By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A quest for better education brought Mei Young to the United States. Since then, she seized every opportunity and worked hard to build a powerful real estate firm on Seattle’s Eastside, employing 25 agents. MY International is a boutique enterprise that deals in high-end residential and commercial properties and is now entering new construction.
Mei Young was a native of Chongqing, a populous city on the Yangtze river in Southwest China.
“My father was a devoted Communist party member, who worked for the Chinese revenue service and my mother a housewife. That meant a strict upbringing, a focus on education, and discipline for me and my siblings,” Young said.
Growing up, Young always wanted to be the best. “Being competitive is in my nature. I have two brothers and was the best at school,” she said. Young calls herself a typical Capricorn — hardworking, determined, and loyal. “That’s part of my personality. It’s a good thing, but sometimes I can be too much of a perfectionist. I try to balance the two,” she said.
While in Beijing, Young thought of coming to the United States and made the move to the University of North Dakota, where she completed a Masters degree in Psychological Counseling.
“I wanted to do something business-related and thought of getting an MBA. However, my friends and mentors advised me to work for a few years. That got me thinking about where to move. I didn’t want to stay in a cold, snowy place,” she said.
Move to Seattle
“I really wanted to come to Seattle, I didn’t have a second choice,” Young said. There were several reasons — the first was Bill Gates’ 1994 Hawaiian wedding that garnered immense media attention.
“I learned that Gates was the founder of Microsoft and came from Seattle. I also watched ‘Sleepless in Seattle’,’” she said. What made her move were the views of Seattle during flights back home for the holidays.
“I always had to change planes in Seattle. The bird’s eye view of Lake Washington, Mount Rainier, and the cityscape blew me away,” Young said. “Then, I heard it rains a lot in Seattle and was won over. I like the rain — it makes the air clean and creates a romantic atmosphere,” she said. So, Young packed her bags and drove from Grand Forks to Seattle in 1997.
Young soon found an apartment in the University District and began working as a project manager at a healthcare company, but didn’t find the work challenging enough.
“It was not something I could settle down with. I spoke to some friends, who were long-term Seattleites, that told me about Seattle’s good real estate market. That clicked and I quit my job, studied for my license, and got my license right away,” she said. Young began working at Windermere and then moved to John L. Scott on Mercer Island, where she learned the ropes.
“It was my first year at Windermere and luckily I connected with a builder in U-District who had a 20-unit condominium. He interviewed me, and I thought it was a great opportunity. I promised to sell all 20 units within a year and I did,” Young said. After that, Young began thinking about starting her own firm, but felt she was still green and waited.
In 2001, Young learned that Seattle and Chongqing were sister cities and decided to take up community service. She served as a Washington State China Relations Council board member and was president for the Seattle-Chongqing Sister Cities Association. Young also served as a representative for the Seattle-Dalian Trade Association.
“We fostered economic exchange between the two cities. At the time, the administration of the Port of Seattle and Port of Dalian agreed on a sister port relationship. “I worked with then-Mayor of Bellevue Conrad Lee and we visited Dalian four times. We drafted the memorandum of the City of Bellevue and Dalian, laying the groundwork to ensure the two cities connected, learned, and benefited from each other,” she said. This work earned Young a trusted mentor in Lee, who she admired for his efforts. She also worked to organize former Ambassador Gary Locke’s 2008 visit to Qingdao.
“I enjoyed community service, but realized it really was the framework for real economic partnership between two regions. I then shifted my focus to real estate and felt it was time to start my own real estate firm,” Young said.
Young’s confidence was boosted by her experience of working with government entities, companies, and private individuals and the timing coincided with an economic turnaround. “There was a high demand for real estate. Many Chinese were flocking to the region, so I thought maybe it was really time to start my own firm,” she said. “In Chinese, there is a proverb that says time, opportunity, and resources all have to work together. And that’s what happened,” she added.
Young began small. “Early on, I decided to engage very few agents and not get stressed by expanding too fast. Now, the company has grown to employ 25 agents and operates in three main categories,” she said. Young’s firm has a three-line business. A major part of it is brokerage and some property management, the second is construction, and the third is commercial, which they started last year.
MY International started in 2013 and took off in 2014. In 2018, Young estimates sales crossed $150 million.
“I have a great team that works hard and smart, offering great customer service and a great client management system. That has pushed us to this level. I am thankful to my team and my community for their support and encouragement,” she said.
Feeling the need for an academic perspective on real estate, Young completed the Commercial Real Estate Program in 2014 at the University of Washington (UW), becoming a Husky alumnus.
“I wear two hats in my business, I’m a broker but also the owner. I manage agents, administration, accounting, and training. My agents operate more on the residential side with sales and listings, while my role is focused on new construction, land acquisition, entitlement, permits, and getting raw land ready for new construction,” Young said. New construction is where her expertise lies.
Young’s firm has three lots and got a permit for one of them in November 2018.
“We are speaking with a builder and going forward with new construction on Mercer Island. It is more high-end. One will break ground in late February, one in spring, and the third in 2020. On these projects, either my firm has made an investment or worked with partner investors. All three will enter the presale phase in 2019,” she said. “This is something I am proud of,” she said, inviting those interested to get in touch with her assistant manager Gia Guo at email@example.com.
As for the future, she is looking mainly at Mercer Island and probably West Bellevue.
“We probably will bring on more partners. Now, we are working with some potential investors on multi-family projects,” she said.
“I always say once I have 30 agents, it’s enough. We are a boutique firm with our own brand on the eastside, on the other side, there is a franchise,” Young said. She wants to stay small to be more efficient.
“If a good agent comes along, I may still recruit them as part of the team, which is cohesive, has a good corporate culture, and provides a good platform,” she said. On the new construction side, Young hopes to get into more building sites, perhaps on a larger scale with six-eight residential community lots.
Real estate in Seattle
Speaking of real estate in Seattle, Young said, “I follow trends, not headlines because statistics are important. She recounts positive impressions at a recent Certified Commercial Investment Member seminar, where the speaker was her UW instructor.
“Matthew Garner is a respected national and local real estate expert and forecaster. Everything I heard was positive,” Young said. She mentions that while the community has heard about a recession after 2020 at the national level, it is a normal and minor adjustment.
“Unemployment is below 4 percent and we added about 50,000 jobs this last quarter. Seattle is on top of all 10 indices at the national level. Real estate is solid here,” Young said. When confronted with reports of a slowdown in the property market, Young cites a few reasons.
“The first is seasonal. It’s winter when there is always more inventory, fewer sales, and prices tend to get beat up a little. Secondly, inventory went up by 68 percent in October compared to 2017,” she said. When inventory goes up, Young believes there are fewer buyers and listings sit on the market a little longer.
“A listing is taking two months to sell, but that’s normal and fast compared to the national average of four months. Two months is not a bad number. In Seattle, we are nervous because we have been spoiled with two-digit appreciation and multiple offers over the last six years,” she said.
Young calls this a minor adjustment. “People began to think a listing has to be sold in two weeks at full price or more, that is not true for a healthy market. Now that we are getting a normal market, nobody should be nervous. That is why you should not follow headlines, but trends and statistics,” she said, adding that she is happy with the way things are.
Young points out that Seattle is one of the top three cities in the United States and top five in the world to invest in real estate.
“With the micro-economic statistics, we are healthy and there is a real need for real estate, it’s not speculation. You don’t have to flip houses, quick-in-quick-out. In many of those cases, you don’t make money, but if you want to invest and stay long-term, Seattle is the best place,” she added.
Striking a balance
Working in a demanding field is hard but Young, who also has a teenage son, knew that going in.
“I warned myself that I needed to be 100 percent devoted. You need to work hard and play less,” she said. Young comforts herself with the idea that perhaps in five years, she will have more time for leisure.
“This year, I told my friends and family that with the new construction, I won’t be able to travel and asked them not to plan any vacations,” she added.
What keeps Young balanced is exercise, her love for football, and tennis.
“I never miss a game. I watch college football either at Husky Stadium or on TV. I’m also a big Seahawks fan,” she said. “I go to Bellevue Club every other day to work out. Exercise balances me physically and mentally. I also play tennis and love it. Before bed, I walk around in my neighborhood for at least 30 minutes. I never miss it. It keeps me calm,” she said.
While Young and her agents have helped many find perfect homes, she reveals she built her home on Mercer Island in 2008. “I bought the tear-down bungalow from my neighbor, Howard Behar of Starbucks and rebuilt it from scratch. It has beautiful views of the Seattle skyline, Seward Park, and Lake Washington and is located at the very northwest tip of Mercer Island. Mine is the best place to see the Blue Angels air show,” she said. Young also mentions her vacation home in Indianola, north of Bainbridge Island.
“It is an oceanfront property and very peaceful. I like the community and spend a lot of time there in summer. The two together, make my dream home,” she said.
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.