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The hills are alive

by: Vern Uyetake, Principal Broker Barbara Sue Seal spins around on the patio in the backyard of her home overlooking Oswego Lake. Seal purchased the home in 1986, saying she rarely moves but enjoys helping others find new homes. After forming Barbara Sue Seal Properties in 1983, Seal has maintained a loyal clientele and busy schedule.

The sun illuminates the water in the distance. A cool breeze refreshes the afternoon heat. And real estate broker Barbara Sue Seal spends the afternoon at her favorite house in Lake Oswego - her own.

Since purchasing the modern home in 1986, Seal has established herself as a savvy businesswoman; she started Barbara Sue Seal Properties, kept personal sales between $10 to $35 million a year since 1976, raised three children and spent time with grandchildren while also moving hundreds of families into and out of homes.

On this quiet summer afternoon Seal walks on her backyard patio looking out at the dozens of homes tucked within the trees lining Oswego lake, many of which she's sold one or two times. She smiles, a lot. Why wouldn't she?

'I was never a fan of Elvis Presley as a young woman but now I turn Elvis on really loud and have a glass of wine and come out here and go, 'yessssss,'' said Seal, spinning around in a circle. 'I live a fairy tale life. There's not a day in my life I don't pinch myself.'

And she said she owes much thanks to her co-workers and clients who she's spent time with through the years, but she also said 'family and friends are the most important.'

It's a family thing

Seal grew up in upstate New York. Her parents are Italian, which is why she said her house often smells like garlic and onions - and flowers. Attending a parochial school as a child, she learned the importance of discipline and the rewards of hard work, which she carried into her professional career.

'I was raised to do what you're supposed to do, first,' Seal said. 'And to this day I cannot imagine sitting down and reading a book in the middle of the day - not if there's laundry to be done or dinner to be fixed.'

One lesson from her teacher SisterAnnunciata left a lasting impression.

'She taught me that I can be anything that I want to be, and not to settle for mediocrity,' Seal said. 'People are usually capable of more if they're encouraged not to settle for less.'

After meeting her husband Bill Seal in Rochester, N.Y. - then salesman for Georgia Pacific and later a national sales manager for retail accounts - the couple ended up in Oregon in 1975. Seal took the real estate law information she learned in New York into the field in the Northwest with a small company.

'I started out and it was gang busters instantly,' Seal said. 'I love the art of the deal.'

Seal said she enjoys negotiating transactions and walking away from a house sale knowing she helped a family start a new lifestyle. But what really makes a good real estate agent?

'If you can watch a late-night movie by yourself and cry, you can be good,' she said. 'You have to feel what the other person is feeling.'

When trying to find a home for her clients, Seal said it is important to find out their likes and desires, but it is crucial to notice body language.

'It isn't the size of the house or the decorating, it's the people,' said Seal. 'Your body language will tell me 'this is home.''

Setting a standard

In 1983, Seal formed Barbara Sue Seal Properties in Lake Oswego to put a new spin on real estate. As president and owner of the real estate firm she was in charge of eight real estate agents, which later grew to 15 offices, approximately 300 agents and 60 salaried staff, she said.

'I decided (real estate) should be done a bit more professionally,' she said. 'There was an energy that came from having an agent come to (the office), dressed for work. I had a dress code. I set a different standard. And I didn't hire rookies.'

She did, however, hire Gail Fisher, the company's current president. Seal said she tried to emphasize teamwork; there were company trips, surprise progressive lunches, limousines and gatherings to strengthen the office, she said.

She thought two heads were better than one and an entire office filled with professionals was powerful.

'I had a lot of hardworking, smart individuals that made me look good,' Seal said.

In 1997 she sold the firm to New Jersey based NRT which added the international Coldwell Banker connections to the operation, her 'biggest deal,' as she says, as the company had just completed a billion dollars in sales. The firm maintains both names and is held by the same owner as Coldwell Banker Bain in Seattle, according to the Coldwell Banker Barbara Sue Seal Web site. Seal still serves as a consultant to the firm and keeps a clientele but has freed up her work schedule to make more time for travelling and family.

The comforts of home

In matching swivel chairs Seal said she and Bill 'solve the world's problems' each night as they unwind; they talk about their children, a grandchild on the way, schedules and personal responsibility.

'If I had it my way I'd probably have the whole world work on commission,' she said. 'You get paid to perform. If you don't perform, you don't get paid.'

Her home reflects an eclectic style, personality and functionality. And after living there two decades she's still giddy about the place.

'I don't move much. I just move other people. This room sold me on this house,' Seal said, standing in the living room with panoramic views of downtown Lake Oswego.

The house is perched on a high hill, just off South Shore Blvd. and has views of just about everything.

Rooms have changed over time - a kid's room is now a guest room, the terrace has been fixed up, the kitchen was remodeled - but Seal said everything is pretty much the same, kind of like her life.

'In the past it didn't matter how many hours a day I was working. I'd come home, fix my husband dinner and do the dishes,' she said, 'and I still do that.'

She also hasn't stopped throwing impromptu dinner parties - sometimes for up to 70 guests.

'(When they got there) I had to ask how all those people had nothing better to do that night. I mean, they made it over in an hour's notice,' Seal said.

Sitting within her study - Bill has his own - Seal is comfortable, within a home she adores, a career she's proud of and a photos of her kids and four - soon to be five - grandchildren.

Her career is her passion she said, but at the end of the day Seal knows what drives her to succeed and makes her happy.

'The secret behind a successful woman is a great guy,' Seal said. 'And I have a great guy.'

For more information and to contact Barbara Sue Seal, visit www.cbseal.com.