By David Laprad
“One of these days, I’d like to be a Realtor,” Teresa Groves, former executive director of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Chattanooga, said to herself in 1999. Earlier this year, after years of working on the fringes of the real estate industy, “one of these days” finally arrived.
The opportunity came in the form of an extended hand from Darlene Brown, managing broker of the downtown Chattanooga branch of Real Estate Partners (REP). Brown and Groves have known each other for over 30 years, giving Brown ample time to watch Groves in a variety of jobs, including as head of Homebuilders. The success Groves spearheaded at the association convinced Brown she’d be a great addition to her team.
“I knew Teresa would make a good Realtor because of her work ethic,” Brown says. “I watched her as she served Homebuilders, and was the driving force behind their growth and profitability. I watched the tireless effort she gave to the Home Show year after year. I knew this kind of commitment would make Teresa a success in real estate.”
For Groves, it was the right offer at the right time. “My children are grown and more or less self-sufficient,” she says. “It was a good time to make a career change.”
As Groves switched to REP, she left behind a legacy of nearly a dozen years with Homebuilders, most spent as the head of the organization. But she didn’t abandon the lessons she learned about the home industry. Rather, she intends to use this knowledge to help her clients find the right home.
“One of the things I learned while working at Homebuilders was that when an individual or a couple purchases a home, it’s usually the biggest purchase of their life,” Groves says. “That understanding will help me to focus on finding my clients the right house.”
Through the Remodelers Council at Homebuilders, Groves learned about the kinds of upgrades people can make to their existing homes to make them more attractive to buyers. She’ll be drawing on this knowledge as she markets the homes of her sellers.
“I ran into someone I know at an open house, and they wanted to know what to do to be able to sell their home,” Groves says. “That’s another aspect of my experience at Homebuilders I hope to use as a Realtor.”
Above all, though, Groves values the many professional and personal relationships she developed over her years with Homebuilders, and plans to maintain and draw on those relationships as she settles into her new line of work.
It’s a job that still feels like a new set of clothes, but one she’s quickly growing comfortable wearing. “It feels different,” she says, looking around the conference room at REP in which she’s seated, “but I’m still dealing with homes.”
Although Groves is no longer responsible for overseeing an entire organization, she is responsible for the success, or failure, of her one-person business. Realizing this, she’s holding fast to old habits, such as keeping office hours during the week.
“I come in every day. I try to be here by nine,” she says. “I could work from home, but I prefer to come in. This is a business, and I intend to treat it like one.”
Groves has always taken her primary role in life seriously, whether she was working full-time, or at home raising a family. She grew up Brainerd, and attended Woodmore Elementary, Dalewood Middle School, and Central High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in business accounting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Fresh out of college, she took a job at Provident (now Unum) as a statistical analyst for the actuaries. When her first child was born, she left Provident and worked part-time as a tax accountant so she could raise what would eventually be three childen with her husband, Charles.
In 1999, the Homebuilders offered Groves an accounting position. She took it. When the association’s executive director at the time, Barry Bennett, left, she took that job.
Groves didn’t keep it, though. In 2003, BBT offered Groves a position doing development and construction loans for local builders and developers. She accepted the job, but then returned to Homebuilders as executive director in 2007 when Julian Bale, left. This was in the early days of the mortgage crisis, when builders and developers were beginning to feel the first pangs of the downturn. Groves guided the association through that difficult time and to more prosperous days.
While Groves has a solid professional resume, people who have only known her as an accountant, or a lending agent, or an executive director have missed seeing the sides of her that paint a different picture of who she is as a whole. She’s more than a business person; she’s also a wife, mother, and community advocate.
Groves and her husband have been married for 30 years. Although she and Charles are both accountants by trade, each one of their children is pursuing a science-related career, with two of them entering the medical field. “We thought at least one of them would be an accountant, but they all chose a different path,” she says.
Groves believes in being civically engaged, and to that end is volunteering on the executive committee of Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, for which she serves as the treasurer. This has been a humbling experience for her. “I didn’t realize how much they do for the community until I agreed to serve on the board,” she says.
Even more interesting is the portrait of Groves that emerges during her off hours, when she enjoys boating, cooking, and gardening. “I love working in my yard,” she says. “I had three kids in three-and-a-half years, and at the end of the day, I couldn’t tell that I’d cleaned my house. But when I do yard work, it stays for a while.”
Groves is no lightweight, either. She recently put down 35 bags of mulch in a single evening. Her choice of flower this year: perennials. She likes the idea of a plant blossoming year after year.
She’s hoping to cultivate the same kind of relationships with her clients, who may purchase a family home from her one day, and then later return to her as empty nesters looking to downsize. As of the writing of this article, she has one buyer with a contract on a house, two listings, and a pending listing.
The change from Home Builders to REP appears to have given Groves new energy, and she’s looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead as she builds her business. Her career is no longer about what she might choose to do “one of these days,” but is about what she can make happen today, tomorrow, and the next day. And she couldn’t be more excited.