“That’s you!” say the children of Anita Springate-Renaud, Engel & Vӧlkers Toronto Central owner and broker of record. They are referring to a scene in the movie American Beauty.
In this particular clip, Annette Bening’s character, a real estate agent, is readying a client’s home for an open house. Having removed her tailored business outfit to keep it pristine, she’s stripped down to her slip, nylons and heels, frantically cleaning and vacuuming while repeating the affirmation, “I will sell this house today.”
Springate-Renaud admits that she can relate.
She says she is obsessed with open house cleaning. “I’ve unclogged drains, fixed toilets,” she says, explaining that she gets it from her mother, who was also in real estate.
In fact, the cleaning gene may go back further than that. Springate-Renaud’s maternal grandmother was also a real estate agent. “She came over from Germany around the late 1960s. At the time it cost her $5 to become a real estate salesperson. She was fluent in several languages and sold to all the immigrants.”
Springate-Renaud credits much of her own success to the inspiration of the female role models in her family. This includes her maternal grandmother’s first cousin, collector and philanthropist Sonja Bata, who founded the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.
“They were all strong women. They did things their way. I have the same trait, family members tell me. Either that or I’m stubborn,” she laughs.
She recalls being “immersed” in real estate growing up. It didn’t appeal to her as a career initially. But at her mother’s urging she found her way to it almost 25 years ago. “It was seamless,” she says. “I already knew the business inside and out, and I knew the work ethic needed to succeed.”
Eventually her career path led her to premium specialty company Engel & Vӧlkers. She was attracted to its culture of friendly collaboration and to its boutique style “shops” (aka brokerages), which reminded her of “how things were in Toronto” before impersonal mega-offices became the norm for many brands.
In 2016, Engel & Vӧlkers (founded decades ago in Germany) had begun making serious inroads in North America but didn’t yet have a Toronto office. So Springate-Renaud opened one – Toronto Central. Today she oversees 32 agents (“advisors,” in the European-style lingo of the company).
This winter the Toronto Central shop merged with the Collingwood/Muskoka office, which is located in fiercely lusted-after cottage country currently experiencing unprecedented levels of interest.
Being a big feeder market for cottage country, Toronto shares many buyers and sellers with Muskoka and Collingwood. “It made sense for us to combine forces,” says Springate-Renaud.
“The Muskoka and Collingwood market is driven by Toronto buyers, and sellers in these markets want their properties to be put in front of Toronto Realtors – and on Toronto’s listing system – for wider exposure, rather than just being advertising locally.”
It’s about maximizing efficiencies and leveraging the winning of listings and sales in both the city and outside it, say those involved. With real estate markets currently ablaze all over, there’s been media attention and criticism regarding Toronto agents showing properties across Ontario (and beyond), including in cottage areas where they have no local knowledge.
Due to the recent merger, this is less likely to be an issue for the Toronto Central shop, or so Springate-Renaud hopes. A note from her marketing rep states: “Her team is winning listings in cottage country specifically because they have offices in Toronto. Their strategy is that leaders from their Collingwood/Muskoka and Toronto offices will all meet with potential sellers and discuss how they will market their properties in each area. This is proving to be a winning formula.”
Says Springate-Renaud: “It’s very different selling in Toronto in a residential area and selling something (outside the city) on a well and septic, not on municipal water. Agents need to know about all the systems – water potability, and so on – which are not things a Toronto agent would normally need to know. You can’t sell something you don’t know about.”
Agents must also know how to market that particular type of property, she says. Just putting it on MLS is not enough.
“It’s nice to have roots in the ground there,” she says. “As an agent you don’t necessarily have to be from an area to represent the client properly, but if you aren’t from the area, you need to do three times as much work to learn the area.
“We have office meetings that keep each other in the loop. We work collaboratively. We recently had a referral from Europe – the seller was German – for a property on Lake Muskoka that got 15 offers.”
Due to the pandemic, international referrals like this are down at the moment, she says.
In many regions, markets remain strong but are softening, with people “tired of bidding and losing” on properties with multiple offers, Springate-Renaud says.
But this isn’t really the case in Collingwood and Muskoka, she says. “Prices have gone up astronomically in cottage country.”
She’s no stranger to people with tremendously deep pockets – recently she was inducted into the Engel & Vӧlkers Private Office, an elite global network advisory servicing celebrity and uber-wealthy clients, including actor Ben Affleck and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky.
“Often, high net-worth individuals live quite privately, especially when it comes to their homes. They often do not want them listed on MLS, where interior images can be accessed and browsed through by the public,” she says.
It follows, you’d suppose, that holding open houses for these clients is generally off the table as well. Good news for Springate-Renaud – no vacuuming in her slip and heels á la Annette Bening required.