In this week’s edition of My Job Could Be Your Life, we learn about the benefits and challenges of working in the thick of Toronto’s booming real-estate market.
Name: Mitch Parker
Job: Real-estate agent with Model Suites Realty
In 30 seconds or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
I represent clients in what are usually the biggest financial decisions that they make in their lives. The way I look at real estate is that it’s more than an address—it’s a lifestyle. If you want to buy in downtown Toronto, it’s usually not because you want to settle down and have children in the suburbs, but because you want that nightlife with lots of activity going on. The other side of my work is helping investors meet their real-estate goals. It’s mainly residential, but there are quite a few categories—it’s everything from short-term to long-term projects.
When did you first become interested in real estate?
I’ve always been interested in business. My dad owned companies while I was growing up, and he always ran them out of the house. I sometimes joke that I grew up in an office. I went to school for business at Algonquin College with a specialization in finance and, after finishing that program, I was a licensed financial planner. I’m not a desk person, though, so at that point I decided to move to Montreal. I have family there, and I ended up meeting this guy who did renovations. I started working with him, and I loved it—we were doing all the labour, building bathrooms and basements and kitchens. I started looking for a place that I could renovate myself and re-sell, and I wound up with a couple of properties that I held onto and rented out to tenants. Through that, I realized that I loved the real-estate aspect—the negotiation process was like an adrenaline rush. So I decided to run with it; I’ve been investing in real estate for four years now and selling for three.
What’s the licensing process for an agent like?
You basically take three courses, and then you go into an articling phase, similar to what lawyers do. That lasts for two years, but you are able to sell real estate during that time. Then you have to do three more courses, and then you are a licensed realtor. To get started in real estate, for the courses and fees, you’re looking at anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000. It’s not expensive, which is why a lot of people go into it, especially in the GTA. The Toronto Real Estate Board is the largest in North America—there’s 35,000 agents, so it’s competitive.
Do all real-estate agents work with brokerage firms, or can you be an independent agent?
You have to hold your license at a brokerage. Different brokerages have different arrangements; some won’t take a lot of your commission but will charge a lot of fees, while others are the opposite. Usually, agents select the brokerage they want to join, so for anyone thinking of going into real estate, it’s a good idea to do some research. It’s about finding where you fit in and where you see yourself in the long run. Real estate is about long-term goals; very few agents start out making lots of money in their first year. Everyone thinks that real-estate agents are really rich, but it’s not true; there are way more starving agents than there are successful ones.
How did you initially set yourself apart as an agent?
Because Toronto is so large, you have to pick a niche. I had my background in property investment and management, so working with investors was almost a no-brainer. And being young helps when working in the downtown condo market, because I can relate to a lot of people buying condos—it’s a lot of young professionals who are buying the downtown lifestyle. I do work with a lot of first-home buyers, but I’m amazed at the number of people who are finance-savvy and have gotten into the real-estate market early. Years down the road, that will pay off huge for them.
Toronto real estate seems to always be going up. Is the city in a bubble, and if so, will it ever burst?
That’s the question everyone’s asking! I wish I had a definite answer, but I don’t. My opinion on what’s going to happen in the market is that I think there’s going to be a switch from pre-construction condos to a re-sale market. A lot of units are going to finish being built, and a lot of the investors are going to start to sell them. You’re going to see a lot of re-sale units come onto the market; you can already see new construction slowing down.
What things should a buyer take into account that many people forget?
Get pre-approved for financing before you start shopping. To do that, they can either contact myself and I can suggest a few different mortgage connections, or they can go to their bank if they have an established relationship there. It’s very important to know your budget and how much you can spend first. Banks like to see a third of your income going towards your mortgage, but I think it’s important to look at it on a case-by-case basis. Some people have more stable careers, or have two incomes contributing to a mortgage. I tell my clients to think about their monthly expenses, because while they can probably get approved for a good mortgage, they don’t want to be “house poor”—meaning you don’t want to live in an amazing condo but have to eat Kraft Dinner every night. You want to be able to maintain the lifestyle you have now after you own your property.
What are some important traits for a realtor?
You need to be very ambitious and motivated, and you have to be able to adapt to situations as they come—there are no two days in this business that are ever the same. I think the biggest issue that people have in this industry is that you are your own boss, which can be amazing, or you can be your own worst enemy. No one cares if you sleep until noon or don’t come to work, so having a set schedule is key.
For someone who’s looking to get started in the business, the schooling part teaches you the facts, but what they really don’t teach you—and what’s the most important part—is how to sell big financial decisions to people. New agents can really benefit themselves by either joining a team or hiring a professional real-estate coach. I’ve done both, and they’ve been very helpful.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
My favourite is definitely being able to help a client buy or sell a home. Especially for the first-time buyer, it’s such a massive decision for them that getting to see their happiness is a great perk. I also love the thrill of the negotiations process. There really aren’t many things about my work that I don’t like. I came into the industry with the mindset that a lot of people have: that you’re going to make a lot of money in not a lot of time. You quickly awaken to the fact that that’s not really how it works; all the agents that are really successful have been in the industry a long time. But I like most of what I do—I love real estate.