Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 22, 2023

Saying the quiet thing out loud

DeBusk spoke her future into existence, with a lot of hard work on the way

Makayla DeBusk is a Realtor with RE/MAX Properties. She says real estate has provided her with a firm financial foundation after a lifetime of money woes. - Photograph provided

In 2018, Makayla DeBusk sat in the driver’s seat of a white Volvo XC90 and told the vehicle it was pretty. She then said, “I’m going to take my family on vacation in you one day.”

Like a wild sapling aspiring to be a towering oak, DeBusk was looking up from her station in life. She’d come from roots as humble as the mottled grass outside the single-wide trailer in which she was living, and she’d always pinched pennies to make dimes, but as she sat in the seat of the spanking new luxury SUV, she elevated her vision beyond her circumstances.

Reared in Rhea County, Tennessee and living in Decatur, Tennessee, DeBusk was already reaching up. While facing a pay cut at an office job, she learned about a sales position at Long of Chattanooga, which sold Hyundais, Mercedes and Volvos. Her sales experience consisted of several failed ventures in multilevel marketing, and she’d never sold anything bigger than a purse, but the job promised more money than she’d ever made, so DeBusk hammered her way through a fortified wall of polite dismissals and unreturned phone calls and eventually found herself telling the general manager to give her the job.

He did. DeBusk then made him look as brilliant as a baseball scout who recruited the untested rookie of the year.

“I poured myself into that sales position,” DeBusk, 32, remembers. “I woke up at 5:00 in the morning, sent the kids to school before 8, was at the dealership by 9 and worked until we closed. That’s hard on a family. That’s hard in general.”

Then came the drizzly night a Jeep pulled into the dealership and a man stepped out and began to look at Volvos. DeBusk was the only salesperson at the dealership and she needed a commission, so she ventured into the rain and introduced herself.

The man was Hunter Denton, a Realtor with RE/MAX Properties. Since he was looking at Volvos, DeBusk assumed he was doing well and thought, “I need to earn a real estate license.”

“I wanted to have longer mornings with my kids. I wanted to pick them up after school. I didn’t want to work every Saturday,” DeBusk recalls. “I was missing out on life.”

The notion to become a Realtor existed as mist for a time. It then solidified when DeBusk sold a vehicle to one of the owners of RE/MAX Properties, Beth Dodson, and Dodson suggested DeBusk was in the wrong business.

“She spoke something into me in that moment,” DeBusk recalls. “I knew it was time to move in a new direction.”

This change in bearing was a long, slow turn rather than a hard right. DeBusk became a Realtor in 2020 but focused much of her attention on a cleaning business she’d started in 2019 after leaving Long following knee surgery. During her first year as a Realtor, she sold $290,000 worth of real estate as a buyer’s agent; although she doubled her volume in 2021, her commission was still well below what she’d envisioned it would be.

So, DeBusk shuttered her cleaning business and moved real estate to the front seat. “I’d made a commitment to my employees to grow the business so they’d have money coming in, and that took precedence over me doing what I wanted to do, which was real estate,” she says. “You can’t serve two masters, so I said, ‘I’m going to cut this off and struggle for a while.’”

As the sun rose on 2022, DeBusk started to run as hard and fast as she could in real estate. Discouragement crept in at the edges of her vision when January ended without a sale, but she caught her second wind when she landed her first listing as an agent in February.

“Pardon my French, but at that point, I said, ‘It’s time to haul ass,’” DeBusk laughs.

The added push paid off. As the sun set on 2022, DeBusk had tallied $8.1 million in sales. Even better, she’d had the time with her kids – a son and a daughter – she’d been missing.

“Even though there were evenings when I didn’t have dinner with my children, there were a lot of evenings when I did, and I’d gone without that for a long time,” DeBusk says. “I might have been dealing with a contract, but I was at home and helping my kids with their homework.”

DeBusk was also living the vision for her life she’d had since long before she’d told a white Volvo it was pretty. Although the vision took shape during the restless nights of a troubled youth, it wasn’t a dream; rather, it was an aspiration to live a life of means and to show others who grew up in circumstances similar to hers how to rise above them.

“I have the kind of childhood story you don’t want to hear,” DeBusk says. “I had no foundation of family. It was not a good upbringing.”

DeBusk’s parents never married. Instead, she says, her dad lived a life that twice afforded him an inside view of a jail cell, while her mother “searched for love in the wrong places,” she adds after pausing to find the softest possible combination of words.

This often left DeBusk in the care of her ailing grandmother, who did her best to provide her with a semblance of stability, DeBusk says.

“She was the reason I learned anything about Jesus. We’d sit at her table and fill notebook upon notebook upon notebook with Scripture. And she’d pray over me. From the time I could talk or maybe walk, I spent a lot of time with her.”

DeBusk’s mother and father split up when she was 8, leaving her without a home. Instead, she bounced from place to place and wondered if there was a point to taking off her shoes.

“I was the in-between kid,” she muses. “I’d be here, then I’d be there, then I’d eat dinner somewhere else. It was lonely.”

There were moments when DeBusk didn’t feel alone. She became captain of her middle school’s volleyball team after a friend convinced her to try out and then found herself tucked under the caring wings of her coaches, a pair of ladies who knew her background and insisted she had value in spite of it. DeBusk says she was a natural at the sport, and whenever she was on the court, life made sense and she was happy.

The games always ended, though, and DeBusk always returned to her sad circumstances. Still lacking a firm foundation at 15, she took a job as a dishwasher, ate her meals at the restaurant and bummed rides to get to work and then to wherever she was sleeping.

Near the end of high school, DeBusk felt the sand under her feet turn to bedrock when she started dating the young man who would become her husband. She and Cullen became engaged a year later, married 30 days after that and then became pregnant inside of six months.

Although DeBusk and her husband struggled financially as life rushed at them, between her marriage and the trailer in which they were living, DeBusk finally had a foundation. “Cullen has been a 50-year-old man since the day I met him. He’s known who he is, he’s known what he wants, and I know what to expect from him – and I love him for that. He’s a pillar in my life.”

Real estate has become a second pillar in DeBusk’s life and enabled her to put the money woes that plagued her since she was a child to bed.

“I’m no longer looking for something to fill a void in my heart,” she notes. “And I’m making the money we need as a family to breathe freely. I don’t need a million dollars; I just need breathing room.”

As the housing market stiffens with rising interest rates and low inventory, DeBusk is taking additional steps to secure an even more prosperous future. These include studying for her broker’s license, establishing a base of operations in her hometown and growing a team of agents.

Dodson and her mother, Frances Vantrese, who co-own RE/MAX Properties, purchased a building in Decatur where DeBusk is running a team suite under her broker, Jennifer Cooper. They took these steps to allow DeBusk to work close to home rather than driving to Chattanooga, Dodson explains.

“Makayla is thriving (in Decatur), and we wanted her to be able to cover the area she loves and spend more time with her clients rather than driving long distance. It’s working out well. We hope she grows her team and covers even more of that area.”

Despite DeBusk’s ongoing efforts to shoot for the stars, she’s eased off the gas enough to be able to focus more on her children. Although her vision for her life included providing well for her family, she says she remembers being lonely, and how the lack of an emotional foundation was more painful than not having a bed of her own.

“Do I need to repeat what I did last year? No. My goal in 2023 is to grab more time, because if I ... (die) tomorrow, what will I have to show for it? I don’t care about that as much as I care about my kids knowing I love them and I’m there for them.”

Life is better in other ways, too, DeBusk says. She and her mother have renewed their ties and are in constant contact, for starters. (DeBusk checks her phone to see if a recent ding indicated the arrival of a text from her mother. It had.)

What’s more, although DeBusk and her family still live in the trailer, they’re on family land where her husband helps his dad farm 600 acres of hay. She and Cullen hope to build a home someday, but she says that part of her vision still seems out of reach.

“God has been telling me my vision isn’t big enough,” DeBusk smiles. “I should probably start listening.”

DeBusk has also purchased a brand-new Volvo VX 90. And, she adds with a grin, she’s taken her family on vacation in it. “It was nice to unwind with the people I love and just be,” she says of her family’s excursion to Destin, Florida.

As part of the next chapter of her life, DeBusk says she wants to share her story with others who have roots similar to hers in an effort to encourage them to reach up.

“I don’t want to be a victim of the things that have taken place in my life; I want to be someone who says, ‘That was awful. Let’s not do it again,’ and, ‘Here’s what I learned through that process.’

“I want to encourage the young kid who feels alone to believe that what they have in their heart can come to pass. It’s there for a reason; it’s there because we’re all called to do something. So, take charge and go after what you want.”