Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 5, 2023

Learning to be ‘businesspeople’

Mother, daughter work together to build strong firm

Beth Brock Dodson and her mother, Frances Vantrease, are the owners of RE/MAX Properties in Chattanooga and RE/MAX Renaissance in Hixson. They credit their success to their agents, who they say are the most important part of their company. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Frances Vantrease was freshly widowed in 1985 when she landed a job as manager of East Lake Courts, a public housing complex in Chattanooga.

“I hadn’t worked in 16 years and I needed a job,” she says. “So, I registered with a temp agency, which sent me to the Chattanooga Housing Authority.”

CHA made Vantrease manager of East Lake. One day during her seventh year in the position, a life-changing notion struck her as she was strolling through the community of more than 400 apartments.

“I thought, ‘I could sell these if they were for sale,’” recalls Vantrease, now 80. “I’d never sold anything, but I was ready for a change. I liked the apartments and the people who lived there, but my job was hard.”

“She also thought the tenants needed to stop renting an apartment and buy a house,” adds Beth Brock Dodson, Vantrease’s daughter.

Vantrease nods, indicating she and her daughter share the same memory.

After building her business at other brokerages, Vantrease moved to RE/MAX Properties in 1999 and then invited Dodson, an interior designer whose local business was floundering, to join her.

“There was something special about this company,” Vantrease remembers. “And I loved the idea of working with my daughter.”

“She also saw a great opportunity,” Dodson says. “Real estate is an even playing field – it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female – and the sky is the limit.”

Vantrease and Dodson rarely finish each others sentences but they do often add to each others thoughts, as Dodson has just done. They also frequently arrive at work wearing similar outfits without having consulted with one other, they say with a mutual laugh.

This morning, they’re both dressed from head to toe in angelic white. “We did not call each other,” Vantrease avows, raising her palms in conciliation. “This is us. We’ll go into a clothing store and come around a corner holding the same thing.”

Dodson answered when opportunity knocked and then did a lot of knocking of her own. Smartphones and the internet had not yet changed how real estate agents unearthed business, Vantrease says, so she and her daughter “had to find it the hard way.”

Dodson was new to home sales but was persistent. She smiles as she recalls landing her first listing after wearing down a man who was trying to sell his own house.

“He said, ‘If you promise to never call me again, I’ll list my house with you,’” Dodson says. “He was tired of me calling him, but I had to make a living.”

After Dodson and her mother sold the man’s house, he called them when his bride–to–be was ready to sell her house. Dodson and Vantrease then found the couple a house to buy together.

Mother and daughter proceeded in this manner for the next decade and built a robust business that survived the housing crash. However, as the dust from the downturn began to settle in 2011, they learned RE/MAX Properties faced an uncertain future.

Vantrease says she and her daughter were devastated. “We wanted to stay at RE/MAX. There was nowhere else we wanted to go.”

Dodson shed a lot of tears over the prospect of losing her professional home. In the end, however, the company remained open after her stepfather, Guy Vantrease, called her and said the three of them could buy the business if she’d stop crying.

“I thought he was kidding because he’d never gone out on a limb like that,” Dodson continues. “He’s an accountant and very conservative with money, but he saw how none of the agents at the company wanted to leave.”

After Vantrease and Dodson purchased RE/MAX Properties, they lost only one of 33 agents. But that doesn’t mean the waters they were suddenly navigating were smooth.

“Heavenly days, we weren’t businesspeople, we sold real estate,” Vantrease says. “But we had to learn how to be. For the first year, we paid the bills and wrote the checks. It was hard.”

Vantrease draws out the “h” in “hard” to emphasize the grueling nature of ownership. But it was worth the toll, she adds, to keep their work family together.

Today, Vantrease and Dodson have a roster of 86 “hard-working” agents, a second office in Hixson dubbed RE/MAX Renaissance and “the best managing brokers in the business,” they say. (The latter includes Dawn O’Neal at Renaissance and Jennifer Cooper at Properties.)

Together, this group of people sold enough homes in 2022 to make Vantrease and Dodson’s company the No. 3 RE/MAX firm in Tennessee in 2022.

Although proud of their chart–topping efforts, Vantrease and Dodson say their greatest accomplishment was the success of their agents.

“Our No. 1 goal is for our agents to thrive,” Dodson says. “And our agents are successful because of their efforts and the atmosphere (mom and I) create.”

As evidence, Vantrease tells the story of a call she received from the founder of RE/MAX, Dave Liniger.

“RE/MAX corporate sent a survey to our agents that asked if they were content working here. We never saw their answers, but (Dave) called us and said we were the No. 1 RE/MAX office in the country in terms of agent satisfaction. When he asked how we keep them happy, we told him we care about them.”

“I think it’s because we came from them,” Dodson chimes. “We weren’t always owners; we were agents first. And we’re still who they are.”

Vantrease and Dodson even attribute the growth of their agent count over the last 12 years to the people who hang their real estate license at their office.

“We don’t recruit much,” Dodson. “Instead, our agents recruit for us. They like working here so they tell people about us. Our growth happens naturally.”

Ultimately, Dodson says, their agents are the most important part of the company, so she and her mom do everything they can to ensure their satisfaction and success.

“We need them. We need them more than they need us, so we take care of them.”

Vantrease and Dodson are sitting at a large wooden table that’s anchored the conference room at RE/MAX Properties for years. As they talk, their memories of the other times they sat there flood back.

“We bought this building at this table,” Vantrease recalls.

As Dodson tells the story, she approached the company that was leasing the building about purchasing it. Having not received the memo about her penchant for persistence, the firm told her no. But when the owners of a neighboring business inquired about buying their space, the company changed its tune.

“I said, ‘We’d love to have it,’” Dodson says. “We love this building.”

Dodson goes on to reminisce about selling her best friend a house when she returned to Chattanooga after living elsewhere in Tennessee and then remembers she also sold her godson a house at the table.

Not all of their memories are fond recollections, though. Dodson says purchasing Renaissance in 2016 was one of the valleys she and her mom traversed because of the vastly different culture of that company. After losing most of its agents, Vantrease and Dodson bought a building in Hixson and started fresh.

There has also been occasional disagreement between mother and daughter.

“This business is hard,” Dodson confesses. “Being in business with someone is also hard. And when you combine ownership with family, it’s even more complicated.”

Thankfully, working with her mom has also been wonderful, Dodson continues.

“Nothing worthwhile is easy. So, it’s been difficult but also rewarding. And the rewards have far outweighed the complications.”

Dodson says the glue that’s held their partnership together during its toughest moments has been their differences.

“We see things differently. Mom is by–the–books and needs everything to be black and white, whereas gray areas don’t bother me. She’s also tougher than I am. That’s good because a business partnership needs balance.”

Their partnership has also benefited from their ability to find the middle ground when they disagree on a matter, Dodson adds. However, this flair for compromise is not on display as she and her mom verbally spar about Vantrease’s tendency to be a taskmaster.

“She always telling me what to do,” Dodson offers.

“I do make a lot of lists,” Vantrease admits. “And then she says, ‘We’re not going to do it that way; we’re going to do it this way.’”

Despite their rare difference of opinion, Vantrease and Dodson both agree they’ll continue to work together as long as they’re both able to sell real estate.

“Well, Beth says I should retire,” jokes Vantrease, who still works full-time as she approaches turning 81 May 13.

“I’ve never said that,” Dodson laughs. “I’ve said you should take a day off.”

“That would feel like retirement,” Vantrease replies.

“We just want to continue to come in and do our jobs every day,” Dodson says. “We love real estate and can’t image doing anything else.”