As a manager for a busy downtown Toronto real estate office, I never thought I would be spending my time talking agents off the edge of a cliff. The truth is, that the market is breaking new ground on agent management. In the past, my conversations with fellow agents revolved around helping them write clauses, dealing with complaints, running meetings, being a liaison with front desk workers, reviewing advertising and generally ensure their business was running smoothly. Today I’m still doing those tasks but as an unfortunate byproduct of this market, I find myself spending a lot of time comforting agents, offering condolences and talking through the ‘post offer’ game tapes. Don’t get me wrong, these are great conversations, but I worry about an office full of stressed out and exhausted agents.
Now, you might be thinking…boo hoo, poor agents, they make so much money it’s hard to have any sympathy. The reality is that the buying process is seriously intense these days. Frustration levels amongst agents are extremely high. They are missing out on offers on both condos and houses and our office meetings and masterminds are dominated by countless stories of failed offer attempts despite clients throwing everything they have at a property.
The problems of low supply, as reported in the media, are not limited to the downtown core either. This is a Golden Horseshoe problem, from Hamilton to Ajax and as far north as Barrie. Granted, the supply crisis is highest in the 416. For several years I have been tracking the weekly sales of houses and condos in the downtown market, defined by the area between the 401 and the lake and east to include the Beaches and west to include High Park. Over the years I have watched the general trend of tightened supply in both houses and condos as well as an increase in the percentage of properties selling over the list price. While housing has stayed relatively consistent, only edging up slowly, the condo market has often surprised me. When I first started tracking sales, there was only true competition on about 13-15% of units sold. That percentage was pretty stable for a few years. Then the number started to shift. By mid year 2016 I started to see more units selling at or above the list price. By June we started to see 30%, by October we were testing out 40% and by December we were seeing some numbers in the 50% range. Imagine, half of all condos selling above the list price. In January 2017 new records were set. Last week we hit 65% and when I am reviewing each and every listing on a line by line basis I notice that condos are not selling over the list price by a $5-10,000 like a few years ago, they are selling over the list price by $50-100K now. It is an extraordinary phenomenon.
Freehold homes face the same challenges for buyers. Recently a home in the west end, listed at $799K sold for $999k then, less than a month later a similar home sold for over $1.2M. Everything in an agent’s gut says these houses are worth the same money. So imagine what is happening to those clients who are being told to submit their offer based on a recent sale, only to get completely blown out of the water.
What impact, if any, is filtering down to the agent on the street? Productive agents are feeling the pressure as much as new agents entering the real estate field. I personally find myself spending as much time coaching the newbie agent the art of increasing your odds at the offer table as talking to the experienced agent who is frustrated with market conditions and looking for answers. And it’s not just the shear number of buyers looking for homes that is creating high stress levels. Increased scrutiny by the banks on their borrowers (sometimes insisting on conditional financing clauses), appraisals and quick home inspections are severely complicating the buying process. Are there any quick fixes? Nothing seems evident on the horizon and my impression is that as the spring market approaches it is going to be a whole lot harder before it gets easier.
Mark McLean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office, the Immediate Past President the Toronto Real Estate Board and a director at the Ontario Real estate Association. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB, OREA or Bosley RE.
Over the last few years I have made it a priority to attend the National Association of Realtors (NAR) convention every November. It’s a great learning and network opportunity and a great source of materials for my office meetings. Naturally I am inclined to share tips and tricks with other Realtors. I
It seems that each NAR conference I attended had a different running theme. In 2011, the USA was inching out of a major housing crisis and many of the topics revolved around how to sell foreclosures. The next year it was all about advertising and using social media to find buyers. The following year we heard about the magical “foreign” buyer. Then it was predictive analytics and cool new apps that were somehow the shiny new object for quick success. While there are still plenty of shiny new tools the overriding theme of this year’s NAR, focused on the profession….the Realtor profession.
Many of the education sessions focused on strategies to build your business by showing how professional you are. Some of the courses offered had titles like “getting smarter, simpler and more effective”, “Preparing for the global shift” and “When trust is high, negotiating is easy”. Lots of catchy titles, but one stuck in particular stood out. It was called the 7 Financial Habits of Highly Successful Real Estate Professionals. The description billed it as ways to create long-lasting improvements to your personal and business well-being. At my advanced years (he says only half-joking) I have come to realize that I am not immortal and maybe it’s time I start saving for my retirement (again, only half-joking).
I made notes at the presentation which was given by a woman who was not only a successful Realtor but came from a financial planning background. I made copious notes and presented my findings to my office earlier this week. Without further ago…prepare to be mostly amazed.
- Develop and use a business plan. Seems pretty obvious but I have to say that over the many years that I have been in a management role, few agents, despite constant reminders, do not want to develop a business plan. But the few who accurately defined their niche market, known their centres of influence, have a plan to reach people and a budget in place to advertise have ALWAYS been my most successful agents.
- Develop and use a budget. Well I just finished building a home and it could not have happened without a budget and accurate tracking of expenses. As self-employed sales people this is a critical piece of our success. Knowing how much you need to survive tells you how much you need to earn. But you need to also keep money aside for tax planning, marketing, personal development, lattes and, yes, retirement.
- Separate business from pleasure.Not only does this thought process integral to establishing your business budget but it will prepare you for the inevitable tax audit. I use a simple app called Expensify to track my expenses. Simply take a picture of your receipt using the app and then every week or so, log on to your desktop and drag and drop the receipts into various categories. Easy. I throw out my receipts after taking the pic but I’m a trusting soul.
- Hire a tax advisor. For the money, this is the smartest thing you can do. An accountant will maximize your deductions, keep accurate records, will help you eliminate tax surprises in case of an audit.
- Understand the risks. Whether they be investment risks, inflation risks or business risks, keeping up with the latest news will go a long way. If you think it prudent, hire a professional to manage your money.
- Plan for retirement. The last thing you want to do is out live your savings. This is a tougher one for young new agents entering the profession. They think the market will stay good forever. Truth is, real estate has been a cyclical business. There are peaks and valleys. So the younger you start saving the less you have to save. It’s worth doing the math though. How long do you think you will live and how much money will you need to survive. Factor in other assets and investments and see where you stand.
- Lastly, create an estate plan. Make sure you have a will, a solid power of attorney and some medical directives if you wish.
Even if you think you will live forever and are richer than Warren Buffet, these 7 habits will serve you well for years to come. Having been through one real estate cycle already I want to plan better for the next one. I remember a cartoon posted above a Realtor’s desk back in 1990. It simpy said “please God let there be another boom. This time I won’t piss it all away”.
At our meeting this morning we were talking about what it was like being a realtor 25 yrs ago. It was 1989. The year I started in real estate. In a room with 20 agents only 2 had been in the business longer than 8 yrs. The changes we have seen over the years are quite staggering and since nearly 60% of the Realtors currently working today have less than 10 years experience (check out a blog post I wrote on the subject here), they really have no idea what it was like in the ‘good old days’ to list or sell a property but I suppose none of that should really matter. They operate by today’s standards and are used to smart phones and Google maps. Frankly there were a lot of blank faces when we talked about legal size offers with carbon pages, how we were sceptical of fax machines, and had to write crazy financing conditions like assuming mortgages, vendor take-backs, selling 2nd mortgages. So just for kicks I asked a bunch of long time Realtors to talk about their experiences 20+ years ago compared to today. The answers are hilarious and brought back a lot of memories.
1. MLS books we guarded with our lives. Often very thick, they were broken up by district and came out every few weeks. Properties took longer to sell but you had to get used to calling about a listing and learning that it had sold a week ago.
2. Also had daily “tear sheets”. Each 8.5 X 11 had 4 listings which were perforated. You would tear out the listings that were interesting and store them in little black binders. One agent I knew had a binder just full of funny listings with terrible spelling or grammar. (you know who you are).
3. Agents had pagers and used pay phones to return calls. Argh! Always a drag to have to break paper money to get a quarter.
4. When rates were high (15%+ sometimes) Sellers would often agree to pay money up front to buy down the interest rate. Agents were skilled at creating these clauses.
5. Agents had to get mortgage details prior to listing a home because if the mortgage was at a good rate it was often smart to transfer that mortgage to a buyer and then do a vendor take back 2nd mortgage. We would then try to sell that 2nd mortgage so the seller could get their cash out of the sale. Sometimes we blended mortgages too and had to calculate the payments. Crazy complicated but standard practice.
6. Processing listings and producing feature sheets took forever. Take pictures of the property, take the film to get developed, pick out the good ones, tape them to a piece of paper and then photocopy it for open houses. They were pretty much always in black and white. We were masters of the cut and paste.
7. Agents relied heavily on the secretaries to create feature sheets. We didn’t have marketing are graphics people.
8. If you had a good listing, you would go around and drop a bunch off at other real estate offices. I have to say that I still see that once in a while although usually for exclusive listings.
9. If you had a client out-of-town you had to snail mail everyone and wait for paperwork to come back. No one had a fax machine, although clients could find one at a business centre and go there and wait for your fax which was on thin thermal paper. The ink would eventually fade so you couldn’t really save files for any length of time.
10. Forget about lock boxes. If you were out showing houses you had to go around to offices to pick up keys and then drop them back after you were done. And yes, sometimes we would forget.
11. Obviously no computers so no CRMs. Our databases were in our day-timers. If you lost it you were screwed.
12.There was no such thing as a home stager so what you saw was what you sold.
13. Offices were packed with people in large “bullpens” and pretty much everyone smoked so there were ashtrays all over the place and plenty of whisky near by.
14. When you arrived at the office in the morning the secretary would hand you your stack of pink “while you were out” message slips. At your desk you would sort trough them and then jam them on a desk skewer.
15. We all wore suits and ties. No jeans. Ever.
16. All our paperwork was done in triplicate legal size with carbon paper between the copies. When photocopiers were used more no one could figure out how to print double-sided offers. There was always at least two pages that were upside down on one side.
17. We needed 6 copies of an offer. One for the buyer, seller, each agent and each lawyer.
18. Caravans. After every meeting we would all jump in our cars and tour the listings of the day. No one wanted to be last and sometimes if you got a listing but had trouble pricing it, you would get agents to write down a suggested price on the back of their business card so you could show the seller. What?!?!
19. We used the Perly’s Map book to get around (no gps) and had this huge book called the Bowers book which was kind of like a reverse phone book with properties listed by street.
20. No condos.
21. Training? Not so much. Sell houses or move on.
22. We all worked for the Seller. There were no BRAs.
23. There were no standard clauses stored somewhere. We would cut and paste clauses or write new ones. Webforms didn’t exist.
24. A good deposit was $10,000
25. No one ever argued about commissions. EVER!
Well, we’ve come along way in 20+ years. This isn’t just a trip down memory lane. What sticks out the most for me was that we all worked full time at the office. We were in every morning. Started our day the same way…everyday. Today we have incredible technologies that keep us connected to the business from anywhere we are. Effectively, besides actually showing property, you could be on a beach in Miami and no one would know. Still, there were no efficiencies at work back then. We had to work hard to survive and buyers and sellers saw value in our service.
Here’s something else to consider. After reviewing how we worked 25 years ago, and thinking about how you work today…..What will it be like 25 years from now?
mark mclean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office and President-Elect for the Toronto Real Estate Board. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB or Bosley RE.