When Desmond Brown, sales representative at Re/Max Hallmark Realty in Toronto, became a Realtor in the mid-’80s, he was a 26-year-old fresh-faced rookie with his lack of experience and age working against him. But his uncle, who owned a small brokerage in Oshawa and was opening a branch on the Danforth, thought Brown was the perfect person for the job.
“He looked at me one day and he said, ‘You would be a great Realtor. All you have to do is go and knock on 50 doors a day. And I guarantee, you’ll make $50,000.’” Brown was a trustworthy and personable young man who loved talking to people. “Maybe that’s what he saw in me,” says Brown.
Back in the day, the promise of $50,000 was enough to lure Brown, who was also driving a taxi on the side. A year into the job, Brown realised that real estate wouldn’t be as cut and dry as he’d envisioned. It was then that he met Kent Sheppard at Hallmark Group of Companies. “Kent looked at me and said, ‘You really don’t know what you’re doing, do you?’” says Brown. With that began a partnership between Sheppard and Brown that has stood the test of time.
For the next 11 years, Brown thrived under Sheppard’s tutelage – enough to buy a Realty World franchise and set up a storefront with 20 employees and a partner. It was an ambitious move. “I thought I was hot,” he says. But soon the business tanked. “We lost everything. We didn’t have any business smarts, whatsoever,” says Brown. “With my tail between my legs” he went back to Sheppard and Ken McLachlan at Re/Max Hallmark, who welcomed him back.
But since his high school days, “I had a dream. I always dreamed of being a journalist,” he says. Poor grades prevented him from being accepted to journalism school and community college was a struggle. Selling ads for the Better Business Bureau and its magazine wasn’t exactly what Brown had in mind when he dreamt of being a successful journalist.
Despite it all, with his decade-long record of salesmanship and experience in real estate, along with encouragement from his wife, Brown ventured into journalism one more time.
It’s a rarity for a successful journalist to credit a career in real estate, but Brown says, “When I went into journalism, I wasn’t afraid to knock on doors and wasn’t afraid to go in through a side door when everybody was lined up at the front door.” His go-getter attitude, primed by a decade in real estate, made it easy for Brown to get good scoops that a lot of journalists wouldn’t have found.
Over another 11 years, Brown became a household name for many while broadcasting high-profile stories for the National Post and CTV. In 2005, Brown shot to media centre stage with his dogged coverage of the murder of 15-year-old Jane Creba on Boxing Day. “I’ll never forget that case,” he says. Back then, with no Facebook, victims’ pictures couldn’t be easily found. “I was told by my assignment editor to knock on the door, speak to the family and to get a picture. I asked my cameraman to stay in the car. It was two days after she was shot and killed. I knocked on the door and Jane’s mom answered, her eyes red, and in still in tears. I apologized for having to approach her family and she politely shook her head and closed the door. It’s an image that will stay with me forever. That day my heart broke for the family.”
During his stint in the media, Brown covered everything from municipal politics to art openings to parades to homicides to a derailed freight train that fell over an underpass, killing two women during a snowstorm. “I thought I was going to be another Lloyd Robertson,” he says. But with no sight of how he could make that a reality, Brown decided to quit. His next port of call, albeit short-lived, was TD Bank, in corporate communications. There, “I didn’t make it out of the three-month probationary period,” he says. “As my supervisor said to me, we were not a good fit.”
Soon real estate beckoned Brown once again, to bookend his eclectic career. “My old friend, Ken McLachlan, who’s always been there for me with every change in my life, asked me to take over one of the Re/Max Hallmark offices as manager,” says Brown.
“It would be nice to finish our real estate careers together in the many years to come,” McLachlan texted Brown one day, as they renewed their real estate partnership. “So here I am, back at Re/Max Hallmark, which has grown to become the No. 1 Re/Max franchise in the world with 1,500 agents in 26 offices across Ontario.”
The pandemic gives Realtors an opportunity to market homes in a way that they’ve never been marketed before, he says. “We can do more videos and virtual tours. We don’t have to have strangers traipsing through people’s houses anymore,” Brown says. The crisis gives the industry a chance to reimagine the selling process, making it easier for buyers and sellers. To not use the opportunity would be a waste, he says.
Having spent seven years as a television reporter, Brown’s recognizable face and broadcasting skills have given him a rare edge in real estate today, when video has changed marketing rules, and even more so in a pandemic. But Brown remains realistic, saying, “It’s quite a compliment for people to recognize me. But does it translate into them wanting to list their houses with me? Probably not. I’ve got to show what I can do as a Realtor before anybody wants to deal with me in that capacity.”
He says, “I don’t think I’ve reached my potential yet as a real estate agent.” Going back to Re/Max Hallmark has given him the commitment to reach that potential. “And that’s pretty good for a 62-year-old guy who thinks that he might still have some potential at that age. But I think we can be hard on ourselves, no matter how successful we are. We have to look at our shortcomings. I guess that’s the way I am.”