Growing up, Whitney Harvey tried nearly every sport and extracurricular activity available to children in Soddy Daisy. But whether she was learning to dance, playing soccer or twirling, nothing struck a chord with her, she says, and she often dropped out.
Then there was the day a 6-year-old Harvey clambered onto a horse during a family visit to Gatlinburg and fell in love. She knew she had a heart – she discovered it while spending most of her time awake outdoors – but when she mounted the moody mare, she says it felt like she discovered she also had a soul.
“I told my parents, ‘I want a horse!’” says Harvey, 28, replicating the enthusiastic burst of her original plea.
Given Harvey’s history of abandoned pursuits, her parents were leery of granting their daughter’s request. However, they did rent her a mare named Belle and housed her in a boarding barn, just to see if horses stuck.
Did they ever. Harvey not only started taking riding lessons, she kept taking them and rode Belle every day to perfect what she’d learned. She advanced at lightning speed in racking (a single-foot gait specific to a particular breed of horses) and was soon showing horses that belonged to other people, learning additional categories of competition and clearing shelves to make room for the trophies she’d won.
Before long, Harvey’s instructor was singing her praises to her parents.
“She said, ‘There are born riders and built riders. Your daughter is a born rider. She has a gift.’”
Not long after that, Harvey’s parents surprised her with the news that they’d purchased Belle for her. She was now a rider and an owner.
When Harvey reached the age of 18 and began taking classes at Chattanooga State Community College, history repeated itself as she tried to nail down a major. That is to say, Harvey tested more than a few academic waters.
Nuclear engineering came first. Although Harvey loved studying the history of the field, she discovered her innate talents did not include balancing chemical equations, so she switched to civil engineering, which was a night class. When her classmates arrived from work wearing suits and gripping brief cases, she knew she and her oversized T-shirt and leggings were out of their element.
“That was super intimidating,” Harvey recalls. “Also, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit at a desk all day.”
Sensing a familiar theme had reemerged in their daughter’s life, Harvey’s parents made a few well-intentioned suggestions. Mom thought Harvey would excel in eldercare due to her patient nature, while dad proposed she become a Realtor.
Surprised, Harvey asked why.
Dad said his daughter’s radiant personality and ability to easily engage people would serve her well in real estate. As Harvey sat in her first class at TREES, she silently thanked her father for his advice.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this,’” she gushes.
Harvey is now sitting on the steps leading up to the front porch of a Thatcher Crest Drive listing in Soddy Daisy. She dropped there after arriving in a molten pearl 2023 Lexus IS 500, parking curbside and stepping out of the car like a drop of sun that had obtained a license to drive and had a house to sell.
“I had the same car in a different color before May. My guy at Lexus was like, ‘Hey, do you want to trade in your car?’ And I was like, ‘If you can make the numbers work.’ I’ve had five of these cars. I like the resale.”
Harvey’s ability to connect with people evidently has served her well. However, unlike her natural genius for riding horses, she’s had to build her real estate business from the ground up, like the builders who erected the house that’s providing her with shade in the August heat.
Harvey was still 18 when she crossed the threshold at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Realty Center in Hixson, where some of the seasoned agents affectionately called her “little baby.” She later switched to Real Estate Partners, an independently owned local brokerage, to bolster her use of technology.
This was the key that unlocked the door to Harvey’s success (and her first Lexus). While serving on floor duty at the office, she’d search the listings of her fellow agents for houses that cost between $100,000 and $135,000 – a commonly sought price point at the time – and then ask the agents for permission to share their listings on her social media pages. The posts would include an offer a private showing.
“Realtors were just beginning to incorporate social media into their marketing, so very few agents were doing this at the time,” Harvey says. “I picked up a lot of clients this way.”
Those clients formed a pool from which Harvey now consistently draws referrals. One frequent fount of positive word-of-mouth is a couple whose impoverished background provided her with an opportunity to demonstrate that she possesses skills as an agent that cannot be taught.
Harvey met the couple at an open house after they emerged from the rubble of a Chapter 13 foreclosure. Cancer had brought about their financial collapse and was continuing to hound them in its wake, as “no one would give them the time of day,” Harvey says.
Harvey says she gave them the hours they needed and then some as she explained how someone with their history can indeed purchase a home and then guided them through the process. The stream of tears that flowed when they purchased a home nearly carried Harvey away, although the current paled in comparison to their gratitude when they sold the home two years later at a $200,000 profit.
“They were able to pay off their mortgage and build a dream home,” Harvey says.
Although Harvey’s clients were impressed, she was simply providing the knowledge and services every Realtor should, she says. She’d learned the basics well, but they were still the basics.
However, when the process of building the dream home morphed into a nightmare, Harvey tapped into a part of her that was there when she was born – the part of her that inspired her father to say, “You should become a Realtor.”
First, the lender informed the couple that they would need to bring an additional $50,000 to the closing table due to the bankruptcy. Then issues with the builder required them to pour an additional $20,000 into the construction of the home. When the couple imploded emotionally, Harvey canceled her day and met with the woman at their home to counsel her.
In the end, Harvey secured a downpayment of zero dollars (rather than $50,000) through a Veterans Affairs home loan and facilitated the return of the $20,000 in funds they’d spent on the construction of their home.
“I’d itemized every single thing they’d contributed and made sure they received every penny back at the closing table,” Harvey says. “If anyone ever gives me a bad review, they’ll go to bat for me.”
With a decade in real estate behind her, Harvey sees her profession as more than a means of supporting herself and funding her lifestyle; she also views it as a conduit to serving her community. To this end, she devoted part of her time to volunteering at Chattanooga Room in the Inn, a social services organization that assists women and children who are experiencing homelessness.
Her efforts included conceiving, organizing, promoting and hosting a fundraiser called Grace, Grit + Glitter this summer and then donating the proceeds to Room in the Inn.
“As a businesswoman, I give myself grace, I definitely have grit, and I like to have fun with my clients,” she says, explaining her thinking behind the name of the event, which raised $1,500.
Part of the proceeds included money from the sale of a wreath Harvey made from an artful explosion of pampas grass and hand-dyed flowers. As she searches her phone to find a photo of her creation, she flips past photos of dozens of additional wreaths she’s made as closing gifts for her clients.
It seems the woman who loves riding horses and selling houses also has a creative streak.
Harvey’s first love, however, continues to be her horses, which spend their days grazing a sun-kissed field between her parent’s house and the residence she built for herself on her family’s Soddy Daisy property. Among them are Ice, whom Harvey calls “the love of (her) life in animal form,” and Finn, a rescue who ambled onto her property one day as a bag of skin and bones and is now “as fat and sassy as horses come,” Harvey laughs.
When Harvey isn’t riding Ice, she can be spotted in her hand-painted Side by Side, bouncing across her property or another local sprawl of offroad terrain. She flipped her first four-wheeler at the age of 5 and has been riding ever since, she says.
Harvey’s priciest ride is waiting to take her to her next appointment, which is rapidly approaching. So, she stands, descends the stairs, slips into her molten pearl 2023 Lexus IS 500 and then makes short work of Thatcher Crest Drive, like a drop of sun that has a license to drive and houses to sell.