Meet Re’Nauta Bell of TenantBase in Buckhead
Today we’d like to introduce you to Re’Nauta Bell.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Re’Nauta. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am a product of the south side of St. Louis, MO, and after experiencing the loss of my mother, I moved to Atlanta to get a fresh start. I was a new college graduate and I decided to dive into the finance industry working closely with my aunt at a national mortgage brokerage. I started out as an executive assistant but my aunt taught me how to process loans.
It didn’t take long for me to become a loan processor. Soon after that, I was promoted to senior loan processor. Everything was exciting until the company closed their wholesale division. This put us out of a job. My aunt decided to branch off on her own and I helped her to erect her own independent mortgage brokerage. We were two women on a mission and we did execute. We leased a space, hired loan officers, and worked the market.
While I was excited about my achievements, I soon became bored. I watched the loan officers running in and out of the office all day while I was stuck behind a desk processing loans. I told my aunt that I wanted to try my hand at being a loan officer. She gave me the opportunity and then I took off. Being a loan officer made more sense for me as I’m very extroverted and a lover of people. I had to be a big networker to make this change work, as I had to hunt the market for business.
We soon graduated from processing residential mortgages to commercial mortgages…and that was exciting to me. Growing up back home, I found a love for architecture. I always admired beautiful buildings and would often wonder what each room looked like inside. For some reason, these thoughts were always on my mind. When presented with the opportunity to work in commercial, I was ready to move full steam ahead.
Things were amazing and there were tons of opportunities to make money, but then we fast forward to 2008 where it all began to fall apart. The crash was encroaching upon us. I always trust my instincts so I took my earnings, left the industry, and started a business, Smudged Prntz Photography. The business was a huge success. We were published nationally and internationally but, after a while, it wasn’t enough for me.
My husband was working in commercial real estate and was a part of a program called Project REAP. The program bridges the gap between minorities and the commercial real estate industry, where we are very underrepresented. The program was in the evening so, typically, my husband would come home tired. One night, he came home excited and full of energy, which was a surprise to me. He told me about this speaker who was a broker, owned an African American tenant representation brokerage, and wrote a book (which he had a copy of). His excitement excited me so I asked if I could see the book. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. When I was finished, I knew I wanted to be a tenant representation broker. The next day, I signed up for my real estate classes.
Halfway through my classes, I knew I needed to start planning my next move. I asked my husband to reach out to the broker who wrote the book and set up a meeting. I told him not to mention me because I was planning on crashing the meeting. He set the meeting up and I did just that. There were definitely some confused faces as to why I was there, but I was doing research. I intended to join that brokerage when I got my real estate license but I needed to make sure it made sense first. I didn’t tell them about my plans that day because I wanted to wait until I got licensed to make my next move.
Once I passed my real estate exam, I sent the broker a message on LinkedIn and told him I’d like to get his input on some things I was doing. He told me to reach out to his receptionist to schedule a meeting. I was so excited because what he didn’t know this meeting was going to actually be an interview. At our first meeting, I was very quiet. I may have come off as shy but, in actuality, I was taking mental notes. I hung on every word he said and researched everything else I could find out about him when I got home that night. I knew he liked arts and entertainment so I created an animated video resume highlighting my own creativity to go along with my standard resume. I arrived at his office, shook his hand, and told him I wasn’t going to waste his time. I let him know that I was interested in joining his team and this is why he needed me. I was scared to death and I had never done brokerage before so I figured, if I can sell the broker, then I can do this.
After three long months of tenacity, they finally offered me a position as the only female tenant representation broker at an all-black firm. I was excited, nervous, and ready. Everyone in the industry told me it would take 3-5 years to get acclimated enough to really make some money but I didn’t believe them. I was always an over-achiever and assumed I would easily dominate as I always have. I joined my firm with five potential deals already in my pipeline and every single one of them died. Those first two years were the brokest and most financially dismal times that I have ever experienced in my adult life.
Learning the industry takes time. It takes even longer if you don’t have a mentor who does what you do everyday, guiding you and advising you. Without that, you have officially been accepted into the school of hard knocks…and that’s where I was. I burned through all of my savings, we were down to one income, one car, and commercial real estate is a very expensive industry to work in. Things got really, really low for me but I kept pushing. I knew the sacrifice would change my family’s lives.
After two years passed, I finally started to make some traction and people started to notice. I was recruited by a few brokerages and ultimately, I chose my current brokerage, TenantBase, who gave me the best offer.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest challenges that I have are all things that I can’t control. They are inherited:
Sexism – Commercial real estate is a male-dominated industry. Women are finally finding a position in the industry, however, I can count on one hand the number of black female office tenant representation brokers in Atlanta. A lot of men prefer to work with men because that is how it always has been. Sometimes, women prefer to work with men for that same reason. Women are often ignored in group meetings so it is important that we find our voices and use them, especially if we have a seat at the table. We must speak up.
Racism – Only 1.3% of the commercial real estate industry is African American. There are even less African American women in the industry. Today, the industry is very focused on diversity and inclusion, however, that does not apply to all members of our industry. Sometimes there’s a very apparent “vibe” or “energy” that is felt in certain situations. It’s negative and you know it’s because of the way you look. I’m often the only black person in the room at networking events so I’m very familiar with the feeling.
Ageism – Commercial real estate is a very old industry. A lot of people came into this industry and simply never left because it didn’t make sense to. Many companies are used to letting their commercial real estate needs be handled by an older man. They don’t trust the youth to have enough experience to be responsible for, what could be, millions of dollars. I look younger than I am so I have to work a little harder to prove my competence. Many of our leaders in the industry are beginning to age out so mindsets will have to change.
Please tell us about TenantBase.
I work in the commercial real estate industry specializing in Office Tenant Representation. As a Tenant Representation Broker, I focus on helping businesses (Tenants) secure office space in commercial property to run their business. I’m known for putting my clients first, knowing my shit, and my “smile and dial” approach to finding locations and prospects. I’m most proud of my ability to give back to communities and educate business professionals on the ABCs of commercial leasing. I’ve been able to help corporate businesses such as Mister Car Wash and Radio One to find office space to expand their operations to the Atlanta market. It gives me great pride to know that I am instrumental in the growth and success of the boom Atlanta is experiencing. What sets me apart from others are my tenacious negotiating skills, market knowledge, and ability to creatively craft the right terms and location for my clients.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
When I was a little girl sometimes my mom would wake my sister and I up and tell us that we were taking a “mental health day”. This was always some random day, and for seemingly no apparent reason. Mom would call us out of school, she would call out of work, and we would go and just have a ton of fun all day long. She used to take us to this awesome little subway shop in University City called Amighetti’s. We would get sandwiches and go the art museum or the history museum or go hang out in The Loop, which is was this cool and eclectic collection of shops on a strip in the middle of the city. Sometimes we would go on a picnic in this little secret spot that we had in Forest Park before they added the lake. We didn’t have a lot of money but she never lacked in creativity. Mom was really cool like that and I learned a lot from her before she died. Those days seemed so magical to me. They were sun-kissed like a scene out of a movie.