In 2005, Iris Rodger was living a productive life. Although single, she owned a home and a car and was the head of an adolescent psychiatric hospital in Chattanooga. In her mind, she says, she was doing well.
Then a thunderclap announced the sudden arrival of a storm. Without the forewarning of gathering clouds, Rodger’s employer laid her off to lower costs. She still owned her home and car, but she no longer had a job.
Rodger, now 47, remembers a single, pressing notion taking charge of her thoughts: “I needed to succeed,” she says through lips that have tightened from the memory. “I had no choice. But I was on my own.”
Then a possible path to the success she believed was paramount materialized like a trail out of a knotty forest: real estate.
“My father, Don Thornberry, was a Realtor in Nashville,” Rodger recalls. “He’d take me to the Christmas parties at his office, and I’d see fancy people wearing fancy clothes and driving fancy cars, and I thought, ‘There’s something to this.’”
As Rodger regained her balance, she realized she’d been ready for a turn of page. A Nashville native, she’d moved to Chattanooga to study psychology at its namesake university and, like many of her fellow transplants, had fallen under the spell the city casts on unsuspecting travelers.
After earning a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, Rodger had made Chattanooga her home. In time, the stress of running an inpatient facility and overseeing a foster care program had started to wear on her, but she counted her blessings, she says, and never considered changing careers.
Then “God intervened,” Rodger continues, and she seized the moment with all of her faculties. “I didn’t turn on my TV for six months,” she remembers. “Switching from salary to commission was scary, so I spent all my spare time reading every book about real estate I could find.”
Here, Rodger gives credit to another entity she says had a hand in altering her trajectory: her brokerage, Keller Williams Greater Downtown Realty.
“There’s more to real estate than showing houses,” Rodger explains. “Keller Williams taught me how to start a business, read financial documents and do taxes. I learned how to be a business owner.”
As Rodger moves from discussing her history to painting a picture of her real estate career, she picks up her pace like a horse shifting from a trot to a gallop. Sentences burst out of her fully formed, even as she appears to be preparing her next set of words, and her expression brightens.
“Real estate fit me better,” she says, “and I fell in love with it. A person’s home and their money are very personal to them, so it’s a privilege to take their hand as I dive into their finances, explain their options to them and then tell them what they’re going to make from the sale of their home.”
The word “home” changed meaning to Rodger as she gathered steam in the business. Beginning with the people in her immediate sphere, she hit the ground running. By the end of her first year, she’d paid off her student loans from graduate school and was eyeing her first investment home.
In time, “home” came to mean more to Rodger than the roof under which she lived and would someday raise children; it was a brickwork of wealth for families.
“The clients who stand out to me today are the ones who are building wealth through homeownership. Changing their financial future thrills me, whether it’s helping them to flip a house or buy a rental and lining up the subcontractors they need to make that happen. I love to help build people wealth for themselves and their children.”
If Rodger’s buyers or sellers need inspiration, they could attend one of the weekend pool parties she and her husband of 15 years, Ronnie, host for friends and clients at their home. Her family’s aquatic playground could easily accommodate a couple dozen swimmers, many of which would likely use the long, curving slide at the pool’s side to enter the cooling water.
Rodger is seated at the largest of the three desks in her office, a tall room located at the front of her ample house. She and Ronnie built the brown stucco and brick Mediterranean-style residence 10 years ago, picking everything from the Spanish-style roof that caps the facade to the high arches that outline the front porch and define the door and windows that border the second-floor patio.
Beyond the porch, an attractive patch of evergreens and blooming bushes nestles a circular concrete driveaway that takes visiting vehicles past the entrance, giving Rodger and her husband a spot of manicured nature to appreciate as they drink coffee, read the Bible and play a game of Wordle each morning.
Should they wish for a larger view, they can move to the backyard, which bumps up against a sprawling view of Tennessee forest. Rodger doesn’t just sell curb appeal; she also lives it.
Given this, it’s no wonder she likes to work from home – despite its distractions. Her office has three doors – one that exits to the porch and two of the glass variety that inadequately share the task of concealing the bustle in the house.
Her two daughters, ages 9 and 12, fire up a blender in the nearby kitchen. Perhaps to escape the whir of the appliance, a pint-sized Papillon named Nugget noses his way into the office through the double doors and wags his tail.
Rodger smiles at him and jokes that she’s counting the days until classes begin at Boyd Buchanan, where her daughters attend school.
“Working from home is difficult,” she says, still at a full gallop. “There’s a lot of noise, and I’m on lunch duty. Thankfully, we have a nanny who helps us part-time.”
While Rodger’s work is demanding – a constant stream of phone calls and emails keeps her phone humming during and after business hours – she’s only as busy as she wants to be. Instead of burning the proverbial candle at both ends, and then finding new ends to burn so she can grab a lioness’ share of the market, she sells about 75 houses a year and works almost exclusively with past clients and referrals.
These self-imposed limits free Rodger from the rigors of advertising in a competitive market and allow her to focus on her clients and rental properties, which now number one shy of a dozen.
“I prefer to build relationships with people,” Rodger clarifies. “You’ll never see me on a billboard or in a TV commercial. I don’t advertise on the radio or in magazines, either. I have all the business I want.”
Rodger also tailored the size of her real estate team to suit her needs. Consisting of buyer’s agent and contract-to-close coordinator Haylee Hughes (see “Best-laid plans lead to real estate,” page 11, an administrative assistant and her husband, who shows houses, Rodger’s entourage shoulders the responsibilities that would keep her from focusing on her passion – interacting with clients.
“Buying or selling a home can be stressful. Clients often have to deal with repairs and money issues and contracts falling through, and sometimes, death and divorce and babies are involved. I feel like I’m good at holding people’s hands and reassuring them that we can make it happen.”
As with her roster of clients, Rodger has no desire to grow her team. Rather, she wants to be free to harvest the fruits of the meticulously fine-tuned equilibrium she’s achieved between family, friends and work.
“I don’t want supervise more people,” she laughs. “I like where we are. We love having the freedom to play with our kids and go on vacation, so we’re in a happy spot.”
While Rodger says she’s grateful for the annual sales, her ample house and the trips she takes, she insists the people in her life – her husband and children, her friends at Clear Creek Church of Christ and her family of clients – are the true fruits of her labor.
“I sleep well at night because I run, run, run all the time,” Rodger says as she leaves her office through the door that opens to her front porch and begins to walk toward the fence that encloses her backyard. “But I’m blessed.”
Roger stops at the fence, looks toward her pool – which is gathering sparkles of summer sun for another weekend party – and is silent. For the moment, she’s simply breathing and taking it in.
It’s 2023, Rodger says, and she’s living her best life.