Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 13, 2023

Tough economic times push Barrott to new career in real estate

Sarah Barrott is a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty on Lee Highway. Becoming an agent helped to pull her and her family out of dire financial circumstances. - Photo by David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

“Why, God?” Sarah Barrott says she asked as she stood in the fierce churn of the financial hurricane that was battering her family’s stability. She hadn’t even bothered to look for the eye of the tempest, where she, her husband and their children could find relative calm, because she didn’t believe there was one.

The storm had arrived without warning. There was no distant rumble of thunder, only the unexpected opening of Barrott’s front door around noon on an otherwise sun-splashed day.

At least, this is the portrait Barrott paints of her family’s life before the cloudburst: She was a contented homemaker, he was an able provider and their three children were cheerfully growing up in Ooltewah where the family lived in its dream home in the Sunset Ridge subdivision.

“I’d always wanted to raise a family, so I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom,” says Barrott, 37. “We were in a great place in every aspect of life. We were financially solid, our marriage was strong, everything was wonderful.”

Tennessee weather can be unpredictable, though, and a stout wind can bring in a gust of rain that can dampen an otherwise pleasant afternoon. Likewise, Barrott was serenely cleaning her home on a weekday in 2018 when the front door opened and her husband, Rikel, entered their home looking like he’d stepped on a live wire.

“His eyes were huge,” Barrott recalls. “I asked, ‘Whatcha you doin’ home?’ and he said, ‘I don’t have a truck or a phone, so they dropped me off.’”

This was Rikel’s way of telling Barrott he’d lost his job – as well as access to his company truck and phone. “The new owners had come in, cleaned house and brought in their own people,” Barrott remembers.

Barrott says she and her husband would respond differently in similar circumstances today, but at the time they shifted into survival mode. Their tactics included selling their home, moving into a rental unit (after an exhaustive search, they found a house in Cleveland) and living off the equity they’d built up in their home.

When Barrott started looking for a job to replace the loss of income, potential employers shrugged with indifference. “They’d say, ‘You don’t have any work history.’ And I’d say, ‘I’m a mom. I can do it.’ But in today’s world, they want you to have the kind of experience you can print on a piece of paper.”

As frustrating as her long search for gainful employment became, Barrott says the hardest part of this chapter in her life was watching her children endure the anguish of being “the new kids on the block.”

“They went from a place of safety and security to being bullied. They experienced some atrocious things no child should have to go through,” Barrott remembers, her eyes moistening at the edges. “I become emotional when I talk about it. We call this time our black hole.”

Desperate for help, Barrott turned to her faith, which she says is a bedrock in her life. This foundation formed as she grew up attending a local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints house of worship and then attended Bringham Young University, where she earned a degree in early childhood education and met her husband (who, coincidentally, was also from the Chattanooga area).

Barrott’s family formed another layer of rock under her feet, she adds. An Ooltewah native and a Wolf by birth, she can trace her lineage back several generations to Samuel and Ann Wolf, whose family settled in what would eventually become Ooltewah and gave their name to Wolftever Creek, according to a 2018 Chattanoogan.com article.

(Family is such a pervasive part of Barrott’s life, she and her husband built a door in their backyard fence that allowed her grandfather – her “favorite human being in the world” – to easily visit.)

While Barrott’s ties to her church are vital to her, she says, her faith is as much about her personal connection to God. So, she “prayed her heart out” on behalf of her family, she says.

“I pleaded and begged every day for my family to be in a better place.”

Meanwhile, the storm continued to hammer Barrott and her husband and children. Three years after Rikel’s employer laid him off, both he and Barrott were still looking for work. Barrott tried launching an events service, but it crashed and burned as COVID reared its head and Chattanooga’s mayor at the time, Andy Berke, shut down the city on the day of her first occasion.

Barrott calls that Day One of the worst of her life. The cherry on the cake, however, came as their landlord said he needed to sell the home in which they were staying and gave them 30 days to leave.

Tired of trying to rope the wind that was whipping her family from every direction, Barrott says she cried out to God. “I asked what I’d done. I thought our problems were my fault. I now know they weren’t, but I was suffering from depression,” she says.

Barrott says she believes the answer came the moment that prayer left her lips. However, it wasn’t an account of her alleged transgressions, but a solution that dropped on her like a ton of bricks. “I felt an overwhelming sense of needing to earn my real estate license,” she says.

Members of Barrott’s family make brief but crucial appearances in her story at this point. Her aunt, Cristy Schuch, a Realtor in Cleveland, had been urging her to consider become an agent. However, Barrott had expressed reluctance due to the fiasco surrounding her events business and insisted she needed a job that came with a regular paycheck.

But the palpability of the feeling Barrott experienced after she prayed weakened her wall of resistance, she says. The remnants then fell away when her grandfather insisted on paying for her classes.

Expecting a parting of clouds, Barrott devoted every spare moment to studying for the test. After she passed it three weeks later, she used those same moments to drum up business in every conceivable way. Or, rather, in every way she could conceive of doing for free.

“I hit the pavement hard,” she says. “I recruited my kids and husband to help. We delivered water bottles with my business card on them to every neighborhood in Ooltewah. I knocked on doors, rang doorbells and left gifts on front porches all over the place.”

Barrott’s grassroots efforts included homemade Reels packed with humor, pop music and bubbly personality. Although she insists these social media volleys were out of her comfort zone, they seemed like a natural extension of her persona, which is lively and spirited (and shines through in a bright smile that surfaces after Barrott finishes telling her backstory).

“I wondered, ‘What can I do to let people know who I am and what I’m doing?’ To be a good real estate agent, you have to put yourself out there.”

The Reels started the day Barrott began studying for her license. She then used them to announce that she’d passed the test (on her first try, she notes, after she changed every answer to the math questions), joined Keller Williams Realty and sold 12 houses in 2021.

Watched in chronological order, the Reels form the story of Barrott’s journey from stay-at-home mom to working parent and successful Realtor. Potential clients weren’t the only ones who found them to be entertaining; the producers of “House Hunters” discovered her, as well, and invited her to serve as the agent for an episode filmed late last year in Chattanooga.

“I wanted people to know my story and hoped it would inspire people who found themselves in similar circumstances,” Barrott says. “Maybe someone who was struggling saw them, and thought, ‘Perhaps I can rise above my circumstances, too.’”

Barrott’s star has not finished rising. As she entered her sophomore year as a Realtor, she began receiving referrals. She then doubled her business in 2022 and is on track to sell 36 properties in 2023.

Barrott says she’ll aim to sell 70 homes next year and is putting together a team to help. It’s a leap of faith, she says, but the past is behind her and an even better tomorrow is dawning.

“We’re going to work hard and make it happen. I see only great things ahead.”