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Front Page - Friday, December 21, 2018

Let someone else sweat the details? Not a chance

Maner likes to be in control, making her small Uptown Firm the perfect fit

Realtor Tara Maner likes to be in control. Evidence supporting this claim is visible in many of the corners in her life.

At Uptown Firm, the Chattanooga real estate boutique where Maner serves as principal broker, she handles tasks other brokers might be more than happy to turn over to an administrative assistant or two.

As a Realtor who continues to represent home buyers and sellers, she prefers to work alone rather than with a team.

And as a licensed civil engineer, Maner reviews her husband’s railroad designs before they go to a client.

Even the sleek lines and clean minimalism of the mid-century modern decor that defines her East Ridge home bear witness to her preference for control.

Maner, who’s 48, also has a friendly smile and relaxed posture, which no doubt places her agents at Uptown, her real estate clients, and possibly her husband, at ease as she fulfills the varied roles she’s taken on.

She employs the smile as she explains why the Realtor in her prefers working alone rather than with a team.

“We’re a small firm that offers very personal service,” she says. “We don’t have teams; we don’t pass our clients down an assembly line of people.

“When I sit down with a buyer or seller, I like telling them, ‘I’m the one you’ll be talking with from now until closing.’”

Maner says the personal connection she forms with a client while working through the process of buying or selling a home instills trust and comforts her buyer or seller. This can help when selling a home becomes emotional, as it sometimes does.

“I had a client who was very sentimental about the home she was selling, and it was hard for her to detach herself from it, so she appreciated the stability of having me constantly at her side,” Maner says. “She knew me, and I knew her, and that set her at ease.”

Maner couples her preference for control with a desire to keep her business concerns manageable.

At Uptown, both Maner and owner Gary Crowe are focused on gradual rather than explosive growth. The agent count at the firm currently stands at nine, with one waiting in the wings to join as 2019 unfolds.

At most, Maner is willing to add one or two agents a year.

“I want to be able to really get to know each agent and communicate with them on a regular basis,” she says. “And I’d like to keep doing everything I do now and not outsource any of my work or have an admin doing things for me.”

Maner also says she wants to keep the listing and selling side of her business manageable. With her business growing, this might require her to put a cap on the number of transactions she does in the coming years.

“I did about two dozen closings this year, which is comfortable for me. Anything beyond three dozen would be too much,” she says. “With 24 to 36 closings a year, I can give each of my clients personal service and cover everything in the way I need to.”

Maner doesn’t apologize for her approach to business. “I’m a detail-oriented person, and I have systems that I use,” she says. “I like to be the one that’s checking everything and is in control.”

When Maner was young, there were few persons around her to insist otherwise. She grew up an only child in an open stretch of undeveloped Ooltewah, where her only neighbors were the cows in the pastures that surrounded her home.

“Once, our car broke down, and my mom and I rode our riding lawn mower about a mile to a little gas station and convenience store,” she laughs.

Ooltewah finally started to take shape while Maner was in her teens. When she was 16, she secured a job at the Wendy’s, which appeared at the increasingly busy Ooltewah exit to give Hardee’s a run for the local fast food dollar. Maner also worked at the Little Debbie’s Bakery Store while in high school.

Although Maner grew up without siblings or neighbors, she was hardly unsociable. She fondly remembers joining the teen board at the now shuttered Loveman’s Department Store, which gave her the opportunity to dress up for holidays with other youth. “We did live modeling for different holidays,” she says. “I was one of Santa’s elves at Christmas.”

Still, Maner, who was a math and science whiz, was more than ready to expand her horizons as she graduated from high school and set her sights on the Georgia Institute of Technology. Although she intended to pursue a higher education, she was unsure what form that would take.

Maner initially had aspirations of becoming an interior designer, but her parents had discouraged that pursuit, thinking it involved “picking out pillows and curtains,” she says.

The closest relative to interior design she could find was architecture, so she applied as a major in that discipline, but when she visited the campus and saw the art skills required, she hit the brakes.

“I’m not artistic at all,” she says. “I don’t even doodle.”

So, Maner went with the closest thing she could find to architecture: civil engineering. Fortunately, it suited her gifted intellect well.

Maner realized she had a knack, if not a passion, for engineering while taking part in co-ops in Chattanooga and Atlanta. So, in the years that followed her graduation from college and her subsequent marriage, she stayed in the field as her husband’s job with Norfolk Southern Railroad regularly took them to a new city.

Maner’s specialty as a civil engineer was site development and design, or, as she puts it, designing the things no one sees.

When someone would build a building, she was the one who devised the grading (how the earth would be shaped), the underground utilities, the drainage system, the sidewalks, the parking and other things she says people don’t notice when they gaze at a beautiful structure.

Again, it wasn’t her passion, she says, but it was good work. “There were a lot of job opportunities and there was always something new to do, which I like. I grow bored easily.”

Maner and her husband, Robert, landed in Chattanooga in 2002 after he took an early retirement from Norfolk. Although he was only in his thirties, the company was scaling back, and Maner and her husband were tired of moving. What’s more, they had two sons who barely knew their grandparents.

Once settled, Maner and her husband decided they would both look for a job and whoever found employment first would be the one to work, while the other one would stay home with the boys. Maner was the first to come home with good news when she was hired by March Adams Engineering in Chattanooga.

“It was hard on Robert. He struggled, but we got through it,” Maner says. “It was good to reverse roles and have that experience; it made us appreciate each other more.”

Maner and her husband tested the mettle of their relationship in 2007 when they started a joint engineering venture focused on railroad design. Although empowered by their decision to work together, the recession that followed placed them on a financial rollercoaster that seemed to have no end.

After a particularly difficult year, they decided to continue operating their business but add another income and diversify their work. An idea soon struck Maner like a bolt of lightning.

“I’d always loved real estate. Everywhere we’d lived, I’d see a vacant house and think, ‘We should buy it and remodel it,’” she says. “I also liked looking at houses online and going to open houses, so people would approach me at church and ask if I could help them find a house. I wasn’t even a Realtor, but I’d send people listings.”

Maner finally monetized her hobby after she decided she was crazy to continue helping people for free. But she stuck only a toe into the warming waters instead of diving in. “I thought real estate would be a side gig,” she says.

For the first year, it was. Maner hung her license at Crye-Leike’s downtown location and worked part-time. Then came the day a home Crowe had remodeled in Maner’s favorite style (mid-century modern) hit the market. The quality of the renovation wowed her, so she pointed Crowe in the direction of a Dalton home she thought would benefit from his touch.

As they became acquainted, Maner decided she wanted to work for Crowe. Although he’d just hired another agent and wasn’t interesting in expanding further, Maner talked him into bringing her on, and in January 2015, she became part of the Uptown team.

Maner did well her first year, better her second year, and better still in 2018.

Last year, when Crowe decided to begin focusing on development, he asked Maner to be Uptown’s principal broker. Always one to do the math but never one to do it quickly, she spent several months in thought and prayer before saying yes.

Today, the amount of time Maner devotes to her two jobs has reversed: Instead of doing engineering full-time and a little real estate, she’s doing real estate full-time and a little engineering.

Although Maner avoids putting more than she can digest on her plate, she does enjoy new ventures, so in 2018, she checked two items off her real estate bucket list: she purchased and renovated her first investment property and she flipped her first house.

“My husband and I bought a rehab, and we did most of the work ourselves,” she says proudly. “I learned a lot during that process and can now help others who are looking to make a similar investment and need help calculating the rate of return, deciding what to rehab and finding and screening tenants.”

Maner’s dad purchased the house she flipped, but she walked him through the process and selected everything for the rehab. “We sold it for a profit, which not everybody does on their first renovation,” she says. “That was a great experience.”

Although Maner makes no bones about her penchant for control, she knows a marriage is a democracy. This is welcome news to her husband, with whom she will celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary in January.

“We’re best friends,” she smiles. “We work together; we play together. It’s a great relationship.”

Maner is also learning to let go as her two sons spread their wings and fly. Her 19-year-old, Sam, has already left the nest to study mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama. “We gave him the engineering gene,” Maner says. “He’s the kid that would pull an old vacuum out of someone’s trash and turn it into a scooter.”

Maner’s 17-year-old, Grant, is close behind. Although he’s still in high school, he’s taking advantage of the dual enrollment program at Chattanooga State that will also earn him his associate’s degree. He plans to attend classes at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he intends to earn a marketing degree.

“Both our boys are very passionate about their pursuits,” Maner continues. “Many kids their age don’t know what they want to do, but we’re blessed, as they both know exactly what they want to do, with no doubts whatsoever.”

Maner is also a big believer in giving back to her community. Here again, she chooses her causes carefully and doesn’t take on more than she can handle.

In addition to having taught children at East Ridge Presbyterian, the church she and Robert attend, Maner is a board member of the local affiliate of a national nonprofit called ACE Mentor Program, a mentoring program for high school students interested in architecture, construction, and engineering. Maner has also served as a mentor and president of the board.

Maner has such tight control of her schedule that she still has time left over to pursue personal interests. Her biggest passion continues to be mid-century modern furnishings, which she buys and sells (having remade her 1970’s ranch-style house into an Earth-bound version of “The Jetsons.”).

“I love the style of that era,” she says. “I’ll look at house listings online, and if I see a dining room table I like, I’ll call the agent and ask if the seller wants to sell it to me. Then I’ll go buy the furniture out of that house and resell it.”

At the end of the day, Maner might like to be in control, but she knows there are places in her life that call for and benefit from another voice.

That said, there are portions of her life over which she’s determined to maintain a firm grip.

This allows her to sleep at night – not because she’s getting her way, but because she knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she’s taking care of the people who come into her care.