It works in every industry. Someone has to get the ball rolling. Connect with someone with whom you can sell your product. Be it a service or a widget, you need to get the proverbial phone to ring. Advertising in its many shapes and form help, but there’s nothing like a face-to- face with a prospective final end user for what you have to offer.

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When I first started my real estate career (1983 after graduating U of T), I went straight to Century 21 after reading an ad claiming to guarantee $21,000 per year income after six months of training. Young, fresh out of university, naive (okay, maybe stupid), full of energy and needing a good source of income to keep me in the bars, I jumped at the opportunity.

The training was interesting to say the least. The broker would literally carry a whip around the open pit office/training room. I learned quite a bit from the heavy accented German and laughed out loud when the whip would crack and the sales force was startled into action. The recipe was 100 cold calls a day or hit the pavement and knock on 50 doors. Two listings and one sale or any combination thereof per month and you’re going to make real money! That’s it. Refine your spiel, be genuine, and get out…. there’s the door, what are you waiting for?

Wow, ever tried it? Walk up to a complete stranger’s house and actually knock on the door, then ask if they wanted to sell? I hated it. Still do and found the extreme dissatisfaction palpable. It worked. However uncomfortable it made me feel, and without a word of a lie over the first part of my career I did thousands of houses. Each and every one brought the same feeling. Questioning why I was doing it, whether or not it really would make me rich, or plunge me into a bottomless pit of despair as another door would get shut in my face, or thankfully there would be no answer at all. Swallow your fear and get on with it, I kept repeating.

Time to get smart. Make this door-knocking morph into something I could work with. Several avenues pushed me into the field of custom estate residential homes. I very much enjoyed new construction, custom builds and then got further into land deals as the builders I worked with were constantly looking for another parcel. Experience can turn a young stupid person into an inventive savvy entrepreneur. Learn your field inside and out, know what to look for and when it’s not there, go and create it.

Expireds, vacant lots next to existing houses, severances (after all I did take planning, might as well make use of the degree), right up to taking part in draft plans of subdivision. Door knocking became a refined, purposeful direction, simple even. And genuine, yes very genuine as I had a buyer(s) without emotion (lots of money too). To them, even today, it’s just business. If the numbers work everybody gets happy.

Now to the real story. A piece of land in my area did not sell. It was slated for residential development as it was in a settlement boundary area. Usually I call the original brokerage for an expired property, give them 10 minutes to respond, then move forward. Yeah it seems ridiculous to wait so little an amount of time, I do it just to relieve my Catholic sense of guilt, then I’m good to go.

Use every tool at my disposal to find the owner and make the approach. Let’s go door knocking. I found the address of the registered owner of the property, a limited corporation in Toronto. With portfolio in hand, address on the dashboard and a keen idea of what the pitch was going to be, well let’s just say there was no stopping the forward movement.

A strange location revealed itself in an interesting industrial condo building. Around the back I found a faded white door with the unit number attached. It did not feel quite right. The appearance would not lead anyone to believe this was home to the owner of a development property.

Okay, here we go, deep breath, reach out and rap on the middle of the door. My outhouse door from the cottage 30 years ago was a sturdier barrier. No answer, but I could hear a voice. Try it again and voila, movement and steps towards the door. As the adrenaline perked up, I drew in another deep breath.

A peculiar yet distinguished gentleman opened the door and quite confidently asked how he could help. I could not place the accent, worn down by years of living in Toronto, but I could place the authentic feeling that he wanted to help this total stranger. When I explained that I was looking for the owner of a property in Caledon, I had a buyer blah, blah, blah, he said I’m sorry but no, we don’t do that kind of thing. My heart sank. Blood pressure subsided, shoulders drooped, but I picked myself up before allowing the notion that I failed (again) to sink in. I thanked him and thought to myself, door knocking really sucks.

Before he closed the door completely he tilted his head slightly, pursed his lips and motioned me to come in. Hang on a moment please, come on in. Really? Light at the end of the tunnel? This man did not need to entertain me with his efforts, there was nothing in it for him. Yet he was willing to try. A few seconds later after dialling and speaking into the phone he handed it to me. The first thing out of the guy on the other end of the line was, “How did you find me? Not even Revenue Canada has figured it out.” Simple explanation, I searched for the address where the realty taxes were being sent.

Long story short, Ivan (the gentleman with the South African accent as I subsequently found out) opened the door for me to opportunities I could never have imagined. My door knocking lead me to a doorman who helped define this last decade of my career. His simple effort has remained at the forefront of my mind each and every time someone needs or asks for my assistance in any way, shape or form.

Recently Ivan passed away. God bless my doorman. He was and always will be well respected by all his friends and colleagues. Although we never shared a drink or fell into a philosophical discussion, there was always a smile or grin he gave me when we were in the same company. All because of a simple door knock.

12 COMMENTS

  1. The greatest door knocker I ever met was, without a doubt, Bill Nasby! When he was in Edmonton in the mid ’80’s he and his partner would knock EVERY door in the then town of St. Albert twice a year.

    Then he moved to Toronto and started the same practice… was very successful. In about 2000 he came to Edmonton to put on a seminar on door knocking… all the top producers came out to see Bill. He, throughout the day, drummed into our heads 5 questions and actually had us all full versed on those 5 questions… in order.

    The seminar finished about 4 PM and he said to the group… pick a partner and let’s go get on the bus outside the hotel! So there was 50 of us on the bus, he had a loudspeaker set up at the front, he told the bus driver where to drive to (a couple of blocks from the hotel) and he clipped a wireless mike on his necktie.

    He then explained what we were going to do over the next hour and that THIS was the best time to do it because most people will be home (supper time). We just knock on doors for about an hour until everybody has had their turn… and took the first pair from the from of the bus explaining that the three of them will go up to the first house and he will do the spiel, then go to the next house and the first “student” does the spiel and the next house the other “student” does the spiel and the rest of us sat on the bus and listened to it go.

    The first two would then cross the street and do three houses on their own. All you were to do is take or make appointments… you DID NOT go in at this point. And 2 X 2 away we all went… figure now that with 25 groups each calling on 6 houses, we hit 150 houses in that hour and came up with a stunning 67 appointments… Bingo!

    My wife (and partner) and a pretty new Realtor decided that was a great way to go and the two of them picked a nice area about a mile from our office and went at it… unreal how well it went, like Mr. Libawski said, “it’s a tough row to hoe”.

    The 5 questions were pure magic, having the bus outside after the meeting was absolutely brilliant and seeing the success of it was incredible. As I said at the start, most of the Realtors at the seminar were top producers and had and worked their prospecting methods successfully… but for most Realtors (remember the 80/20 rule) they are content to sit around the office waiting for the phone to ring… good luck with that!

    My wife started her Real Estate career in London, ON in 1976, moved to Edmonton in 1980 (was a top producer there) and we moved to Mexico in 2012… she is knocking them dead down here at almost 72 years of age. The area we are in has the ONLY MLS system in Mexico.

    Bill Nasby passed away the year before last I believe… he left the Real Estate world a better place!

      • Sorry Angela that was 40 years ago and I am now almost 80… and I wouldn’t want to get them wrong. Basically he opened with who he was and went of with if they were thinking of selling, where they had moved from, where they would like to move to, when that would be and if they would like to receive a regular report on their area so they knew if they decided to sell how the market (in their area) was.

        He would get their name if they wanted a reporting and that he had to move on and call on another 50 people but he could get back another day… “When would you like me to come over or would you just like the report?”… 67 appointments out of 150 houses!

        My wife and I got two that day and one of them we are still in touch with because they are thinking of moving to Mexico! We’ve sold (between the two and their referrals) 12 houses over the years and we left that city 9 years ago.

  2. I made a good living out of door-knocking and can genuinely feel your pain when you describe the “nerves”. The high-heels I started out wearing in the 80’s eventually had to be flats- but even after 30 years of doing it, at least 1 in 100 turned into GOLD within a very short time – and yes, those folks stuck with me all of my career. Now enjoying a comfortable retirement (Excepting the restrictions of travel/social interactions from COVID-19 like everyone else).

  3. Absolutely love your story. Great things happen when we get out there and do the hard work. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Door knocking is what started my business and my current listing was from a door knock 5 years ago. Well they’re repeat clients who are selling the home they bought with me 5 years ago. I can’t wait till the pandemic is over so I can go door knocking again.

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