As Brett Starke, head of the Starke Realty Team with PSR Brokerage, says, “We’re not your mom and dad’s realtors.” Starke, 32, is shaking up the way sales agents not only present their listings to clients, but how they present themselves, too. Appealing to Toronto’s young, hip urbanites, his approach to real estate parallels the changes in the city itself.
No longer known as Toronto the Good, the city has grown into an internationally-renowned metropolis with skyscrapers scattered about, and the Starke Team has tapped into its allure.
“What we’ve done is, instead of doing a traditional marketing campaign on bus benches and big signs beside the roads, we have an Instagram campaign and we’ve been able to pinpoint our exact clientele and have our ads show up in their living rooms, or wherever they may be with their phones—but we’re right there with them,” said Starke. In addition to atypical closing gifts like helicopter tours of Toronto, the Starke Team frequently hosts charity fundraisers, but with an edge. Their last event was called the Mountain Top Mixer for Dream Mountain Foundation, which featured an open bar and mountains of McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, cheeseburgers, Pizza Pizza and Chipotle.
There was also a ‘moneyata’—a piñata full of money. Not surprisingly, the event was packed to the brim and raised $11,000. The next charity event is a Mount Everest expedition. “We create that fear of missing out,” said Starke. “What you can’t see on social media is what happened in the back rooms, or the after party. We had an after party at EFS [a downtown nightclub], so we brought 60 people who wanted to go party at EFS. Our advertising then becomes putting up pictures and videos of our parties instead of boring real estate stuff. Instead of us going and previewing condos and showing new properties coming for sale, or new properties that had just sold, we’re focusing on our actual clients instead of the properties. Anybody can open a door to a condo or a house and show it, but we’re trying to show a different side of it, so when you buy or sell with us, you’re invited to all these events.”
The days of the traditional sales agent seem to be winding down. Chris Borkowski, also known as Condo Chris, is among the most popular brokers in Toronto, but after taking one look at him, one can be forgiven for mistaking him as a member of Black Flag. Covered in tattoos, piercings, and a signature fedora, the well-spoken but brash agent has built an impressive business predicated on being himself. Although he initially thought he’d appeal to millennials and alternative-minded people, that wasn’t the case. “I was always trying to skew towards the millennial market, or the younger market, or the alternative customer, but I found the most responses I got from my advertising were from conservative older types who liked the fresh approach I had,” said Borkowski.
“They said they had a bunch of realtors throughout their lives and they were all pretty similar and cookie cutter, and they just wanted something different.” Condo Chris has become so popular that he doesn’t take new customers anymore. He says they have to earn it or be referrals. That his fresh, honest approach resonated so widely is a testament to the notion that today’s sales agents have to think outside of the box—but, as Borkowski warns, just not too far outside.
“I think people can read into it,” he said. “The thing about real estate is the same old things sell over and over. When you try to get too outside the box, people don’t buy into it. I like using the open house analogy—‘Oh, I’m going to have an open house on Monday morning or Thursday evening,’ but everyone is programmed to open houses being on Saturday afternoons. You can try to work around it but the market might not be there for it.”
Brett Starke and Caitlin Clemmens