Michael O’Brien has been at the top of the real estate game for 30 years.
As a sales representative for Bosley Real Estate, he has excelled in markets both good and bad by being consistently among the top 10 agents in his office since 2000. As a veteran of the industry, he has taken more than 40 real estate training courses and lends a hand training the next generation of agents in his office.
In a conversation with Toronto Storeys, O’Brien uses his expertise to assess the changes in the Toronto market, breaks down the roles of the selling and buying agent as he sees them and reveals his secret desire to be a veterinarian.
How did you get into real estate and what initially attracted you to the profession?
I was about 30 and a little at loose ends. I like houses and people, of course. I saw an ad in the paper for a company looking for agents, inviting you to come and write an aptitude test. I wrote it and I scored the highest mark out of 30 people. It made me think about it more and I decided to take the courses. While I was taking the courses, I ran into a broker on the Toronto Island ferry that I kind of knew and he said, “Come and see me the second you’re finished and you have a job. I started at Terry Martel Real Estate in September of 1986 and I came ninth out of 200 agents in my first year.
What do you attribute that initial success to?
I think early enthusiasm.
What do people most misunderstand about working with a real estate agent?
That’s a good question. I don’t know if I have an answer for that. There are two different sides to the job. If you’re looking to sell a house, you’re kind of like a movie producer because you’re bringing together a lot of skills, trades and people to help with the process. You’re really just a manager who manages the whole process to make sure there aren’t any mistakes, everything is covered and you’re helping your fellow colleagues who are showing the property as much as you can. If you’re working with buyers, it’s a whole different thing and your job really is to be objective by seeing the pluses and minuses of every property and finding one that suits them. We’re called salespeople, but we certainly never push a property on anybody. We help them find what they want and what suits them within the constraints of their budget.
What issues or innovations are you seeing that are presently changing real estate or might change the industry in the future?
Over my 30 years, the industry has changed immensely of course. The public, especially when they are buying, are much more involved in the search than they were 20 years ago because of the Internet. Our basic job is still the same, but choosing the properties that are candidates take a little more time because so many people do so much of their own searching. It’s also the market. The market has changed so much over the last few years. Fifteen years ago, we used to put our buyer clients in the car and take them around to see six houses and then we’d do it again the next day or the next weekend. The last few years, there haven’t been enough houses on the market to do that. It’s more like once a week, finding one house that might be suitable and getting them in to see it quickly.
What do you think of the Toronto market these days? Did the province do enough to cool the overheated market?
Their measures of rent controls and foreign buyer taxes have worked. The market is clearly cooler than it was three weeks ago. All my colleagues are saying the same thing, we’re getting fewer showings of listings, many houses aren’t getting offers on their offer dates and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The market in February and March was berserk. Now we’re in a slower, more normal and more balanced market I would say. I think it’s better for everybody.
In what ways is it better?
I think a lot of people in February and March paid some truly crazy prices for houses and they’re probably going to regret it. Everyone was moving so fast. They didn’t have the time to think because so many houses were being sold with bully offers and pre-emptive offers. You didn’t even have the luxury of the week waiting up until offer day. It’s a little bit calmer now for sure.
What advice do you give to clients looking to buy a home in Toronto? Is your advice different than it would have been in February or March?
I don’t think my advice has changed, but we should have the luxury of a bit more choice. I have some clients who are looking in the west end and their needs are fairly specific. We’ve seen maybe 11 houses since September, a lot of them went fast, maybe $5,000 to $6,000 over asking. Now, there are maybe five or six houses for them to choose from. It still has to be a house that’s right for them and is suitable, but we can kind of relax a bit. They are happy that there seems to be choice back in the marketplace.
If you weren’t a real estate agent, what would you be?
I would’ve loved to have been a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals, which is very different from real estate.
Where does your love of animals come from?
It has just always been there. When I was a kid my mom kept buying me books written in the first person from an animal’s perspective and I think that’s probably what suckered me in.
Do you have any pets now?
We have one standard poodle and two cats.
What do you think it takes to be a top producer in this industry?
It’s a combination of things and it’s kind of hard to identify because there are all different kinds of people who can be successful real estate agents. I would say persistence is important, an ability to get along with people and to be a good listener is very important. I think it helps to be organized and systematic, but I know lots of successful agents who aren’t. You go into my office and it’s hilarious, some agents’ desks are spotless and some are just a colossal mess, so very different personalities. There are all different kinds of people shopping for houses so it makes sense that agents are all different kinds of people too.
So what kind of person would you say you are?
I am warm and gregarious and good with people. I’m a thinker. I think carefully about every step. I went to a real estate thing once and they did a personality test and I came out as a green-orange on the Myers & Briggs scale and that meant I was cerebral and could be difficult, while orange is fun and gregarious. I thought it was pretty accurate.