July 13, 2007
V 35 Issue 28

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SGN Business Spotlight: Michael Cornell, Realtor
SGN Business Spotlight: Michael Cornell, Realtor
SGN Business Spotlight: Michael Cornell, Realtor by Lisa Wardle - SGN Contributing Writer Michael Cornell has been in the realty business since 1988. Beginning his career in California, Michael moved to Seattle in the 90s and established an independent firm not long after. He has been a donor to many LGBT causes and organizations throughout the years, and has helped people of all backgrounds to find or sell a home.

The Seattle Gay News met with Michael to talk about his business and history.

Lisa Wardle: I'd like to get some background information about you personally. What are some of your favorite activities or hobbies?

Michael Cornell: I am very much into film. I have worked on a number of films and I have sponsored the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival several times. This year I sponsored Inlaws & Outlaws, which is now running at the Uptown on lower Queen Anne. I would love to write screenplays and direct films, if I had the money and time to do it.

I also enjoy classic cars. I have a 1968 Ford Galaxy 500 that I actually purchased to use in a movie that was set in the 1960s.

Spending time with my dog, Tasha, is also a favorite. Both Tasha and the antique convertible are great fun.

LW: Are you seeing anyone currently?

MC: Yes. I recently started seeing a great guy, D'Andre. He was sitting on a park bench while I had been walking my dog. We've only been seeing each other for a few weeks so far. It feels a little weird to say that I have a boyfriend because I have almost always been single.

LW: Do you think that being Gay has affected your business, either positively or negatively?

MC: I don't think that it has made much of a difference in my work. If it has, I have been oblivious to it. Maybe there have been some prospective clients who decided not to work with me because of my sexuality, but I wouldn't know. In a corporate business, it probably would have held me back.

I largely market to the Gay community, and over half of my clients are Gay. It's my community; it's where my friends are. I help a lot of young, professional Gays with their housing needs.

LW: What type of people do you enjoy working with most?

MC: I really like seniors. There are a lot of "empty nesters" that live in houses with five or six unneeded bedrooms. After their kids have left, these people don't need all of the space, and many of them have trouble with stairs. I help them to find a house better suited for their needs, and they are always very appreciative, many of them refer their friends to me.

LW: What made you want to come to Seattle after going to college in Sacramento?

MC: I first moved to Sacramento when I was 18. My parents had kicked me out of the house after I told them that I was Gay. We had lived just up the hill from Sacramento, so when they kicked me out I went down there and found my own place. I went to college and then joined a real estate group.

In the early nineties, Cheney and Bush destroyed the economy of Sacramento. The government had threatened to lower the wages of government employees, and people stopped buying big-ticket items like houses, vacations, and other luxuries.

Every newspaper and magazine that I looked at said something about Seattle. I left Sacramento about a year after the collapse began, hoping for the situation to improve, and moved here. I know almost no one [in Sacramento] now.

LW: Tell me a little bit about your work. What made you want to go into the occupation, and why did you decide to become an independent firm?

MC: I had been working with an independent office for eight years prior to starting my own firm. I don't like all of the rules and directives in a large business. In corporate firms, the amount of excess management does not benefit the clients or myself; all that they do is make up a lot of rules. The big "body shop" businesses hire as many people as possible, new and inexperienced people, but only keep about two percent of the workers. There are too many people cycling through the offices, and working alongside of so many inexperienced people takes away from the productiveness of the rest of us.

LW: What are some of the difficulties of being a small business owner?

MC: The minutia of running a small business can really add up to be very time-consuming. A friend of mine opened his own real estate firm on the Eastside before I did. I asked him what the most challenging part of opening the new office was, and he told me it was the phone system. I thought that seemed a little ridiculous until I had to do it myself. I am still amazed at how difficult it is to deal with the phone company.

LW: There are certainly benefits to owning your own company though, what would you say that you enjoy most about being your own boss?

MC: I can make my own decisions and I don't have to answer to a bunch of layers of irrelevant corporate management or deal with rules and directives that do nothing for my clients or myself.

LW: What type of services do you do mainly? Is it personal home buying and selling, business and restaurant buildings, or something else?

MC: I specialize in delivering results to my clients. I average about 105 percent of list price for my sellers, and I almost always help my buyer's purchase property below the asking price. I sell single-family homes, condominiums, multi-family homes and apartment buildings.

I also offer free staging services for my sellers. I have a full inventory of staging furniture and decorator items, and a new van.

LW: Many houses and apartments have seen a significant rise in cost within the past several years, what are some of the things that are causing that?

MC: People want to live in the city. They want to be near amenities like theaters and restaurants. The "Gay ghettos" that used to be poor neighborhoods are now not anymore. We were ahead of the others, noticing the areas that had yet to be discovered by the rest of Seattle. The older parts of town, the depressed areas that were not really known about, are now growing to be far more popular.

LW: Are there currently some specific "hot spots" in the city, certain neighborhoods that you find more people are moving to more than others?

MC: There is not a bad spot in Seattle. Some areas that weren't popular years ago, like the Central District, are becoming more popular. While it has changed, it is still not as pristine as other areas. When I first moved into Seattle, I remember thinking that

LW: Many houses and apartments have seen a significant rise in cost within the past several years, what are some of the things that are causing that?

MC: The city population continues to grow, and in Seattle we have a far greater number of jobs than we do homes. People are moving here for the work, but there aren't nearly enough places to live for all of the jobs that are available. The demand for land and housing forces the price to rise.

Seattle is a beautiful place to live, and many people choose to live here. I have a lot of clients who are Internet business owners and could choose to live anywhere, but they pick Seattle. People are drawn to Seattle because it is a very technology-driven city, has mild weather, there are plenty of activities, and it is a Gay and Lesbian city. More than other cities of the same area and the same size, Seattle has a large number of Gay people. I read that we have about the third greatest population of Gay people in this city, pretty close with San Francisco.

Thousands of new jobs are going to be opening up within the greater Seattle area, but there will only be ten thousand new housing areas. That includes apartments, condominiums, and houses, all of the housing combined.

LW: Around your business' neighborhood, the Green Lake and Wallingford areas, I have recently seen and heard about many buildings being demolished to make room for new condominium complexes and rental units. By my house, over at Stone Way and 45th Street, there are two giant buildings just across the street from one another. Do you have a lot of customers who are selling their land in order for someone else to demolish it?

MC: No, I don't have many clients who are selling their houses for those purposes. I would like to have more people who are selling their multi-family homes to be turned into larger complexes. In Seattle, certain areas have been designated specific zones (that have been there for a long time, before I even came to Seattle) that allow for apartment buildings and condominiums to be built, but have never been used for those purposes. When the property is higher zoned, it is often turned over to developers so that they may use that zoning.

Our city, for it's size, is not very dense. Seattle is pretty well spread out compared to most other cities, but the population and demand are continuing to go up.

LW: These new buildings are not just taking place of houses, there are also many small businesses being threatened by the changes in our city. Independent restaurants and clothing stores are going out of business, and the space is being filled with large establishments. Do you feel at all threatened by the possibility that your office might be forced into the same route?

MC: The building has two levels of apartments above my office; the ground floor is designated for retail and commercial business. The franchises would like to demolish all of the independent businesses that they can, but Seattle is very supportive of the smaller businesses. I support independent stores and restaurants far more than corporations or franchises. Seattle is unique, things happen here that aren't typical of other areas. I've seen fast-food joints go out of business here, where they wouldn't have elsewhere, like the Burger King up on Broadway for example.

Corporations do target our community for marketing. I would say that there is a possible danger of loosing our grassroots businesses to the larger corporations. When the FDC put on the Pride March, I helped with the event, I remember a controversy about one of the beer companies. The company wanted to be in the very front of the march, and a large controversy stemmed from that. I don't mind companies like Microsoft in the parade, because they have supported the Gay community for years, but others weren't there with support fifteen years ago.

LW: Have you always had your office located in the Green Lake neighborhood?

MC: Yes, I was lucky to get this space. One day I was walking my dog by the building and noticed that the computer company here had gone out of business. I tracked down the owner and signed a lease.

There is a good view here, and there are some nice joggers who come by. The joggers distract some of my clients, so we'll take a minute to look and then return to business.

LW: I noticed that you are the vice chair of the Green Lake Community Council. What types of things does the council do?

MC: I work on government relations with the community. A large part of our efforts address supply needs and the need for more houses. Many people in the neighborhood are afraid that their children and grandchildren are not going to be able to live here when they grow up.

For the last few years, our main focus has been on land use and changes in the area. We work with developers to build buildings that would compliment the community instead of take away from it. They listen and try to address the community's concerns, but the bottom line is they want to make some profit.

There is going to be a 200 unit where the old Albertsons used to be, and the Vitamilk factory is going to be redeveloped as well. The Albertsons owner was the granddaughter of Mr. Albertson, and when she retired she didn't want to deal with it anymore. We worked with TCR to design a new building that is going to have one level of underground parking, one floor of retail/commercial businesses, and three floors of apartments.

Many long-time residents in the neighborhood are upset that the local bargain market is gone now, and we're probably going to see a metropolitan market open up in the old Vitamilk location. Seattle is becoming an increasingly more expensive city in which to live.

LW: Are you a part of many local organizations and help with community efforts?

MC: I have sponsored events for the Gay community for many years, and attend events supporting causes. I have sponsored the Taste of GSBA for their scholarship fund, the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and others. For my clients, I now offer certificates at closing that will donate $1000 to a specific organization that they choose. They can pick from four different organizations: Verbena, the GSBA Scholarship Fund, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, or Gay City.


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