Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 6, 2023

No haunted houses in Roberts’ listing

But he does have a side job sure to scare you away

Chris Roberts is a Realtor with Realty ONE Group Experts in Cleveland. The tattoo on his right arm is a replica of a sign his great-grandfather hung at his produce stand in the 1920s. - Photos provided

Although moonlighting as a chainsaw-wielding maniac ranks low on the list of therapeutic outlets for Realtors, Chris Roberts has always been a little left of center, he laughs.

Or rather, cackles. Either way, it’s loud and cheerful, as though Roberts is inviting those within hearing range to join him. The same cannot be said for the sounds that envelop him as he arrives at his nighttime gig.

There’s more laughter, but it sounds like it boiled up in a fevered mind and then slipped through teeth made of sawblades. The sound mingles with bloodcurdling screams and spectral moans to weave a terrifying aural tapestry that could send a wayward soul scurrying back to church.

Roberts, however, grins and says, “I feel like I’m back with my peeps.”

He’s arrived in an aged Earth Fare T-shirt, khaki shorts, knee-high black and gray argyle socks and weathered black dress shoes, as if he’s going trick-or-treating as a suburban dad. “I couldn’t wear this for half the jobs I’ve had, but I can wear it here,” he says, laughing again.

“Here” is Dread Hollow, the annual haunted house attraction that’s already luring thrill seekers from across Chattanooga to its artfully morbid interiors. Roberts has taken a role that would make “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” villain Leatherface proud, and will soon swap his suburban dad wear for denim overalls and generous spatters of a red liquid that simulates the blood of his character’s unfortunate victims.

Roberts is going to have to stop smiling to be convincing, or at least twist his ever-present grin into something more sinister. Looking at him, one might feel that’s a task even the great thespian Laurence Olivier couldn’t master.

“I feel like I’m back in high school and college,” Roberts, 42, says of his early days in theater. “This is wicked fun.”

Robert says the same thing about being a Realtor. “My joy as an agent comes from creating a safe space for a client who’s about to make the biggest purchase of their life, making sure they understand the process and consoling them when they need me to.”

To fulfill his duties as a real estate agent, Roberts is part strategist, part educator and part therapist, he says. Only, unlike the stitched-together fragments of the Frankensteinian creature whose mournful groans are seeping through the cinderblock walls of the small room in which Roberts is sitting, the various pieces work together beautifully.

“I used to tell people I wanted to be a licensed clinic social worker because I love helping people. At the same time, I like being able to pay my bills. Real estate allows me to do both. I can’t image doing anything else.”

Roberts has already done other things. Many other things, in fact. Born in Bangor, Maine (the home of Stephen King, which can make one wonder what’s in the water there) to a family of restauranteurs, he grew up working in various eateries. His passion, however, was not food but music.

An all-state jazz drummer in high school, Roberts attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he says he quickly drowned in musicians whose talents far exceeded his. So, he switched to music production and engineering.

“I was trying to stay afloat in an ocean of amazing musicians,” he recalls. “So, I decided to focus on recording those amazing musicians.”

Although the music industry never became a lasting part of his life, Roberts says he learned an important life lesson while interning for sound recordist Jeff Largent, who’s known for his work on the films “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Specialist” and “Cutthroat Island.”

“We sat down at a mixing board that was the only one of its kind in the U.S. He hated it because it was super confusing. And he said, ‘I’m going to sit here while you take the lead on this project. I want you to try to figure it out before you ask me a question.’

“That’s how I do everything now. I try to figure it out first and then ask around, which might be seven times out of 10, but at least I tried. That had a big influence on me.”

Roberts was working for Sound Stage Studios in Nashville when his mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This prompted his return to Maine – as well as his reentry into the family business, he notes with a grunt that sounds like he’s carrying a stone that’s too heavy for him.

He opened a juice bar first and then a 35-seat vegan cafe. He launched the latter after being diagnosed with Lyme disease (he speculates a tick bit him while he was foraging for mushrooms in a wooded area) and finding no local restaurants that served the kind of food he needed to consume.

Roberts says the illness took a devastating toll on his health. “I saw around 25 specialists and, at one point, was taking about 40 pills a day,” he recalls. “When I’d wake up, I’d feel like I’d been awake for 72 hours straight.”

The Lyme disease also shattered Roberts’ ability to run a business. Although his health eventually improved, he’d already sold his restaurants by that point, so he moved to Tennessee to work as the prepared food department manager for Earth Fare in Hixson.

Other stops Roberts has made include a stint as the deli manager at a Publix, a season at Camping World in East Ridge and a homemade dog biscuit venture that attracted the attention of “Shark Tank.”

(Roberts declined to appear on the show because his contract would have required him to pay a percentage of his business’ revenues in perpetuity, regardless of whether or not he received funding from one of the sharks.)

Then came the day a former co-worker at Publix suggested he become a Realtor. “She thought I was good at making people feel comfortable,” he remembers. “That’s one of the most important things an agent does.”

After becoming licensed in February 2012, Roberts briefly worked with the woman – Cindy Rhoda of RE/MAX Experience in Cleveland – as a member of The Young Team and then switched to New Western Acquisitions, an investor-focused brokerage. A stretch with Mark Spain followed, after which Roberts landed at Realty ONE Group Experts.

As a residential agent licensed in Tennessee and Georgia, Roberts says he enjoys sitting down with potential clients and listening to them tell their story and describe what they hope to accomplish by buying or selling a home. “My favorite part of meeting a new client is listening to them explain how they fell in love with the house they now want, or need, to sell,” Roberts says.

Roberts appears to riding an emotional crest after suffering a debilitating setback, which brought on bouts of severe depression. At one point, he says he pondered “giving up,” as he believed he had nothing for which to live. Now he wants to turn his real estate business into a means of not just helping his clients but also serving his community.

Inspired by his current brokerage, which Roberts says fosters a culture of inclusivity, he’s set his eyes on Chattanooga Pride. “I’d love to known as an agent and a friend to the LGBTQ+ community. I want people of any creed, race, gender, sexual orientation or lifestyle to feel safe to be themselves during a transaction as significant as buying or selling a house,” he says.

As Roberts says this, a member of the Dread Hollow team opens the door and summons him to dress rehearsal. Sounds of the horrors that await him glide past a red-soaked lab coat and enter the room like harbingers of doom.

Unfazed, Roberts stands and offers a parting thought. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like the person I was in high school and college is still inside me. The people here (at Dread Hollow) have been very welcoming and helped me to rebuild my confidence. After years, I’m feeling like my old self – like the guy who didn’t care if he wore khaki shorts and argyle socks in public.”

Or denim overalls, spatters of fake blood and a devilish grin.