Frank Muljat: Reader's Choice Businessperson of the Year

Frank Muljat Jr. sold his first piece of property at age 21, a 1,500-square-foot commercial parcel in downtown Fairhaven. It sold for $1,500.

That sale began a 45-year real estate journey for Muljat, who has been voted Businessperson of the Year for 2011 by readers of The Bellingham Business Journal.

Muljat was grateful for the award and claimed his years of experience as a contributing factor for the acknowledgement. He said his 60 or so employees should also share in the acceptance of the award.

But the biggest reason he believes he won is the fact he loves his job.

“I enjoy work, love the people, love the office,” Muljat said. “You have to love where you work. It makes life better.”

After graduating from Bellingham High School, Muljat attended WWU and earned his real estate license at age 21. Today he is the owner, with his high school sweetheart and wife of nearly 45 years, Sandee, of The Muljat Group, a name appearing on numerous signs throughout Whatcom County advertising property sales.

Muljat founded The Muljat Group in the mid 1980s after leaving a previous business he co-owned. He wanted to create an atmosphere where agents could prosper and clients could achieve their goals as buyers and sellers, he said.

As the largest locally owned and independent real estate agency in Whatcom County, the business blossomed early and continues to grow to this day, he said. The success of his business can also be credited to his full service agency, which includes appraisers, a loan officer and a strong staff of agents.

During the real estate boom in the mid-2000s many people got into real estate, Muljat said, but when the recession hit, many companies and agents were cut from the business.

In order to stay viable, he emphasized the need to keep employees up to date and highly motivated. This included constant training in new technologies and strategies for client relations and sales.

Muljat said he thinks the current economic climate could last through 2013. It is currently a good market, but the inventory is low, he said.

“The hardest part is listing a house at the correct price when the seller bought it in the boom years,” he said, adding that people always want to make back the money they put in, but it is difficult to do so in today’s market.

The recession was not the only issue that put a potential roadblock in his business. In December 2010, Muljat was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, it was determined the cancer had receded and today he is cancer-free, he said. He still receives twice-yearly CT scans to ensure his health.

Muljat lost most of his hair due to the chemo sessions, but in the end, he decided he liked it.

“Now I get buzz cuts every couple of weeks,” Muljat said. “I like the hairstyle and it is the same as some of my grandchildren’s. They like that it’s the same as theirs.”

Muljat has three adult children and eight grandchildren. His son, Troy, is the commercial appraiser at The Muljat Group. His two daughters, Alesha, who has a doctorate in clinical physcology, and Lindsey, an RN at the UW, both live in Seattle.

When not at the office, Muljat enjoys spending time with his grandchildren and partaking in all types of water sports on Lake Whatcom, where he has a home. He is a member of the local Rotary Club and although he loves the Pacific Northwest, he travels to his second home in Maui a few times a year.

The Muljat Group’s main office is located at 510 Lakeway Drive. There are four satellite offices, including downtown Bellingham, Broadway, in Ferndale and in Lynden. Muljat also participates in land development and is currently finishing up 55 lots called Samish Highlands, located east of the Interstate 5 above the Sehome Haggen. The lots will be on the market this spring.

Being there for employees as well as clients is another good business practice,  Muljat said. The door to his office is open so employees can come to him for any reason, business related or not. A business can’t have people around that bring others down emotionally, he said.

“Part of my job is helping the sales team with anything they need help with,” Muljat said. “Training, education, problem solving or just dealing with life.”

In addition of his recognition as Businessperson of the Year, Muljat also received a lifetime achievement award in 2004 from the Whatcom County Association of Realtors. After 45 years in the real estate business he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. Even though it may not be the “good old days,” it is still a career he loves and is proud of, and he will keep working “until it’s no fun anymore,” Muljat said. “But I really am enjoying it.”

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