I do not actually remember when I first met Mike. It seems like I have always known him and Sharon; they have been fixtures in the community for as long as I can remember. If Mike was here I might ask him if he remembers when we first met, but that boat has sailed.
Mike was easily one of the most ethical people I know. He told me the story of purchasing his first Boonville property when he first arrived in Anderson Valley; after the sale closed he discovered all sorts of things about the property that he would like to have known before signing the paperwork. He decided there must be a better way. And that way became North Country’s way. Mike’s number one rule: Disclose, disclose, disclose.
Early years with Mike
When I earned my real estate license in 2008 I decided to go to work in Mendocino; Mike let me know right away that I had a home at North Country if I ever wanted a change. It wasn’t for another two years that I called Mike up and asked if the offer still stood; happily, he said “yes.” I met Mike at a property that was then on the market, where Lula now resides. I was going to be showing the property, so we talked both about my moving to North Country and about the features of the property. Even in 2010 Mike was talking about retiring; and he let me know that I could be his successor in the business if that was what I wanted. Being ambitious, it was.
I was still very green in 2010; my first two years in real estate were some of the worst years ever in real estate history and I often joked that I “volunteered” for real estate. Mike took me under his wing and began educating me right away. Mike was a very hands-on broker and he took to heart his responsibility to supervise my work product. It wasn’t always easy, but I always learned a lot – and, most importantly, I learned correctly.
I spent my first four years in the little gas station office next to Rossi Hardware. Mike would walk or drive down once a week to check on me, talk about property, the market or particular deals. When there was a new listing, he and Jimmy and I would pile into Mike’s car and we’d drive out to the property to take a look. We would discuss the features and throw out ideas on price. We’d consider who would want to buy it, how to market it and so on.
Getting my brokers license
In the winter of 2013 I started taking classes to get my broker’s license. It was the first step to taking over the business from Mike eventually. I completed the classes that winter and spring, but when business picked up I set my studies aside. That following winter Mike made it clear that he wanted to move ahead with his plans for his retirement. If I didn’t get my broker’s license he might look elsewhere. That was all the prodding I needed; I spent the next several months studying like crazy so that I could take and pass the test that spring, which I did.
As soon as I had my license, Mike and I began talking in earnest about my taking over the business. We worked on drafts of agreements, talked to the Bureau of Real Estate (BRE) about how to proceed, hired an attorney to make our agreement more formal and finally, waited for the BRE to bless the change. From start to finish, it took nearly seven months.
Over the year before I took over North Country, Mike suffered numerous small but annoying infections – a scratch on the nose that wouldn’t heal, then a sore on his finger that also wouldn’t. Finally, over the summer, one of his doctors recommended some blood tests to see what was going on. I will never forget – I was driving down the hill to work and Mike called and told me of his leukemia diagnosis. How I held it together I don’t know. I was sworn to secrecy and that nearly killed me – I’m one who needs to talk things over to process them.
At the beginning of his treatments, we saw Mike frequently. Once the BRE gave us their blessing, Mike asked Jimmy and I to clear out the caboose for him so that he didn’t have to and so that I could move in. This was not an easy task in more ways than one and neither Jimmy nor I enjoyed the process under the circumstances. Mike only stopped by a few times after I took over. I remember the last time he came by he told Jimmy and I that his cancer doctor was really happy with his progress, but that he, Mike, just didn’t feel very good. It was a few days later that he received the diagnosis of a fungal pneumonia that would almost kill him.
Taking on North Country
The beginning of my taking over North Country was pretty smooth. I was lucky that things were pretty quiet – it was late October and going into the holidays. I knew I could call or email Mike any time with questions, but I really hated to bother him unless it was important. Fortunately, because it was quiet, I didn’t have to. The following year changed and we got really busy. I found myself having to call or email Mike more frequently and he, hospitalized though he was, would always find a way to answer me.
One of the last times I saw Mike in person was almost a year ago; I had just returned from my honeymoon in France and we met to go over management of his rental properties. I went to his home for the first time. We sat in his solarium, near Lake Shapiro, and we went over things. We had a good visit; Mike looked, thin, yes, but with good color and good spirits.
The year that followed that was a very busy one. I found I enjoyed being the broker, though I was crazy-busy at times. I also felt secure knowing that Mike’s knowledge was just a phone call away. While I didn’t see him much, we talked on the phone or emailed weekly. I would hear how he was doing from mutual friends though he himself didn’t give me much in the way of updates. I respected his privacy and was grateful for his support.
Now, almost two years since I received my broker’s license, I am truly on my own. It feels a little like I’m missing my safety net; I’m thankful to have a great support network of other brokers and long-time agents I can call upon. While Mike was still alive, at home dealing with his disease, I missed his presence, but at least I knew he’d check his emails and answer my calls. I feel grateful for all that he taught me and I can still hear him telling me how to do things. My motto now is: WWMD – What Would Mike Do? It’s thanks to him that I can step back and ask that question and have a pretty good idea of how to proceed. I’m so very thankful I was able to work with Mike for the time I did and for the opportunity he gave me by allowing me to take over North Country. But I sure do miss him.