Doris Phillips and her husband, Glenn Phillips, couldn’t have grown up more differently.
She grew up in poverty, mowing lawns by age 9 to help provide for her younger siblings.
“I was raised very poor, with uneducated parents that really didn’t know how broken it was but knew that it was broken,” she says. “I decided early on that I didn’t want to be in that environment and actually left home at the age of 15. I’ve pretty much taken care of myself since.”
Glenn Phillips grew up in Bear Creek, Alabama, where Phillips High School is named after his great-grandfather.
“I went to junior college and went to Auburn in computer engineering,” he says. “I had family support and educated parents. It was where I would go to college, not whether I’d go to college.”
Glenn went on to start a software company, and Doris started her own title company, and the two met at a Shelby County Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“We came at this from totally different angles,” he recalls. “I told her right off the bat that I’m trying to put my life back together. I had gone through a divorce, and I was $350,000 in personal debt from not running my business well.”
Oh, and his dog had died.
“I was kind of a country music song,” Glenn Phillips admits.
The two meshed and eventually married, and along the way they started Lake Homes Realty, an online marketplace and brokerage service and the nation’s largest lake-focused real estate company.
“We came from very different places, but we both had a very strong work ethic,” Doris Phillips says. “While we both work very differently, I am 90 mph-and-crash, and he is steady, seven days a week, does not stop. I’m speed, and he’s diligence.”
From startup to thriving business
The Phillipses trek to Lake Homes Realty dates back to 2006, when Doris participated in a business accelerator in Birmingham.
“My title business was going well, but I realized that although I did know my industry, I needed a lot more information about how to grow my team and my staff,” she says.
Her mentor during that time period was Zane Tarence, partner and managing director of Founders Advisors Technology Practice, and in 2011, he came to the couple with a business idea.
“He asked us just to take a look at what was going to be a Zillow for lakes,” Glenn Phillips says, referring to the popular web site and app for real estate. “We told him there were flaws in his business model. They could fix it by attaching a brokerage, but it would
no longer be a pure dot-com.”
The Phillipses worked with Tarence and others for about 15 months, and Lake Homes Realty launched.
“We’re a nationwide, tech-enabled real estate brokerage that makes money the same way other brokerages do, but without the office overhead and with fewer agents,” Glenn Phillips says. “For home buyers, we’re the easiest way to find lake homes in this country, even beyond Zillow and everything else. Once you find it online, we have expert agents who actually know that product.”
The key to Lake Homes Realty’s success is its niche. Like the beach and mountain markets, the lake market is rarely thought of as a whole, Glenn Phillips says.
“We liked that we could tie together a big, fragmented market,” he says. “For instance, I could live in Connecticut, have grandchildren outside of Atlanta and Dallas and want to retire near one of them. I don’t even know the name of a lake, but we want a lake home. With one company, we can serve all of those markets.”
So, someone interested in lake living can go to Lake Homes Realty and find thousands of properties on hundreds of lakes in 33 states.
Diversity an asset and challenge
The company is headquartered in Hoover, but Lake Homes Realty employs agents around the country who know about the specific lakes and properties. That helps Lake Homes Realty address one of its biggest challenges, which is also one of its biggest assets — its diversity.
“Each lake typically has some specific rules and regulations that, if you don’t know them, can get you into a bind,” Glenn Phillips says. “You could buy a home that doesn’t have a dock and find out you’re not allowed to put a dock on it. Every lake is different, and even different parts of a lake are different. So having lake specialists was important for us. They understand the nuances of their lake.”
The lake business remained steady during the pandemic, according to the Phillipses.
“We’re absolutely what people were running to,” Doris Phillips says. “They’re running from the big city, and they’re running to open-air and outside. If they’re going to work remotely from home and they can do that by sitting at the lake, they’d much prefer that.”
Giving back to the community
In a nod to her background, Doris Phillips has taken the success of Lake Homes Realty and her Real Source title business and started the Circle of Love foundation. Each year, the foundation buys school supplies and Christmas gifts for underprivileged children.
“It’s hard to tell a child why Santa didn’t come, and you also can’t go to third grade without pencil and paper without the kids knowing that you’re the poor kid and don’t have things,” she says. Since 2004, Circle of Love has provided gifts for more than 3,000 children and school supplies for more than 2,000.
“If you can provide Christmas for a child and let them know someone has remembered them, and if they can go to school and not be embarrassed — education may be their only way out,” Doris Phillips says.
A personal choice
Interestingly, the Phillipses have never really been “lake people.” But they are now.
“We visited quite a few of the lakes when we first started the business,” Doris Phillips says. “We were on the road all the time. I took my entire brokers course in the back seat of his Explorer. I turned my cell phone into a hot spot to get my broker’s license.”
Now, the couple has a camper and RV that they’ll set up at the lake.
And different lakes bring different amenities and qualities, Glenn Phillips says.
“For some people, it’s about convenience,” he says. “For some, it’s about peace and quiet. For some, it’s about the party, or the deep water, or it’s the lake they grew up on, regardless of anything else. You really just need to find the lake you’re most comfortable with.”
It’s akin to finding the right life partner, Glenn says: “It’s kind of a personal choice. If you don’t know, you need to date a few lakes.”
Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama.