Tom Cantwell moved to Sequim at the perfect time to start a career in real estate and left when it was clear the good times were over.
A former techie for a dot-com in Bellevue who taught college-level business classes on the side, Cantwell became a Realtor on a whim.
He took a real estate class through the University of Phoenix, intending to learn about the industry, not join it. But on a trip to the peninsula he and his wife happened across Sunland.
“We’d been coming over to the Olympic Peninsula because we thought it was beautiful,” he said. “I drove into Sunland and when we got down near the nice greens with the water feature they have there, my wife said, ‘Look, there’s a real estate office. You ought to see if they need somebody.’”
He stopped in and made an appointment to talk with the agency’s broker. In February 2000 he interviewed with the agency, Windermere Sunland, and was hired in October 2000, he said.
“The first six months I sold nothing,” he said. “By the end of 2001 I’d sold a couple million dollars of real estate.”
By 2002 he was making close to $100,000 a year on real estate sales. That trend continued for the next three years, he said.
“I became the broker in 2004 and I was the broker there until December 2010,” he said.
Cantwell, who also served on the Boys & Girls Club board of directors in 2009, said he liked being involved in the community and was thankful for the support and opportunity the people at Windermere Sunland gave him.
“But then real estate failed,” he said.
Cantwell said Sunland started seeing a decline in home sales earlier than most areas of Sequim.
In 2005, sales started to fall and by 2006 it was very noticeable. From 2007, when everyone else started feeling the decline, to 2010 when Windermere Sunland switched ownership, the agency lost 66 percent of its business, Cantwell said.
“If you can afford a million-dollar house, you can afford a million-dollar house,” Cantwell said. “It was the people moving up from California to buy $400,000 houses that stopped buying.”
Cantwell was told in September 2010 that the agency he’d worked for over the past decade likely would be sold and he wouldn’t have a job.
He’d already had a bad year fighting cancer and he’d lost half his income due to the slump in sales. He put his house up for sale and moved to California.
Cantwell said he is fortunate to have kept his California mental health therapy license.
“People always told me, ‘Just keep it, you might need it someday,’” he said.
He now works as a mental health therapist in a small city on the central coast of California.
“We’re luckier than most because I can work and make money, but it’s just one of those things … a bill of $1,800 a month I’d rather not have,” he said, referring to his Sunland home that has been on the market since October. “I’d rather be putting it into retirement.”
Cantwell said he’s reduced the selling price of his home more than 10 percent since listing it almost six months ago.
He knows many agents who got out of the business because they no longer were making money. Some moved but some are trying to stick it out in Sequim. Some are facing foreclosure themselves, he said.
“People in those industries that support housing, they’re not working either,” he said. “It’s just an amazing change and it’s too bad because Sequim is such a nice town.”