REALTOR® PROfile: Mark Kitabayashi



By focusing on continuing education, market trends and the cultural nuances among his client base, this Windermere broker has carved out a niche for himself that’s endured nearly two decades in the South Puget Sound market.

When Mark Kitabayashi reflects on his 19-year career in the real estate industry, he fondly remembers the large pool of buyers and sellers that he’s worked with during that time. Many of them have turned into repeat customers, while others have referred him to their own friends, family, and colleagues, knowing that those buyers and sellers will be in very good hands.

Kitabayashi also remembers some of the more challenging deals he’s worked on, including one where he was asked to help facilitate a “house swap” between two homeowners. It seems each had an eye on the other person’s property, and that called for a real estate deal that transcended the “norms” that Kitabayashi was accustomed to.

“That was definitely one of the most interesting things that’s happened during my career,” says Kitabayashi, a managing broker with Windermere Real Estate’s Puyallup office. In this situation, his seller was purchasing the buyer’s house, and vice versa. “That doesn’t happen too often,” he admits, “but in this case, that’s just how the cards fell so I took on the role of handling two clients and four transactions all in one shot.”

Wearing those hats turned out to be harder than it sounds, according to Kitabayashi, who says that staying “professionally neutral” in a situation that goes beyond dual agency—and basically becomes “quadruple agency”—wasn’t easy. To smooth things out, he says he laid out the framework for how the transaction would work; what his role would be; and what he could and couldn’t do (and for whom) very early in the relationship.

“Basically, they talked and I facilitated,” says Kitabayashi. “That was the best way we figured that the transaction would work.” And while he says he’ll probably steer clear of such arrangements in the future—mainly due to their complexity—this particular house swap wound up working out just fine for all parties.

“Everyone was happy,” says Kitabayashi. “They moved into their homes, and one of them still owns theirs (the other has since purchased another home).” In the end, he says the fact that both parties fully understood his role in the process made the deal much easier to manage. “They didn’t complain at all, and basically knew that I was in a pretty difficult position,” says Kitabayashi. “That made things much easier to manage as the deal worked its way through to the closing table.”

Factors Beyond His Control

Licensed since 2000, Kitabayashi came into the real estate industry after working in the import-export business and, previously, as a corporate travel agent. A first-generation immigrant from Japan, he moved to the U.S. in 1977 and grew up in Southern California. After living in New York for nine years and Japan for three, he settled down in the Seattle area in 1996.

At the time, Kitabayashi was running an import-export business that, while successful, was also fairly unpredictable. “There are a lot of factors that I couldn’t control when I was dealing with different countries, cultures, markets, and currency rates,” says Kitabayashi. After working for three years on one particular project with a Japanese beverage maker, he watched the effort fall apart within a week’s time. “I was pretty frustrated with that,” recalls Kitabayashi, “and looking for something new.” His path into real estate started with a very simple suggestion from his wife. “Why don’t you try real estate?” she asked him. He responded with “okay,” and signed up for a real estate licensing course. The rest, as they say, is history. “There really wasn’t a lot of thought put into it,” says Kitabayashi. “I just jumped in, which is pretty unusual for me.”

Building a Strong Foundation

Kitabayashi’s moment of spontaneity turned into a commitment to spend “a year or two” getting the basic foundation of how the real estate business works. His uncertainty even led him to tell his broker that he “wasn’t even sure he was going to meet the split” (back in the days when real estate firms used splits). “I really just wanted to get all of the basics down and see if I could form a good foundation for a new career,” he says.

"When you understand at least something about the nuances of different cultures, you can help them understand how the process works here, and what it takes to get a deal from the purchase agreement to closing.”
Photos of Mark Kitabayashi

It took Kitabayashi about three years to feel like he could comfortably make that split, and about five total years to realize that, if he stayed in real estate, he’d probably be able to make enough money to support himself and his family. And while he’s worked in several different Windermere offices, he’s been with the company since day one of his career, and says he “truly believes in REALTOR® blue and Windermere blue.”

As part of his career evolution, Kitabayashi became a managing broker 10 years ago. “I truly believe continuing education is a key part to staying as professional as I would like to be as a REALTOR®,” he explains. When the state changed from having agents and brokers to having brokers and managing brokers, he decided that the latter just sounded better than solely being a broker. “On one hand, it was about the marketing,” says Kitabayashi, “and on the other, it was about keeping my options open in terms of managing an office at some point.”

Kitabayashi has helped manage Windermere’s Puyallup and Olympia offices at times, but today focuses mainly on working with buyers and sellers. “Right now, I’m trying to concentrate on my own business,” he says. He also spends about five months out of the year teaching real estate courses and volunteering his time, both of which preclude him from managing an office on a full-time basis.

Understanding Buyers & Sellers

Coming from the Japanese service industry and having worked as a corporate travel agent, Kitabayashi brings a unique blend of expertise, understanding, and foreign language skills to a region populated by a large percentage of Asian American buyers and sellers. A founding member of the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) and one of its national advisory board members, Kitabayashi also keeps a finger on the pulse of both state and national housing markets.

“I’m heavily involved in the advocacy side, so I realize what goes on in the politics at the local, state, and national level,” says Kitabayashi, who works with a diverse client base that’s comprised of about 10% Japanese clients. And even though he doesn’t speak Vietnamese fluently, he says those buyers tend to gravitate toward him as well. “My first client was a Vietnamese client who I built a lot of trust with,” says Kitabayashi. “Over time, that’s turned into another one of my niches.”

Regardless of his client’s ethnicity, Kitabayashi says his biggest strength is his ability to understand and empathize with people of different lifestyles, cultures, ages, and preferences. This strength proves especially useful when he’s working with buyers from foreign countries, not all of which comprehend the “rules of road” for U.S. real estate. “When you understand at least something about the nuances of different cultures,” Kitabayashi says, “you can help them understand how the process works here, and what it takes to get a deal from the purchase agreement to closing.”

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Lifetime Housing Consultants

When it comes to continuing education, Kitabayashi sees it as the very lifeblood of any successful REALTOR®’s career. “A key part of the REALTOR®’s growth is staying educated well beyond the required, minimum hours needed to maintain an active license,” he explains. “We should all continue to be educated in different arenas, and especially in today’s world, where our roles as real estate professionals have changed due to forces like technology.”

Knowing, for example, that a buyer will probably have even more preliminary information than they do about a specific property, Kitabayashi says REALTORS® have to accept the fact that they are no longer the “keepers” of the data. “Buyers are constantly looking at their laptops, tablets, and phones to get the information before we do,” he points out, “and all while we’re trying to cater to a wider swath of people who are out there looking for their dream homes.”

Pointing to a recent National Association of REALTORS® report that found a high percentage of millennials—despite being tech-savvy—choose to work with real estate brokers when buying and selling, Kitabayashi says every broker should be focused on becoming “lifetime housing consultants” versus just buyer’s or seller’s brokers. “Clients may be able to get all of the information they want online,” says Kitabayashi, “but they still need someone to help them navigate the complexities of buying or selling a home.”

A 5-Year Plan

A former chair of the Thurston County HOME Consortium Advisory Committee, a current Thurston County Housing Taskforce member, and a member of the Thurston Regional Planning Council Home Advisory Panel, Kitabayashi is also a past board member of Home First and Monarch Children’s Justice and Advocacy Center. He says he initially got involved with Thurston County REALTORS® because he wanted to see how his annual dues were being used. “It was more just out of curiosity,” says Kitabayashi, who wound up serving as president of the association in 2006.

Kitabayashi has since served on the National Association of REALTORS®’s Board of Directors (2013-Present), Strategic Thinking Committee, and is the President’s Liaison to Japan. He’s also served in several roles with the Washington REALTORS®, including president, director, and project manager. He sees these involvements as playing a crucial role in his success as a broker, and encourages other real estate professionals to get involved with their industry at the local, state, and/or national level.

“NAR is one of the largest trade organizations in the U.S., with over 1.3 million members right now,” remarks Kitabayashi, “which means one out of every 300 persons in the country is a REALTOR®. That’s a lot of real estate agents and brokers.” That’s also a very powerful force, says Kitabayashi, and one that should continue to focus on transaction transparency and the professional code of ethics. “NAR’s goal is to spread that transparency and level of ethics worldwide,” says Kitabayashi, who travels to Japan often to represent those viewpoints on NAR’s behalf. In fact, Kitabayashi also has trips to Japan and Mongolia scheduled for 2019, including one large symposium in Tokyo.

An Instructor of the Year for Seattle King County in 2018; Instructor of the Year for the state of Washington in 2017; and NAR’s Best Global Ambassador Award recipient for 2016, he taught a total of 48 code of ethics classes in 2018—or nearly one per week. “I take pride in teaching that course along with one of NAR’s global designation classes,” says Kitabayashi, who enjoys teaching and volunteering, but admits that it can cut into the time he has to spend working with his own clients.

“In about five years, some of the volunteering will be finished and I’ll be able to work harder on my own business and on expanding it,” Kitabayashi predicts. “Looking ahead, I’d also like to increase my current business to the point where I can delegate some of it while continuing to have a successful real estate career.”

Photography bt Amore Studios

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