Saturday, May 19, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Open Houses

Open Houses
Now there’s a dangerous game. Back in the day of three piece suits and big Lincoln cars, I came into the office one Monday morning to the news that a young woman had been murdered in an open house she was holding in the Tyndal Park area of the city. I don’t really recall all the details, except that a grey haired man with a grey three piece suit had been seen there around the time of the murder. The woman had been alone in the open house at the time. I don’t remember if they ever caught the killer, but there were a lot of rule changes around open houses at the time.
The awkward thing was that I (with my graying hair) had shown up at the office in my grey pin striped three piece suit that morning. You can bet that was the last time I wore that thing for quite some time. In any event, women were not allowed to hold open houses by themselves any more, and quite a few refused to hold them at all. There haven’t been any murders like that since.
As can be seen, open houses were a risky business, what with tire kickers looking around, people with their own properties for sale making comparisons, people with nothing else to do on a Sunday afternoon all coming out to see what was available.  Not only that, but other agents, hanging on to their buyers would bring them through in order to claim a commission should their customers buy directly. See, in those days things were a bit different. If your buyer happened to walk in on your open house without his/her agent, you (representing the seller) were entitled to the whole commission. You can’t imagine the number of fights that caused or calls from agents claiming that THEIR buyer was in the open house and they would be writing an offer. It got to the point that there was more going on about (possible) commissions than about selling a property.
Of course you couldn’t really blame the (potential) buyers not wanting to make rigid plans to engage an agent to go around and casually look at properties when they weren’t sure of what it was they were looking for. Not a moment too soon, the Real Estate Board instituted buyer agreements = similar to seller agreements to protect the buyers agents. The most difficult part of that was for agents to sign up their buyers, but other than that it freed everyone up from a lot of the politics and infighting. In this day of the internet it’s even more relevant.
In my day, I was never too concerned about being alone in an open house. I always advised my vendors to put away their valuables. Probably they should go for a ride so they didn’t have to answer questions from buyers. They should anticipate what a buyer would look for to be included in their purchase price, and mark it as “Sold” so there wouldn’t be a question about it later.
Of course it would be necessary to organize the furnishings in the house so the place looked as spacious as possible and neat and tidy. I would usually get to the house early enough to turn the oven on to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit and place a little container of vanilla in it so that by the time buyers came by, the aroma of fresh baked bread would hit their nostrils in an inviting way. That actually worked very well. Besides, it gave me a pleasant smell that didn’t hint of air fresheners to be in during my time there.
Mind you, if I held an open house where I thought it would be particularly busy, I had the luxury of bringing the Missus along to direct traffic and keep an eye on things while I was giving tours. Being a “dyed in the wool” retail person, she was particularly good at it and certainly saved my bacon a number of times. We actually made a pretty good team.
Regardless, open houses were a necessary part of the business and their popularity among agents was largely dictated by their success in selling that particular home or, the number of buyers one could glean from them. For myself, I would rather have spent my time riding my horses or tending my garden on a Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, that’s now all in the distant past. I’m too busy being retired.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Dim Sum Commissions

Dim Sum Commissions
Chris Hashimoto used to brag about making better Dim Sum than her husband Ben. In fact, they used to have contests in which both of them would get into the kitchen with their flour and oil and frying pans, each claiming to outdo the other. I had chuckled at these two competitors so when an occasion arose for me to sell an Asian restaurant I thought it would be interesting. It was the business only in a leased property.
The wife was the cook and general everything else while the husband watched the till. He actually had his own business of tinting windows like on cars, showroom windows and so on. They were a lovely young couple making their way in the business world. But she was pregnant with her second child and needed some time off, so they wished to sell the business. I have absolutely no idea of how they came to us and that I ended up with the listing, but I imagine that we were the only company close by and, since I was the only one doing commercial real estate, I was it I suppose.
Well it was a lovely restaurant in a newer strip mall but since it was also a newer residential area, it was somewhat struggling. As it turned out, the owners were not inactive either. The fellow (whose name escapes me) found a chap willing to take on the restaurant provided the wife would stay on to teach him her recipes for a period of two months. It was an agreeable situation for the owners, but now they wondered about how to pay me for the listing agreement.
I had a solution to the problem. Let their lawyer draw up the agreement to purchase the business (which got me out of that end of things) and in exchange for any payment, the wife should teach me how to make Dim Sum and we’d call it even. The woman looked at my big white hands and the look on her face indicated some doubt as to the possibility. But she agreed and we made a date to do it.
We chose an early afternoon when the restaurant was quiet and got right down to business. All the ingredients were already laid out and the lady greeted me cheerfully. Was I ready to learn how to make Dim Sum? Absolutely I was so we got into it. Among other things, she’d chopped up some pork, some shrimp, and various vegetables. She had some rice with it and began shoveling them all into circular skins of dough.
“This is the hard part,” she smiled as she deftly folded the ingredients into the skin, closing and sealing it in a fancy series of folds until it was magically formed into a round thing that looked something like a garlic pod. Now it was my turn and it was a little awkward at first making all the fancy folds in the skin, but I imagined myself making perogies like I used to do and it became amazingly simple. I had made a lot of perogies as had my mother before me as had the whole Mennonite community as well as the Ukrainian community at large. Mind you, the filling was different but that was no big deal. My mother had a whole variety of fillings to hers too. They were more like Perishky that she made except for the folds and the shape of the dough. So that’s what these were then was Japanese fancy Perishky. Ha, ha, that was a blast! No wonder Chris was so good at making Dim Sum. She came from a Ukrainian background and she could out maneuver Ben’s culinary skills any day of the week if she put her mind to it.
Giving my hands a little artistic encouragement, I managed to make the required fancy twists and with the cook’s help we managed to get several dozen made. She steamed half of them in traditional Japanese style and we fried the other half. It was a delightful afternoon of cooking and chatting and cleaning the counters and when we were done no one would know that we had been there. But I came away with what was left of the Dim Sum and a warm feeling of friendship.
Of all the commissions I’ve ever received, this one ranked right up there with the best of them.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Alberta Connection

The Alberta Connection
I had family in the real estate business in Alberta a number of years ago. It was a volatile time in Alberta with fluctuating prices; down one day and up the next. It was a little bit like them Chinooks they get down there. One day I got a call from one of them wanting an evaluation on an investment property one of his clients had purchased in Winnipeg. The downturn in Calgary had prompted disposing of this unnecessary investment.
When this fellow had bought the property, it had been a bargain according to his reckoning. Well, you have to understand that for Albertans, Calgary and Edmonton are the centers of the universe and all the world’s wisdom flows from there. Had he done his proper due diligence in the first place, he would have found that Manitobans have a slightly different view of things. Now he had to find out the hard way.
You can bet your boots that I had a ten page summary of pictures, comparable costs and sales to hand over to support my appraisal. It all came in at about a third of the price the client had expected and I wanted to protect myself as well as my brother-in-law without making apologies.
Needless to say there was an awkward silence of some duration at the other end. I had expected that, wondering if I had alienated that whole end of the family. The thing was that I had a verbal offer from the tenant of the property who was already at odds with his landlord. It seemed as though I had walked myself into another mess (again). Would I never learn to leave this commercial stuff alone?
When I finally heard from my brother- in- law again, he expressed total disbelief in the evaluation. How could this be possible? Places in Alberta were going for much higher prices. His client was still trying to reconcile this anomaly and he needed some time to think about it. I told my brother-in-law I could likely prompt an offer close to the price shown and he promised to consider it. Finally he said “Bring it.”
The tenant, having other businesses as well, put in an offer under a numbered holding company. I encouraged him to come close to my appraised price (which was fair) and he agreed. I don’t remember exactly how the whole thing went together, but it did and my client (the tenant) continued on cooking his Indian food.
What I wanted to mention here has nothing to do with real estate, but rather the Alberta mentality which shows up in the oil business these days. The story illustrated here is exactly the same as the basis for the oil business. They discovered they had a valuable resource, started to develop it and then called on the country to allow them to transport it here, there and everywhere. They were totally surprised by the push back to their preconceived plans and couldn’t understand the unfairness of it all. It seems nothing has changed since the days of Peter Lougheed and P. E. Trudeau.
Just think what might have happened in either case if Alberta(ns) would have consulted with stakeholders first before making decisions based on Alberta wisdom. I’ll leave that with you.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Getting Listings

Getting Listings
Let’s face it. In order to sell a property, you must first list it so that you (or anyone else) can sell it. Listings are after all, the core of the business. The question is: how do you get listings?
I’ve got to say there are a million ways to do this, most of which are never used. For starters, most real estate sales people are not really sales people to begin with. They are hard wired for rejection. If someone seems willing to do business with them, they automatically get suspicious. I think the business of direct sales is a foreign concept to most sales people that is difficult to grasp.
I remember once when our company closed our office and moved us to another in a consolidation move, several agents in the office we moved to quit the business altogether, citing a lack of referrals coming into their office and how would they make a living now? These were not sales people. They were sales clerks and didn’t know the difference. That’s the thing. Direct sales are a whole different category. You need an entirely different mindset for that.
I remember the old Xerox course in direct sales that was so simple it was understandable by most everyone. It said (more or less) to paraphrase; find (or establish) a need and present your product to fill that need, answer any objections until the need is met; ask for the order. Well it went something like that.
There was another course called the Spech sales course for real estate. It was also an excellent course in having the (potential) client participate in establishing a price for the property. I used its philosophy quite successfully in my marketing technique. On Dwight Whalley though, it had the opposite effect. He was a friendly, gregarious fellow whose personality invited friendship. Dwight was literally making an excellent living selling real estate with never much of a problem. But once he got into this method, his sales began to slow down to the point he wasn’t making any sales at all. Finally desperate, Dwight went back to his old ways and business picked up for him.
The point of the whole story is that not everything works for everyone. You have to take what matches your personality and go with that. Not even drumming into our heads that in cold calling we needed to call, make the appointment and get off the phone got through our heads (well not all of us anyway). It seems the blockage occurred in identifying oneself as a real estate agent and the perceived tirade of abuse that was sure to follow from the person on the other end of the phone. Well it was a time when lawyers, used car salesmen, and real estate salesmen were all the butt of many jokes. Agents would identify themselves in the strangest of ways to avoid saying “real estate agent”. Some would be “doing a survey”, others would be selling insurance, etc. – anything but looking for real estate business.  Then, if they didn’t get their ears burned off from the other end, they would begin to talk to the potential customer and blow their whole cover.
We had one agent in our office who I think I’ve told you about before who had mastered the art of getting appointments. He was indeed an experienced agent who would go around the office asking people how many appointments/listings they wanted.  Of course, everyone was happy to get a listing or to and would be happy to pay a referral on the sale of a property.
“Listen,” he would say in response to a tirade about real estate agents. “I’m with you sir/madam. I just hate them crooks. I’m an agent myself and I have no end of trouble with them. They drive me nuts!”
First thing you know he’s got the party on the other end agreeing with him. “Tell you what,” he says. “I’ve got some good people I trust working with me. I’ll send Mrs. Palmer over to give you an evaluation of your home. No, no, there’s no cost or obligation. But I’m sure you’d like to know what your home is worth.”
Of course they would. Who wouldn’t like to know what their home is worth? “Is tomorrow evening good for you – say 7:00 p.m. or should we make it 8:00?”
“No, seven is fine”.
“Mrs. Palmer will be there.” He hung up the phone and went on to the next.
The thing was that he wasn’t ashamed to be a real estate agent at all. He was rather proud of it in fact. In the course of the evening he had racked up thirteen appointments, with a referral of ten percent on each sold listing. Not bad for sitting on the phone enjoying yourself for a few hours.
So there you have it. You need to be proud of what you do to do it well. It works.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Liar, Liar,Pants on Fire - Purely a Business Venture

Purely a Business Venture
I don’t really know where to begin this story because it really comes in two parts. No, not two parts but probably four or five. Life cannot ever be simple it seems. It started off with our company hiring a Mrs. Park, a somewhat controversial commercial agent. Not that she was so controversial but rather she marched to her own drummer and had difficulty with Real Estate rules in Canada. I spent a lot of time sorting out her real estate problems during the course of her business. She somehow couldn’t get the hang of doing business in Canada, more or less following her Korean ideas.
Her husband was an entrepreneur, buying and selling things between Korea and here and he seemed like a personable fellow. We first got involved in a meat plant I had for sale in Killarney. It didn’t work out in this case because the plant was only provincially licensed and in order to export one needed a federal approval.
Well we got to talking on the way back and I discovered that Peter had apparently escaped from North Korea and had come to Canada. While here he had written a book on martial arts of some sorts. He had opened a grocery store which had been highly successful and had become an elder in the Korean United Church. He had also been an elder and advisor in the Korean community. Something happened to his business and he had to sell the store, causing a diminishing “respect” in the community for him, but somehow he prevailed and exercised a still formidable respect in his community.
All of this is a pretext to the story I want to tell. I had been working with an Indigenous group of artists in connection with a non-profit organization I had founded.  One day I get a phone call from a fellow who said so and so had recommended he speak to me about an animated video project he was trying to get published. He needed me to find him some funding and/or some means of getting it done. Could I please meet with him? Well of course I could! This would be another adventure.
We had to meet at his place since he had everything laid out there. I got to the door at a nice little place in Fort Garry and it was all surprises from here on in. Firstly, a six foot six bodybuilder filled the door frame as he welcomed me in a soft spoken voice as his big hand closed over mine.
Up in the loft of his house there were drawings and notes of all sorts spread out over a variety of tables set up between weight lifting equipment. His day job, or rather night job as it turned out was being a bouncer at a local bar, which then turned a light on in my head. His friend who had referred him to me was also a bouncer (and an artist). I couldn’t figure out how that squared up but paid it no particular mind.
Basically what my new friend had was a whole raft of beautiful and articulate drawings that followed a story line, but he hadn’t got beyond the concept of what he wanted to achieve. There was another thing he wanted to achieve (which didn’t make any sense to me on the surface of things). He wanted the proceeds (or a portion thereof) to go to rescuing the endangered white rhinoceros. That didn’t make any sense to me either until I discovered that the L.A. zoo was working to do just that. Also, Lou Ferigno was in the area and would do a video on the animal. The light went on. My client wanted to meet Ferigno. Well alright then, who was I to argue?
When I told all this to my Korean entrepreneur friend, his eyes just lit up. He could accommodate this. He knew people in Korea who did this sort of thing. He would make a few phone calls and get back to me. I in the meantime got to work to complete a formal business plan including naming all the stakeholders and payment schedule for each.
There are many side stories I could tell about this adventure but the whole thing would become too cumbersome, so I’ll just summarize as best I can. To start with, I completed my business plan for my friend with what information I had and left it with him. Funding was scraped together by my Korean investor for the trip to L.A, and for a trip to Korea to meet the animators which was apparently necessary according to custom. Five days in Korea got the business started and the animators were then to come to Winnipeg to present their story board to my client.
The first thing I know (just before the arrival of the Korean delegation) my investor is driving a brand new Cadillac. Well, he reasoned, you can’t drive around in just any crummy car so he dipped into the budget for that. Another five days went by and I heard from my animator client that he had been approached by my Korean friend to have me removed from the equation. What did he need me for anyway? By eliminating me from the profit picture, he would save a lot of money.
Things went quickly south from there. Apparently the Korean company had been cleaned out (by my investor friend) and they had to go home with their tails between their legs and declare bankruptcy. He in the meantime saw his chances of being a big time movie director slipping away. So he decided to have it out with me and came to my office.
Well, we sat down and began discussing the whole affair. It didn’t go particularly well. Did I get paid for any of my services, he wanted to know. Yes of course I did. That seemed to inflame him. Didn’t I know he had come from North Korea? He had killed a lot of people before and it wouldn’t bother him to put me away too. When I didn’t react to his threat, he decided he had other things to do and left my office.
I don’t think I ever spoke to him after that, but came to a satisfactory conclusion with my animator friend. In fact, he sent me the most hilarious copy of the tape with Lou Ferigno trying to get that stupid rhino to co-operate while he was speaking. That in itself was reward enough.
I didn’t much stay in touch with the animator/bouncer after that. His father had recently died and left the family in somewhat of an uproar. I did speak to his mother though a few times on advice about their real estate, but slowly that all petered out and I went on with my business.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Broker

The Broker
Sometimes I think the job of being the broker in a real estate organization is directly proportionate in size and importance to the number of agents in his office when it comes to solving problems. An agent, for example will have a question, any sort of question or problem, he comes to the broker for advice. The broker of course has to know all the answers, based on the rules of the game, and advises accordingly. It’s pretty impressive; almost like a tribal chief.
But that only holds good in a very small brokerage. As the company grows and takes on more agents, a surprising phenomenon arises. Of course you have agents who are new to the business and then you have others who have been around for a while and joined our company for their own reasons.
Normally my advice was not overly encouraging, but it was fact based according to the rules set out by the board and/or the securities commission. I didn’t often get into moral issues since that was another subject entirely and I generally kept my own counsel.
It wasn’t long before I began to notice complaints crossing my desk over things happening against the advice I had given. What the . . . . ? Was I losing my mind or were the agents just not listening? It turns out they were listening alright, but just not to me. What they would do is go around the office describing their particular situation to various other agents, all of whom had different opinions, and then pick the one they liked best, and act on that one. That usually ended them up in the kind of difficulty I had predicted in the first place. Well, it did provide work for a broker to iron out all the wrinkles in a crumpled agent’s life.
As our company grew, so did the number of agents who were disgruntled with the owner of the company. Well, he was getting on a bit and they wanted to take the company in a new direction, so negotiations got under way and seven of them bought him out. Can you imagine seven owners of the sort I just described owning a company? It was sheer pandemonium.
I wasn’t part of the partnership, not that it wasn’t offered, but seeing that I was the broker and I was needed, that was good enough for me. I wasn’t going anywhere anyway so we were all more or less well satisfied. The first thing the new company did was take on the Sutton Group franchise which was probably the best thing that ever happened. No, that’s not true. The best thing they ever did was to hire Roberta as office manager. She came to us in an opportunity resulting from mismanagement of a local Remax office. Well, their loss, our gain.
The partners meetings were loud and boisterous. There wasn’t a wall flower in the bunch. But with all the diverging opinions, it wasn’t long before the partners fell off one by one. It wasn’t so much the different opinions as it was the expense of the company. It wasn’t long before there were only two partners left. Nobody left the company but five of the partners just didn’t have the wherewithal to foot the bill. We were growing into a family of sorts.
One of the partners decided that he should become a broker so that we could open a second office as per his agreement with the franchisor. These were rather uncertain and tough times for the company, what with meeting the daily bills, looking for a new office, recruiting new agents and so on.
I was involved in very little of this except as an outside observer, just doing my job as a broker and taking in all the machinations of the company. I’m going to tell you that once Roberta got her hand on the tiller, it wasn’t long before the company started moving forward. Of course there were discussions, disagreements, insults and threats, but she prevailed and slowly it all came together. I have to say I understood all these things and Roberta’s approach to them. I have two daughters who have exactly the same personality, whom I admire tremendously too, but I wouldn’t want to be caught in their crosshairs.
Finally we got another office at the opposite end of town which I was the broker at while Blaine presided over the original office. They sent me about fifteen agents and a sweetheart of an administrator with a part time assistant. It was quite a set up. Every once in a while Blaine would drop in to see how things were going and we’d have a good chin wag.
One day he showed up at our office and was talking to the girls when the assistant administrator complained to him about my wanting things done. She wanted him to speak to me about this attitude of mine. In other words, who did I think I was being so demanding?
Well Blaine, in his inimitable laid back style only chuckled, saying that she must realize that I was the boss (broker) here and could easily fire her if her work wasn’t up to snuff. Apparently her eyes widened somewhat and she busied herself doing what I had asked in the first place. Nothing more was said. I only mention that last bit as a point of amusement in the many adventures we had together, especially at the North Kildonan office.
I still go in once a year to look in on my real estate family, pretending to be on inspection. Judging by the hugs I get, I think I am well remembered and am still part of the family. I guess I had a good time working there.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Board Hearings

Board Hearings
I guess it’s time for a little change of pace. The Real Estate Board arguably has some purpose in the life of a real estate agent. Aside from its staff, it has a number of various committees dealing with all sorts of issues that come up in the course of daily business, so it is a source of constant activity usually involving any number of board members and committees.
One such committee is the disciplinary committee dealing with complaints against a particular agent or company. Well I was never on any such committee, but was often called as the broker of my company to defend my agent(s) on complaints made against them by either other companies, agents, buyers or sellers.  And of course there was always the reverse where one of our agents or the company was complaining about someone or something else. Regardless, it always fell on me as the company broker to represent our interests at the board.
The complaints panel was comprised of a board member of course, a member of the public, a church cleric and I don’t remember who all else. Each represented a segment of public interest (whatever that was). There was some structure to the proceedings in that the complaint was first read out and then each of the parties to it was asked to make their case for or opposed to the complaint. When it was done, you either went for coffee or back to the office, none the wiser for what the panel was about to announce. Sometimes it went well for my agent and me, and other times not so much.
 Generally, I would speak for the agent in question while he or she sat quietly nodding or shaking her/his head at my arguments, occasionally throwing in his/her two cents worth. At times the discussion could become heated, calling for a separation and perhaps coffee break, and then we’d go at it again until we got through all the issues. After that the committee would deliberate and render a verdict that had no appeal to it. One got the message and lived with it. Period.
It didn’t of course always go as planned though. One particular case I remember involved a complaint against one of our agents who was reported to have taken somebody else’s buyer at an open house. Well, I didn’t get a word in edgewise. My agent put on her warrior cloak and lit into the other company with a ferocity that put the whole committee into shock. I have to say that she had come much more prepared than I had. I had to take into account that she had come to Canada from a war torn country which maybe colored her attitude somewhat, leaving us trying to catch our breath. Ultimately though, her lack of civility caused her more problems than the business was worth and she ultimately left the business.
One of the most amazing pieces of business at the complaints committee hearings happened one morning when we were all a little early for the appointed meeting. Over a cup of coffee we got to discussing the complaint made by the opposing broker. It turned out to be a total misunderstanding on his part. Well, he decided to fix it at the meeting.
By the time everyone got settled in and read the complaint out, the broker piped up and simply stated what had transpired at coffee and that he was withdrawing the complaint. I must say that I’d never seen the committee so befuddled before. Thinking back now, it was kind of funny just to see the look on their faces, having nothing to make a judgment over. The upshot was that the broker’s company was fined five hundred dollars for having wasted the committee’s time in coming together to do nothing and we had no penalty.
There are many other stories I could tell about this part of the business (if I could remember them) but suffice it to say that it was all a toss of the dice to go into one of those meetings and ponder the outcome. I could easily have done all my homework, checked my facts and go in fully confident of the outcome, only to have it completely reversed by the committee. I was more than pleased for our company to grow to the point where we had a second broker so I wouldn’t have to go anymore.