restraints will hopefully slow it from growing at too rapid of a pace. I think we’ll continue to have second homes and moving [here] for quality of life. Those are the same things that have brought people here for forever.
What’s different is that we’re going to see different housing products and what people want. We have to continue to figure out how to market things the right way. At the end of the day, I think people will continue to seek real estate professionals to help them understand the uniqueness of Western North Carolina and to understand the real estate market, because it is unique and diverse.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter-type town. It’s what we’re constantly talking to our realtors about: This isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing, all products aren’t the same, and you have to help navigate and understand our region and housing market.”
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