Some people do drugs, Judith Varga does real estate.
At least that’s what her son used to say to emphasize how much she loves the business.
So much so that the Royal LePage broker turns 65 in 2018 and her thoughts couldn’t be further from retirement.
In fact, as young agents feel they dominate the social media platforms and new technology changing the real estate business, Varga reminds them not to get too comfortable. She tells us why real estate isn’t about technology on its own, and explains how she’s been working successfully in the field since entering the business in 1983.
How did you get your start in real estate?
I was a stay-at-home mom. Then in 1983, when my daughter started school, I took the course to get my licence. I started at Johnston and Daniel in very affluent Mississauga when interest rates were 21 per cent, so you had to think on your feet in order to create your own niche.
Real estate is more than just selling houses. Every so often, you have a cycle that you need to learn to work within whether it’s very high-interest rates or now, social media.
Real estate is a supply-and-demand business. So sometimes it’s a buyers’ market and sometimes it’s a sellers’ market, but you have to be able to adapt to the conditions.
I’m pretty quick on my feet. I’m very good at problem-solving. [Getting into real estate] was an interesting marriage of a nosy housewife with a problem-solving real estate agent.
As a long-time veteran of the industry, what keeps you in the real estate business?
I’m turning 65 this year. One of my clients asked me if I’m going to retire and I thought, Oh my God, what would I do if I retired? I’m not working on Freedom 85 because I need to, it’s because I love what I do.
I enjoy looking after clients. I enjoy the business of negotiating. And I enjoy the fact that real estate is forever evolving.
Who would have thought in 1983 that in 2018 we’d be doing staging, drones and social media? It’s a very exciting business because it’s always changing.
Since you’ve entered the business, how has it changed?
A few years ago people said, “The Internet is coming and we’ll be out of business!”
The Internet is the best thing that ever happened to us because it lets you show a client in two seconds what their potential dream house looks like. You can walk through a house with an iPhone and as soon as you walk in, you know that this will be perfect for so-and-so.
The Internet has made it so much easier.
Yes, you have to be available 24/7, but on the other hand, you could be in the French Riviera and still sell a house.
The Internet gives me freedom, but I’m still hands-on.
What would you say is your approach to the real estate business?
I like to be in control of everything.
My business partner Anthony Fata and I only take on a limited number of listings at a time. I’m not a librarian. I don’t want 60 listings because every one of my clients deserves my undivided attention.
We are very successful, but it’s just the two of us. There are no assistants or gophers – you get the two of us. You never get passed off to somebody else and to me, that’s important.
I know everybody’s into teams now — we’re not. All of our clients get us with our one-on-one, undivided attention and it’s working for me. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for me.
I love what I do.
Younger agents often say they’re better with technology and social media than older agents. But you’ve been in the business a long time … How have you adapted?
It’s very important to know what your shortcomings are. I knew — because I like to be very hands-on with my clients — that it’s impossible for me to do it all.
I have a social media person. I give her the content. I decide what gets put on my business page. And if she posts something I don’t agree with, I will delete it. So I’m still hands-on.
I don’t think technology and social media has anything to do with age, it has to do with how curious you are and how willing to learn you are.
When I got into the business we didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have pagers. And you had to call into your office for your messages.
Now I have it all: I had the first Blackberry and I had the first flip-phone from Motorola. I’m into gadgets. I bought an Escalade because it’s full of gadgets.
I walk the walk and talk the talk. It’s important because when you’re selling high-end homes, you’re selling a lifestyle. It’s important that your pictures are polished and it’s important that everything looks perfect.
What separates you from a lot of the agents working today?
What makes me very different from lots of my colleagues is, unfortunately, the majority of real estate agents don’t spend money.
They make a tremendous amount, but they don’t spend it. They’re looking for whatever is cheapest. Everybody’s very frugal when it comes to spending money on their clients and on their business.
I’m the total opposite: I always have the best videographer, the best photographer and the best staging.
I have a business card that costs 10 times as much as everybody else’s. But when I give you my business card — it makes you pause for a second.
I was one of the first ones who did drones.
I spent, for a three-bedroom bungalow in Richmond Hill, $700 to $900 for a virtual tour because it has to look perfect and it makes such a difference.
I disagree that if you’re younger you’re better at technology because what’s important is being able to adapt to the circumstances and real estate is very cyclical.
We still sold houses when interest rates were 21 per cent. You just had to be very good at math and you had to know how to do a mortgage buy-down.
You have to adapt to the business as it is. And if technology is it, then that’s what you’re going to embrace.
You have to embrace the changes. And on top of that, I take thousands of courses. I take courses for social media, I take legal courses and I take courses on all the industry updates.
At least once a month I do some sort of updating and upgrading because you have to be ahead of the curve instead of chasing it.