Sandra Rinomato of Coldwell Banker Terrequity Realty in Toronto is one of Canada’s best known real estate professionals. She is host of HGTV’s The Property Virgins and has written a book called Realty Check.
Sandra and I worked together some years ago and I recently caught up to her for a Q&A session.
Stan Albert: Why did you decide to get into real estate?
Sandra Rinomato: As I mention in my book, a friend of mine suggested it. I balked at the idea. He asked why, and I said I didn’t like the idea of putting people in my car and driving them around with noisy ill-behaved kids in the back seat. His reply was, “Yeah, then you show them 10 houses and make $6,000. Do you know how many cappuccinos you have to sell to make six grand?” I had a little coffee kiosk at that time. So I looked into licensing, which at that time was done at Humber College, and I never looked back.
Albert: Later in your career, you changed brokerages. Why?
Rinomato: I went back to Coldwell Banker in The Kingsway, where I had started. I enjoyed the boutique atmosphere there, and the new broker owner had introduced some fantastic technology that would make it easier for agents to make money, like a great phone system that allows us our “own” numbers that we can advertise on our for sale signs. The number is dedicated to us, but is owned by the broker and therefore we can use it in ads, but it bypasses the receptionist and goes to our desk, or it can “follow me” to where ever I am, like the cottage, home, my cell. The system also captures voice mails as emails, which is a great tool for documenting and filing important calls.
I was really into the technology and other brokers and agents were still wondering if they should get voice mail. One example I like to tell is when I did my first deal in real estate, I made a big commission of $18,000 and bought myself a laptop. That was back in the days when TREB was still a DOS program. One agent told me I was stupid to waste my money on that and Top Producer software, because she said I would never use it. I laughed then, and I laugh still. I don’t think I could go an hour without my laptop during a weekday! That archaic way of thinking was the norm back then, and Andrew Zsolt was the only broker I had met who felt about technology the same way I did, which was, “Let’s embrace it and lead the pack”.
Albert: How did your previous work experience help you with real estate sales?
Rinomato: I think my experience in retail both as an entrepreneur and an employee taught me a lot about the customer’s perception, how to capture their attention in three seconds, and the importance of branding myself. That info also helped when the Internet changed our industry and the way we do business.
Albert: You now have a team. Tell us about how you manage the team.
Rinomato: The team is made up of three partners (two very good and experienced Realtors and me), a buyer’s agent and an assistant. Since I am on the road a lot, they manage themselves. As you can imagine, my partners don’t need any managing at all, and they handle the assistant and buyer’s agent. The synergy between us is amazing. We all have our strong points and weak points and they all complement each other. I don’t think we could have been any luckier or smarter with our partnering. Where I lack, my partners pick up, and vice versa.
Albert: Somewhere along your early days in real estate, you had a serious health issue. What was it, and are you now fully recovered?
Rinomato: I was born with a heart defect and it became a problem later on in life, causing an on-going lung issue. I had open heart surgery in 2004 at Toronto General Hospital. It was pretty touch and go. I can tell you that the surgery was risky and there was no guarantee that it was going to work. Had I not been under the excellent care of our Canadian health care system, I may not have been able to have the surgery and I would have died. The health care practitioners at TGH are excellent and I am eternally grateful to them for saving my life. I had a hard go of it with complications that were life threatening and the superior care they gave me saved me.
Albert: When you were at our brokerage, you and your friends connected with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Are you still involved with it?
Rinomato: I used to do the Ladies’ Lousy Golfer Tournament, which was a lot of fun, but a lot of work. When I became ill I had to stop doing the event. Now I raise money for TGH, specifically for my pulmonary specialist and my cardiac surgeons, Doctors Granton and Cusimano. More info is at www.horseandboogie.ca .
Albert: How did you get involved in The Property Virgins and HGTV? Both my wife and I have become fans! How does it feel to be a celebrity?
Rinomato: Don’t you get enough real estate in your day to day, Stan? The production company and HGTV already had the show in mind and they interviewed tons of agents in Toronto. I don’t know how they found me, but I think they were going through Realtor websites. I received a call from a guy in early fall and his message just said his name and number. I hesitated in returning the call, because I thought it was solicitation for calendars, but I thought I should call back not to be rude. When I called, the receptionist answered with “Production” and I was convinced that it was a calendar printer! I almost hung up as I didn’t need calendars, but I thought that would be rude, so I asked for the gentleman who had called and he asked if I would be interested.
My husband came from the world of acting and he told me to go for it. He was my biggest fan from the beginning. I didn’t think I had a hope in hell…..I mean, where were the cameras 20 years and 20 pounds ago? Maybe back then I would have had a chance, but now? Well, I went down and did a taped audition after an interview. They ended up hiring Tatiana Londono from Montreal, and then that went down the tube. So they looked at all the footage they had, months and months after my first audition, and asked me to come back.
I declined. I had my dad in a nursing home, and I was tending to him many times a week. I had the Coldwell Banker 100th celebration in San Francisco to go to, and I had lost interest. The producer was shocked! I mean, how many people say no to a call back for their own television show? They waited for me to get back from California and when I did I found out that my dad had taken a turn for the worse and appeared to be failing rapidly, so I called the show people back and left a “thanks but no thanks” message.
When I got to the nursing home I found my dad up and at ’em with more energy than I had (after a five-day party in San Francisco, jet lag and the whole gamut). He held on until we filmed episode two, and then passed.
I also had a hair accident. I got a brush stuck in my bangs, and had to cut it out, leaving one centimeter of hair as my bang. That was hilarious, but awful! My bangs are an integral part of my hair style and I looked like Dumb and Dumber for my second audition tape. I thought, “Oh, now they won’t want me for sure!” Stan, I’m telling you, I said no a million times but it happened anyway.
Albert: You told me that you travel constantly, how does that effect your family and business life?
Rinomato: The travel is the most difficult part of being on the show. I’m not used to it, and didn’t want it. Again, 20 years ago it would have been a blast but now I have a family, a business and I want to be home. Luckily, the production company recognizes that and lets me come home for a few days to regroup. I don’t like hotel rooms and I need to go home to cook and eat some comfort food and see my boys. The business is well run by the team of course, and that is why we came together. I didn’t want to lose a grip on my mature business. I will come back to real estate full-time when the show is no longer taping.
Albert: Tell me about your book.
Rinomato: It’s Realty Check: Real Estate Secrets for First-Time Canadian Homebuyers. It’s on the shelves now. It’s kind of like the show in that it delivers the info in an entertaining way. There are personal stories about me, and also real life stories of first-timers buying, so others can learn from their experiences.
Albert: What’s the best thing about being on the show?
Rinomato: I get tons of email from viewers in North America and the U.K. thanking me for giving them the confidence, or the info they needed to take the plunge. I couldn’t believe it when they first started coming in. Here were people from places I will never even visit, thanking me for touching their lives and helping them! That is a dream come true because I really love helping people and find that to be the most rewarding part of my real estate job, and now, my TV job. I had one from a woman who had stage four cancer and two little kids and was going through a very difficult time. She wasn’t interested in buying a home but loved to watch the show because it took her mind off her troubles. I cried when I read it and am tearing up now just remembering. Is there any better reason to do this show than that? Wow, I am blown away by that.
Albert: Sometime down the road, do you have an exit plan for your real estate activities?
Rinomato: I thought I was going to semi-retire from TV this coming spring, but the show is going strong and the network wants more episodes. It is in the top three line-up consistently. So for now, I am going to continue being a TV presenter, and keep my foot in the door with my true love, real estate, and see where the road takes me. So far, it’s been a road full of surprises and I can’t even guess what would be ahead.
To get in touch with Sandra, visit www.rinomato.com.
Stan Albert, broker/manager, ABR, ASA at Re/Max Premier in Vaughan, Ont. can be reached for consultation at [email protected]. Stan is now celebrating 40 years as an active real estate professional.