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Front Page - Friday, August 11, 2017

Murphy brings a runner’s tenacity to real estate

Realtor Denise Murphy was an athlete, coach and physical education teacher before successfully tackling real estate and house rehabbing. - Photograph by David Laprad

Someone once told Denise Murphy she’s too nice to be a Realtor.

But Murphy didn’t let that stop her. Rather, she took what one person saw as a limitation and turned it into a hallmark of her business.

“You don’t have to be cutthroat or a bully to be a Realtor,” she insists. “You can negotiate and represent your party well without stomping on people. You can have a good rapport with all parties.”

Murphy’s ethical barometer has prompted her to walk away from several deals when someone asked her to do something illegal or when something “didn’t feel right.” One transaction would have involved a sizable commission.

“My integrity is of utmost importance to me. I like to be creative and make things happen, but within the confines of the law,” she says.

Murphy’s principled approach to doing business has worked in her favor.

In 2016, she finished in the top 30 of the nearly 1,600 agents who are members of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors.

“I’m a firm believer that anyone with strong work ethic, willingness to learn and integrity can do anything they put their mind to,” she adds.

A native Brit whose accent adds a touch of intercontinental charm to her words, Murphy came to the U.S. at the age of 19 courtesy of a track scholarship from the University of Kentucky.

At the time, she wasn’t planning to stay in the States. But she’s been here ever since.

“I wasn’t going to date anyone seriously, but I was the first one of my friends to date someone seriously, the first one to get engaged, the first one to marry and the first one to have a baby,” Murphy explains.

One thing did go according to Murphy’s plan: she became a teacher. An athletics enthusiast, Murphy taught physical education to every age from pre-school to college at schools in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.

She also coached a variety of sports and other activities.

After settling in Chattanooga for good (she moved to the city once and then left), Murphy taught at St. Jude for nine years.

She was planning to teach until she retired, but when her personal circumstances changed in 2003, she had to go off-road again.

“My parents encouraged me to return to England,” she says. “But I didn’t want to take my children away from their father.”

The issue was simple: Murphy, who was in her early forties at the time, needed to make more money. But the solution seemed anything but clear-cut – until a friend told her how well she’d done in real estate that year.

“I thought, ‘If she could do it, I could do it,’” Murphy points out.

She then laughs and adds, “I didn’t mean that in a derogatory way.”

Once Murphy chose to pursue a career in real estate, she pulled the plug on teaching. “I stopped teaching on Friday and started real estate school on Monday,” she says. “It was sink or swim.”

While that might not sound risky for an athlete, Murphy adds that it was. “I had nothing. I didn’t have any savings, and there was very little training back then,” she recalls.

“I just called everyone I knew, put people in my car and showed them houses. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

Murphy did have her instincts. These told her to rely on the things that had made her a good teacher – building a rapport with people, being responsive (which included returning every call) and answering every question, even if it meant digging for the answer when she didn’t know it.

“You don’t have to have a degree to be a Realtor, but you do bring skills with you from your other careers and life experiences,” she says.

Murphy also worked hard. “I put in a lot of hours,” she remembers. “I think the drive to keep going came from my running background.”

Murphy caught on quickly. She began building her business by reaching out to the people she knew from her years as a teacher, including former students. By the end of her first year, Murphy was doing well enough to receive the Rising Star award at Realty Center.

Eager to improve her knowledge and the services she provided, Murphy moved to Keller Williams in 2005 to take advantage of the educational opportunities the company offered.

She excelled, and in 2012, was chosen to be the broker of Keller Williams’ Hixson office.

The experience, which lasted almost three years, clarified what Murphy liked about real estate. While she became a Realtor out of necessity, she found that she loved serving clients. So, when she was upgraded to broker, she continued to buy and sell homes.

This wound up being a tremendous amount of work, with Murphy burning the midnight oil nearly every day. When she realized, she couldn’t perform either job at the level she desired, she stepped down as broker to focus on her work as an agent.

Murphy’s decision to focus on her customers has paid off well. Not only was she a top agent in Chattanooga last year, she’s started laying the foundation of what will become her team.

In addition to her long-time assistant, Ellen Ardion, Murphy is now turning all her contract-to-close work over to her daughter, Ashley Schendel, and is looking for a buyer’s agent.

Unlike Murphy’s years as a broker, she won’t be wearing more hats than she can keep on her head. Instead, she’ll be using her team to free herself up to concentrate on what she enjoys the most about her work: helping people.

“I do everything I can to look ahead and prevent issues before they arise. Being a broker gave me invaluable experience in problem-solving,” she adds.

“I’m also quite a hand-holder. I like answering people’s questions and seeing them through the entire transaction.”

Murphy says the hardest part of her job is breaking bad news to a client when things beyond her control happen. “If my buyers and sellers don’t sleep at night, then neither do I,” she says.

Bad news might bring about the end of a transaction but not Murphy’s relationship with a client.

Rather than parting ways, she likes to “stay the course” with her customers. Especially gratifying to Murphy are those occasions when she’s able to assist buyers who have suffered a setback – whether it was poor credit or another obstacle – to make their dream of homeownership a reality.

Although Murphy still works hard, she no longer burns the midnight oil, which allows her to enjoy life in the city she’s made her home.

In addition to spending time with her three children, Murphy can be found paddle boarding on the Tennessee River, enjoying live music at Nightfall and taking salsa lessons.

Murphy also spends every possible minute with her two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter. “I sometimes have to remind myself that she’s not mine,” she says, laughing. “I have loads of fun with her.”

Murphy also occasionally sees her English family – sometimes here; sometimes there. But she’s never considered returning permanently to the country she left as a young woman. “I love visiting England and I miss my family, but this is home,” she says. “There are a lot of opportunities here.”

Among those opportunities is an activity that skews close to Murphy’s day job: flipping houses. For the past decade, she’s bought, refurbished and sold about two homes a year.

“I enjoy taking a dilapidated house that’s bringing down property values in a neighborhood and making it beautiful,” she explains. “That not only boosts the value of the adjacent homes, but someone can then purchase the house without having to pay for major repairs.”

From Murphy’s decision to leave teaching to become a Realtor to her investment efforts, her thoughts have been focused on her children, all of whom are “thriving on their career paths,” she says proudly. She adds she hopes they will remember her example when they fall on hard times.

“Hard work and diligence pay off. Everyone has problems. The important thing is not what happens to you but how you handle it,” she says. “If I can come back from those things, anyone can.”