Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 8, 2017

Angie Pickett: Around the world, back to real estate

- David Laprad | Hamilton County Herald

Realtor Angie Pickett will never look at a cup of coffee – or a house – the same after her trip to Guatemala in November to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.

While in the Central American country for one week, Pickett was part of a group of 18 people who built “healthy homes” for coffee farmers in outlying areas. Healthy homes are existing dwellings Habitat volunteers have outfitted with smokeless stoves, water filtration systems and new bathrooms.

“The people there have a lot of respiratory issues and lung cancer because the smoke stays in their homes when they cook,” Pickett says. “So, we built stoves with vents and smaller cooking areas that use less wood.”

Although Pickett, 52, doesn’t have any construction skills, Habitat made good use of her willingness to work hard. While there, she shoveled brick mix, ran the machine that made the bricks and laid bricks and mortar as part of building the stoves. She also dug holes, hammered nails and hauled supplies as she and the others built outhouses.

Each day, Pickett did something different. She also met and mingled with the people who lived there. The amount of sweat equity her Guatemalan friends put into their upgraded homes impressed her. “The women worked with babies on their backs,” Pickett explains. “They’re a proud people. They worked hard.”

While there, Pickett was struck by the arduous working conditions of the coffee farmers, who walk several miles to reach the place where they harvest the beans. Most earn about four dollars a day for their efforts and then return to ramshackle accommodations.

“We’d be walking through a cornfield and come to a small house,” she adds. “It was humbling. We have it easy.”

Just as incomprehensible to the group of 18 well-fed Americans was the ability of the farmers and their families to sustain themselves on a single meal a day.

Despite their hardships, the Guatemalans Pickett and the others met were joyful people who made their visit a pleasure. “It was very touching,” Pickett says of her time in the country.

While in Guatemala, Pickett also traveled to a co-op that produces a variety of goods, including organic coffee. While there, she learned that Asheville-based Counter Culture Coffee buys the co-op’s beans. Counter Culture distributes its product to Whole Foods – where Pickett buys it.

Now, when Pickett gazes into a cup of coffee, she sees the lakes and mountains of Guatemala. She also sees the people who live there and smiles as she tastes the fruit of their labors.

“When you realize how hard those people work, you can appreciate how important it is to buy coffee from a co-op,” she says. “They don’t use pesticides, but more importantly, they care about their people and pay them a decent wage.”

Pickett become interested in taking part in an international Habitat build after participating in a local build the real estate firm at which she works, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Signature Brokers, sponsored in the spring.

“I worked I don’t know how many Fridays on that house,” Pickett points out. “When I found out about the build in Guatemala, I thought it sounded cool. So, I hopped on a plane and showed up.”

Although Pickett didn’t know any of the other volunteers, she soon learned she was among like-minded people. Now, one month after returning home, her smart phone contains dozens of photos of her and her new friends, including a student, a retiree, a human resources director and other Americans from all walks of life. The Guatemalans who touched her heart can also be found in her photo gallery.

Pickett’s visit to Guatemala in November was not her first to the country. Not only has she explored the Tikal ruins, which are nestled in a rain forest in the northern part of the country, she’s traveled to every Central American country at one time or another.

“I love Central America. I enjoy the food, the people and the climate,” she says. “There’s tons of wildlife, beautiful rivers and if you visit after the rainy season, everything is green. It’s beautiful.”

Pickett has also been to every South American country – including the ones Americans are warned against visiting. Since she typically rents a car and strikes out from there, flying to Guatemala to connect with a group of strangers in the rugged depths of coffee bean country was a walk in the park.

The travel bug bit Pickett at a young age as she grew bored with her family vacations. “When I was young, my parents went to Florida every year,” she recalls. “I would send off for brochures and anything else that would give me a glimpse of other places.”

Raised in Ooltewah, Pickett also grew up wanting to do her part to make the world a better place. At the time, she thought teaching would be the best way for her to do that.

After completing her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and her master’s degree in elementary education at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, she began teaching first graders at Harrison Elementary School.

Pickett has always been good with money (she describes herself as a “hippie” and a “saver”), so she looked at the income she’d be making and whether it would be enough to support her in her elder years. The results of her research prompted her to devise a different retirement plan: rental properties.

Pickett’s first property was a duplex in North Chattanooga. She put the minimum amount of money down, lived in it for nine months and then moved out and rented it. She says it’s still the best deal she’s had. “It’s increased in value and it’s paid for,” she says. “I haven’t had to run an ad on the place in ten years. When one tenant moves out, another one moves in.”

Pickett continued to save and purchase properties, sticking to the North Chattanooga and Red Bank areas. At one point, her boyfriend asked her why she didn’t become a Realtor, telling her she had a knack for eyeballing problems with a property and calculating how much repairs would cost. But Pickett brushed off the idea. She was a teacher, and that was that.

Until it wasn’t.

Eight years after becoming a teacher, Pickett admitted she’d misjudged her calling. “I was good at teaching but it took a lot out of me,” she says. “So, I thought perhaps I was meant to do something else.”

Pickett needed a new career, so she cautiously followed her boyfriend’s advice. Instead of jumping in feet first, she dipped her toes in the waters of real estate, starting part-time with a small company that worked with investors while she continued to teach. A year later, when it became clear she could do well as a Realtor, she brought her teaching days to an end.

That was 2010. Today, Pickett is thriving at Signature Brokers, where she works with a select group of investors and serves the needs of residential buyers and sellers throughout the Greater Chattanooga area and Northwest Georgia.

Pickett has continued to invest in real estate personally as well. To date, she’s acquired two duplexes, two houses and a condo on her way to a fruitful retirement. Since all her properties are close to home in the tight-knit North Chattanooga community, she often sees her tenants when she’s out and about.

“I have four renters from Whole Foods,” Pickett says. “Every time I go there, it’s, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’”

Pickett also owns the home in which she lives. She could sell it for a tidy profit, but says she can’t imagine living anywhere else. “I bought it before North Chattanooga was the place to live,” she adds. “Out of all my houses, it’s home.”

Pickett says she’s glad she switched from teaching to real estate. Whereas her former career was a stressful burden, being a Realtor barely feels like a job. “I work day and night, but that doesn’t bother me,” she says. “I thrive when things are crazy. The busier I am, the more I get done.”

Pickett’s to-do list contains more than the many moving parts of her real estate business. Like her younger self, she still wants to give back, and has found different ways of doing just that.

In addition to running a Meals on Wheels route, Pickett and three other friends in October raised over $10,000 for Make-A-Wish East Tennessee by completing the 2017 Trailblaze Challenge, a 26-mile hike through varying terrain. Her favorite part was the camaraderie of preparing for the grueling journey with her fellow walkers, who met for regular 5:30 a.m. training sessions.

When Pickett isn’t otherwise engaged, she’s planning her next trip. Iceland, Morocco and Egypt are all on her wish list, as is a Habitat build in Cambodia in 2019.

After Pickett’s experience with Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala, she feels more motivated than ever to help make the world a better place. Given the life she’s built professionally as a Realtor and personally as a landlord, it makes sense that she would give back by helping others experience the comforts a home.

“Everybody should have a comfortable, safe place to live. We take that for granted, but a lot of people don’t have it,” Pickett explains. “I grew up in a nice house, and seeing the living conditions in other countries touched me. I want to help other people have what I have.”

No matter how far Pickett travels from home, she’ll always be drawn back to one place – the Scenic City. Like her house in North Chattanooga, she can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“My family is here. My work is here. And it’s beautiful. We have the best of everything,” she says. “It’s home, sweet home.”