Harkins living lifelong dream at Flake & Kelley

Jay Edwards

It is not unusual for children to have hopes and dreams about their futures. Astronauts, firemen, and sports heroes are just a few of the careers where young boys might see themselves as adults. But for James Harkins, for as long as he can remember, to work in real estate has been his goal.

I have known James all his life, having started working for his dad Tommy on the bond floor at T. J. Raney and Sons back in 1980.

“When I was seven I knew I wanted to be a real estate broker,” Harkins told me from the offices of Flake & Kelley, on the third floor of Metropolitan Tower in downtown Little Rock.

It didn’t take him long to start making his real estate dream a reality. After graduating from Catholic High School, he headed to Conway and Hendrix College. While there he would land an internship at The Hathaway Group in Little Rock.

Two years later he transferred to the business college of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, so he could major in Finance and Real Estate. While there he got his real estate license and worked part time in residential sales, while going to school full time.

“It’s almost impossible to sell houses as a full time student,” Harkins says. “People would call me when I was taking tests and want to see a property. So I didn’t do much business but I learned a lot about market values and contracts.”

After graduating he moved back to Little Rock and went to work for Bailey Properties, where he trained agents on a new software program.

It was during this time that Harkins met and developed a friendship with John Flake. “We were working out at the same place and just hit it off.”

His mother saw an ad one day in the paper for a property manager and told her son about it. He sent his resume and they called him in for an interview. The company was Flake & Kelley.
“I was interviewing with Hank Kelley and after we talked a while he said he thought I sounded more like a candidate for a junior broker position, which sounded great to me. He said ‘Let me go get John,’ and before I could say anything he had gone and was back. John looked at me, kind of surprised and said, ‘What are you doing here?’

He was offered the job and accepted. “I was 22,” he says. “And began doing what I’d always dreamed of.

Harkins says he works for, “The two best real estate brokers and property managers in the state. Today, among other projects, he handles the leasing for Metropolitan Towers.

“I enjoy the business and practical standpoint of commercial real estate. It’s not emotional. I love the numbers and being able to evaluate and present the facts, so that an investor can make an educated decision. And I like seeing a deal come together and being able to move on to the next one.”

He has been involved in industrial, office and some retail leases here and there. He says lately his focus has been on getting the word out about the space available in Metropolitan Tower.
“I’m excited about that and am really working on getting some increased activity,” he says.

One reason for the focus on Metropolitan is because Hewlett Packard recently moved from the Tower to their headquarters in Conway. HP was a 43,000-square-foot tenant. “We knew they were temporary, a two-year tenant, but when they left it gave us that space, on three floors, that needs to lease. That has been a main focus for me,” he says.

The Faulkner County economy is benefiting from Hewlett Packard and Flake & Kelley are benefiting from that area’s growth as well. Harkins says they have a mini storage facility there, which was one of the first deals he put together. “I’m really thankful that we did that deal when we did it. It’s in the heart of Conway.”

While the commercial market has been a challenge the last 18 months, Harkins says Central Arkansas is fortunate because it has not seen the steep declines that other parts of the country, like Las Vegas, California, Atlanta and even Northwest Arkansas have undergone.

“It’s because we didn’t have as far to fall,” he says. This part of the state has always been steadier in its growth patterns; when the economy took its big downturn, we flat lined. We didn’t have the big drop because we didn’t have the big peak.

“I think we are really blessed here because of that. What I believe we will begin experiencing now will seem like a windfall, when we start to see any deals come back, whether in leasing, brokerage, investment or development. I really see us coming back on a steadier, stable curve. That is the Central Arkansas nature.”

Through all of the challenges a major recession brings, Harkins says he is still having fun. “It is not without stress, but everyday I come into work there is something different that occurs, something I haven’t encountered before. So there is always something to learn. It keeps it exciting. We really have a great team here. We know what each of us is doing and if there is an opportunity to help another then we are going to do it.”

James is married to the former Amy Kemp, and tells that it wasn’t only real estate he was focused on at the early age of seven.
James was seven and at the lake in Hot Springs when he first saw Amy and asked his friend, Seth Ward, who she was. “That’s Amy Kemp,” Seth said. “Well I’m going to marry her,” James told his friend. It was a defining year.

Today James and Amy are parents to a four-year old son named Alex. He’s doing what he loves and married the girl he loves; which proves it’s never too early to have a plan.

“This is what I want to be doing,” Harkins says, “what I’ve always wanted to do.” He’s known it for a long time.