Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 14, 2022

Business is looking up, finding new familiar face

Settles follows Hite’s lead to make name for herself in market

With well over 2,000 residential Realtors vying to stake a claim on a tight housing inventory, Melanie Settles wanted to stand out from the crowd. Then she decided to stand above it instead.

The source of inspiration was a memory from her days before she became a Realtor of seeing a local agent’s face plastered across billboards throughout Chattanooga. Everywhere Settles traveled, there was the ubiquitous Mark Hite, looking down from above, as if he was surveying his domain.

The sales and marketing graduate in Settles admired the brilliance of the campaign.

“Mark’s face was everywhere. So, when I thought of real estate, I thought of him. It was brilliant branding. Because he was everywhere, when someone asked me if I knew a real estate agent, I’d say, ‘Mark Hite.’

“So, I looked at Mark as someone whose footsteps I could follow.”

Settles is now on billboards across Chattanooga proper and beyond. From McCallie Avenue, to East Brainerd Road, to Interstate 75 North, she’s the one looking down from above, her smile capturing the eyes of travelers and her name hopefully registering in their memories.

As Settles marches across a bridge on McCallie to pose for a photo with her billboard there, she says the most important takeaway from her larger-than-life advertisement is not her email address or phone number – which she admits would be hard for drivers to memorize or scribble down as they pass the sign – but her name and face.

“Branding and marketing are two different things,” Settles explains. “You’re not necessarily saying ‘Call me,’ you’re branding your face. When someone passes by my billboard every day, they’re thinking, ‘Melanie Settles, Realtor.’”

This was the case with a recent client who encountered Settles’ name and face first on social media and then again as he drove past one of her billboards, she says. Her name firmly planted in his mind, he later called her and asked her to sell his house on Hurricane Creek.

Settles was happy to oblige.

Although Settles declines to reveal how much she’s investing in her billboards, she does say her return on her recent marketing efforts – which included a social media push she says boosted her followers by over 1,000 – exceeds the amount of money she’s invested.

Giving credit where credit is due, Settles praises her billboard sales rep, Vaughn Berger of Reagan Outdoor Advertising, for sage advice on sign placement.

“He didn’t just sell me the billboard space and disappear; he’s been actively involved in placement,” Settles says. “For example, he called me and told me there was a billboard opening up in Ooltewah and suggested I move one of my other billboards there.”

Long before Settles, 39, took a marketing cue from a fellow agent, she acquired a love for real estate from her father, Dr. Thomas Jefferson Brooks.

Although a medical doctor and the patriarch of a family of physicians (Settles’ mother, sister and brother are also doctors), Brooks also enjoyed flipping houses. When he saw the same interest blossom in Settles when she was 16, he began involving her in his endeavors.

Eventually, their portfolio of Chattanooga rentals include houses on Fortwood Street, Boylston Street and Brainerd Road.

Although Settles scored higher in science on standardized tests than any other subject, she didn’t want to become a medical doctor. Instead, she wanted to earn a business degree and become an entrepreneur.

Settles says her mother and father both encouraged her to follow her passion.

“My parents said, ‘If you want to become a basket weaver, then become the best basket weaver you can be.’ They were just as excited for me when I sold my first house as they were for my sister and brother when they got their white coats.”

Settles says her first hard lesson in real estate came when she was 18 and attending classes at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

After she’d spent the rental income she’d earned on school expenses, a tenant in Chattanooga informed her the HVAC unit in the house they were renting had malfunctioned.

When Settles told her father, he asked her how much she’d set side for such an occasion. Admitting she’d saved none of her proceeds was painful.

“I thought I could just collect the rent money and then spent it,” she says, laughing. “But nope.”

Before returning to Chattanooga, Settles married NFL player and McCallie School graduate Tawambi Settles and then spent several years hopping from city to city with him as he jumped from team to team. (She jokes it’s quicker to list the teams for which her husband didn’t play than the ones for which he did.) They were in Atlanta when he suggested they return to Chattanooga to raise a family.

Settles didn’t immediately transition into real estate, though. Eager to give free rein to her entrepreneurial spirit, she opened a clothing boutique on Frazier Avenue called MelRose Boutique in 2010. She bowed out five years later, however, when she saw Amazon looming larger and larger.

Still keen on calling her own shots, Settles earned her real estate license in 2015 and then hung her license at Keller Williams Realty Greater Downtown, where she remains to this day.

She says her sales and marketing background, as well as her ability to engage people on a personal level, have fueled her success.

In addition to capping each year, she’s also in the early stages of launching a real estate team – Melanie Settles Premiere Group.

“It’s time for me to take that step,” she notes. “I wanted to establish myself for five years first so I could learn to lead people correctly.”

To date, Settles has brought on three agents; she has plans to add two more within the next three months.

The further down the road Settles looks, the more expanded her vision for her team. She intends to deploy these stages as her three children, who are now 11, 7 and 4, grow older. Until then, she says she’ll be balancing work and family with her husband, the director of diversity and inclusion at Baylor School.

She’ll also be working out – extensively, if not obsessively.

“I love, love, love working out,” she gushes. “I could work out seven days a week. I have a dog just to have an excuse to walk every morning. It’s my time to relax, think and plan my day.”

Settles has even started a workout program for Realtors. Sessions take place each Wednesday at a different location.

“We worked out at VW last week. Next week, we’ll be on a path in Ooltewah. It’s a great way to start your day. It makes you feel good and ready to take whatever is ahead of you.”

Perhaps Settles will schedule one of her weekly workouts under one of her billboards. Then she’ll not only be leading her fellow agents through their exercises, she’ll also be looking down from above, as if she’s surveying her domain.