In October of 2012 the Wall Street Journal recognized Team Foster as the top real estate agency in the Seattle metro area based on the value of its listings portfolio, which at the time was over $130 million.
Just over a year later, the Seattle Times reported on the sale of Allan Island, a deal between an undisclosed client of Foster’s and Paul Allen.
In late 2014 the New York Times, MSN.com and a host of local media outlets reported on the current foreign buyer boom in Seattle, and they went straight to the women in the know for information.
Long story short, when Team Foster makes a sale, predicts a trend or speaks out about the industry, people across the country and world take notice.
This wasn’t always the case, however. When Foster was in her early 30s, she was pursuing a career in dance (her first passion) and was teaching aerobics and choreographing plays at the Bellevue Club. “I was teaching four to eight classes a day,” Foster says, who is a charter member. “But then, honestly, I got tired of jumping up and down, and I thought, ‘Really, how long are you going to do this?’” So when an injury took her out for a few weeks, she jumped at the chance to renew her real estate license and start carving a new career path, a path close to home and her heart.
Born in Vancouver, Washington, Foster went to the University of Washington and majored in social psychology, a skill set she says still helps her with her career today. But growing up, her father and his real estate business remained a constant, undeniable source of influence.
“I grew up in real estate. My dad was an investor. We had apartment buildings, warehouses; he developed housing property, duplexes, fourplexes,” Foster says. “He really lived the American dream. He was an immigrant who left the Ukraine during World War I, arrving in the states through Ellis Island. He always felt that owning real estate was the greatest thing you could ever do.”
So when she was ready, after she “had tried the dance thing,” Foster went into commercial real estate. “It wasn’t a personality fit,” she says. She made a shift into residential, and that’s when things started to click. “When you sell homes, you’re dealing with family changes, job changes, financial changes, unfortunately sometimes divorce, people passing away. It seemed my skills, especially with a background in counseling, were best suited for that. I needed to be in a more personal environment,” Foster says.
As a self-described type A personality, once Foster found her fit, she went to work making sure she knew every nook and cranny of Seattle’s real estate market. During a time with no technology, this often meant driving around different neighborhoods for hours getting to know the inventory and reputations, all the while listening to tapes and CDs on real estate sales tips. And all of that work began paying off when tech companies began to move to town.
“The first 10 years I did relocation work. I was very fortunate to work when Microsoft was ramping up. They’d call and say, ‘Can you pick up this client? But we can’t tell you anything. So I’d go to the hotel and pick them up, and they’d tell me I need X, Y and Z. But there were no computers to do research, so I had to think on my feet and really know the inventory. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t acquire them as a buyer, and they’d report back to the company,” Foster says.
Skillman, Foster’s daughter, remembers riding around with her mother on weekends and evenings visiting properties and memorizing streets. So it came as no surprise when Skillman, who graduated from Seattle University with a degree in political science and worked for a congressman in Washington, DC, for a few years, eventually returned to Seattle and joined Team Foster in 2003. She says growing up watching Foster’s approach to real estate taught her many things that carry over into the modern market, where real estate–based technology abounds.
“The clients have tons of information at their fingertips now, so the burden is on the broker. We have to be really thorough; we have to see the properties. Everyone is so educated, so smart, we have to assume they know everything,” Skillman says. “And that’s where the service factor becomes really huge, trying to make it seamless for them. They’re all really busy, and we don’t want to add to the stress of that.”
Foster agrees service is paramount. “We are in the high-service business first and foremost. We are totally in service to our clients,” she says.
It’s been over 10 years that the two have worked together, and they both agree the partnership—with their different generational perspectives—is beneficial for business and the overall team. “We have our moments, but they are only moments,” Foster says. “We trust each other so much. She can say, ‘Mom stop,’ and I can do the same to her. We’re good sounding boards for each other, and we’re both willing to listen when we’re over the edge on things.”
In fact, Foster lists working with her daughter as one of the two reasons why she, like her father, will continue to work in the business until she’s well into her 80s (or as long as she can walk property, she jokes). The other reason is her client relationships.
“I’ve been able to meet some of the most amazing people, and that’s been such a bonus. I can’t mention names, but it has been so fabulous to get acquainted with people who are brilliant human beings,” Foster says. “That’s the biggest bonus ever and I take that very seriously. It comes with a fantastic responsibility.”
Although she isn’t stopping anytime soon, Foster looks back at her accomplishments thus far and marvels at what she, her daughter and her eight other team members have accomplished together. When asked if she ever dreamed of making headlines in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, she says, “You know, I never ever thought of it that way; I started in this because I had to make a living. I had to participate in earning income; I had children to educate. My father always said, ‘Be fearless; walk right through the door and attack it.’ And I listened to him. I’m very competitive, and I’ve never been afraid of it.”