Like his father, Mark Blazek says sales have always been in his blood.
The 56-year-old Realtor followed his dad's career path into the food broker business after college and, when the family-owned frozen food business he was selling for closed in 1998, he began selling houses as a Realtor the next year.
"The nut doesn't fall too far from the tree," Blazek said of his career decision to become a sales representative and later a residential real estate agent. "I love meeting people and sales allows you the chance to talk and help other people."
In real estate, Blazek said customers are usually more appreciative of his work than when he was hawking Rich Products foods to Southern grocers through the 1980s and 1990s.
"People thank me for helping them realize the American dream as a Realtor, instead of beating my price down and asking, "what have you done for me lately," Blazek quipped.
But real estate agents have to make it on their own and as the new head of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors Blazek is eager to help those trying to sell homes coming out of the worst housing slump in decades.
"There are no expensive accounts or company cars selling real estate," he said. "It's you and the customers and if you don't sell you don't eat."
For the association he heads this year, Blazek hopes to rebuild some of the membership lost during the Great Recession. In an interview at the association's Amnicola Highway offices, Blazek said he expects the number of Chattanooga area Realtors to again top 1,400 this year. Although down nearly a third from the peak of 2,099 members reached in 2007 at the Chattanooga Realtors group, Blazek said he thinks the decline in membership in the past five years has ended.
The Realtors group is working to enhance the value of membership with a new, more consumer-friendly web site to be introduced in April. Also this year, the Realtors began providing free training programs for its members.
The multiple listing service will be enhanced this year to include an appraisers' data base listing the latest appraisals and price data for each property, rather than just the tax records which sometimes are outdated or inaccurate.
Realtors in Chattanooga also are getting free education credit hours this year for the first time.
"We want to bring more value to our members with free, continuing education here at the association," he said. "For us to be relevant, we've got to provide value. Information is just a click away and you either get on that train or you're left behind."
After nearly a decade a steadily rising sales in the real estate industry, Blazek and other Realtors suddenly were hit with the slump in home sales in 2008.
Chattanooga was not battered as much as many markets, such as Atlanta to the south.
"If we were a medical patient, people would think we were dead because we've tended to flat line," Blazek said.
"It will probably never be like it was when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were giving money away," Blazek added. "Mortgage lenders are stricter and underwriters have their magnifying lenses out looking at one's credit history."
After Chattanooga home sales jumped 17 percent last year, Blazek expects another year of double-digit sales gains this year.
"Everything points to another good year," he said.