A Place of Their Own

Local real estate agent retires after dedicating 51 years to finding homes

By Rodger Nichols

Mike Fowler takes the phrase “location, location, location” to heart. For more than half a century as a Realtor and broker, he has helped people find just the right location for their new home, business, or farm.

As he hangs up his license, he has time to reflect on his journey.

Mike did not set out to be a real estate professional.

“My intention was to farm,” he says. “With my grandmother’s permission, I had been helping my grandparents with their cherry orchard, doing the hiring and firing since I was 12.”

Mike kept that dream through high school, a stint in the Army, and the beginning of his marriage to his wife, Pat. When he got out of the service, the couple had 2 daughters, Kellie and Colleen, and bought an orchard in Hood River.

Mike says it took less than a year to realize he would need a second job to be able to afford the orchard. For 2 years, he worked at Brookside Market after harvest and up to late spring, followed by 2 years as a bulldozer operator, working on forest roads and irrigation canals.

“My fifth year, I sold insurance and asked myself why I was working for an orchard that kept losing money,” he says. “I sold the orchard and went to work for Diamond Fruit, first in Hood River, then in Ontario.”

While he was there, a friend of Pat’s suggested Mike would do well in real estate. Mike spoke to Don Nunamaker—a successful Hood River real estate broker—who asked Mike to join his agency.

It turned out to be the right move. Don was a big believer in education and encouraged his entire staff to enroll in the newly formed Graduate Realtors Institute.

“Everyone would meet at the office at 5:30 A.M. and carpool down to the Benson Hotel in Portland for the program,” Mike says. “We did that for 3 years until everybody had their GRI, followed by graduate seminars for several more years.”

Don also pushed Mike to become certified in commercial investment.

The Certified Commercial Investment Member status was an expensive investment because the closest available classes were in Seattle. But it gave Mike an advantage because there were only 3 dozen other CCIMs in the state, none in Eastern Oregon.

“Don also wanted us to take a role in the leadership of the Mid-Columbia Association of Realtors and state boards,” Mike says. “I was in the right place at the right time.”

That leadership translated into a slew of responsibilities.

Mike was on the Mid-Columbia Association of Realtors Board of Directors for 7 years. He served as president twice and was named Realtor of the Year twice. Mike spent 5 years on the Oregon CCIM Board of Directors and served as its president.

He also spent 2 years on the board of governors for the Realtors Institute and served as dean and the state education co-chair.

After 10 years, Mike, along with George Nakamura and Ellen Wells, left to form their own company.

“We had the best location—202 Oak Street in the heart of Hood River,” Mike says. “We grew our staff to 10 agents and had fun with creative marketing. We had benches at the county fair, a free homebuyers’ clinic, and a free sellers’ clinic.”

1 creative tactic proved to be quite popular.

“I had a home I wrapped in caution tape so that it looked like a crime scene,” Mike says. “People slowed down when they went by and saw a little sign that said, ‘It would be a crime if you didn’t see the inside of this home.’ It sold quickly.”

Mike sold his shares in the company when he received a call to be a contract investment instructor and management consultant for Century 21’s Northwest Region, a move that opened a new opportunity: leading real estate classes aboard cruise ships in the Caribbean and Alaska. The job also led to teaching classes in 8 different states.

When Mike retired last year, he had been licensed for 51 years. He says there were many changes in those 5 decades.

“When I started, our listing agreement was 1 page,” he says. “The sale agreement was 1 page. Now, you cut down a tree for each form.”

But there was also a lot of satisfaction. Mike says 1 of his fondest memories is of helping a family in Hood River that was renting but had little money.

“I knew his kids,” Mike says. “So, I asked them if they had the skills and were willing to work to help him fix up the place. They did have the skills, so I found them a real fixer-upper that he could afford. They cleaned and fixed it up, and we sold it and found him another. After 3 of them, I was able to get him a brand-new home.”

Last November, Mike received the first-ever Legacy Award from the Mid-Columbia Association of Realtors. While greatly honored, he says what was most important to him over the years was the opportunity to find homes for 5 generations of his family.

Mike says he would not have had such success without an understanding wife who put up with phone interruptions and odd hours while being his bookkeeper and head cheerleader. He also appreciates his family, clients, the Mid-Columbia Association of Realtors, the title companies and attorneys he worked with, and many mentors along the way.

“Thanks for a 51-year adventure,” he says.