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Front Page - Friday, May 13, 2022

Mom’s influence undeniable for Catlett


Jennifer Catlett says she’s just a little Ringgold girl.

But this modest and unassuming native of the small Georgia town that has been her home since birth is anything but little when it comes to real estate.

Catlett, 36, has been the lead agent at Crye-Leike’s Ft. Oglethorpe office since becoming a Realtor in 2017 and is one of the company’s top 10 solo agents in the Chattanooga area.

But she attributes even those achievements to her small-town roots and the business those ties have enabled.

Talking with Catlett involves less chitchat about buying and selling homes than one might expect and more emphasis on family and community.

Here, she discusses the impact her mother had on her life and the different communities of people who make Ringgold a place she’ll never outgrow.

We spoke with your brother [Chris Payne] in February and he said good things about your mother and growing up in Ringgold.

“My mom is a very special person. She’s sweet but also strong. And she’s meek but also a momma bear. Over the years, I’ve watched her give and give and give and people take and take and take, but that’s who she is. She loves helping others. She’ll literally give you her last dollar.”

You must have seen the momma bear aspect of her character as you were growing up.

“My [biological] ... father is an alcoholic and eventually moved away. My mom worked several jobs to provide for us and did everything she could do to take care of my brother and me emotionally and mentally. She’d take us to the discounted Christian skate night at the roller-skating rink or to the duck pond just to help us keep our innocence after going through a bad divorce.”

Are you like your mother?

“She was raised to be demure and quiet. I’m a little more sassy and direct. She instilled me with more girl power, which she might have regretted during my teenage years. But now I have a redheaded daughter who’s 13, so I’m going to pay for the way I was.”

You do have your mother’s tendency to help others, so perhaps there’s an opportunity for redemption.

“Maybe! After I became a mom, I became involved in a lot of community projects. We did everything from helping with school events to assisting cancer patients. I enjoyed that, whether we were going to a pet rescue event or building a wheelchair ramp for someone who had diabetes and had lost a limb. I was very passionate about being involved with different organizations.”

Some people focus their volunteer efforts on large nonprofits. Why did you focus on smaller projects?

“I feel like you can’t make as big of an impact or develop close relationships if you become involved with a bigger organization. Maybe that’s part of my small-town mentality.”

Were there other influences in your life as you were growing up?

“My mom remarried when I was 14. He [Ed Vickery] stepped up when he didn’t have to and even walked me down the aisle when I married. He let me know there was a man in my life who cared about me, which played a big role in my development. He’s in law enforcement, so I knew a lot of police officers growing up. They all kept an eye on me and gave me a look if they thought I was stepping out of line.”

A lot of young people leave their hometown after growing up. What kept you in Ringgold?

“Oh, I wanted to leave. I was going to escape my small town and move to Chicago. But I don’t think I’ll ever leave. This is my home. So many folks have my back if I need anything. The people here will rally behind a cancer patient at the snap of a finger. They’ll host a gospel benefit and the local judge will be the one to sing. When downtown Ringgold flooded a couple of years ago, the mayor helped to mop the floors. You won’t see that in a bigger town.”

Are you saying you prefer Ringgold to Chattanooga?

“Not at all. I love North Georgia but I love Chattanooga, as well. People are still moving here because of everything we offer. We have mountains, great weather and hiking, but also chill stuff like boating. I have a lot of clients who are moving south but stopping here versus relocating to Florida. They just like it here.”

Being embedded in a community all your life is a great way for a Realtor to build a sphere of influence. Has this helped you?

“Eighty percent of my business is either referrals or repeat business. A lot of people also find me online and call me after reading my reviews. And a lot of them have said I was the first agent who answered their phone.”

So no laidback small-town lack of urgency.

“No! I’ve always had a sense of urgency with my clients. I don’t like to even let them wait hours, let alone days, to hear back from me. I want them to know they’re important to me.”

Why did you become a Realtor?

“I was in the insurance business when Cindy Nabors, an amazing Realtor, told me I’d be great in real estate. She said she loved my personality. I love being positive and having fun and enjoying life, but Cindy is a ball of sunshine. When she enters a room, she lights it up. When I step into a room, I’m more reserved and I like to feel it out first. So she took me under her wing like a mother duck. She let me sit in on her closings and went on listing appointments with me. She led the way.”

You did well out of the gate.

“I did $6 million in sales my rookie year. And they weren’t million-dollar homes, either; they were $50,000 investment properties. I’ve always been thankful for the business I have and am more than willing to go the extra mile for my clients.”

Do you have a story about going the extra mile for a client?

“A lady at church referred a client to me who had an estate sale. Her mother and brother had passed away, so it was very emotional for her. I sold her mom’s house – a little brick house with a mother-in-law suite in the basement – for $120,000. It had some issues so we had to sell it as-is but it was a struggle because the power had been turned off and she was out of town. I paid the bill so we could move forward. Since then, I’ve sold several more houses for her, including a $2.4 million lake house.”

You mentioned being sassier than your mother. Do you have a story that can illustrate this part of your personality?

“I don’t try to push people into things they don’t want but I will tell them what I think. I had a client with a toddler and another baby on the way and I knew something was wrong with the house she wanted to buy. I could see someone had dug around the foundation. So I told the inspector to be thorough. Seventy percent of the foundation was rotted. That’s my bluntness but it comes from a good place. I’m not a pushy salesperson, I’m just not happy unless my client is happy and gets a good deal.”

How else can a Realtor with small town roots benefit a client?

“Every transaction has some kind of issue, whether it’s the roof or the plumbing, and I have amazing local people in my pocket who can fix these things. They’ll take care of it in a day or two so we can close.”

What do you enjoy doing when you’re able to take time off?

“Nap! I also love sunshine and the ocean. Those things are my peace and my happiness. I also enjoy spending time with friends and having fun with my kids. We went to a lot of haunted houses at Halloween and have a lot of family and friends over.”

It sounds like you have more of your mother in you than you realize.

“OK, maybe I’m a little bit like her.”