published Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Business Profile: Steady hand to lead Chattanooga Realtors

  • photo
    Carol Seal, new executive director of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtor
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

About Carol

* Job title: Incoming CEO and executive vice president for the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors

* Age: 40

* Education: Rhodes College, graduated in 1994 with a bachelor in arts and English literature

* Career: marketing director for Towery Publishing, industry practices and procedures director for the Memphis Area Association of Realtors

* Quote about her job: "Our goal is to help keep real estate affordable to the consumer, and help people pursue the dream of home ownership."

* Family: Married to Chattanooga native Scott Seal, retired U.S. Navy submarine commander. Stepdaughters Rebecca, 17, and Emily, 14, live in Memphis.

Real estate sales may not be as glamorous as it once was.

Like many industries, real estate agents have been forced to do more with less, embrace technology and keep an eye on threatening legislation, regulation and economic shifts.

But the local real estate association still needs a leader -- someone to help referee disagreements, keep track of new rules and provide some stability in a constantly fluctuating market.

That's where Carol Seal comes in.

The incoming CEO and executive vice president for the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors starts her new job on Nov. 5 and brings with her a personality that's equal parts policy wonk and marketing guru.

"All associations have been kind of re-examining themselves in the last year to stay relevant," Seal said.

Though local agents compete with each other, there's also a lot of behind-the-scenes cooperation. And as a lobbying group, Realtors remain a potent force in politics.

However, Seal isn't bringing an agenda, she says. In fact, she likes what she sees in the Chattanooga association, which Francie Ryder has helped lead as executive director for the past two decades. Ryder is retiring from the trade group at the end of the year.

"To my knowledge, they're not broken," she said. "They're a persistent and diligent group that's on a real forward-thinking path."

Chattanooga Realtors offer a lot of online access into their inner workings compared to other groups, she said, including providing raw data directly to consumers through the Internet.

"I know they want to move in a direction that's beyond just a real estate transaction and be a partner in community," she said.

There isn't a college class or certification that teaches a person how to lead a group of independent contractors. In fact, Seal came to the job from a background in publishing.

The Georgia native attended Rhodes College in Memphis and started working with local Chambers of Commerce to create glossy relocation guides for major cities for now-defunct Towery Publishing.

Part of her job was convincing famous people like Dan Rather or Jimmy Carter to write introductions to her community guides.

While daunting at first, 'it was so easy once I had a few under my belt," she said.

"Usually we'd just ask the local chamber, local Realtors association, mayors office and pick their brain for suggestions and introductions," she said.

The art of coordinating and, when necessary, convincing, is an key skill she brings to the job. The policy side, she picked up later.

In 2002, Seal joined the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, where she now works as practices and procedures director before joining the Chattanooga Realtors group next month.

"Basically I oversee the code of ethics enforcement process and dispute resolution with members," she said. "I'm not an attorney, but I end up answering a lot of questions about real estate law."

Along the way, she learned a lot about the industry in the throes of change.

"The current trend of dealing with short sales and foreclosures is a whole different animal than working with people who are looking to upsize or downsize," she said. "There are a whole lot of different twists and turns."

She hopes to offer more courses for real estate agents who want to learn the rules for dealing with increasingly complicated transactions, while helping agents maintain their soft skills as well.

"The social aspect to these associations is important, but if that's all we're doing and we're not helping better them professionally, we're not doing our job," she said.

Above all, the job is about keeping the focus on why consumers should employ and trust a Realtor with one of the biggest decisions in their lifetime.

A Realtor isn't just someone who drives homebuyers around in their car to look at neighborhoods, she said.

"You wouldn't go to court without a lawyer," Seal said. "Maybe you're savvy in whatever your profession is, but there are so many things a Realtor knows about disclosures, inspections, mold issues, fire, and making sure everybody knows what they're buying so they're not caught off guard."

Seal will oversee a local staff of seven as she gets to know the Chattanooga association. But she doesn't see a lot of immediate changes on the horizon.

"Every local association does things a little bit differently, but they're already on the right path," she said.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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