Lyle Laeger is the legacy of Baker City Realty, his career in local real estate spanning nearly half a century.
Laeger, 92, entered the real estate scene in 1961 with Blue Mountain Realty. Three years later he struck out on his own and established Baker City Realty.
At the time, the town was still named Baker.
The city’s original name was Baker City, but voters decided in 1911 to remove the “City.”
In 1989 voters chose to return to the original two-word name.
Laeger’s business, thanks to its name, didn’t have to make any changes.
“When it went to Baker City, I didn’t have to change anything, not even stationery,” he said.
Over the decades, Laeger witnessed firsthand the boom-and-bust cycles of the local economy.
“We sold houses for a while. When the ’80s hit, things were tough,” he said.
In 1980, “you couldn’t sell anything,” he said.
“It didn’t start to come back until 1986 or ’87,” he said.
For much of his career, Laeger focused on selling ranches and timberland.
“The last 40 years I sold mostly ranches. I sold a few ranches two or three times,” he said.
Meeting people was his favorite part of the business.
“You carry friendships a long time after you sell them property,” he said. “I still have some I visit with now and then. You meet a lot of good people.”
He tried to look out for his clients.
“I didn’t sell something just to sell it,” he said. “If I thought they couldn’t afford it, I’d try to talk them out of it.”
Laeger was licensed to sell real estate in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada.
“The farthest I sold was a ranch in Ely, Nevada,” he said.
Starting place for agents
Laeger’s agency also helped a number of agents get their start.
Mary Jo Grove started working as Laeger’s secretary and bookkeeper in 1979.
She and her husband, Jim, both got their real estate licenses in 1980.
“He gave me the encouragement to get a license,” Mary Jo Grove said. “He was my first mentor, and a great, great guy.”
The Groves later went to work for Nelson Real Estate, and now own The Grove Team.
After decades of selling real estate, Laeger started having back issues, and his wife, Marguerite, encouraged him to retire.
“I told her when I turned 80, I’ll retire,” he said.
At the time, his office was in the small house just south of the White Apartments. In April 2008, he approached Andrew Bryan to see if he was interested in buying the building.
“I have no idea why, but I asked ‘Lyle, what are you doing with the real estate business?’ ” Bryan recalls of that conversation.
Turned out, Laeger was willing to sell the business, too.
“He put out his hand and said ‘I’m selling it to you.’ I shook his hand,” Bryan said.
Bryan, however, needed to obtain his license to sell real estate. So Laeger stayed on during that process.
He retired in late 2008. He turned 80 on Sept. 6 of that year, which also ushered in the Great Recession.
“There were only about eight brokers in town,” Bryan said.
At one time in the past, Laeger had more agents than that working in his office.
Bryan set about establishing his own version of a real estate office, one he calls “nonconventional.”
“It became a place for those who wanted autonomy,” he said. “Everyone here has another interest or enterprise, something else going on.”
Bryan has several roles.
“I’m the owner, I’m the principal broker, I’m the receptionist,” he said.
The real estate market is on an upswing these days.
“The last six months to a year has seen more farm and ranch activity than in the last 10 years,” Bryan said.
The promise of that sort of boom is what kept Laeger in the business so long.
“You gotta like it to be in it,” he said. “When the downs come, you have to buck up and go on.”