Penny Kander, a real estate agent with Realty Executives Alberta Elite in Red Deer, Alta., has been in the real estate business for more than 40 years and she thought she had seen everything. Then COVID-19 came along.

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But Kander, who has survived cancer twice, was able to somehow find a silver lining in the worst pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. She helped design virtual reality show homes for builders, and despite the pandemic, Kander says it was a great year for her financially. “We have been selling a lot of things virtually with people buying over the phone through different modalities.”

She says her marketing plan is different than any other Realtor in Canada that she’s aware of. “We’ve sold 96.4 per cent of all of our listings in the last 30 years in an average time of two weeks, within 1.5 per cent of list price. I don’t know of any other Realtor in Canada that has these numbers.”

For Kander, what makes her life that much more exciting and enjoyable is she’s also virtual – she is currently putting together deals from her condominium in Hawaii.

“I am able to work remotely from here. Often times during the day I will spend eight hours working here. I’m sometimes up at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m.” She’s enjoying the best of both worlds, selling real estate in Red Deer from the vacation paradise of Hawaii.

Kander says that over the years she has witnessed many disturbing things as an agent. At one time, most of the female Realtors at her office had to deal with receiving obscene phone calls. Kander says she knew a Realtor who was showing a house when the staircase collapsed, leaving several people injured. And one dark night Kander stepped off a raised deck without a railing and broke her ankle, leaving her unable to walk for ten months.

During her career she’s had to show houses with, “dog poop on the floor, homes reeking of cat urine, active grow-ops, collapsing structures, giant lizards roaming free, snakes, tarantulas, vicious barking dogs and unco-operative angry tenants – you name it!” she says.

Kander has also been a pioneer when it comes to digital currency. “Back in 2013 I offered to sell an acreage that I owned in Bitcoin. The National Post picked up the story, Alberta woman willing to trade a $1 million property for Bitcoin – the volatile new digital currency.” The article went viral and was translated into five different languages. A week previous Kander didn’t even know what Bitcoin was. Her son Cole had given her the idea.

Kander’s love affair with real estate began when she was 17.  “My best friend’s mom was a Realtor and when I would go over to her house, I would page through all the listings of homes for sale in her mom’s magic black book,” she says. “I was intrigued by all the different types of homes and loved leafing through this ‘secret’ book.’”  Fast forward to career day in Grade 12.  After a real estate presentation by the Red Deer and District Real Estate Association, Kander piped up and asked, “How do you find business?” The answer changed her life. “Ask anyone you meet and everyone you know if they want to buy or sell a home.” By 18 she was a fully licensed real estate agent asking everyone if they were buying or selling.

Kander is married to wife Darlene, her former nanny, and has two kids. She says one of the best investments she ever made was putting aside her children’s baby bonuses. “I bought a house using my money and money that I had saved from their baby bonuses. We sold it a few years later and made $100,000. We all share the profits according to the portion we invested.”

Kander is preparing to publish her new book, The Luckiest Person I Know. Not one to take herself too seriously, she says she’s a cross between Seinfeld and an HGTV show.

She has survived two tsunamis and a nuclear attack in Hawaii. During the second tsunami she was staying in Kauai and there had been a 7.7 earthquake off the coast of B.C. “We were evacuated to higher ground,” she says. The evacuees ended up camping out inside a Costco and having a picnic the entire night, mostly eating donuts and other snacks, “just in case it was the end of the world.”

A few years later while vacationing in Hawaii everyone received a red warning alert on their cell phones that North Korea had launched a nuclear missile, which was heading for Hawaii.  Darlene and Penny called the kids to say they loved them. “After hearing about the nuke, we rushed downstairs to tell our 85-year-old neighbour about it. She asked if we had seen the sunrise that morning.” Thinking the woman had not heard them, they told her again and the old lady’s response was, “Well, what am I going to do about it?”

“We decided if the nuke was going to hit, we wanted to be the first ones the fallout landed on. We grabbed a coffee and sat out at the cliff so we’d be in the middle of it.” It was a false alarm.

Since the onset of COVID-19, Kander has been contemplating how difficult it is for builders to sell their homes without potential buyers being able to visit open houses and peruse properties. When she was approached by Homes By Greenstone, which planned to build a show home to market its designs, she asked the builder, “What if I build you one virtually?”

Greenstone agreed. Kander helped design the floor plan for the home and the builder hired an architect to create the blueprint.  “Afterwards I brought on a designer and had him create this virtual reality show home. We call it “Virtually Home” by Team Kander. With this new technology you don’t have to wear a mask, it’s COVID-19 friendly and it can reach anyone anywhere.”

Potential buyers can view the virtual show room on a computer or phone. “If someone is watching on a computer they’re able to wear virtual reality glasses to truly immerse themselves in the house,” she says. “The original version we have on the phone is really all you need though.”

Kander says she is working on improving the product. “I would like to improve the ability to change things within the design as you’re looking at it.” This can be accomplished but it’s expensive. “We can also make it so that you could click on a button and change the colour of the paint, change the colour of the cabinets, change the countertops and backsplash.”

At one point Kander thought about creating a virtual reality home design business, so any builder or developer could contact her and her team would build whatever homes they wanted.

Recently Homes By Greenstone asked Penny to pre-sell an entire block of duplexes.  “Right now it’s difficult to advertise just half of a duplex,” she says. “It would be easy to sell because in our market right now anything around the $350,000 mark just flies off the shelf. The problem is if I sold half of it I still need to build the other half of the duplex and I don’t have a money partner right now.”  Penny currently has three investors who may come on board.

She says there have been more than 10,000 views of the subdivision website where her team is building the duplexes. “That tells you how many people are looking at new areas to build in,” she says.

Kander has had quite the life of adventure. Perhaps what comes across the most in her book is that she’s always gone after what she wanted, believed in herself and somehow found a way to make things work. Whether she was battling cancer or avoiding seven-foot waves, she is a fighter. She fights for herself and for everyone she loves and cares about.

To get a copy of the book, email Kander at [email protected]

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