NICKY ROBERTSHAW HITCHING | Special to The Daily News

 

It's likely you've never met her, but you know who she is: The powerhouse real estate agent with the blonde helmet hairstyle and cell phone glued to her ear. After all, Judy McLellan's image has been a fixture at bus stops, in advertising and on billboards for years.

 

While the no-swing hairdo might be a style throwback, McLellan's commitment to using the latest communication tools is strictly modern. She has embraced Facebook and Twitter to connect with the younger generation to promote her business, and is constantly looking for the next thing.

 

"When I heard about Twitter, I said, ?I don't really understand it, but I want to do it,'" McLellan recalled. "It is so important to reach the next generation of homebuyers, and that's where they are."

 

McLellan and her "JudyMac" team of four to five employees form a company within a company at Crye-Leike Inc.'s plush East Memphis headquarters. She promotes herself as "the #1 Realtor for the Mid-South's #1 Real Estate Company," and is managing to stay on top despite the worst real estate market of her career. She did $51 million in sales in 2009.

 

"She's sincere and honest, and certainly gains folks' trust," said Dick Leike, president of Crye-Leike. "That's what it takes in this business. Plus, I don't know if anyone is as visible as she is."

 

McLellan, who radiates good cheer yet is surprisingly mellow in person, focuses on working one-on-one with clients. She leaves the details to Mickey McLellan, her husband of 31 years and an experienced marketing executive who joined in the mid-1990s as business and marketing manager.

 

The JudyMac team specializes in homes in East Memphis, Germantown and Collierville, with the bulk of their business in relocation. To that end, she has worked for FedEx Corp., International Paper and area hospital corporations.

 

A big part of the job is selling Memphis to corporate executives, doctors and others who are considering a move to this area. It calls for out-chambering the Greater Memphis Chamber, and McLellan has become adept at that task.

 

"I tell them, ?You are going to love this place, and let me tell you why,'" McLellan said. "Once I have an audience and can get with them, the rest is easy."

 

McLellan and her team have had to adjust to the current real estate woes, as home values have dropped, mortgage lending has tightened up and new house construction all but stopped in 2007.

 

Her operation has shifted from selling builder homes, which had been 30 percent of their business in 2006, to resales. In addition, her focus shifted from top-dollar homes to those in the $200,000 to $400,000 range, rather than the $417,000-plus purchases that require expensive jumbo loans.

 

She sees signs that things are improving this year, including the return of multiple offers.

 

"At open houses, we see that the consumer attitude is more upbeat," McLellan said. "Hearing that firsthand makes me feel much better."

 

McLellan, who has been in the suburban residential real estate business almost 35 years, came into it naturally. She grew up in Germantown, where her mother, Frances Hall Blanton, was a real estate agent, and her father, Cecil Hall, was a builder. McLellan, who has also performed locally as a singer, began in 1976 working with her mother, who taught her the business and shared her commissions until McLellan got on her feet.

 

"She was a wonderful, wonderful mentor," McLellan said.

 

She joined Crye-Leike in 1985, and when her husband joined her in the mid-1990s, they made a commitment to taking the business to the next level. They hired a top national marketing firm, created a brand identity based on McLellan's image and papered it all over town.

 

As a result, not only did she become a household name locally, she also became Crye-Leike's top agent in 1997, and has kept that No. 1 spot ever since. Her best year was 2006, when she did $75 million in sales volume.

 

The McLellans said that they were the first in this market to use now-ubiquitous color-photo brochures, and among the first to embrace the Internet as a marketing tool.

 

The McLellans clearly love what they do, and even on vacation - they often travel to California's Big Sur - eat, breathe and sleep real estate.

 

"I may get tired," McLellan said, "but I never get tired of this business. I love the personal contact."