In many aspects of life, sometimes there’s nobody better to rely on than family. In Toronto’s competitive real estate market — and with so many realtors out there — family firms are widely considered to have an edge.
Of course there are naysayers who will shout from the rooftops ‘No no, not family!’ Industry experts offer many reasons why it’s not the best idea to hire your kin to represent you in the buying or selling of a home. One simple reason? The personal and emotional connection. Many realtors however are forging ahead in the Toronto market by working with their own flesh and blood — or the love of their life.
“The personable nature of our business means our clients are more comfortable knowing that they are working with a family,” says Joanna Wilson. Both Joanna and her older sister, Melanie, work together as sales representatives for Homeward Realty Brokerage as The Wilson Sisters. They recognize the power of their familial bond to prospective clients — when Joanna went alone to a client presentation she noticed it was the husband and wife team who snagged the business.
Paul Chan, a realtor who works with his husband, Ewan French, as the duo behind Modern Family Realtor, agrees that family teams have an advantage over those working solo.
“We know many single realtors out there who are overwhelmed and find it a struggle to provide the same level of service we do,” says Chan. “We feel that having a team behind you gives our clients a competitive advantage by providing them with different expertise, more resources and more availability when it comes to buying or selling a property.”
A familial advantage
Chan and French are well aware that being two gay dads to a daughter makes them stand out. They market themselves as such, with an attractive family shot adorning their marketing materials. They believe that being able to lean on relatives helps to better balance the load — family may be more willing to cover for an agent at times a team member not as close to the heart may be less sympathetic.
Melanie Wilson feels the same way about her sister.
“We actually like helping each other. There’s never any resentment,” she says. “If one of us needs a break, the other one is happy to help … or carry the load for a while. We’re supportive of one another because we love each other and we want each other to do well.”
When a family dynamic works, the typical squabbles that may plague some realtor teams don’t commonly come into play. ”I know teams that are always having an issue: ‘Oh, my colleague’s (earning) this and I’m (earning) that’ or ‘She does half the work and I do three-quarters of the work.’ We don’t have that issue so much because we’re just so open and transparent,” says Frankie Porretta, who works with his sister, Lina, as part of The Porretta Group, a division of Forest Hill Real Estate Brokerage Inc.
“I never fight with my sister, I love her,” he says.
For the Porrettas, real estate doesn’t just run in the family, it’s a family legacy. Their father, Nick, established the business prior to his passing in 2010, while their mother, Sylvia, still works with her children as their executive assistant. This may seem like a unique story, but there are many family teams in Toronto in which the whole family is in on the action or they’ve been in the realty game for generations. In fact, try as they may to explore other career paths, many family teams were formed because they grew up with parents, or even grandparents, in real estate and eventually followed in their footsteps.
Richard Himelfarb’s grandmother founded Forest Hill Real Estate during a conversation around her kitchen table in 1985. Now three generations of Himelfarb’s immediate family work for the boutique firm, serving high-net-worth clients. His mom is his office manager and his sister is his administrator. Himelfarb has embraced the experience of being able to interact with his family in both his personal and professional life.
“It’s an interesting dynamic, but we all get along really well. Often, there is office friction between me and my sister, but it’s all very playful. My mom and I do a ton of deals and our clients seem to appreciate that we’re both from two generations. Obviously, my mom reaches out to an older generation and I work with most of the new buyers. It works well that way,” he says.
The dynamic between family members is what makes each team compelling and unique. Often, it allows each member to focus only on his or her strengths and do the type of deals or handle elements of the profession that they enjoy most. The Wilson sisters, who grew up with their father in real estate, decided to work together after realizing their skills perfectly complemented one another.
“We really balance each other out,” says Melanie. “My sister is very good at paperwork, she’s extremely organized, she’s very meticulous and she’s a little more analytical than I am. She’s very good at helping clients determine exactly what they want from a given situation, whereas I’m a little more of a free spirit. I’m a little more spontaneous and I’m much more interested in the marketing side of things. My sister is more about planning and I handle things that are more on the fly.”
Chan and French work in a similar fashion in that Chan has a strong business background and French has experience as a marketing director. However, as a married couple who have worked in different businesses together over the course of their 15-year relationship, they have the added challenge of balancing the time and energy they put into their work and what they put into their romantic relationship.
“The biggest challenge is separating our professional and personal lives. We’re together nine to five running the business and then we go home and raise our daughter. We’re pretty much together 24/7, so it can be hard to find time for ourselves,” says Chan.
They do have a strategy, however, and try to stick to it as much as possible.
“One thing we try to do is not talk about work outside of business hours. It’s easier said than done, but it’s something we try to do whenever possible. We also try to schedule date nights to keep the married side of our relationship alive,” says French.
David Rad isn’t a guy who likes to spend his entire day with one person, but then he met his wife Mina Sabbaghzadeh. When he realized she was a natural salesperson he brought her into his real estate business with PSR Brokerage. Now, much of their conversation veers off into real estate land.
“We don’t have a set rule not to talk about work at the dinner table,” says Sabbaghzadeh, who married Rad in June 2016. “If we disagree about something, we talk it out and it doesn’t take long before we’re on the same page.”
“It’s not like when 5:00 hits we’re unplugged. That works for some people, it doesn’t work for us because we’re both so passionate about our business. Real estate is as good as porn to me,” he says.
The couple admits they even talk about real estate while on vacation. Let’s hope pina coladas are involved.