Montgomery Business Journal

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THE HAT LADY SPECIALIZES IN MIDTOWN AND HISTORIC HOMES

January 2015
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts

If you think Sandra Nickel’s moniker – the hat lady – and her employees being called the hat team – was some carefully crafted promotional vehicle created by a marketing-advertising firm, you would be wrong.

It came into being accidently, but once in place, Nickel, who owns a real estate firm in Cloverdale, knew it was a good thing.

Here’s how Nickel became widely known throughout the community as the hat lady. She was introducing herself to neighbors and letting them know she was a Realtor. Nickel had selected a very, very cold winter day in January 1982 when the temperature was in the single digits. She had a heavy, brown tweed winter coat from her days living in St. Louis and heavy gloves.

A neighbor asked her to come inside and get out of the cold. He went to a closet and pulled out a brown tweed Fedora-style hat so she wouldn’t get pneumonia and die. She said the hat “almost perfectly matched” her coat. The neighbor said to keep the hat until it warms up. “Well, as luck would have it, the winter of 1982 was a real winter in Montgomery and it stayed cold for a long time,” Nickel said. “By the time it began to thaw, people were beginning to call me the hat lady. They would call the office or stop by and say, ‘I don’t remember her name, but I want to talk to the woman in the hat.’ Well, I wasn’t clever enough to think of it, but I was clever enough to realize that I was on to something.”

Being the hat lady has set her apart from colleagues. “I think what it’s done for our business is that people call or drop by for the first time, feeling that they know me and people do business with people they know, like and trust,” said Nickel, who has been in the real estate business for 33.5 years and started her own firm 24.5 years ago.

“So, I have a leg up. Even if they don’t know me, they have seen my name around and remember it because of the hat. It’s a memory peg.”

It’s not just the hat that makes Nickel so unique. She specializes in Midtown and in older/historic homes and the staff are also experts in those areas.

She had been with a broker, but when he moved his firm to East Montgomery, Nickel said that she wanted to focus on Midtown – Cloverdale, Garden District, Capitol Heights and Cottage Hill. She recalled that there was not a real estate firm in that region, but that changed when she went to a shoe shop that was next door to an art gallery. She learned that the art gallery owner was closing. Nickel has been leasing that space at 1044 E. Fairview Ave., which is across the street from Sinclair’s and Capri Theatre. She said her heart was in Midtown and “if you do what you’re passionate about you usually get good results.”

She is passionate about those historic homes from the 1920s and 1930s and a few homes from the late 1800s.

“You just don’t buy an old house,” Nickel said. “Sellers who have chosen us to represent them very much appreciate that we all live in old houses and we understand that is a lifestyle decision. They understand that we walk the walk.

“We like to think that the marketing we do on our historic homes and soon-to-be designated as historic homes is a notch above what other Realtors can deliver simply because we are students of historic homes.”

The marketing will be enhanced with an expected hire in late 2014. That employee will be director of marketing and communications and will handle the Internet listings as well as all social media.

Nickel hopes to add two or three agents this year as business continues to improve. The firm’s transactions were up about 30 percent last year from 2013. She expects about 125 sold and closed properties this year, which would match the banner year in 2006.

“Sellers have equity again, so they are a lot more inclined to sell,” Nickel said. “It beats having to bring a huge check to closing.

The firm has four Realtors, who are independent contractors. Her husband, Jim Nickel, is the company’s chief financial officer.

Nickel credits her success to caring “much, much more about the client than we do the commission. I work very, very hard, which all by itself doesn’t get the job done. I will always tell the truth no matter how painful it is and I think people appreciate that. And I give everybody I meet a business card.”

 

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