REALTOR® PROfile, Eric Etzel

Eric Etzel standing in front of red brick building with string lights

When Eric Etzel first heard about the SEALFIT Academy at a quarterly By Referral Only meeting, he doubted whether he could really survive the 3-day experience. Combining the core principles of SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind, led by Commander Mark Divine and a team of SEALFIT coaches, the 3-day experience blends classroom time with rigorous physical and mental training to forge mental toughness and emotional resilience. “The outcome is to become a more indomitable and courageous leader in your personal and professional life,” the SEALFIT website boldly states.

“There was part of me that said, ‘Eric don’t raise your hand, you’re too out of shape and overweight. You can’t do this. You’re going to embarrass yourself,’” recalls Etzel, managing broker at Choice Realty in Spokane. “But the other part of me said, “Raise your hand, be part of this group, and show that you can do it.” When no other hands shot up, Etzel went with voice #2 and signed up for what would become a life—and career—changing experience. “I overcame my fear and went for it,” says Etzel, “hoping that I wouldn’t be the only out of shape person there.”

That was in October 2014. Etzel weighed 338 pounds, couldn’t do a single pushup or pullup, and says that his idea of workout was “sitting in a sauna at the gym, playing solitaire.” He could do one air squat (i.e., a “body weight” squat used for toning), but couldn’t get back up from it. “By the time I went to SEALFIT, I had lost 40 pounds and by noon on the third day, I knew that I had to be a part of it,” says Etzel. 

So, what does the experience actually entail? Being marched out to the beach at 3:30AM and asked to walk backwards into the Pacific Ocean and as the waves get just above your ankles sit down with your back facing the dark and cold, 52-degree ocean, Etzel explains, and then doing sit-ups as the waves roll in over you while you have locked arms with 20 other real estate agents and lenders from across the US and Canada. “That’s just one part of the 3-day Navy SEAL academy,” he says. 

Coming out of that experience alive, in one piece, and with a healthier mindset, Etzel then became a part of the Unbeatable Mind “mental toughness” training that is used by the Navy SEALs. An intensive online training program with step-by-step techniques for gaining mental clarity, increased focus, physical fitness and nutrition, and increased awareness, Unbeatable Mind helped Etzel lose a total of 94 pounds in 90 days—a feat that helped him win a weight loss challenge. “Unbeatable Mind was a huge part of my transformation,” he says. “It gave me the confidence to improve my interactions with my clients, and my business improved dramatically because of the confidence that I had in myself.”

Most recently, Etzel donned a rucksack and spent eight days hiking across Greece with a group of 12 people, including three vets suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other war injuries. The 247-mile trek started in Sparta and ended in Thermopylae, and followed the same path that King Leonidas took back in 480 BC as he led the Spartans to fight the Persians at the Bay of Thermopylae. 

The event supports the Courage Foundation, which raises money to help those who are suffering from PTS, including veterans and domestic violence victims. Etzel says that experience—along with his many other involvements with the SEALFIT organization—has helped him not only grow personally, but also hone his business vision and client-centric approach. “It forced me to focus on my purpose,” he says, “and on the value of having a strong team that joins forces to serve home buyers and sellers in a high-caliber, service-oriented manner.”

28 Years and Counting 

Prior to becoming a REALTOR® in 1990, Etzel worked as a loan officer, appraiser, credit reviewer, and senior property specialist for Farm Credit Services. He worked for Century 21, Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX, and John L. Scott as a broker, designated broker, and managing broker. Having worn multiple hats along the way, Etzel says his biggest passions are showing houses; pricing and listing properties; and negotiating contracts. “That’s what I have focused on for the past six years at Choice Realty,” he says.

Rewind back to 2009 and Etzel wasn’t exactly in the same “happy place” that he’s in right now. On track to post his worst year ever in terms of total number of sales and gross commission income, he—like many other brokers—found himself in the throes of a housing recession that wouldn’t let up. “The only reason that I was able to close 13 deals in 2009 was because I had somewhat of a fledgling referral business,” Etzel recalls. “I’d been in business for nearly 20 years and simply by natural circumstance I had some degree of repeat and referral business.”

But what Etzel didn’t have was a good way to cultivate and generate long-term referrals. “About the only time I ever communicated with my clients was via an annual Christmas letter or Christmas card,” he explains. “I sent those correspondences out thinking that was the best way to stay in touch.”

Knowing that more than 75% of home buyers and sellers use the same REALTOR® that helped them purchase their homes (a statistic he learned from a National Association of REALTORS® report), Etzel’s approach changed in 2009—the year he received a whole lot of Christmas cards back in the mail as “undeliverable.” By reverse engineering those addresses, he learned that most of them had listed their homes with other brokers—and then purchased another home with those same brokers.  

Wanting to do a better job of retaining his customers over the long haul, Etzel joined By Referral Only, a coaching program headed by Joe Stumpf. “When I joined By Referral Only, I realized that building a strong referral business meant doing a lot more than just mailing out a Christmas card every year,” says Etzel. “It was about developing a strong relationship in that buying and selling process, and then maintaining it over the years, and not just a one-time, one-and-done situation.”

Today, he’s also part of BroVance, a group that includes 70 real estate and mortgage consultants from the U.S. and Canada. “I’ve been in this group for over six years and it has been the most valuable investment in my personal growth and that of my business,” says Etzel, who went from closing 13 transactions in 2009 to 84 in 2016. “This has been one of two huge business/life-changing things (the other being SEALFIT) I have done for myself, and that has transformed me both personally and professionally.”

Sharing the Wealth

Etzel’s long-term commitments to personal development and business growth not only impact him, but also the people around him. After joining By Referral Only and subsequently hiring his first assistant, for example, he’s helped others start their own successful careers in the business. “My first two assistants are now brokers building their own businesses, and I am their managing broker,” says Etzel. “My goal is to help them start doing now for their clients what it took me 18 years to figure out.”

Calling his team members “the most vital part” of his business, Etzel says each of them cares about creating a referable business and works to keep that pipeline full and well cared for. “They know and understand my vision and the mission and vision for my business; they share in that,” says Etzel, who was away from Spokane for over 90 days in 2017—a feat he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish without his valued team members. “My team takes the wheel and helps our buyers and sellers cross the finish line when I am not there to do it!”

One of those valued team members is Marilyn Kunz, transaction and client relations manager. 

Hired as Etzel’s “opportunity creator” (i.e., marketing client relations by creating a referable experience called CARE), Kunz has been in real estate for 25 years. During that time, she says she’s never seen a REALTOR® who continually cares about his clients like Etzel does. “I was impressed by his commitment to provide the best real estate experience of their life so they would desire to refer Eric to family and friends,” Kunz says. 

On a personal level, Kunz says she’s grown in a very positive way during her time working with Etzel. “When he hired me, he said it was important to him that I be the best person that I could be and that he would guide and help me professionally and personally; he has kept his word,” says Kunz, who works out with Etzel at the gym several times a week, participates in “weekly walks” with clients, and is enrolled in Unbeatable Mind classes (which Etzel pays for). “I have learned that Eric’s client relations program is powerful and I love building and maintaining the relationships with our clients.”

Etzel’s passion for helping others expands beyond the four walls of his office at Choice Realty and out into the community. One of his biggest passions is raising money for Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that helped his own family members live independently and healthily after a spouse had passed away. Five years ago, Etzel came up with the idea to fully sponsor and underwrite a unique “Wheels 4 Meals” car show in Spokane. Etzel is a classic car enthusiast and has even incorporated his 1958 Edsel Ranger into his business branding. Marrying his passion for classic cars with his passion for serving his community was a natural progression for Etzel. Currently in its fifth year, the number of cars and attendees at the event grows year-over-year. “Every dime raised goes to benefit Meals on Wheels programs in Spokane,” Etzel says. 

Becoming Real Estate’s “Super Servants”

Bullish on the future of Washington’s real estate industry, Etzel says that right now there literally are “no downsides” to being a broker in today’s marketplace. “In my 28 years as a REALTOR®, this is the best market that favors all parties in the real estate transaction,” he says. For buyers in the Spokane market right now, for example, interest rates are at historic lows and prices—while rising—remain affordable for most buyers. 

“The inventory is limited, but the buyer who has patience and a good real estate consultant will find a house,” says Etzel. For sellers who price their properties right, Etzel guarantees a quick, top-dollar sale. Finally, for brokers, lenders, and appraisers, he says, “now is the best time to be in our industry.”

To brokers who want to leverage these high points in their respective markets, Etzel says the best approach is to know your ‘why,’ and to have a crystal-clear understanding of why you’re in real estate to begin with.

“Have a personal ethos, know what you stand for, and then work towards self-mastery in whatever role you have in the industry,” says Etzel. “As brokers, we should all strive to be ‘super servants’ to our clients, so make sure that you are passionate about what you do and wake up each day knowing that there isn’t anything else that you’d rather be doing with your life.”


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