Dawn O’Neil-McRoy answers her phone and then immediately asks for a reprieve.
It’s her first day as the new managing broker at RE/MAX Renaissance Realtors in Hixson and she just arrived at work, home-baked blueberry muffins in tow.
“I have a lot of paperwork to do,” she pleads. “And I need to figure out what I’m doing.”
With that, O’Neil-McRoy says goodbye. When she returns the call that afternoon, she sounds more relaxed.
“The muffins were a hit,” she reports. “Now I’m writing notes to all of my agents asking if there’s anything they need. I want to give them the personal touch and let them know I care. With all the craziness going on in the world, people just want to know you’re there for them.”
O’Neil-McRoy brings more than baked goods to the office on this first day of a new chapter in her 17-year career in real estate. Her skillset also includes, for example, a flair for grassroots marketing that boosted her annual sales to $9 million when she was an agent at RE/MAX Properties (a sister company that resides under the same ownership as her new brokerage).
One year, O’Neil-McRoy placed about 50 Easter egg dye kits on the porches of people who had done transactions with her, and when a former client lost a pet on another occasion, she mailed them a sympathy card. In each case, she married her efforts to promote her business with her trademark personal touch.
“People want to know they matter to you,” she said in a 2021 interview with the Hamilton County Herald. “So, I try to love on the folks who have supported my business all these years and be there for them in their times of need.”
O’Neil-McRoy also brings a history of leadership to her new role – although this seems to come as a surprise to her. From spearheading a Parent Teacher Association, to serving as a Girl Scouts troop leader, to become the children’s ministry director at the church she attends, O’Neil-McRoy has either sought out or naturally risen into many positions of leadership.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” she says. “Maybe I’m a control freak.”
As she frets over the question if whether or not she feels compelled to lead, it comforts her to remember that the owner of RE/MAX Properties, Frances Vantrease, asked her to be managing broker.
Not only that, but O’Neil-McRoy initially turned down the job.
“I said, ‘There must be better people out there for the job than me,’” she recalls. “But [Frances] ... was persistent. She said she loved my energy and thought I’d be able to make a difference.”
The last month has been a whirlwind of preparation. After taking the 30-hour broker’s course and traveling to Nashville to take the test, O’Neil-McRoy found herself in her car, driving to work to begin her first day.
“I kept thinking, ‘When did this happen?’” she laughs.
Although O’Neil-McRoy has veered from agent to managing broker with neck-snapping speed, she says several real estate leaders spent years preparing her for this moment.
“I’ve had wonderful brokers who made a huge impact on me,” she begins. “When I was a new agent, Sheila Shipley at Remax Properties North worked with me to find the answers to my questions instead of hand feeding me the solutions. That was a great way to learn the business.
“We’d dive into the paperwork for a transaction and discover a law that addressed the problem I was trying to resolve. She’d then encourage me to find out why the law existed.”
O’Neil-McRoy also benefited from knowing Realtor Sally McNulty, who at the time was an office manager with RE/MAX.
“She pushed me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to want more for myself and to think bigger than I was thinking.”
O’Neil-McRoy becomes a managing broker one day before her 54th birthday. More significantly, it comes a year after she wondered out loud what was next for her as her twin sons entered their twenties.
“What do you do after your kids grow up?” she asked at the time. “I need to figure that out.”
Parenthood was a big part of why O’Neil-McRoy became a Realtor. The ability to prioritize her children and to be present with them when they needed her was important to her, she says.
O’Neil-McRoy now has time to pour into a different family. She plans to begin by getting to know her agents, who total nearly 30, personally.
“I want to sit down with each one and learn about their family and their life outside of work and where I can help them improve their performance.”
O’Neil-McRoy also hopes to cultivate a small family atmosphere even as she grows the ranks of her branch. She says this will give agents who avoid larger brokerages and prefer to work within a more intimate environment another option for a business home.
“RE/MAX was small when I started with the company. We had prayer meetings on Mondays. Today, everything has to be huge. We have mega real estate offices with hundreds of agents. I want to keep things on a smaller scale and recruit agents who want to be a part of a family instead of being agent 278 of 300.”
Muffins and one-on-one time will surely help O’Neil-McRoy to establish the connections she desires – but they will go only so far in a business that has become fiercely competitive.
One potential sticking point is O’Neil-McRoy’s intent to continue representing buyers and sellers. This places her in the potentially knotty position of nurturing and leading agents against whom she’s competing.
O’Neil-McRoy isn’t worried about fallout but is trusting in the professionalism of her colleagues.
“There might be times when I make an offer on one of their properties or they make an offer on one of my properties and someone might feel bad when it doesn’t pan out, but that’s the nature of the business. Seasoned agents know this.
“If we keep everything on a fair playing field and lean on the Realtor Code of Ethics, then we’ll be able to work through those moments.”
O’Neil-McRoy is optimistic in the face of a challenging market. She says Hixson is growing by leaps and bounds and agents are scrambling to assist clients and stay afloat.
“Real estate has changed. It’s not that it isn’t fun any more but it isn’t fun anymore. We have to work hard. There was a time when we could plant a sign in a yard and collect a check but that’s not the way it is now. We’re running ourselves ragged and fighting over multiple offers and exhausting ourselves.”
Having learned to navigate challenges on her own, O’Neil-McRoy does have a plan. Part of it involves making her office more visible through outreach and “giving back” to the community, she says.
Another aspect of it includes the personal touch she keeps hammering home.
“I want my agents to know they matter to me and their business matters to me,” she says. “Everyone is someone and we’re going to work together to succeed. That’s what’s next for me.”