'Mr. Smith Lake' sails into big waters

Posted 4/21/19

(Part 1 of 2 parts) Justin Dyar had no intention of becoming "Mr. Smith Lake." He still refers to himself as a "country boy from Hamilton" — albeit with more energy than the normal …

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'Mr. Smith Lake' sails into big waters


(Part 1 of 2 parts) 

Justin Dyar had no intention of becoming "Mr. Smith Lake." 

He still refers to himself as a "country boy from Hamilton" — albeit with more energy than the normal country boy. It was that business energy and the resulting success that likely led to "Mr. Smith Lake," which he now features in advertising.

"I didn't name myself that. Everybody just started calling me that," he said. "I'm talking like, competing realtors started calling me that - competitors, friends, clients. 

"I never would have named myself that. I felt a little uncomfortable about that. Then I was like, you know what, that is a good marketing tool. I trademarked it. It's registered. I've been using it for probably 12 or 13 years." 

Dyar, 38, has earned the title. He now passed an astounding annual sales level of $100 million after 15 years in business. Birmingham Magazine has also called him "one of the top producing residential real estate agents in the Southeast." 

Altogether, he actually reached $107 million in sales for 2018 by closing more than 190 Smith Lake properties, reaching a personal goal that took two years to reach. 

It has also placed a spotlight on Smith Lake, whose attraction will be seen again this week as the 2019 Basspro.com Central Open will bring 210 boats and 420 anglers, starting Thursday. 

Dyar, an energetic businessman, is quite happy when moving on to the next deal, but his presence at the lake, complete in casual attire, has also promoted a laid-back lifestyle that has issued a siren call to come to Smith Lake and kick back. 

He has made good use of the lakes 500 miles of shoreline, becoming the top producing agent every year since 2006 for the local Board of Realtors. 

Dyar, the son of Joe and Deborah Dyar who now live full-time at Smith Lake, was raised in Hamilton, graduating from Hamilton High in 1999 and the University of Alabama in 2003 with a degree in industrial marketing and a minor in computer science. Out of college, he went to real estate school and moved to Smith Lake. 

His parents were actually more like beach people, but he would come to Smith Lake with his friends, as it was only an hour from Hamilton, he said. 

"My parents had a place here," he said. "I had good friends that had a good place, since 1985. So I have been coming to the lake since I was 5 or 6. I've had it in my blood. But my parents have always done vacation real estate. My dad is a builder and contractor, so we always bought and sold things." 

He credits them with his business sense, work ethics and integrity, noting the family might not sit down for dinner at night because someone might be away on business. 

"Some people can't do real estate because it is not 8-to-5. You can't predict one thing in real estate. But that's me. If I had to sit in a factory and do the same thing, I would go nuts," he said. 

Eventually, his father offered to pay for real estate school if he went. 

His college computer studies helped, as he said he got comfortable early on with the internet before many did - and before the lake was being advertised nationally. As a result, at 23 he started early advertising on national websites for Smith Lake.

"I learned how to do web where it wasn't being utilized," he said. "I started doing my own marketing. I knew the backend of websites and internet, where a lot of people didn't." Moreover, he now has a lifelong background with the lake. 

Being a resident of Smith Lake, he also lives the lifestyle, especially water sports and boating. "I love water. I'm kind of addicted to it," he said. "When I look out my house, the water looks different every day. There is a different boat there. There is a different bird there. There is a different sound there. It is not like in the city where you see the same fence and you see the same grass and the same thing every day." 

In warmer weather, it is nothing to see him wear T-shirts and shorts - even at work. 

"I'm not dressed up because my clients are not dressed up," he said. "If I showed up in a suit, they would look at me as if I was crazy. But that is not my look. That is not me."

At the same time, he is efficient, especially at catching up on emails. "If I am not driving or with a client, you are going to get a response. I'm so OCD, I can't stand it in my inbox. In my mind, I can't have no more than 10 emails."  

He noted one big advantage of doing business is that he has met successful entrepreneurs from across the nation, allowing him to question them about how they achieved their success, whether developing a company or a patent.

Once at White Pepper Realty, Dyar and others formed a new Hoover-based company, Lake Homes Realty (lakehomes.com), which he said had its first sale at Smith Lake and has continued to grow, branching out first across Alabama and then into other states, starting in Tennessee and then Texas. 

Birmingham Magazine - which  named Dyar one of the Top Influencers in Birmingham for 2018 - noted the company was one of the highest ranked Birmingham-area companies on the 2017 Inc. 5000. 

"It's actually some investors in Birmingham that I knew as clients. We formed a company just for lake houses and lake homes and lake lots, and we started it here at Smith five years ago," he said. "We took that model, doing what I did, what I've always done, and we've branched it out into 25 states. We have brokerage operations now all over the country," just recently branching out into New York. 

Online, the firm boasts 5,200 homes and lots just in Alabama, which has 92 lakes. A map seems to indicate the firm is concentrated mostly on the eastern half of the U.S.; the Southeast is covered except for Mississippi. Thirteen agents are listed in Alabama. 

Noting Lake Homes Realty is not a franchise but owned by he and others, Dyar said the firm has a national recruiter. Dyar doesn't travel to the other states, but he has stock and is part of the company. 

"I am not necessarily in management, but I have a role. I guess I was the guinea pig," he said. "I was the first guy to do what I'm doing, just specializing on just that type of real estate. There is a need for it, because there are lakes all over the country. 

Dyar said the company goes after the best agents, although not necessarily the ones who have been in the business the longest, "but the ones we think can grow and really benefit from our model," which relies on "big time online marketing." 

"It was an opportunity to really grow, not just here, but to grow nationally. We'll be in every state that has a lake presence," he said, noting he would keep his own personal website as well. "It's been a huge growth in the past three years. Even though I own part of that firm, I'm still the same Justin. I'm still out here every day in Cold Springs, Arley or Jasper." 

But with growth, he pointed out he now has a team of six people under him. "There's only one Justin. Justin can't go everywhere," he said. While he has his properties and signs, "I have a group that basically facilitates all my sales, all my listings," even contracts with a Cullman man, David Warren, to do his photography and videos.

In October, he broke the $100 million level, although he cautioned that doesn't mean he made $100 million, but that was the amount of sales he had and that inflation has also become a factor. He said his sales are averaging today $400,000 each for a lakehouse. "There are almost 200 transactions," he said.  

He said the year before he had rested around $92 million. "I said, surely I can hit 10 or 15 more and hit that," he said.

Even with Dyar's early involvement with computers, he has been surprised at the tech advances in his industry. He prefers communicating with customers by email as it leaves a record, as many contracts are electronic.

"That has what has changed the real estate world," as there are rarely papers to sign anymore. "It's all electronic, online documents," he said. "That changed my life completely. I always thought I had to be next to a computer and a printer to print things and scan this. Now, as long as you have your phone and you have those programs, you can sign a contract right here, that easy. You can be completely paperless doing what I do, if you wanted to be. I still have some things, but our office is 100 percent digital." 

Dyar said he tries to be relevant on social media, even Instagram, after his sister convinced him. "Why would I market to 18 year old kids?" he asked. "You don't get it," she replied. 

He does now. "The followers for Instagram are not the buyers for what I do. It's their kids," he said. "Their kids are telling Mom and Daddy, 'Look at the house Justin posted,' and their parents will buy it."

Dyar said he gets constant contacts from people saying their children or grandchildren told them about it. "It happens every day," he said.  

He want to continue to grow the company into a large, national company and build his team. He has no inclination to slow down, noting he not only still enjoys his own real estate work, but he handles his own real estate investments.

"If I didn't do something, I would be miserable," he said.