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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, March 6, 2020

From health care to helping homebuyers


Watkins finally finds her home at Keller Williams



The only girl among six siblings, Latoya Watkins grew up a rough-and-tumble tomboy in Chattanooga’s St. Elmo neighborhood. By the time she arrived at Lookout Valley High School, she was ready to take on anyone.

“I was tough,” she says. “I had five brothers, so I had to be.”

Lookout Valley softened Watkins, though. “I was welcomed by loving, caring people,” she remembers. “That changed me. It made me more loving and caring and understanding of others.”

With her mindset transformed, Watkins channeled her teenage vigor into basketball, cheerleading and other activities. As her popularity at Lookout Valley grew, she also broke racial barriers, becoming the school’s first black cheerleader, first black candidate for homecoming queen and first senior class treasurer.

“That taught me to just go for whatever I want to do,” she says.

Emboldened by her growth in high school, Watkins pursued an associate degree in criminal justice from Chattanooga State Community College. However, she learned some goals are not easily reached when she was unable to secure work in the field.

Undeterred, Watkins became a certified nursing assistant and took a job with NHC HealthCare, a nursing home in Chattanooga. “I became a nursing assistant because I knew I’d always have a job,” Watkins says.

Four years later, a head nurse at NHC suggested Watkins attend nursing school. Watkins followed the woman’s advice and returned to Chattanooga State, but when it was time for her take the nursing boards, she froze.

“In nursing, lives are at stake, so I wanted to get every question right. But I became anxious and didn’t pass,” she admits.

Watkins was devastated but discovered something important: She learns by doing, not reading. While working as a nurse, she easily picked up skills and absorbed information, but when she tried to study a book and take a test, she hit a brick wall.

“I’m a visual learner,” she explains. “If you want to teach me how to do something, you have to show me, not tell me.”

In keeping with this trait, Watkins talks with her hands, arms and facial expressions as much as she does her words. She moves constantly as she speaks, her hands weaving through the air and occasionally stopping on a dime to punctuate a point.

This quirk comes naturally to her, she says, and was reinforced by the restorative nature of her nursing work.

Even Watkins’ shoulders join in. If music were playing, she’d be just a few degrees shy of dancing.

As Watkins moved forward with a deeper understanding of herself, she set her sights on a new objective: a career in real estate.

“I had thought about investing in property early in life, but I wound up focusing on nursing instead,” she says. “As I grew older, I began to reconsider real estate. I liked the idea of being independent and helping someone find a home.

“I also wanted to make good money,” she says with a grin.

Although Watkins applied herself while taking classes at Success Real Estate School on Gunbarrel, her encounter with test anxiety loomed over her as the day for the real estate exam approached.

“I kept thinking about how I had failed the nursing boards,” she acknowledges. “But I also kept reminding myself that I had grown mentally. That helped me to relax and be confident.”

As Watkins sat down to take the test, she told herself failure was not an option. “I said, ‘You’re banking on this.’ I wanted to be a success and impact people in a positive way.”

Watkins smiles again as she remembers the moment she learned she had passed. She then holds her expression as she discusses her reason for placing her license with Keller Williams Chattanooga East on Premiere Drive.

“I interviewed several brokers, but I was drawn to the feel of this office. It’s like a loving family,” Watkins says. “If I wasn’t selling real estate, I’d still want to be here every day.”

After settling in, Watkins immersed herself in training courses and even completed BOLD, a Keller Williams program that conditions agents with mindset exercises, business-building strategies and lead generation activities.

Watkins then tapped into her network of friends, family and co-workers to locate and start serving clients. Her first completed transaction involved finding a home for a fellow nurse.

Watkins soon noticed real estate was changing her. Although she had worked in nursing for several years, she had not overcome her natural shyness when meeting someone for the first time. But her training at KW had empowered her to begin knocking on doors, and it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as she initially thought it would be.

“Now I’d rather meet someone face-to-face than talk with them on the phone,” she says. “When we’re on the phone, it’s easy for you to reject me. But when we talk in person, I can show you who I am.”

Keller Williams Realtor Lisa Padgett says Watkins is dedicated, compassionate and hardworking. “Latoya is committed to her career and strives to bring her compassion for people to every aspect of the client experience,” she says. “She’s also positive and upbeat in everything she does.”

Kathy Love, the market center administrator for Keller Williams Chattanooga East, says Watkins is “a breath of fresh air.”

“Her candor and sincerity have won her many fans,” Love notes. “She’s building a great reputation.”

Watkins calls herself vibrant, fun and – once she gets to know someone – silly. “I feel like I belong in Hollywood,” she says with a laugh. “I want to enjoy life without worrying about money and expenses. I want to make it to the top so I can bring other people with me.”

The individuals Watkins wants to elevate include first-time buyers who say they are not financially ready to purchase a house. “I like showing them they are,” Watkins says. “When they’re not, I try to get them there.”

They also include Watkins’ family at Keller Williams Chattanooga East. Love says Watkins epitomizes the company’s culture as a member of its Wellness Team (Keller Williams Wellness Teams encourage associates to live balanced and healthy lifestyles) and a volunteer for all of its charitable efforts, including KW Red Day and MLK Day of Service.

Finally, Watkins wants to lift up her sons – Kaylen, 9, and Kayden, 7. The boys are her top priority and the biggest reason she works as hard as she does.

As a single parent and a sports mom, Watkins says some days are harder than others, but at the end of every day, her children are her greatest joy.

Like other Realtors, Watkins is focused on building tomorrow, whether that involves selling a client a house that will become a home, growing her business or raising her sons. Real estate is simply one of the tools Watkins is using to build her tomorrow, which she hope will include opening an adult day care.

“When I worked in a nursing home, I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted to do,” she says. “My adult day care will start off small so I can help everyone feel at home and give each person one-on-one care.

“I want to do their hair, cook barbecue together and garden with them. I want to give everyone the attention they need.”

Once Watkins has established her first adult day care, she hopes to expand the concept to more locations. She says the key to making this and other goals happen is real estate.

“Real estate is opening doors for me,” she says. “I’m using it to build my future.”