In the world of traditional brokerages Sarah Rubenstein was a success, racking up over 80 deals a year. Simultaneously, she was raising small children, so it’s no wonder she was burned out. She was ready to give up her career in real estate.

Then she heard about independent TrilliumWest, which touts itself as an “un-franchise”.

Story continues below

“I watched them for a couple of years but my workload was so heavy I didn’t have time to make the switch,” Rubenstein says. But two years ago, after more than seven years with a big name franchise, she moved to TrilliumWest Real Estate’s Guelph, Ont. office. (The brokerage also has an office in Kitchener-Waterloo). She hasn’t looked back. “I’ve had an increase in pay, time to rest and time to spend with my family.”

To say she’s enthusiastic about her new work environment is an understatement. In fact when she saw a notice in REM asking for great real estate stories, she reached out because “TrilliumWest is never given enough credit.”

Sarah Rubenstein
Sarah Rubenstein

Rubenstein says when she arrived at TW, the adjustment wasn’t easy. She was used to going it alone and had to get accustomed to having support. “There are marketing people, an amazing person for art. I’ve created my own logo. Professional photos, signs and business cards were taken care of. (Management) takes it all off your plate.”

She learned how to increase her income with fewer deals, and she learned to work in a collaborative atmosphere where salespeople are encouraged to work together.

Salespeople – new and experienced – work side by side, each benefiting from the other. “Newbies ask veterans (for help) and veterans get excitement from newbies,” Rubenstein says.

Curt Knight, broker/manager and director of Realtor education, says the company, which now has 105 agents, is interested in growing its own talent, to train, mentor and grow under one roof.

Rubenstein also loves that there’s no divide between front end and back end. “There are marketing people, web organizers, secretaries, (salespeople and management) in all of the meetings.”

Rubenstein is also excited about the financial structure – salespeople pay 25 per cent of every deal up to $100,000, then earn 100 per cent of their commission for the rest of the calendar year. Value-added services, such as the graphic designer, are included in the split.

All these measures were in place before COVID-19 but since then the trio of non-selling brokers – Alan Mason, Curt Knight and Erin Knight – have stepped up to offer support, including offering private loans and “tons of learning opportunities to keep us all up to date. They even brought in a mindset coach for everyone to benefit from, including front-house staff. The support definitely shows with the attitudes of the Realtors here (and the enthusiastic staff) and it’s because of their amazing efforts,” says Rubenstein. She says the three non-selling brokers-to-agents ratio allows them to get the support they need.

Social events, such as a weekly virtual games and poker nights, keep staff socially engaged. Games night prizes – gift cards to grocery stores – support salespeople if the need is there, Rubenstein says.

Curt Knight says social events are great for retention. “When people like their co-workers, they stay.”

Rubenstein focuses on helping families in Guelph, Kitchener, Fergus and Cambridge become investors. Families who need help with their mortgages, for example, can shop for a home with a basement apartment. For families who want to buy another home, they can use the equity in their current home to make the move.

Her years of experience help find “amazing tenants and great landlords” and create a cash-positive situation and increase equity at the same time. The collaborative approach at the office means she can train other salespeople to take over finding and vetting tenants to free up her selling time.

Erin Knight, whose title is director of Realtor happiness, says they’re there to support, educate and as her title suggests, keep their salespeople happy.

The collaborative atmosphere goes a long way to doing that. Curt says a lot of brokers have a hierarchy without knowing it. “The big dog has a big office and new agents sit in cubicles in the back as if they’re not valuable.”

TrilliumWest has office space with a tech vibe – open space, as well as private meeting rooms.

With the exception of a special Fast Start program that’s offered to new agents (they’re taught how to build a business that’s sustainable), working together is key.

Philanthropy is also important. Rubenstein was instrumental in setting up a grocery shopping program. Every Tuesday TW salespeople do grocery shopping for seniors in Guelph residences.

Mason, the broker of record, started TrilliumWest in 2014 and a year later, Curt and Erin Knight opened their independent boutique brokerage. Curt says he always keeps an eye on what other independents are doing and wanted to know more about TrilliumWest. Although he and Mason didn’t know each other, he invited Mason for coffee. “Five hours later, the un-franchise was born,” says Curt. “We see the industry in a similar way. There were aspects we love and hate. We were determined to change the way brokers are seen and how they interact with their agents…. It’s not a landlord/tenant type relationship where agents merely rent out space for a desk fee. If we’re looking at it from a business standpoint, desk fees are better, especially in times like COVID.”

However, TW has “a vested interest. We’re not just collecting fees,” says Erin, adding they want to help their salespeople grow their businesses.


  1. “Philanthropy is also important. Rubenstein was instrumental in setting up a grocery shopping program. Every Tuesday TW salespeople do grocery shopping for seniors in Guelph residences.”
    I’ve included a REM-ready comment that might seem unrelated to today’s lead story and was meant to be attached to this week’s Recipes for Realtors upcoming column, but it just seemed to fit in here.

    Congratulations to you and the brokerage, Sarah. It’s as it should be but mostly isn’t. Prior to opening my own independent brokerage in 1991, during many years at a giant as their regional top producer where I was often working with my hands tied behind my back, I had continuously suggested that staff attend office meetings so the staff learned the same information such that it was. Repeatedly I was told “absolutely not.” Just one example, offers in transactions were never read or checked; not by anyone. Their staff was there to process paperwork administration and relay incoming calls; interaction with the agents was actually frowned upon. I could never understand that process. For years I have written hopefully helpful comments at REM, one of which was “design your own logo” for personal branding purposes (check if permitted first of course), making your name especially rememberable to your market. Apply it everywhere: continuity is vital: business cards, stationery, signs, even as a brokerage complimentary sign rider so as not to interfere with the Corp promo image signage.

    Here is my meant to have been upcoming copy maybe in the wrong place… but it has a few notations of additional things I actually did that you might find useful. And yes, I promo’d my existing ebook cookbook at the end because especially in lockdown it’s something healthy to read.

    Continued success. Long-term, to you and your unique brokers. Theirs is an agent opportunity whose time has come. The un-franchise is clearly franchise-able. They’re onto a very good thing. Could be the next big-thing in the industry. At the very least it will be copycatted.
    “Canadian Cooking – there’s really no such thing…”

    I have a European palate although born in Canada. I grew up and spent most of my married life among Europeans. There is no particular “Canadian” cooking style, or dedicated Canadian foods. Historically there were European shops in many Canadian cities. But over the years they have dramatically diminished in number or have disappeared entirely. European friends often said I was more European than they are/were. As the immigrant diaspora in Canada has changed remarkably in recent decades, often not assimilating in full but rather enclaved in cities of their own making within existing cities, there’s less and less marrying of foods, how they are prepared and presented it seems. Less sharing.

    One of my hopes with the REM Recipes for REALTORS Gourmet Cooking column now more than a decade old is, among other reasons, to introduce to the new Canadian immigrants some “everything old is new again” eatings as we grew to love over the years. Sometimes formal, others not so much; clearly casual. I am happy to receive email private questions as well as recipe comments on REM.

    Sometimes I forget that other people are often not familiar with certain foodstuffs, although many are who have access to deli foods and fresh markets in areas where they live. And some even have access to wonderful fresh air farmers’ markets within walking distance or a short drive.

    If you have local seniors or new immigrants living near you who can’t get out, perhaps you might offer to get for them a couple of fresh tomatoes in season or a couple of fresh peaches locally grown. Or make one of my recipes and deliver as a Canadian surprise to a senior living alone, or to new immigrant family.

    Or offer to take a new immigrant grocery shopping. A niche opportunity for a REALTOR?

    In the days of doing typically 35 referrals annually contributing to my local regular 24% market share, all split about 70-30 sellers:buyer ratio, I always tried to introduce the new to town buyer to our local grocery stores where I mostly shopped; I took them shopping.

    I arranged for them to get a discount at local paint and wallpaper shops, and sent a laundry hamper to their hotel:motel, full of things they might not have thought they might need while waiting and shopping for their new place. Lists galore including laundry facilities and dry cleaners nearby. Local restaurant delivery services. Automobile dealerships and car rentals.

    I kept busy introducing them to school principals and secretaries. I provided local doctor and dentist referrals if requested, and some specialist medical connections when required. But for social butterfly activities they had to find their own companions. And I knew minus nothing about sports.

    I allotted diarized appointments on my daily calendar activities to make room for these introductions. It was never a problem. Sometimes I did wish I had a clone but I always made myself available for these business duties. It was never time wasted. But for me it was strictly business not a friend-making procedure. Just a little give-back to people who supported my business

    Perhaps check out my ebook Kindle. As such an inexpensive item it makes a small gift gesture for maybe a new immigrant, even just to read; they might even find an item from back home: available at
    “Gourmet Cooking – at Home with Carolyne”

    Carolyne L ?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here