WASILLA — Though he’d been a fixture in local real estate for years, Mark Lee was surprised as he could be last October when he was awarded the Valley Board of Realtors Agent of the Year award.
“Normally, it goes to a residential (agent),” Lee said. “But because of my involvement in the community — I’d been on the college advisory board out here, on the Valley Performing Arts board and Rotary for 30 years. It’s just been giving back and paying it forward.”
The Agent of the Year award comes with a personal trophy, as well as a traveling trophy that has his name engraved next to the 2015 slot. He’ll be surrendering the traveling trophy next month when the 2016 winner is announced, but for now, it remains prominently placed in the waiting room of Lee Realty at Brentwood Plaza just off of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. It’s a building he’s owned and managed since 1985.
The trophy is suited just outside his office, and the conference room, which are both shrines to Lee’s hero, and accomplished philanthropist, Muhammad Ali.
“I’ve been following him all my life,” Lee said. “Even in Vietnam, I’d listen to the fights with him and good ol’ Smokin’ Joe Frazier. I’m quite an admirer; he was quite a humanitarian.”
The Lee Realty conference room is plastered in Ali memorabilia, with signed photos, including those of Ali’s knockout of Sonny Liston and his photo op with the Beatles. In addition, Lee has signed gloves and trunks, and in his office an oil painting made of Ali, signed by both the artist and the champ himself.
“He did so much humanitarian work,” Lee said. “Sure, he was not the normal kind of guy, a little boisterous, but he did very well. I got to meet him before he passed away when I bought the oil that’s in my office in Louisville. He’s got a three-story building in Louisville full of his memorabilia. That was probably 6 or 7 years ago.”
After his military service during the war, the Anchorage West High School grad moved back to Alaska and got into banking. He helped introduce MasterCard to the state as part of First National Bank before moving to Kodiak to sell cars at a Chevy dealership before moving back up north to be part of the United Bank of Alaska, owned by three tribal corporations.
From there, it was on to Oregon, where he and his second, and current wife of 39 years, built a bank of their own and sold it to their larger neighbors, allowing them to move back to Alaska.
That was in 1981 and four years later, Lee had purchased the Brentwood Plaza, now one of 14 commercial buildings he owns around Wasilla.
“I’m a salesman, but meanwhile, real estate was always in the back of my mind because my stepmother was heavily into real estate in California, so I always wanted to try and make the jump,” Lee said. “But it’s expensive. There’s not safety net and you’ve got to be able to sustain yourself for six months.”
Able to sustain himself that long, Lee dove into the local real estate game, but found himself running into walls, not having a CCIM designation created some barriers to unbridled success. So, to attain this ‘PhD of the real estate world’ as he describes it, Lee took the course, usually taught over a full semester, in five days. He passed.
In his 35 years in the Valley, Lee has seen days of boom, bust and everything in between, and despite the downturn in oil prices and its effect on the statewide economy, he sees a bright future for local real estate.
“I think we’re pretty steady,” Lee said. “We’ve had nothing but positive growth the last 26 years and our population of school(children) is increasing every year. We have 700 kids more than anticipated. School enrollment is one number you look at because those are the people that need the houses, the bedrooms for the kids.”