It started as a fireman’s side hustle back in 1977 before “side hustle” became the cool kids’ lingo for “second job.” Now, 44 years later, Pittman Properties is a flourishing family business.
Bill Pittman, 57, retired from a 32-year, storied career at DeRoyal Industries in 2016 to help take on more of the responsibilities with the home leasing business started by his father (now retired) that began with the purchase of one home in Old North Knoxville for $13,000.
“Dad was a fireman, and that is not really the best paying job out there. All firemen pretty much have a second job. At one time he had a vending machine business,” Pittman said. “Then he had the thought of investing in some real estate for rental.”
Pittman explained that though his father had saved $5,000 and had impeccable credit, when he approached the bank where he had done busines for years for a loan, he was turned down. Though his father was momentarily deflated, his mother came to the rescue. As she was a nurse with the old Knoxville City School system, the Pittmans were eligible to apply for a loan with the Knoxville Teachers Federal Credit Union. The loan was approved, and the seeds of Pittman Properties were planted.
Today, the company’s holdings are approaching 150 houses, concentrated in north Knoxville, especially the Oakwood/Lincoln Park neighborhood. In fact, the company still owns the house first purchased by Pittman’s grandparents on Hiawassee Avenue in 1949. His father graduated from Fulton High School in 1960.
“This is where my family is from. We know the area, we love area,” Pittman said. “Our goal is to take the worst property and make it the best property. To improve the neighborhood while being a good neighbor and a good landlord.”
Though somewhat retired, Pittman sits on the board as a past president of the Sertoma Center Inc. and is current president of the board of Knox Heritage. When he’s not running around checking on properties with rescue dogs Elsa and Artemis, he’s spending time with his wife, Tina Rolen, director of marketing and communications at Zoo Knoxville. He said they started out in Inskip, then moved to 4th and Gill and now reside in Sequoyah Hills.
Pittman said that he first started investing with his father while working for DeRoyal. That involvement led him to bury himself in architecture books which ties directly to the kinds of homes he buys and restores, typically Queen Anne, craftsman and post-World War II bungalows.
“We try to add modern appeal while maintaining historic character,” he said, adding that he focuses on using contractors in the area where he buys properties.
Pittman’s two children have now joined the family business. His son Evan, who also had a career with DeRoyal, now runs operations. Pittman recently announced the addition of his daughter, Jill Pittman Maier, to the business after a successful career with Clayton Homes. She will be handling marketing. Pittman will continue to oversee acquisitions and financing.
“It really says a lot about my father and what he built for his family,” Pittman said in regards to the next generation coming into the business. “It’s up to them (his children) in the future whether they keep it or sell it. One day that will be their decision. The important thing is to find something you love to do that can sustain you.”
Beth Kinnane is community editor for KnoxTNToday.com