Business

Dunham retires after 52 years in real estate

"Charlie Dunham was already a big success in real estate when he moved to Whidbey Island in 1967, and things only got better in the ensuing 33 years.Dunham, who turns 80 in July, retired this month after a total of 52 years in the business, the last 19 as an associate of Erl Bangston of Coldwell Banker Tara Properties.When he and his first wife Carol moved to their Goss Lakeridge Acres development in 1967, they already owned more than 500 acres. This particular development was 160 acres they had divided into 2 1/2- to 4-acre tracts.Dunham opened his own business, renting half of what is now the Whidbey's Coffee building next to the Dog House in Langley. He painted the business name on a piece of driftwood and hung it outside, brought in a stump as the base of a desk, set an old door on top of the stump and a typewriter on top of the door, and he was ready to sell property. Bob Freer, owner of the meat market next door, would send prospects his way.While showing off where he started out in Langley, Dunham stooped to pick a penny out of the First Street gutter. Never could walk past a penny, he said, flashing a smile and his copper prize for all to see. Honest salesmanship and thrift are the secrets to his success.Looking at the Dog House and Whidbey's Coffee, he recalls when he could have purchased both buildings for a total of $20,000. Instead, he moved his office to Clinton, and that remains one of his few regrets in his many years of island deal making.Tall, thin and talkative, and now sporting an impressive pure white mane that came with his years, Dunham is likeable and forthright, a natural born salesman. He's sold so much property and so many houses on Whidbey Island that he can't hazard a guess as to how much. In fact, he laughs, he's sold some of it two and three times, such as the property now occupied by the Inn at Langley.Dunham was a compatriot and business partner to many of the men who developed South Whidbey: Bud Waterman, Bud Groom, Howard Sievers, Mel Milby, Ernie Noble and many others. It was a free wheeling time when land could be bought, traded and divided, with hardly a regulation in sight.It's a far different world today. Dunham recalls buying 140 acres on Holst Road in Clinton, dividing it into 5- and 10-acre parcels, and putting it back on the market in 30 days -- no perk tests required, no surveys required.Those days are gone, Dunham said. Today it'd take two years to get it on the market.The old Realtor has an open disdain for all the rules and regulations that now govern the use of property, and he is particularly appalled at all the land that was downzoned in the recent county plan. That's stealing from the public, he said. That's wrong. But even this he relays in a friendly manner, and he holds no personal animosity toward the rule makers.Dunham retired with reservations, hating to leave his fellow real estate people, whom he admires. Particularly the successful ones who stick to it despite the ups and downs of an income based on a commission.Commission people are my kind of people, Dunham explained. Working 12 hours a day is fine and they don't feel the world owes them a living. They're just a different breed of cat and I love 'em.He loves them so much that he married two of them. After his wife Carol passed away he married Marie Jane Dunham, a successful Realtor in her own right. She continues to work for Coldwell Banker/Tara Properties. They've been married for 16 years.Dunham laughs when he acknowledges that real estate salespeople are sometimes held in low regard. A notch above used car salesman, is how he described it. But he said that's a fading cliche because of how much knowledge it takes to become a certified Realtor, and because of how hard they work.For young people in search of a good income, Dunham encourages learning to be a good sales person. The only way to compete with a college education is selling, he said, noting that many real estate agents live in the same neighborhoods as doctors and lawyers.In his retirement years Dunham will spend a lot of time in his woodworking shop, making toys for the 33 grandchildren that he and Mary Jane share. But chances are he'll never entirely stop selling.Long history in real estateHere are some of the highlights of Charlie Dunham's real estate career, which he began after spending six years in the Navy and after a short stint working with Fielder Chevrolet in Seattle.* Passed real estate exam, 1948, under the tutelage of Henry N. Meecham.* In 1953, joined Robert Yeakel in Burien. In 1954, helped develop Lake Hills east of Bellevue, with 4,000 planned homes on 1,000 acres.* In 1959, moved to Rainier Valley to work with Fisher Realty and Atomic Realty. Later became director of field services for the Seattle Real Estate Board, working with hundreds of real estate agents.* In 1962, bought the pioneering West & Wheeler firm that started in 1888 in Seattle. Managed 2,330 apartments plus several small malls.* Started purchasing Whidbey Island real estate with first wife Carol in 1961. Owned more than 500 acres in 17 parcels when they moved here in 1967.* Last surviving founder, in 1969, of the South Whidbey Brokers Association, which also included Margaret Kish, Mel Milby and Allan Fredrickson.* On the island, owned his own firm, then went to First Properties and then, for the last 19 years, associated with Erl Bangston at Coldwell Banker Tara Properties, as an associate broker/manager and finally as assistant manager.Other career highlights: First president and co-founder of United Way of Island County; elected member of the Port District of South Whidbey Island."

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