Indy-based company buys Hills O’ Brown Realty office

Hills O’ Brown Realty has new owners for the third time in its 52-year history.

Indianapolis-based Carpenter Realtors bought the Nashville-based real estate company at the end of 2016 from Frank Zody and family, who have owned it since 1994.

The company’s new name is Carpenter Hills O’ Brown Realty, said Tom Vornholt, managing broker at Hills O’ Brown. He is now branch manager under Carpenter.

For Zody, it was simply a matter of wanting a life change, Vornholt said.

Zody decided to sell the company in the last year and had begun to look for other options, even offering current brokers a chance buy the business if they wanted to, Vornholt said.

Negotiations with Carpenter went on for several months. Paramount in those discussions was maintaining Hills O’ Brown both as a name and as a member of the community, Vornholt said.

“We’ve been very active in the community,” he said. “We didn’t want to lose that. That was very important to us, and Carpenter came through with that.”

Though the company has added the Carpenter name, the Hills O’ Brown brand and staff are what they wanted to purchase, and both are staying, said Tom Myers, regional manager for Carpenter Realtors.

“The quality of the service that the agents provided for all those years is what attracted us to it, so we don’t want to mess that up,” Myers said.

The vacation home rental division of Hills O’ Brown was not affected by the merger.

Neither was Hills O’ Brown’s long-term rental division; in October, Zody sold that portion of the business to Hills O’Brown employee Betsy Arnold, who is operating it under the name Keyed-In Rentals.

Local landmark

Frank Russo and Carl Carpenter began selling real estate in 1965, according to a Hills O’ Brown ad in the Brown County Democrat’s Founders Day section.Frances “Fran” Fears’ obituary in February 2007 said she and Russo “joined forces” to form Hills O’ Brown in June 1970, about the same time the first advertisements for Hills O’ Brown started to appear in the local newspaper.

In 1992, after Russo died, Bill Voland took over management, and in 1994, he sold the company to Frank and Brenda Zody.

In 1993, Zody bought the former home of Theron “Tubby” Clark on North Jefferson Street and Hills O’ Brown moved there in 1994. The building was expanded in 1996 when Ruth Jarrett Real Estate merged into Hills O’ Brown.

Over the years, several other local real estate firms have merged into Hills O’ Brown, including Bob Galm Real Estate in 1994. Vornholt’s firm, LOGOS Real Estate, merged into Hills O’ Brown in 2012 when he took over the top broker job from Suzannah Levett Zody, Frank and Brenda’s daughter.

When he started his career in real estate in 2005, Vornholt worked for a Carpenter branch in Greenwood. Even then, he remembers Carpenter being interested in expanding into Brown County.

Competition here among real estate companies has increased in recent years, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, Vornholt said.

“The competition here is good competition,” he said. “All the other agents and firms are good to do business with. They do a good job; they’re very conscientious, and we’ve strove to keep that high level of professionalism in place with Hills O’ Brown.”

Hometown feel

Carpenter operates 32 offices in central Indiana, from Indianapolis to Bedford, Myers said.The company is now looking for a partner business in Bartholomew County to expand further east, he said.

Vornholt said the company is particularly strong on marketing and brings tools and reach that Hills O’ Brown would have had to develop itself otherwise.

“It offers us a great opportunity: a company that is large, but still has that hometown feel to it,” Vornholt said of the merger. “It’s a very, very positive outlook.”

In addition to maintaining traditional marketing practices such as newspaper advertising, Carpenter also works with newer technologies such as YouTube and Facebook to engage younger demographics, Myers said.

The company also maintains a client service center to respond to online inquiries during business hours, seven days a week, he said. According to the National Association of Realtors, the average response time for online inquiries is more than a day, Myers said. For Carpenter, the average response time is seven minutes, with a maximum of a half-hour, he said.

Myers reiterated the desire to keep things as unchanged as possible.

“We’re serious about our commitment to Frank — and to his agents — that we’re going to do everything that we can to support them and just allow them to continue to maintain the relationships that they’ve had and enjoyed for decades,” Myers said.

Karen Zody, a former managing broker at Hills O’ Brown and Frank Zody’s sister-in-law, said she knows the owners of Carpenter and feels good about the sale.

“It’s a lot of hours and it’s a lot of hard work,” Zody said of running Hills O’ Brown. “It’s a company I have felt like was built on a lot of hard work and a lot of honesty, and I see that going forward, because all the same agents are still going to be there.”

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Ben Kibbey is a Brown County transplant from the cornfields of central Ohio. He covers county government, business, outdoors, sports and general news.