By Shannon Hartsoe August,2008 in Broker/Agent Magazine
With his trademark sense of humor, Michael Williamsen jokes that he doesn’t care if you misspell his name with an s-o-n instead of s-e-n, he’ll still cash the check. He favors himself as an old school gentleman, holding doors open for other people, and helping others load plywood into their truck in the hardware store parking lot. “I like to leave a smile on everyone I meet.”
Having represented buyers and sellers in several hundred transactions and several dozen on his own account since 1982 you might think he would feel comfortable in knowing the business. Williamsen has a bachelor’s degree in Information Management Systems from the University of San Francisco. “I try to keep technology tamed so my clients can make informed decisions.” Williamsen takes numerous classes each year in marketing, sales, and legal aspects of real estate – always on the prowl for new ideas. “I don’t believe in perfection, but the pursuit of perfection. That keeps me going beyond what used to be ‘perfection’.”
Shunning the traditional coat and tie in favor of blue jeans and print shirts, he doesn’t appear to be a typical real estate professional. “My philosophy on investing is 1) make the money, 2) keep the money, and 3) make the money make money for you.” Williamsen says. “My clients are more concerned with the quality of their investment, profit, safety, and reduced risk and stress than my fancy suits.”
Williamsen’s Alaskan childhood summers were consumed by hard work and baseball. He spent his mornings working with his father salvaging old buildings, and pulling up the halibut skates or crab pots. Afternoons on the baseball field taught him the rewards of hard work and persistence — twice helping his Little League teams to the state playoffs. Though he was very shy as a child, he was extremely creative. When he introduced creative financing, his mother knew the family Monopoly Games would never be the same. It just seemed natural that he would apply his creativity in everything else he did.
“My father was a Lutheran minister,” he says. “He never judged me, but I could always sense his approval or disappointment. I learned a lot from him. Even now I still sense his presence and strive to earn his respect. His belief in everlasting life really made the trials and setbacks in his life seem insignificant. It’s an amazing perspective.”
A family move put him in a small farming town in Eastern Washington. As the new kid in town, it was baseball that gave him instant acceptance with many new friends. Knowing him now, it’s tempting to think that it was Williamsen’s determination and persistence helped give his team the state high school baseball championship two years. But he begs to differ and says it was baseball that helped him gain self confidence, determination and persistence.
Williamsen went on to work in a variety of jobs including his own lawn mowing business at age 14, working in the hay fields of Eastern Washington at 15-16 and clerking in grocery stores from ages 16-22. The common denominator? “I learned the meaning of hard work and customer service. I always keep in mind who I work for; I work for my client, my company works for me.” While living in Washington, he had his first taste of investing success — purchasing a “fixer upper” for $11,000, renovating it almost entirely on his own, and then selling it for $29,500!
Turning Dirt Into Gold
In 1977 Williamsen moved to California and quickly got into buying property, and helping his friends get into their first homes. In 1982 Williamsen took the next natural step and got his real estate license.
Once Williamsen had his license, there was no stopping him. Quickly, he built a reputation as the one to turn to when results were critical, surprising everyone, it seems, but himself. Though residential properties make up more than 80% of his business, he is also something of a land guru. Connecting particularly well with the local builders, he began to help them find, develop and sell projects, then re-invest into the next project, earning him the nick-name the “Lot Guy” of Marin County. And for good reason; since the 1980’s, Michael Williamsen has had his fingers in a large percentage of Marin’s land deals. “I love the creativity of the deal and the design and development of new homes.” In 2006 Mike was awarded the RE/MAX Hall of Fame. “I actually earned it in 2004 – I was just busy to notice that I had qualified.”
His clients have grown accustomed to “the smile.” It happens when someone tells him that something can’t be done. “I have a nose for finding overlooked deals,” he says with a laugh. “Some of my clients have made a fortune on deals that others said couldn’t be done.” But, though he is creative, he’s anything but careless. His depth of experience in the purchase, development and sales of not only homes, but fixer uppers, spec houses, as well as commercial and land acquisition has often netted his clients a higher return and with less stress. “I always look at the potential future potential of a property. It’s the single biggest investment most people make so it’s a good idea to do it wisely. I am quite analytical. If I sense that it’s not a good deal, I tell them.” Rob Fitzgerald, one of Williamsen’s long-time clients, agrees. “The best deals I have ever made were the deals that I didn’t do. Mike Williamsen has kept me out of those disastrous deals.”
The Man, the Legend, and the Future
Though Williamsen’s real estate success is undeniable, he describes the true measure of his success by what he gives back. “I get a kick out of helping clients accomplish things they didn’t know they could.” Out of the dozens of awards he has earned, the older ones that actually found space on his wall are now covered with pictures of his family, or the many baseball and basketball teams he has coached. “Real estate has helped me to do more of the things that I enjoy. My son’s trophies mean a lot more to me than my own.” Williamsen says “I’ve always lived life on the playing field rather than in the bleachers.”
What are his latest favorite achievements? “I have spent several years developing a website to provide information and services to my clients. It is going so well, it is taking on a life of its own!” His son, Bryan, now 12, is his continued inspiration. “He’s smarter than I am, keeps me challenged, and he trusts me.” And, he adds with a laugh. “He already pitches faster than I do!” He recently added a new hobby. “I told my friends I was thinking about writing a screenplay. They all said I couldn’t do it.” Williamsen just finished his first screenplay and has started his second. Asked what will Williamsen do after real estate? “What do you mean? I am just getting started.”
California Real Estate Broker # 00839110
851 Irwin St, San Rafael, CA 94901