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Front Page - Friday, August 16, 2013

Realtor balances work, single-motherhood with grace

Buyers agent Melissa Dorn is geared toward meeting the needs of others. Her clients are looking for the perfect home in the perfect location at the perfect price, and during her ten years in real estate, she’s become very good at finding those things. But there’s another person whose needs are even more important to Dorn: her daughter, Lilah.

An active teen with an interest in “everything,” Lilah participates in soccer, track, chorus, and more.

Remarkably, Dorn never misses an appointment with a client, and rarely misses an activity in which her daughter is participating. “Me being there is important because it’s just the two of us,” she says as she takes in the view of a pleasant day from the terrace of Whole Foods, one of her favorite places in her North Shore neighborhood.

For Dorn, the key to success on both fronts is organization. Meetings with clients are planned in advance so there are the fewest possible overlaps with her daughter’s schedule, and last minute changes are kept to a minimum. She also makes the most of the time available to her, meaning nights and weekends are not always for relaxation, but for taking care of her clients. Dorn calls her life “a balancing act,” but believes she’s become good at it.

“Most of my clients love me,” she says, a bright smile splitting her face. “I click with nearly everyone, and have never had a client who said they wouldn’t give me a referral.”

As the buyers representative for Todd Henon’s real estate team at Keller Williams, Dorn receives enough referrals to keep her moving, and stirs up her own business as well. She’s licensed in Tennessee and Georgia, and loves working with first-time homebuyers and people moving to Chattanooga.

“I love guiding first-time homebuyers through the process. Sometimes, you have to hold their hands and reassure them that, yes, the process can be crazy, but things will work out. You have to be the eye in the storm,” she says.

An outgoing and sociable person, Dorn also enjoys teaching people who are “new to Chatt” about her hometown, including the parks, the museums, and the restaurants. “We have an incredible city,” she says. “The activities, festivals, and charity events that go on here always surprise my buyers who are relocating here. I love showing them what Chattanooga has going on.”

Having lived in Chattanooga most of her life, Dorn certainly makes a good pitch person for the Scenic City. She remembers when Ooltewah, where she grew up, was mostly cow fields, and when Big River Grille downtown was an old, brick bus barn. Today, she spends her free time taking her daughter to art shows, going to the movies, and strolling and shopping along the streets of North Shore. “We have so many locally owned and operated businesses here, it’s easy to eat and shop local,” she says. “Chattanooga has one of the best urban scenes in the South.”

Before Dorn sold real estate locally, she traveled globally. “I wanted to see the world,” she says. Time in Germany as an exchange student sparked an interest in travel, so Dorn went everywhere she could: Switzerland, Belgium, Lichtenstein, Mexico, Jamaica, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and more. She grins as she recalls selling cruise packages to clubs and organizations, and then getting to tag along for free. Even though Dorn has been more places than most people visit in a lifetime, there are even more places she wants to see but hasn’t.

Dorn also got married, which led to nearly a decade in Atlanta. She and her husband at the time moved there so he could attend graduate school, but then stayed. While in Atlanta, Dorn worked a variety of sales jobs, broke into film and television acting, and helped to raise her stepson. Then, in 1999, she got pregnant with her daughter.

That’s when real estate entered the picture.

“My love of real estate started when I was dating a guy in Florida who was into investing and selling,” Dorn says. “We’d look at houses, then he’d buy them off the courthouse steps, renovate them, and resell them. I loved that process.”

Dorn remembered that experience ten years later, and thought about how a career in real estate would work well with her responsibilities as a parent. But she didn’t become a Realtor while in Atlanta; rather, she and her husband returned to Chattanooga to be close to family.

Two events then changed Dorn’s life forever: she and her husband divorced, and she started her career in real estate. She’s happy to discuss the latter.

“I loved it. I’m a people person, not a desk person. I need to be interacting with others and meeting new people, and that’s a big part of my job as a Realtor. Most of the time, I hit it off well with my clients. I love hearing their stories and getting to know them,” she says.

Dorn’s first year went great, then the bottom fell out of the market. But she found a way to bounce back.

“I heard through the grapevine that Todd had moved to Keller Williams and was looking for a buyers agent,” she says. “For my first six years as a Realtor, I had done both sides. I preferred working with buyers, though; listing was more about meetings and paperwork, and that wasn’t my thing. So I met with Todd, and we worked it out. It’s been great since day one.”

Real estate has been harder than Dorn imagined it would be, but it’s also been more rewarding. It enables her to make the money she needs to support her daughter, and it allows her to do what she loves while staying active in her daughter’s life. “I’ve made many new friends, and I feel like I’m being a good example for Lilah by working hard and making a career for myself. It’s a great feeling.”