Chattanooga native James Perry finds niche in 'boutique' real estate

Contributed photography / James Perry

James Perry's been in the Chattanooga real-estate business plenty long enough to have seen it all - and he pretty much has.

Perry, 62, recalls doing a deal years ago that started with an early-morning Learjet flight from Chattanooga to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. He says he looked at two oceanfront properties there, boarded the jet again and was back in his office by lunchtime.

And then, 180 degrees removed from that $3 million deal, he recalls many transactions involving clients in crisis.

"I've had customers in dire need of selling, about to be crushed financially," he says. "They wept in reaching out, and I wept with them."

A Chattanooga native, Perry launched The James Co. Real Estate Brokers and Development in 1998. He says his company is known as a "boutique" firm, well-versed in handling "unique" commercial and residential properties that are usually higher-end.

Perry recalls starting in real estate with Gloria Sutton Realtors, "a huge firm at the time," then moving on to RCR & Associates, later Prudential RCR & Associates. After about a decade there, he says, he launched his own company in 1998 and found success right out of the gate.

"I landed three prestigious accounts, one of which led to me working side-by-side with Peyton Manning," Perry says. "I ended up selling Peyton and his wife a home here in Chattanooga. It was such a blessing to be part of that, and it really was a boost in terms of giving our new company a presence in the market."

Perry says there was a "lot of stuff" happening in his life at that point, including a brand-new marriage.

"There was fear," he says, "but I think there's such a thing as healthy fear. I consider myself humble – and you have to beware of losing that humility because as soon as you do, that's when you fall on your face."

Perry says he nearly face planted in the late 2000s – not because he lost his humility chip, but because of the Great Recession.

"I did what you're not supposed to do," he says. "I spent working capital in 2008 and 2009, then nearly had to close the doors in 2010.

"But by then, I'd had employees for many years who'd been loyal to me, so I determined to be loyal to them, stay the course - and the good Lord brought us through it," he says.

Now an industry veteran, Perry likens the near-term outlook for his business, and the economy generally, to a "roller coaster heading downhill fast."

"I like to think positive, but with interest rates going up, inflation, the dollar as low as it is and the supply chain, I think there are some tough times staring us in the face," he says.

"I don't look forward to that, but I've been through tough times before. I know what to do."