Selling ‘His’ houses

Utica real estate agency specializes in church sales

By: Brad D. Bates | Shelby - Utica News | Published March 6, 2012

 Real Estate Professional Services, or REPS, helped the Rev. Tyrone Terrell and his Restoration Ministries move to their new home in downtown Utica.

Real Estate Professional Services, or REPS, helped the Rev. Tyrone Terrell and his Restoration Ministries move to their new home in downtown Utica.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

UTICA — To many of their clients, the Messier family and the staff at Real Estate Professional Services in Utica are God’s gift to real estate.

Real Estate Professional Services, or REPS, has been selling professional properties since 1971 and speciaizes in churches, helping all manner of denominations find new homes and say goodbye to old ones.

“It was the grace of God that put us together,” the Rev. Tyrone Terrell said of the guidance he received from Mike Messier in finding his church’s new home in Utica. “I was going to settle for less, but God put me with Mike, and that brought me here.”

Terrell’s church, Restoration Ministries, moved from a small shopping center in Detroit near Kelly and Morross roads to downtown Utica at 45504 Cass Ave. in a building that was much larger and better suited to its needs.

“That’s why we call it Restoration Ministries; we’re helping people put their lives back together,” Terrell said of the various ministry groups his church has that required more space.

“Being here, where God has planted us, I’m grateful because I was looking at places in Warren and Eastpointe,” Terrell added. “(Mike Messier) said to look at this location, and I was stunned. He said, ‘I believe that this place might change your mind.’ It was that persistence from him that brought us here.”

Messier says the experience he and his family have gleaned from more than 40 years buying and selling church properties across the state affords them the ability to match buyers with properties that suit their needs.

“We’ve been personally involved in over 700 church sales, so we have a lot of experience,” Messier said, noting REPS has moved more church properties than any agency in the state. “The Archdiocese of Detroit is a client, and we’ve worked with them for 10 years.”

And that level of experience and the connections within the religious communities made Terrell feel comfortable trusting REPS, a family company run by Messier and his brother Kevin, who operates their office in Southfield.

“I looked at hundreds of buildings, and Mike knows the real estate business,” Terrell said. “If you ask around, everyone agrees Mike’s the guy with the locations and knowledge. If you’re ready, they’re ready.”

Messier started his real estate career in home sales in 1979, but apprenticed under his father Richard Messier in the sale of churches and other public buildings, such as schools and libraries, before taking over the family business in 1983.

The Messiers’ first official church listing came in 1971 when their family church, the St. Clair Shores Church of Christ, asked Richard Messier to help sell a property.

“The church that we were a part of merged with another, so there was a building they asked him to sell,” Messier said. “He sold it, and one thing led to another. Through the process, one church led to another, and he found a specialty.”

Messier said his company recognizes the special care it takes to sell a church and respects what the buildings mean to each church’s membership, and he works with the communities to understand that what made the building special is not part of any sale.

“When you look at it, the church is the people, what I’m selling is brick and mortar,” Messier said. “But you’re talking about families that have been there for generations, had babies baptized and family funerals there.

“(Churches) are a way of life, and I don’t take that for granted. There’s a sensitivity there you have to have. You try to be as in touch and in tune as you possibly can.”

Messier said that the attachment people have to the buildings can differ depending on a church’s age or denomination, but he said one constant is one of his niche’s greatest assets.

“We do meet some really nice people; it’s got a completely different vibe,” Mike Messier said of handling church properties versus traditional real estate.

However, that comes with the added challenges of pleasing a congregation of hundreds or thousands rather than a family of four.

“I was used to the traditional residential sales process, but here you do not have one person making a decision,” Messier said. “You’ve got to get everyone on board to make a decision, and it takes time.

“Say you show a building, and the pastor likes it; it’s good news. Then the board doesn’t, and that’s as far as it goes. The effort involved to get everyone in agreement is what requires patience.”

Messier said it also takes the patience of the saints to jump through bureaucratic hoops while respecting a congregation’s unique wishes.

“The state views churches as a corporation, for lack of a better term, so you have to go through bylaws,” Mike Messier said. “But a church is also a giant family, so you need the majority of folks on board to make a move.”

And after that comes the increased red tape of financing a church sale.

“One negative is a (church) sale is it has a lot longer shelf life,” Messier said, noting it takes much longer for a church sale to close than that of a residence.

“Financing is a big deal now. Churches have a hard time getting financing from traditional banks. The financing you do see is from private lenders that are often affiliated with the church.”

But Messier said it’s all worth it when you can help a couple of hundred or thousand prayers come true.

“After all the work, when you can finally give them the keys, it’s just awesome,” Messier said. “Take the example of Pastor Terrell, he came into his building and is doing great. He’s so joyful.

“When you sell a house, you change one or two lives. When you sell a church building, you change a whole group, and that’s awesome. You can create a great future environment.”