REALTOR® Profile | Tere Foster & Moya Skillman


Perfecting Luxury
Tere Foster & Moya Skillman

Bellevue’s power mother-daughter duo stays at the top of their game by specializing in extreme customer service, long-term relationship building, and attention to detail.

Situated in one of Washington’s technology hotbeds, Tere Foster and Moya Skillman have had the opportunity to work with some of the "titans of the industry." As managing broker and broker with Windermere Real Estate/East, Inc., respectively, this mother-daughter duo has carved an enviable niche in the luxury market.

Previously in the health and fitness business, Foster was called upon by some past clients who wanted to sell their high-end waterfront abode. "They were close friends and they had a lot of trust in me, so I took the listing," she says. But even as a new agent Foster knew she’d need help with the monumental task. "I enlisted the help of an experienced agent and we wound up selling the home pretty quickly," recalls Foster, who has been licensed since 1987. "It happened to be the highest sale in the MLS for the following year."

That early luxury sale was so solid, in fact, that the home has never come back on the market. "Twenty-eight years later the same person still owns it," says Foster, who then parlayed that early "win" into even more luxury real estate transactions. Shortly after selling that first waterfront property, for example, another past client from the fitness business asked for help with a similar sale. Foster was not only up to the task, but she then resold the home in 2014 when the original buyers decided to downsize. "I actually listed the home and then brought the buyer for that property as well," says Foster, who believes in grabbing and leveraging opportunities even when the timing or situation may not seem ideal.

"Early on I somehow had the wisdom to know that if I couldn’t handle a big transaction on my own, I could call on an experienced industry veteran for help," Foster recalls. "So even though I had no basis of education on listing high-end properties, I enlisted help and it worked."

And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Foster is one of the highest-producing residential agents in the nation based on sales volume. She’s been recognized by Luxury Portfolio International as the agent with the "Most New Luxury Properties in North America," and serves as a premier executive director for the luxury program at Windermere. A member of Forum XXII, an exclusive organization comprised of 22 of the top residential brokers in the Seattle area, Foster is also a member of three additional networking organizations of top brokers in Seattle and on the Eastside.

While luxury real estate sales comprise a significant portion of Team Foster at Windermere’s sales, the group also sells $200,000 condos, vacant land, and other properties that don’t necessarily fall into the high-end category. "We think it’s important to maintain a wide variety of inventory," says Foster, "because no matter what’s going on in the market, if you have those listings and are working with a wide range of buyers, you can maintain a healthy business that’s not strictly tied to a single segment."

Dancing Into Real Estate

As the daughter of a Ukrainian immigrant who enjoyed investing in real estate, Foster began accumulating industry knowledge at a young age. "For my father, the American dream was always owning real estate," Foster recalls. "When he was able to, he not only owned property but he also formed partnerships and bought apartment buildings with his friends and family members." Growing up in that atmosphere, Foster got a taste of the industry but wasn’t necessarily convinced of the potential career track.

"I wanted to be a dancer," says Foster, who worked in the entertainment and fitness world for about ten years before deciding it was time for a change. She initially broke into the commercial market — a sector she’d been exposed to for most of her life — but quickly realized that it wasn’t "personal enough" for her. "I wanted to be able to get more involved with my clients’ lives and in helping them make positive lifestyle changes; I couldn’t really do that in the commercial market," Foster recalls. "The residential market just seemed to be a better fit for me."

For the next 19 years Foster would not only cultivate her own real estate business, but she would also raise a daughter who — like her — would get to know the industry inside and out during her formative years. "I grew up in real estate," says Skillman, who remembers spending junior and senior high school summers gluing up property photos onto her mother’s listing fliers. Keenly interested in a political career, however, Skillman would explore the educational and work side of that business before getting licensed 11 years ago.

"Right after graduation from college, I moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for a congressman on Capitol Hill; I was in a completely different world than real estate," says Skillman, who leveraged her political science degree for about seven years before moving back to her home state to be closer to her family. "At that point, I got married and joined my mom in the business."

Team Building 101

Today, Foster and Skillman head up an all-female team (the gender selection is "purely coincidental," they say) that includes a director of operations, transaction manager, listing manager, marketing manager, showing assistant, staging manager, office assistant, and a Mandarin-speaking staff member who works with international clients (roughly 40 percent of the team’s customer base is from overseas). "We have a great team," says Skillman, "and we all work together closely and get along really well."

At the heart of that team is a mother-daughter relationship built on trust, love, and the understanding that the customer always comes first. Add a little yin and yang to the equation and you get the perfect real estate partnership. "Tere obviously has years of experience and has worked on every type of property; she’s literally seen it all when it comes to transactions and deals," says Skillman. "On the other side of the picture, I enjoy being on the cutting edge of technology and the market. By combining those strengths and rounding them out with great team members, we’ve hit on the perfect combination."

Some of that perfection can be attributed to the generational differences between Foster and Skillman, and the fact that the team’s younger partner has small children. "I can relate to buyers who are my age with new families and/or young children of their own," says Skillman, "while Tere — who clearly understands the whole spectrum of buyers — has firsthand experience with other life cycles. She can readily identify with owners who want to downsize, for example, or those who have children who are headed off to college."

We strive to take care of every aspect of the transaction that we can with the goal of creating a single, seamless experience for our clients. Whatever services or support they need, it’s our job to provide it.

Foster says team members also appreciate the balance that she and Skillman provide in the workplace, where two different-yet-aligned "bosses" sometimes look at problems and challenges from different perspectives. In the end, she says being able to work side-by-side with her offspring on a daily basis is a true honor and privilege. "I never anticipated having her as my partner, mainly because of the career path she selected early on," says Foster. "The fact that she’s here — and that my grandchildren live so close by — is just a complete delight."

Service After the Sale

At Team Foster at Windermere, customer service is job one. Whether an out-of-state buyer needs temporary housing in the Bellevue area, a current client is looking for a good place to board her dog, or a listing requires plumbing work, the team quickly springs into action to help. "We strive to take care of every aspect of the transaction that we can," says Foster, "with the goal of creating a single, seamless experience for our clients. Whatever services or support they need, it’s our job to provide it."

That commitment tends to surprise clients that may not have had the same level of attention from a past provider. "We’ll even go out and meet the cable guy and supervise the installation," says Skillman. "We basically provide a concierge service focused on taking care of pretty much everything for our buyers and sellers." That attention to detail doesn’t end when the contracts are signed and the home in question changes hands either. "We’re known for our service beyond the sale," says Skillman. "So it’s not just about that one sale; it’s really about the relationship we’re building with the client and/or family over the long-term."

To spread the word about their above-and-beyond service levels, Foster and Skillman utilize both written and video customer testimonials, the latter of which are posted online. One recent video, for example, features a young family that moved to Washington from out of state. In the clip, the clients discuss how the team located an orthodontist for their daughter a full three months after closing on their home. "This is just one example of how our service goes well beyond just finding property and closing deals," says Foster. "We’ve really built on those extreme customer service levels and used them as a differentiation point in our market."

Technological Edge

At most companies, an incoming email from a client or prospect is directed to a single person who is tasked with managing the correspondence. At Team Foster at Windermere, the process is handled quite differently. After handling things the traditional way for years, Foster and Skillman created a single, "team email address" in 2012. Now, when an email messages comes in, it’s routed to all team members. "Clients love it because they don’t have to remember multiple addresses and they can have confidence in the fact that we’re all seeing their messages," says Skillman. "Whomever is tasked with helping in the specific area of concern (a home inspection, for example, or a showing time confirmation) can jump on it and respond quickly."

According to Skillman, quick email response time was the key driver for consolidating incoming correspondence under a single umbrella.

"Because we all see the email, response time back to the customer is extremely short," she says. "That’s exactly how we want it. We don’t want clients wondering if the right person saw the email, and/or if they’re going to get a timely response to it. They know what to expect."

Other technological tools that the team uses include iPads, smartphones, laptops, productivity applications, and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. "We have a dedicated team member for our web and social media activities," says Foster. The company also uses email marketing as an industry outreach tool and puts time into cultivating relationships with other agents in the region. "We have a great email campaign in place for local brokers, many of whom give us good feedback about our efforts in this area," says Foster. "They like learning about new listings, open houses, and preview opportunities directly from us, and on a regular basis."

The Future Looks Bright

As active members of their local and state REALTOR® associations, Foster and Skillman say having a professional organization looking out for their industry has been a big plus. "We enjoy the educational opportunities, the information about new laws and regulations, and the other benefits of membership," says Foster, who especially enjoys the online video updates. "I can get a lot of content in a short snippet that just takes a minute or two to watch."

Looking to the future, Foster and Skillman are bullish on the outlook for their market and enthused about their team’s long-term prospects across various market sectors. "I hope to do this for as long as I can continue walking through properties," says Foster. "I tend to keep myself pretty fit, so it’s going to be a while."

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