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Front Page - Friday, July 5, 2019

Realtor Marcus’ experience runs as deep as the Nickajack

Realtor Loni Marcus, who sells homes on the Chickamauga and Nickajack reservoirs, also has experience selling construction equipment and has served as a volunteer firefighter. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Loni Marcus likes to sell things that are out of the ordinary. Give her a box of jewelry to move, and her eyes will glaze over with disinterest. Swap out the rings and necklaces for rigging crane parts, and those same eyes will light up with excitement.

There will also be a glint of experience in Marcus’ pupils. “I’ve sold the shackles, cables, slings, hoists and hooks used on heavy rigging and lifting cranes, as well as tie downs for wreckers,” she says with a smile.

“I prefer niche markets.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that when Marcus became a Realtor last year, she wasn’t keen on selling landlocked residential properties. Rather, she was lured in by the prospect of selling homes with a view of a large body of water.

“I love the water,” she says. Behind her, Chickamauga Lake sparkles under the midmorning sun. “I also respect it. I know its power and what it can do.”

Given the beauty of the local lakes, it might seem that a home on the edge of one would sell itself. And, buyers do typically ask to see the view from a property before concerning themselves with the rest of the house.

But that doesn’t excuse Marcus from knowing the ins and outs of lakefront properties. Just like her counterparts in residential real estate, Marcus needs to be an expert in her field.

“Buyers ask a lot of questions,” she explains. “’How close is the house to the lake? Is there a dock? If not, can I build one? What about all those trees between me and the water? Can I cut them down?’ There are regulations for all of that.”

As an agent with Lake Homes Realty, a Hoover, Alabama-based company with brokerages in more than 20 states, Marcus is armed with the answers to these questions and more.

“Everyone asks about the summer water here,” she says. “That’s an important issue for buyers looking at lake property. The TVA typically lowers the water in September and usually starts increasing the levels again in April.”

Marcus focuses her attention on Chickamauga and Nickajack lakes, the territory Lake Homes Realty has granted her. This has allowed her to become familiar with the unique amenities each body of water offers.

“Chickamauga has excellent bass fishing. Nickajack isn’t as busy, so someone who wants a slower pace will like it more,” she explains. “However, homes are priced a little higher on Nickajack because there’s less property available.”

That’s not to say private property along Chickamauga is a bargain. Marcus says the lake is home to a few $2 million houses, although most properties run about $515,000, compared to $535,000 for the average property on Nickajack.

“It’s expensive to buy on the lake,” Marcus acknowledges. “Inventory is low because once people are here, they don’t want to move. That increases the value.”

With listings hard to come by, Marcus focuses on serving buyers, most of whom live out of town and are looking for a second home for weekends and vacations on the water.

To reach these people, Marcus does a lot of advertising on social media. “I target Atlanta, Chicago, New York City and other areas where people are interested in being on the lake,” she says. “The water is part of their lifestyle. They live in the city but they want to boat, fish and ride a Jet Ski. They want a place to swim. They want quiet and privacy.”

As Marcus works to make the lakeside dreams of the upper and upper-middle class come true, she concentrates on achieving her own goals. Despite the tight inventory in her region, she’s striving to sell $10 million worth of real estate in 2019.

Marcus admits she has a long way to go. But that’s not the point. “If you don’t set a goal, you’ll never get anywhere,” she says.

With more than 35 years of sales experience under her belt, Marcus would know. The 47-year-old Sparta native and current Ooltewah resident started her career early by selling jointed plastic snakes to her classmates in sixth grade.

“My father brought them back from China and said, ‘Here’s something for you to do,’” Marcus remembers.

Marcus had sold several of the toys before her principal issued a cease-and-desist order. Without missing a beat, Marcus asked him if she could deliver the ones she’s already sold.

“I didn’t want to refund their money,” Marcus laughs.

Her principal agreed.

Marcus’ father, a former dairy farmer who ran his own art publishing business, continued to stoke his daughter’s entrepreneurial interests, taking her to craft shows to help peddle the wooden toys he’d made on the side with her help.

“My dad raised us to do what we wanted to do. If we were interested in something, he’d encourage us to try it,” she recalls. “If we didn’t like it, then he’d tell us to move on to something else. At least we had tried it and hadn’t hemmed and hawed about it.”

The dye was cast by the time Marcus headed to college. After earning a degree in production operations management at Tennessee Technological University and an MBA from Western Governor’s University, she launched into a sales career.

In the ensuing years, she sold aftermarket accessories and racing equipment to big box retail stores and equipment manufacturers for a company out of Cookeville and parts for equipment manufacturers and suppliers of giant cranes.

Eventually, Marcus’ cousin began to speak with her about selling real estate. He’d seen the results of her work, and as the owner of a Lake Homes Realty brokerage in Smithville, he wanted her on his team.

But Marcus wasn’t interested, believing real estate to be too mainstream for her. Undeterred, her cousin insisted Lake Homes Realty was different and continued to “whittle away” at her objections.

He finally sold Marcus on the idea of selling lake homes after luring her to one of his meetings.

“I saw how the company supported its agents. Before sending them out, they educated them and gave them tools,” Marcus says.

Marcus also liked that Lake Homes Realty limited the number of agents it assigned to each region. True to her nature, she didn’t want to be one of many, she wanted to be the one who would serve many.

Today, Marcus is licensed in Tennessee and a proud member of Greater Chattanooga Realtors and the River Counties Association of Realtors.

Now that Marcus has settled into her new career, she’s setting aside time to serve the Chattanooga community. She recently took part in GCR’s volunteer effort at Habitat for Humanity, joining the team that cleaned and organized Habitat’s ReStore.

As someone who’s refurbished and sold her share of houses, it was the perfect choice. “I have OCD tendencies,” she says with a grin. “ReStore has a section of doorknobs and locks. Every key, lock or component of a doorknob was in this section. And I thought, ‘If I’m trying to put a lock together, I’m going to need these parts, these parts and these parts.’

“So, I organized everything. If they were fully assembled, I left them alone. But then I took all the screws that were scattered here and there and organized them.”

The manager said no one had ever taken the time to do that. “Leave it to me,” Marcus says, shrugging.

The experience left Marcus with a warm glow and reminded her of what it feels like to be a part of something altruistic. “While living in Putnam County, I was a volunteer fireman for more than a decade,” she says. “I’ve missed giving back.”

Raised on a dairy farm, Marcus also has a heart for animals. She once owned and cared for a dozen mules, two dogs and “a ton of cats.” She and her father also nursed injured wild animals back to health, including deer (with the blessing of the local game warden), a skunk, an owl, a pigeon and more.

Her current animal brood includes two dogs: Demi and Enzo.

The humans in Marcus’ life include a son, a daughter and a granddaughter. When she’s not spending time with them or working, she enjoys reading and cross stich.

The girl who liked trying new things is still a part of Marcus, as well. When her daughter presented her with tote bags full of athletic shirts from her days playing sports at Tennessee Tech, she decided to learn how make a quilt out of them.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained could be Marcus’ motto. And she feels fortunate that her endeavor selling lake homes has given her a niche she enjoys. “Just look at where I work,” she says, casting a glance across the smooth waters of Chickamauga Lake.

While the vista is beautiful, Marcus is also drawn to helping others solve their problems. To that end, she encourages people who are trying to sell a lake property on their own to call her.

“Let me make sure you have the right contracts,” she says. “If you’ve already signed with an agent, I’m not going to intrude on that, but if you have questions, call me.

“This is what I do – and I love it.”