Natalie Fofana greets home buyers, sellers, and guests with a soothing energy, radiant smile, and bubbly personality, reminiscent of the warm and inviting earth tones inside the new digs of her real estate company, Houzway. She opened the brokerage January 2019 after spending about five years working with Keller Williams.
At age 17, the Baton Rouge native became wildly intrigued by real estate, but the origins of her desire still mystify her.
“Nobody really in my immediate family, I knew, was like house flippers, or owned investment properties,” Fofana said. “Maybe some of my older family did it, but not my immediate that I was around on a constant basis.”
Regardless, she developed an insatiable hunger to build wealth for her future family around real estate. She initially desired to purchase a fourplex and live in one of the units; she remembers looking at newspaper listings for available ones in the Gardere area at a young age.
Her mother is a big part of her inspiration as well.
“My mom, she never actually owned her own home,” Fofana said. “She didn’t go to college. She didn’t have a degree. She rented her whole life.”
In addition, Fofana moved around a lot. Her mother struggled to raised her and her two older sisters the best she could as a single mother, which led to stints of living in different places. The constant moves growing up made Fofana determined to provide a stable home environment for her own daughter, Ahmani, who she gave birth to in 2002.
When Fofana started searching for a home at age 21, she discovered more about the whole real estate process, from working with a realtor to looking at houses. The in-depth experience further cultivated her passion for the market. She not only achieved the goal of purchasing a home with a yard for her daughter in her early twenties, but she also found purpose in the process.
At the time, she worked at Alltel, “before Verizon bought them out,” Fofana said with a chuckle. Her consistently excellent customer service during her time with the telecommunications provider made her a standout at the company.
“My clients always waited in line just for me,” Fofana said. She loved chatting with customers and helping them leave with more than just a phone—she wanted them to leave feeling better about the different life issues they shared with her.
As time moved forward, Fofana eventually combined her customer service skills, love of real estate and investment properties, and years spent studying business at Louisiana State University to enter the real estate market. Her friend, Danielle, who currently owns a brokerage in Plaquemine, encouraged her to obtain a real estate license, and Fofana followed the advice.
And now, despite the more than 3000 agents in Baton Rouge, Fofana continues to be successful in the capital city and surrounding areas. She stays on top of the industry and constantly seeks innovative ways to serve buyers and sellers. However, she knows her genuine personality and customer service remain two of her greatest assets.
“I am huge on customer service,” Fofana said. “If I don’t get good customer service…sometimes I won’t go back to the same place.”
She also offers customizable real estate options, which is her slogan, “Choose the Way You Real Estate.” Her services allow DIY sellers to pick what they need help with in order to save money. They can select help with marketing, home preparations and staging, showings, offers and negotiations, paperwork and contracts; or Houzway can assist sellers and buyers from start to finish.
Aside from her personal business methods, Fofana believes success stems from learning how to delegate.
“A lot of businesses fail by being the marketing, doing the business, answering the phone…like, we’re everything. At the same time, we may have a family life,” Fofana said. “You can’t really run a successful business as it should run trying to be a one-man show…we have to learn the tools of hiring people or even contracting out work.”
Looking ahead, Fofana plans to franchise her company and establish national Houzway locations. She recalls spending months pondering the best name for her company, making lists and poring over words in the dictionary with her husband. The “Houzway” name she created integrates the customizable options into her brand.
“The real estate market is changing. People want to have options when it comes to buying and selling a home,” she noted.
In addition, she wants people to see Houzway, and each agent is a well-trained representation of the company. She aims to provide both traditional and non-traditional commission programs for clients and agents. Houzway is bigger than her name.
“I love the motivating and the teaching part of the business as well. I feel almost like I’m a business coach in a sense,” Fofana said. “Eventually, I see myself investing in my agents and building my agents. As I do that, I don’t want people always looking for Natalie.”
The company is rapidly growing since its opening with four agents and a transaction coordinator.
Another goal Fofana plans to accomplish is a nonprofit to help single mothers purchase homes.
“My mom tried at some point to buy a house, years ago, and she was a little short,” Fofana said. “She went to her church, her family, but she wasn’t able to get her house because she didn’t have the rest of the funds.”
For a single mother to be so close to purchasing a home but forced to give up on that dream is crushing. Sometimes people need a little assistance with closing costs, and Fofana intends to help eliminate such obstacles. Putting people in homes is one of the many parts of the business she enjoys, especially those who never saw home ownership as a possibility.
While Fofana’s vision for Houzway is big, she offers this simple advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners: stay organized and invest back into your business. It is important to network and put yourself out in the public sphere, which is an investment. People must know you exist in order to do business with you.
“People think you just get into real estate, you have [closings], and it works. But there are a whole lot of steps to get to that point,” Fofana said.
She continues to navigate both the ups and downs of the business in order to make it work.
Sometimes she is challenged with changing her plans in order to accommodate clients with showings after hours. “Sometimes I can’t turn it off,” she remarked about her work. She admits keeping a consistent normal is difficult at times, but time management is key, and she strives to block her time accordingly in order to balance things.
As such, Fofana returns to the glass desk in her office with a sense of purpose, tapping calmly away at the keys, connecting with clients and responding to emails. A turntable sits on the sparse floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind her. Sometimes she comes across a photo of a client online, hosting a party in a home she helped sell. She loves thinking about how the home helped change the family dynamics. Life centers around the home, and Houzway served on the conduit to make it happen.