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.
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.