Wendy Lister, grande dame of Eastside real estate, dies at 83

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Eastside real-estate agent Wendy Lister, one of the nation’s top residential brokers, died last week at age 83.

Over her 40-year career, Mrs. Lister, a vice president of Bellevue brokerage Coldwell Banker Bain, saw the Eastside change from upper-middle-class suburb to luxury haven. As billionaires began flocking to Bellevue in the 1990s, Mrs. Lister helped many of the area’s most high-profile and expensive homes change hands.

When she entered the business in 1976, Mrs. Lister was one of the only women in the industry. Soon, though, she became “iconic,” a one-name persona, said  Windermere broker Anna Riley, who worked in the same brokerage as Mrs. Lister in the early 2000s. “Just like when you said, ‘Oprah,’ when you said, ‘It’s one of Wendy’s listings,’ everyone just knew who she was.”

In negotiations, Mrs. Lister could be steely. But colleagues and clients say they’ll remember her disarming warmth.

“She was always smiling,” said Coldwell Banker Bain colleague Phil Kenney, “even when she was cutting your heart out on a transaction.”

Mrs. Lister, consistently ranked among the highest-volume brokers in the state, closed more than $1.3 billion in sales since data collection began in 2001.

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One of Mrs. Lister’s early successes was brokering the purchase of saxophonist Kenny G’s Hunts Point home in 1990, then selling it to telecommunications magnate Craig McCaw nine years later for an undisclosed amount that the Times reported was close to the asking price of $26.5 million.

Mrs. Lister was notoriously tight-lipped about her famous clients. Only after her passing, Coldwell Banker Bain CEO Bill Riss revealed that in the mid-1990s, she toured a young Bill Gates around Medina by speedboat, representing him in the purchase of three plots of waterfront property on which the Microsoft founder built his sprawling home.

That’s not to say all of her listings were multimillion-dollar bonanzas. In 2005, Mrs. Lister offered one of the strangest deals in local real estate history: The sale of hydroplane racer Stan Sayres’s Hunts Point house — for free.

The new owner just had to move it off the property.

Nobody bit. The 1949 home, with sunken living room, was demolished.

Mrs. Lister persisted in trying to save the museum-quality house, colleagues said, because she simply loved homes.

Part of her cachet was an expansive memory for minute details about home sales. Driving through Bellevue, colleagues said, Mrs. Lister could point to nearly every home and rattle off when it had sold, and to whom.

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Another competitive advantage was her grandiloquent marketing materials. A former colleague said clients often asked her to replicate Mrs. Lister’s writing style. She jokingly called it “turning on the adjective faucet.”

One of the reasons Mrs. Lister was so attracted to high-end homes, Riss said, was that their extravagances gave her plenty to write about — and she was always on the hunt for new ways to describe them.

“She and I would be the only people in the office at 8:30 p.m.,” Riley said. “She’d be leafing through magazines, circling words she thought would be good to use sometime.”

She never stopped thinking about selling homes, colleagues and family said. Even as her health began to fail, her team of assistants toured her through listings remotely, and Mrs. Lister jotted down copious notes.

And during her last hospital stay, she would talk real estate with her attending physicians, said her son Jim Lister, a Spokane broker.

“One day an assistant brought her a box of business cards to put by her bed,” he said. “When I saw them, I said ‘Mom — really?’ She smiled at me and said, ‘Doctors need homes too.’”

True to form, Mrs. Lister was working to sell eight properties when she died Oct. 2.

Mrs. Lister is survived by daughter Kathryn Lister, son Jim Lister, and six granddaughters. A memorial for Mrs. Lister is being held at 1 p.m. Oct. 26 at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, 1717 Bellevue Way N.E. Donations may be made in support of the University of Washington Medicine Research Innovation Fund and the Why Not You Foundation.