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Published: Sunday, November 4, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Let Gary McMillen be you guide to selling real estate

  • Gary McMillen teaches a class for aspiring real estate agents.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Gary McMillen teaches a class for aspiring real estate agents.

  • Gary McMillen says the real challenge of real estate is learning how to sell.

    Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

    Gary McMillen says the real challenge of real estate is learning how to sell.

In Gary McMillen's class, it's OK to snack, doodle and daydream about million-dollar homes.
In fact, it's almost required.
McMillen teaches aspiring agents the brass tacks of real estate. Everything from law and contracts to mold and math.
"You are going to have to deal with rectangles," he warns students, as if geometry is a matter of life and death.
"Squares are rectangles," he adds, much to the relief of half the class, who weren't so sure.
The 90-hour course is required to test for a real estate agent license in Washington state. McMillen puts it this way: "It's a doctor's degree in real estate."
Students can take it in a live lecture classroom or online. Many opt to take the textbookish version online.
"It is boring as heck online," McMillen says.
The 70-year-old instructor brings warmth and passion to a tedious topic. He brandishes a dry-erase marker while using phrases such as "You bet your nippy." Depending on his tangent, his blue eyes penetrate or sparkle.
"He doesn't play games," says student Amador Zamara, an Everett contractor eager to tackle the embattled yet emerging housing market.
McMillen holds class on weekday evenings and all day Saturday at Century 21 North Homes Realty on Highway 99 in Everett. Fluorescent lights glare overheard, and evidence of stale coffee hangs in the air in the cloistered arena of folding tables and stacking chairs. There might be three students or 10. It's a rotating curriculum, meaning students can start anytime. Some take two months to complete the $500 course. Others take years.
They come from trailer parks, town homes and mansions: truckers, bouncers, bankers, farmers, immigrants, engineers, nurses, journalists, cocktail waitresses.
To prepare for the proctored state exam, McMillen drills them with grueling mock exams.
"Those were harder than the actual test," says McMillen grad Dafna Shalev, a Bothell paralegal and Skyline Properties agent.
It pays off: McMillen says 90 percent of his students pass the state test on first try, well above the statewide rate of about 70 percent.
"The people who write the tests want to mess with your head and confuse you," he says.
McMillen is encouraging, in his own way.
"You can't believe how many idiots have real estate licenses," he says.
It's a cutthroat industry.
"You don't understand this yet, but most people would love to go around you," McMillen tells the class. "They will use you and abuse you and throw you away. You are going to meet so many people you don't like in this business."
This seems hard to believe, coming from such a likable guy.
"People come into this business all vim and vigor," he says. "They think, 'Hell, it's fun to go look at houses, so I'll get a license.' They say they like people, can talk to people. They can talk Mariners and Seahawks."
That helps, for sure. But you also have to talk lot size, survey and square feet. That's where those rectangles (and doodles) come into play.
Still, that's not enough.
"The real challenge is not getting a license; it's learning how to sell."
The how-to gospel according to Gary: "Join a church, even if you don't believe: You'll get business from it. Dress like you are going to meet Bill Gates. You don't need a new car, but it should be clean. Don't neglect volunteering; it gets you around people with money.
"Everybody is a potential client."
Indriani Thie can vouch for that. The Seattle Century 21 agent scored one of her first clients in the waiting room while her car was getting serviced.
She commuted from Shoreline to take McMillen's class after graduating from college last December with a finance degree. "He's funny. He tells a lot of stories," Thie says. "He's a very good instructor."
With 30 years of teaching real estate under his belt, plus 20 years as a salesman, McMillen knows how to work a room. And after 50 years of marriage, he knows how to listen.
He trained agents and sold real estate in Kansas and Florida before moving to Washington about six years ago to be near his daughter and granddaughter. He bought a condo in Redmond that's now worth a heck of a lot less than what he paid.
It happens. Even to the pros.
You bet your nippy.

To learn more
Number of approved real estate schools in Washington: 170
Approved real estate courses: 1,561
More information: www.dol.wa.gov/business/realestate/brokers.html
Source: Washington Department of Licensing
Story tags » Real EstateSenior issues

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