Marie-Yvonne Paint’s background story is like something you’d see on the Netflix series Selling Sunset. Except she’s not selling real estate in glitzy Los Angeles, but rather in the wealthiest neighbourhoods of Montreal.
At only 4′11″, Paint, described in a newspaper article earlier in her career as “a tiny ball of mink,” has been a petite queen of the luxury market for over 30 years.
An agent with Royal LePage Heritage, she’s a long-time leading performer with a heap of record-breaking sales to her credit, earning her all possible honours from the Royal LePage organization, both provincially and nationally. She’s topped the award lists a staggering number of times, with a lineup of clients that’s included names like Mulroney, Bronfman, Bombardier, Desmarais, Molson and Saputo (of Saputo cheese).
Among Paint’s current listings is a lakeside country estate priced at close to $19 million, with three separate guest houses and a 13-car garage.
Despite the pandemic, or perhaps because of it (“people are working from home and isolating, which is pushing them to buy more space”), luxury homes in Montreal are selling faster than ever before, with low inventory and bidding wars pushing up prices, says Paint. It doesn’t hurt that there is no foreign buyers’ tax in Montreal.
“High-end condos are a bit slow but the rest of the luxury market is doing very well indeed,” says Paint. Properties that had been languishing on the market – which is not uncommon at the high end – are now selling. Paint is optimistic this will continue, thanks to the security of real estate as an investment.
Hers is a privileged life, but along the way there’s been no shortage of upheaval and loss.
Born to a Vietnamese mother and a French father, Paint’s past spans three continents, from hiding out in war-torn Vietnam, moving to France (where she was educated by nuns at a strict boarding school, as per her father’s dying instructions), then continuing her education in England, marrying a wealthy French businessman and eventually moving from Paris to Montreal.
Brutal winters aside, Paint immediately liked Canada. “In France, people aren’t as approachable as they are here,” she says, adding that this makes it simpler for her to connect with billionaire would-be clients in Canada.
“I’m a fighter,” says Paint, in her perfect French accent. “I wanted to show my family that I was capable of doing something on my own. And also I was hungry! Every day I was eating sardines…I was poor when I started in real estate.”
This was after her husband and two sons returned to their native France. The marriage was over. Paint was alone. Her husband (“old fashioned,” she says) had not wanted her to work. She had earned her real estate license without telling him. When he found out, he didn’t believe she would succeed.
“I will,” Paint recalls telling him.
“I had no money,” she says. “I stayed in Canada and I worked like a dog…All my life I was living in the shadow of somebody. I wanted to be in the light.”
Paint didn’t have to eat sardines for long. She made headway in top-tier neighbourhoods such as Westmount. Sometimes she was quoted by journalists, who along with her views on the luxury market would describe her posh car, her fondness for quality clothing and jewelry (“I’m a big shopper unfortunately”) and her take-no-prisoners approach in the pursuit of her goals.
She’s “pushy in a comic, self-deprecating way,” wrote one reporter.
Paint is the first to admit that she’s “not shy.” She enjoys telling the story of how she started selling houses and condos built by René Lépine (now deceased), considered to be among the all-time most powerful developers in Quebec. Apparently Paint burst into Lépine’s office unannounced and wound up staying for hours.
“I need properties to sell,” she insisted.
“He really pushed me in my career,” she says.
Lépine was once quoted stating that Paint’s secret is that “all she does is work, work, work.”
For many years now, Paint has headed up a small team, which has lightened her load. Tristan Bournot, a team sales rep who doubles as Paint’s marketing manager, sees her as “a trail blazer, a bit of an icon.”
He divulges, laughing, that Paint makes very sure that all her team members are well dressed.
“I impose the style I want,” says Paint. “Image is important.”
She explains that she “tries to be low profile but show that I have succeeded in life.” To this end she drives a Porsche (two actually), on the premise that it ensures that clients won’t think she “can’t afford a decent car.”
Bournot has observed that as a result of Paint’s status, many competing agents “would like to retire her.”
Among Paint’s inspirations she includes this quote from Juvenal, a Roman poet: “I want it. I order it, that my will take the place of reason.”
Whatever that means, it seems to point to the likelihood that Paint won’t be allowing anyone to ‘retire’ her anytime soon.