In Yorkville’s ritzy and au courant world, Rich Himelfarb comes off as extremely down to earth.
The Forest Hill Yorkville Real Estate Brokerage sales representative is a third-generation realtor who works hard, keeps his head down and treats every client the same way whether they’re “a $500,000 or a $5-million buyer.”
As part of the founding family of Forest Hill Real Estate (his grandmother Ronni Fingold started the boutique luxury firm in 1985 after a conversation around her kitchen table), he holds himself to a high standard.
“My next big goal is opening my own office in a few years, but for now I just try to help my clients as best I can and remain ethical despite what some other agents on the street might be doing,” he says.
Toronto Storeys caught up with this rising star to find out what it’s like selling luxury real estate to the high net-worth clients and working with his family.
What initially got you involved with real estate?
Real estate is my family business. My mom is my office manager, my sister my administrator and my grandmother started Forest Hill Real Estate, which is now 18 offices.
What made you want to join the family business?
It was a very natural progression for me. Growing up I’d go out with my mom on offer presentations and I was always in a lot of customer service roles. I had an opportunity to open a real estate office with my mom and my sister right when I finished university and now we’re running the Yorkville branch.
Is it interesting working so closely with your family all the time?
It’s an interesting dynamic. Thank God we all get along pretty well. There’s often friction between me and my sister, but it’s all very playful. We work very well together most of the time. Me and my mom do a ton of deals and often our clients appreciate that we’re from two different generations. My mom reaches out to an older generation and I have the new buyers. It works well that way and we’re fortunate to have our different reaches.
What do you think it takes to be a top real estate producer?
Like any new business, the fail rate for getting into real estate is almost 80 per cent, which means only 20 per cent of real estate agents actually get their license and sustain themselves as an actual, real profession. I think most of that is because when people get into real estate they think they can make their own hours and can get up at 11 a.m. Actually, it’s the opposite. You have to wake up early, you have to be in your car, you have to get on MLS and it’s a real sales job, even though I don’t often think of it as a sales job. You also have to stay up late, so if agents think they can get up at 11 a.m. and still make money, they’re out to lunch. It’s impossible! You’re going to fail! You have to have discipline, you have to have drive and it’s a real job. It’s not a nine to five job, it’s a 24 hours a day job. You’re always on-call for your clients and the people that do otherwise are not successful agents.
Since you work in Yorkville, which is a pretty rich area of the city, do you have to adjust the way you conduct yourself as a realtor?
Not really. There are scummy agents in the city but I don’t think where I am dictates how I conduct my business. I conduct my business in an ethical way just because that’s how I want to conduct my business whether I’m dealing with a $500,000 buyer or a $5-million buyer. It’s about treating them all the same and popping the champagne with everyone. There’s no minimum for exemplary treatment. You do everything you can for every buyer because who knows? Maybe the $500,000 buyer is going to be the $5-million buyer in five years.
Have you assisted any celebrities in your practice yet?
I sold a condo two years ago to a now former Raptors player. It was a very weird experience because I was hardly dealing with him. The only time I ever met him was to sign the actual paperwork, which was slightly intimidating because he was so tall. Other times I was just dealing with his agent and financial advisor in California. It was actually a very interesting experience. I remember the player gave me a handshake that almost swallowed my hand.
What do you feel is Toronto’s most underrated neighbourhood?
Liberty Village is still a really great area. King Street West is up and coming, but not necessarily underrated anymore because prices are already crazy there. A good place that I would personally buy right now that is really up and coming is St. Clair West. The Junction is going to be amazing in the next three to five years and even areas like Regent Park — where all these developers are buying land in notoriously bad areas — in 10 years is going to be alive again and all the property values will go shooting up because all these developers see this cheap land and these bad areas of downtown, so they’re going to gentrify.
If you weren’t a real estate agent, what would you be?
I’d be in some kind of sales role in custom home building. I’m not that good tied to a desk. I like dealing with clients directly. People generally like me and I like dealing with people. I’d be doing some sort of sales role like that, but I don’t think of myself as a salesperson. I think of myself as someone helping my clients find their dream home. I’m not a salesperson because I’m not trying to sell them something they don’t want. I’m helping them find what they really want.
What are the issues or innovations you are seeing that will change your industry in the future?
As computers are being more utilized in our industry, it’s just all about how people find you on the web. Something like 90 per cent of real estate searches start by googling the area and googling homes. It’s all about utilizing your reach with the power of the Internet.
So SEO is pretty important I guess?
It’s extremely important, especially for lead generation in this business. Everyone is always searching online, everyone is always interested in how much their house is worth and how much the market is going up. It’s a fascination, which is understandable.
What do you enjoy most about real estate?
What I love about my job is finding people a house that they want, that they will raise a family and be happy in.
What annoys you most about real estate?
The most frustrating part of my job is dealing with agents who have no idea what they’re doing and having my clients be frustrated because another agent is not doing their job properly. Really when that happens your hands are tied and there’s little you can do. It’s not your client, it’s the other agent’s client, and it’s not your fault that they don’t know how to do their job properly.
What’s your greatest contribution to your community as a realtor?
I do attend charity events, but that’s more self-serving as a way to meet clients and network. Other less self-serving things would be when we host block parties for the Yorkville community and client appreciation events where we rent out a movie theatre, which creates a sense of community where neighbours get to meet neighbours.
What’s your best advice for people buying or selling a home in this competitive market?
My best advice — and I say this to all my friends — is, once you’re in the market and own a home, stay in the market. The biggest mistake I see people doing is selling their house and not buying a new place. Once you sell your house and you think you got a great price, but you say, “I’m going to rent for two years,” in two years the market goes up 30 to 40 per cent and you’re actually priced out of the market. The most crucial advice I have is that if you have a house, buy and sell in the same market.