New ownership brings fresh focus to Windermere Vashon

Denise Katz, a 25-year island resident and well-known agent at Windermere Vashon, is now a co-owner of the business.

In a year of market shifts and changes in the landscape of the island’s real-estate community, Vashon’s venerable Windermere office recently has announced an ownership change.

In late February, Denise Katz, a well-known agent at Windermere Vashon, joined the father-daughter team of John de Groen and Sophia de Groen Stendahl as an owner of the business.

Beth de Groen, who purchased the company with her husband and daughter in 2011, is still very much with the company, but “doing what she does best — selling real estate,” said Katz, in a recent interview with John and Sophia.

“We had been discussing our succession plan for some time,” said Katz. “We had worked from home, during COVID, which was somewhat isolating and gave us plenty of time to decide what the next chapter of our careers should be.”

But when the local branch of Sotheby’s opened on Vashon late last year, Katz said, she and the de Groen family felt “the timing was right to make a change.”

Katz, a 25-year island resident, has long been a key player at Windermere, serving as its designated broker, and over the years, becoming a top-selling agent at the firm. Now, she said, she will continue to sell real estate, while also focusing on the quality and success of Windermere’s team, now numbering 14 agents, and overall operations on Vashon.

“I love our team and the Windermere brand,” she said. “I believe in our strength and commitment to service and the community. It’s my goal to support the team and ensure they are successful.”

Sophia, Katz said, is focused on recruiting, training, and selling real estate, while John will continue to oversee the company’s community activities and operations, its facility and systems upkeep, as well as pursue his passion for photography.

According to Sophia and John, the reconfigured ownership of the company has felt healthy and right.

“Denise has been a core member of this team, a decision maker, and an advisor in our business since our start in 2011,” Sophia said. “It’s a natural change, and it feels really good.”

“Change is healthy,” said Sophia. “It begs us to question what we’ve been doing and provides a fresh kind of energy. It’s forced me to ask: am I doing what I want to be doing? And my resolve is clear — I feel much more strongly and positively about my commitment and my place here.”

All three owners said that giving back to the community, through the support of local nonprofits, would remain an important part of Windermere’s presence on Vashon. Through the years, they said, beneficiaries of Windermere Vashon have included the arts community, Vashon Schools Foundation, Vashon HouseHold, The DOVE Project, and many other community organizations and events.

Last year, they said, Windermere had provided almost $70,000 in donations to these types of causes.

Each of the owners concurred that recent years have been a wild roller coaster ride for the real estate business, but they expressed confidence that the market for homes on Vashon would remain strong, despite a current correction due to higher interest rates.

According to a Washington Post analysis of home value data from Black Knight, a mortgage and real estate technology and data provider, home prices in the 98070 zip code have fallen by 11.1% since last March — part of a trend across much of the Western United States of declining home prices throughout the United States.

Low inventory on Vashon, too, has made for a much tougher market in the past year, said Katz, Sophia and John.

Still, the ownership team expressed confidence and a commitment to continue to serve the needs of home buyers and sellers on Vashon.

Even in the best of times, Katz said, “Real estate is not an easy business to be in.”

But, she said, her office has a united team, ready to serve Vashon, and she is excited about the future as she helms the company.

“It’s different when you’re an owner,” Katz said. “It’s great to be a manager, but as an owner, it’s all about the team and everyone being successful. That’s where I’m spending my energy. I’m committed to the team.”