REALTOR® Profile: Van Anderson

Van Anderson

REALTOR® PROfile: Van Anderson

Summer 2016

Putting People First, Every Time

By Bridget McCrea

Celebrating her 53rd year in real estate, Van Anderson reflects on her success in the industry, how it has evolved over the last five decades, and the lifelong bonds she’s formed along the way. If there’s one thing Van Anderson can say for certain, it’s that she’s been able to sleep well every night knowing that she made the right decisions or doled out the best possible advice to her homebuyers and sellers. The fact that her career in real estate spans more than five decades makes this point especially notable in an industry where opportunities to focus too much on earnings, make poor decisions, and even do the “wrong thing” are lurking around every corner.

“Had I chosen another career, I probably would have been a counselor,” says Anderson, a broker with Windermere Real Estate/Mercer Island. “I spend a lot of time counseling people on their buying and selling decisions—even telling them when a house is or isn’t right for them—and that’s allowed me to sleep like a baby throughout my entire career. I’ve never gone to sleep feeling like I’d talked someone into something that wasn’t good for them.”

A Purpose-Driven Career

Anderson’s commitment to always putting people first has been a focal point for her career since 1964, the year she made her first foray into the real estate industry. She says she was immediately “stunned” by how agents at the time were able to start transacting without a full-fledged license. “You didn’t have to have any form of education or license to get started back then,” says Anderson. “I was astonished. I went home after my first day at the office and I told my husband that I could ruin someone’s life if I were to make a mistake.”

From that point on, Anderson vowed to be extremely careful about how she conducted business and what type of information and support she provided during the real estate transaction. “I made it my mission to protect the public,” says Anderson, who got into real estate at her husband’s urging. In failing health, he knew that his wife and four young children could soon need the financial support of another income. “His long-range thinking was that I would ultimately have to take care of myself and our children in his absence,” says Anderson, whose husband passed away in 1976.

Anderson initially hung her license with a small, local firm. She later moved to Benton-McCarthy Realty and then to George Lister REALTORS®, Inc., which would eventually be merged into Windermere Real Estate. Throughout her 53-year career, Anderson has remained in the same general geographical area, always focusing on customers located in the Puget Sound area. “I’ve never been shy about going out of the circle of my most involvement,” says Anderson, “but predominantly that’s been Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton, and Mercer Island.”

An Evolving Industry

When Anderson got into real estate in the mid-1960s, the business environment was very different than it is today. Not only has technology drastically changed the way homes are bought, sold, and marketed, but the very culture of real estate has also evolved significantly over the last five decades. “For one thing, there were very few women in sales in the 1960s,” says Anderson. “Women owned companies, but they were not out in the field selling.”

The industry was also very paper-intensive, recalls Anderson, who had to juggle paper copies of listings (the MLS books were yet to be introduced) that had to be sorted through and filed according to their proper geographical areas. The way brokers and consumers preview homes has also changed, with most of that activity now taking place online. “We spent a lot of time previewing and holding weekly tours of properties all the way through the 1980s and 1990s,” says Anderson. “That practice is still prevalent in some areas, but it’s nothing like it used to be.”

On the education front, Anderson says key changes include enhancements to how new agents are licensed and how existing agents and brokers renew their licenses. “When I started out, if you timed it right you could sell for six months without even having to pass your real estate exam,” Anderson says. “I accidently got in under the wire and was already doing business before I was officially licensed.” In terms of renewals, Anderson says she was happy when it became mandatory to have “clock hours” in order to renew your license. Then, a few years ago, everyone in the industry became brokers. “We also started using the term ‘managing broker,’ which still exists, but it’s been sort of a thorn in the industry’s side, in some of our opinions,” Anderson explains. “The problem being that ‘managing broker’ was really not indicative of the role and somewhat difficult for the public to understand. It was a bit of a misnomer.”

Through all of these changes and challenges, Anderson says she’s remained focused on caring about people and helping them achieve their homeownership goals. She says this mission far surpasses any financial goals or rewards of her own. “It has always been more important to me that they have a happy conclusion to a sale than me making a commission,” says Anderson, who has made numerous lifelong friends as a result of this mindset. In fact, she got a tear in her eye when thinking about the wonderful bonds she’s formed during her career. “The greatest rewards I have had are the REALTOR® and client friends of a lifelong nature that I’ve made, and that I still have,” says Anderson. “I’ve literally sold generations of homes to the same families; it’s a real honor.”

My Favorite Deal

Ask Anderson to talk about some of the more interesting deals she’s worked on and you can almost hear the gears in her mind churning through the many and varied transactions she’s been involved with over the years. After thinking about it for a moment, she decides that one of her favorite sales started out one Sunday afternoon while she was working the floor in her real estate office. Seeing a rental sign in the window, a couple pulled up, parked, and came into the office. “Salespeople don’t deal with rentals like we used to years ago, but back then it was a great way to convert customers from renters to buyers,” Anderson explains. The man approached her about a rental, and explained that his wife was out crying in the car. Anderson immediately went outside to soothe the woman, who was distraught over being new in the town, pregnant, and in need of a place to live.

“I said, ‘Well, I guess maybe it’s a good time for us to all go to lunch,’” Anderson recalls. “I found them a good rental, and then over the next few decades I wound up selling them multiple homes. They’re friends to this day, and one of my daughters has even babysat their daughter (whom the woman was pregnant with during that initial encounter).”

This is just one of hundreds of ways that Anderson has truly “walked the walk” on her commitment to helping others during her long, successful career. As she looks around the industry right now, she says more agents and brokers could benefit from a similar approach—and especially in a world where email, texting, and social networking have all but replaced the need for face-to-face interactions.

“As REALTORS®, we have to now look very carefully at the human involvement aspect of our careers and not let technology get in the way of servicing our clients,” says Anderson. “It’s now possible for a person to set up appointments, look at houses, and write up deals without ever having to see the person who is buying the property. I think that presents a big danger. I don’t think there’s anything that replaces the human, belly-to-belly aspect of real estate.”

Getting and Staying Involved

Active with her local, state, and national REALTOR® associations, Anderson was recruited to a Board of REALTORS® committee during her first week as an agent. “I’ve been active with my associations ever since,” says Anderson, who served one 6-year term on the Washington State Real Estate Commission and is presently on the Boundary Review Board. She served for 14 years as a federal political coordinator for Senator Patty Murray on behalf of the National Association of REALTORS® and is well known for her ongoing efforts to change housing legislation in Washington State.

“I have developed quite an influence politically along those lines, county-wide, statewide, and nationally,” says Anderson, who was recently presented a Golden Tennis Shoe Award by Sen. Murray for her long tenure as the senator’s federal political coordinator. “The senator was told by a legislator that she was just a ‘little old mother in tennis shoes,’ so she’s turned that around and used it to her advantage throughout her career,’” Anderson says. “She told me that I was the best lobbyist that she’s ever had, and I take that as a very high compliment.”

Anderson received a 50-year recognition award from her local board a few years ago, served as president of the Seattle King County REALTORS®, and was on track to be president of the Washington Association of REALTORS® before being warned to “slow down” by her doctor. “He told me that if I wanted to spend time with my husband, I’d better do it now,” she says, wistfully. “I resigned from everything, and then got right back into it again.”

Anderson has also given back to the industry in other ways, including a 25-year-long stint as an instructor at Renton Technical College. She would work all day selling real estate and spend many of her nights teaching others how to start their own careers in the industry. She did the same at various community colleges in the Puget Sound area, and says the experience was extremely rewarding. “Many of the people that I taught have come back and told me about their successes,” says Anderson, who is especially proud of her dedication to—and teaching of—the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.

“I really and truly believe in the Code of Ethics and hope that more members of the public will realize that there’s a tremendous difference between a licensee and a REALTOR®,” says Anderson, “because in order to be a REALTOR® you have to agree to adhere to that Code of Ethics and this sets us apart from all of the rest.”

An Independent Approach

Anderson has worked with her son (Stuart Anderson), been a partner in an office, and teamed up with younger salespeople, but she’s otherwise largely worked independently since starting her real estate career. “A team can be very advantageous, but their value fluctuates as the marketplace changes,” says Anderson. “Sometimes, it’s less economically viable to have assistants and team members sharing everything.”

Primarily focused on the referral side of her business as Stuart carries on the family name in the industry (he works for a different brokerage), Anderson says she also tested the management waters at one point. Thinking back to the recession that took hold right when the Jimmy Carter-Ronald Reagan presidential transition happened in the early 1980s, she remembers that a lot of brokerages closed up shop—many of them still owing their sales agents money.

Around the same time, Anderson realized that she could earn a better living in sales than as an owner/manager. “We shut down, but not before we paid out every penny that we owed to our agents; I’m extremely proud of that fact,” says Anderson. “From there, I went back to straight selling.”

Giving Back Again and Again

She’s been a key driver behind her own success, helped thousands of homebuyers and sellers, supported her industry from literally all angles, and poured her energy and time back into a field that has more than served its original purpose: to provide a supplementary income during a challenging time in her young life. Through it all, Anderson says she’s most enjoyed the many opportunities she’s had to “give back” during the time that she wasn’t working, raising her family, or teaching aspiring real estate agents the ropes.

“Real estate is a career that’s most fulfilling for those who really get involved, who form lasting bonds with others, and who get out there and give back to the communities where they work—and beyond,” says Anderson, who is particularly proud of Windermere’s efforts, which include support of domestic violence shelters, park restoration, and the painting and repair of seniors’ homes. “I think it’s very important that salespeople give back to their communities that generate those agents’ sales and success.”


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