Leah Applewhite - REALTOR® PROfile Winter 2017

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Leah Applewhite

REALTOR® PROfile

Bainbridge Island REALTOR® Leah Applewhite shares her history, her motivations, and what helps her stand out from the crowd…

It doesn’t matter how many million-dollar Bainbridge Island homes Leah Applewhite sells, how many industry accolades she receives, or what kind of sales growth she posts during a year’s time. When it comes right down to it, this successful REALTOR®’s drive and determination are built on foundation that she started working for in the first place: her children.

While Applewhite’s children have finished college and started their own careers (her youngest graduated last spring), this managing broker at Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty on Bainbridge Island says she’ll never forget what drove her to success during the early stages of her 20-year real estate career.

“I owe a lot of my success in real estate to the fact that I found myself as a single mom, and then became the primary support for fulfilling my children’s needs,” says Applewhite, who after getting licensed, kicked off her career in an administrative support position at Coldwell Banker Grand in Spokane. “The fact that they both depended on me to put a roof over our heads really drove me to figure out how to be good at this.”

Upon moving to Bainbridge, Applewhite worked for Deschamps Realty, a small, boutique firm that was acquired by Coldwell Banker McKenzie. When Applewhite found herself a divorced mom of two in 1997, she decided to ramp up her real estate career. “I needed to earn more money so I decided to start selling full-time,” she recalls.

While the rigors of a full-time real estate career can consume a lot of time, the flexibility of being able to set her own hours, work later at night, and still be on deck at all times for her children helped Applewhite achieve a fairly desirable work-life balance.

“While I was actively raising my children, they were my primary focus,” says Applewhite. “I was very involved in their schooling, their sports, 4-H, and their other interests.” For Applewhite, being able to provide a good quality of life for her family while also earning a respectable living was a dream come true.

“My kids have been incredibly supportive of me and my career from day one, even during those times when I had to show a house instead of going to a football game or practice,” says Applewhite. “They were always rooting me on with, ‘Go get ‘em Mom.’ It was very inspiring and it’s what drove me.”

The Early Days

Prior to getting her real estate license and launching her career, Applewhite was exploring another of her passions—marine environmental science. She studied marine science at University of Washington and The Evergreen State College and upon graduating, worked for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), HAZMAT modeling and simulation studies group responding to marine oil spills across the country

For an environmental group on San Juan Island, for example, she helped establish an oil spill response cooperative that would eventually be used as a prototype for similar organizations across the entire country. The prototype focused on helping people respond immediately when they see an oil spill.

As a year-round resident of beautiful Bainbridge Island, Applewhite has been able to further her love of the ocean and marine life. “I’m out on the water as much as possible, sailing or kayaking,” says Applewhite, “and on land working with owners and buyers of waterfront properties. It’s a great combination that you can’t find everywhere.”

Applewhite credits her years of experience in marine science with helping to shape her success in real estate. When you’re trained in science, for example, you learn how to analyze and use information in a particular manner. This type of background lends itself to success in an industry where agents are frequently asked for opinions on pricing and other data points. Rather than spitting out a number, Applewhite says she nearly always goes back to her computer, checks the comparables, and ferrets out “real data” to support her answers.

“I’m not one to just tell people something off-the-cuff,” she says, “to answer the question ‘What’s my house worth?’ I like to put the time and effort into getting the most accurate answer possible.”

Leah Applewhite photo collage

Deep Roots in Real Estate

Applewhite’s real estate roots are somewhat genetic in that both her father and her sister also had successful careers in real estate. “My father encouraged me to pursue a career in real estate and I thought, ’Why not?’ At the very least, I could learn more about my dad and sister and what they were doing,” says Applewhite, laughing. “As it turned out, I loved it and was apparently pretty good at it because I’ve been able to get to the point I’m at now.”

John Musgrave, Applewhite’s father, sits high on her list of key mentors that have shaped her real estate career. When the going got tough, or when she needed a knowledgeable sounding board to bounce ideas off of, Musgrave was always there to help. Having worked as a corporate business liaison for Coldwell Banker Real Estate for 35 years, he helped show Applewhite the ropes and work through the kinks along the way. “There were a lot of times when I was at my wit’s end and wondering how I was going to work through this or that challenge,” Applewhite recalls. “My dad was always there to lend his support and guidance. Those insights were invaluable.”

Speaking of mentors, Applewhite says several others helped her through the early stages of her career. For example, she started out as an assistant to Nancy Wynia and Dennis Fox at their Spokane office. At the time, Applewhite’s daughter was an infant and the aspiring REALTOR® had just 10-20 hours a week to dedicate to real estate. “I gave my knowledge of technology and my youthful enthusiasm to help propel their businesses forward,” says Applewhite, “and they generously provided an education in return.”

When Applewhite moved to Bainbridge Island, Georg Syvertsen (for whom she worked as an assistant) helped her take her career to the next level. “I loved being his assistant, but I needed a higher income when I found myself as a single mom,” says Applewhite. “With his blessing, I became a full-time agent.”

The “Pull Together” Mindset

With two decades of real estate experience under her belt, Applewhite has been involved with many different types of deals, worked with a wide range of clients, and helped a lot of different people along the way. After all, it’s in her DNA as a single mom who knows exactly what it’s like to have to provide for a family and bootstrap your way to success.

Asked to share a few of her favorite deals, Applewhite remembers the family that—in order to make its mortgage payments—was forced to sell most of their furniture. When Applewhite signed on to sell the home, one of the first things she noticed was the empty, cold feeling that she got as she crossed the threshold into the home. Wanting to help and filled with empathy for the family, she took the living room set out of her own home and moved it into her seller’s property.

“My daughter came home one day and all of the living room furniture was gone,” says Applewhite, who explained the situation to her distraught child, knowing the youngster would learn a valuable lesson in giving from that particular experience. “I took her to meet my clients and see their home, and as we were leaving she said, ‘Mom, now I understand why you loaned them our furniture.”

The gesture also helped the owners sell their home and get relief from the financial burden they were under. “The house not only felt warmer but it also wound up selling at a good price,” says Applewhite. “It was a huge deal for the family that owned the home, so the extra effort was totally worth it. That ‘pull together’ spirit is a part of what you model for your children, and a big part of my success in this business.”

While working on a different sale, Applewhite was holding an open house event for a large, 2-bedroom waterfront home on Bainbridge Island. A couple attending the event loved the home, but told Applewhite that they’d need to sell their own 7-bedroom property before committing to the purchase. “You don’t know anyone who needs a hotel do you?” the prospective buyers asked, laughing. As it happened, Applewhite did know of a family that was very interested in purchasing its own mini-hotel.

“I just happened to be working with a family that had five children,” Applewhite recalls. “I was able to connect my clients with that large family and the potential buyers (i.e., the owners of the 7-bedroom home),” she explains. Acting in the role of consummate networker, Applewhite was literally able to create a win-win-win scenario for all buyers and sellers involved. “It was quite a trifecta,” she says, “and a fun example of how agents can think creatively and outside of the box to put multifaceted deals together.”

Standing Out from the Pack

When she’s not putting together complicated, multi-home deals, Applewhite is educating herself on the latest real estate-related trends, regulations, and technology tools. Most recently, for example, she’s started using 3-D virtual tour technology—a tool that helps her market homes that may have unusual layouts and designs. Back in 2009-10, when real estate sales had slowed down and more short sales and foreclosures were hitting the market, Applewhite put her nose to the grindstone and learned how to manage the distressed side of the business.

“Instead of getting upset, I adapted and figured out how to take advantage of what was going on in the market,” says Applewhite. “The only houses that were selling were short sale or foreclosures, so I learned everything about that and offered that as a service. Or if my clients didn’t have the extra cash for staging and a lot of the home prep for listing, I started helping them with that.”

Now that her children are both working and living on their own, Applewhite is looking to the future and planning to get more involved with her community. “I’ve finished paying for my kids’ college, so I’ll be able to do more for the community,” she says.

For example, she says Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty is inviting different Bainbridge Island organizations to use its offices for their evening meetings. The company is experimenting with creating a shared retail space—a concept that’s catching on particularly well with millennial homebuyers.

“Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty opened an office with the new concept of a work space in partnership with a local restaurant,” says Applewhite. “It’s a very welcome space where we can collaborate with one another and also meet casually with our clients. It’s located in the heart of Winslow, where we’re literally opening the front of the office as a meeting place for the community.”

Awarded the 5-Star Award for Best in Customer Satisfaction by Seattle Magazine eight times since 2006, Applewhite was the top sales agent in her office in 2005 and 2010. “And, I seem to consistently find myself as one of the top five agents,” Applewhite says. “In my book, that consistency counts for more.”

Asked to share her best piece of advice with other Washington real estate professionals, Applewhite says the best way to ensure a long-lasting career in the industry is by operating in the most fair, honest, and reliable way possible. Don’t shirk from the awesome responsibility that comes with being a licensed real estate agent, she says, and don’t forget to go above and beyond when the situation calls for it.

Photography by www.amorestudios.com.

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