Real estate diva Shirley Lake dies at 88

As late as 1982 and probably for a few years beyond that, Lake rolled around town in a 1966 Chrysler Imperial that used to belong to her mother.  - Reporter file photo
As late as 1982 and probably for a few years beyond that, Lake rolled around town in a 1966 Chrysler Imperial that used to belong to her mother.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Editor’s note: Islander Shirley Lake, who died Jan. 9, sold property here and on the Eastside for 43 years. She began selling homes not because she wanted to, but because she needed to help support her family after a crisis. Little did she know how successful she would become.

No one knows how many houses she sold; they only can say it was a lot.

Excerpts from a 1982 story about Lake written by former Mercer Island Reporter writer, Nancy Hilliard, sum up Lake’s drive and philosophy (July 6, 1982).

“Could I see the houses at Shirley Lake?” a homebuyer once asked a local realtor.

“Uh, er,” stammered the realtor, “That is not a place but a person. In fact, she works for another real estate office.”

Shirley Lake, a real estate salesperson who specialized in Mercer Island property sales for Coldwell Banker [now Coldwell Banker Bain here on Mercer Island], has carried up to 40 listings at one time all over the Eastside. Her quantity of listings alone promoted name familiarity as few realtors did.

She began working in the mid-1960s selling hundreds of homes both here and across the Eastside.

She worked first for Glendale Realty, then for Henry Broderick, whose firm was later bought by Coldwell Banker.

[According to her son, David Lake, who lives on Mercer Island, the late Bill Bain explained that he bought out Broderick Real Estate simply to get Shirley Lake on his staff.]

The late Mr. Broderick used to call Lake his “million dollar girl” [in 1980s dollars], but now she sells six times that amount of real estate annually.

“If you need the money, you have to work very hard,” she said.

For many years, beginning in 1978, Lake was a member of the Coldwell Banker’s President Club, representing the top five percent of the national sales staff. Sometime in the 1970s, she was the company’s number three salesperson in the nation for the firm.

Lake’s customers asked her for names of babysitters and window washers, or how to get into the real estate business.

It was that personal touch that gave her an edge.

She said she sold service rather than houses.

The red-haired mother of four, who married Sam Lake in 1950, explained that she did not dream of being a career woman, but went back to work when a family member’s medical bills nearly bankrupted the family in 1967. She went into a South end real estate office and asked for a job.

“When Evelyn Zanner told me ‘to get a license and come on’ — I was aghast, I thought, my gosh, even at age 42, someone wants me.”

She said she sold her first house in Kirkland, the day before she took the real estate exam.

“I wasn’t quite sure how to write it up. But once the deal was finalized, I felt I could lick the world; it was intoxicating.”

Her career meant her children and husband had to adapt. She credited her success to the partnership with her husband [Sam, who died in 2010], who pitched in at every point. Her children all became “unspoiled quickly,” she explained.

She said that her success and strong business ethic came from need. She did not need to be fulfilled. “I would have been very content to remain a homemaker, traveller and volunteer.”

And when would she retire?

“I want to keep working until I feel a little inadequate. Although I’ll probably get a little senile first, and still think I am wonderful. I guess you might say I want to wear out — not rust out."

As it turned out, she sold property for 27 more years after this story was written, retiring only in 2009.

Lake's full obituary can be found here.


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