Brett Starke and Caitlin Clemmens of Starke Realty at PSR Brokerage are the first real estate agents in Canada to list and successfully sell a home for Bitcoin. The two explain how this and other unorthodox marketing moves have helped their business go viral and top nearly $20 million in sales after only two and a half years in the Toronto market.
Condo For Crypto
Over the past two and a half years, Starke has relied entirely on social media to get his name out in the business. Caitlin Clemmens, his business partner and statistician are the first people in Canada to sell a home for Bitcoin.
“We had a seller who was interested in selling a condo that was stale and it was his idea to post it for Bitcoin,” Starke said. “He was an insurance broker who started his own crypto coin called PoliSure for buying insurance.”
The pair listed it on a Friday afternoon—right after the Toronto Real Estate Board [TREB] closed. “We knew that if TREB was going to take it off the market, they’d have to wait until Monday,” Starke recalled. “Then we Geo-sent CBC’s head office on Wellington Street in Toronto a Facebook ad with a $100 budget and within $13 of our budget being used, we got a call from CBC the next morning and on Sunday at 8 p.m., we were on The National.”
The Story Over The Sale
The seller asked if they could do it and without even knowing the answer Starke replied, “yes”. “It didn’t matter to me if we could do it or not, what mattered was the story,” he explained. “Either way, it was a win for the seller. If the Toronto Real Estate Board took it down, he’d still get a lot of notoriety around the fact that property was listed for bitcoin for a short period of time.”
Starke and Clemmens ended up finding a buyer, who was also a bitcoin aficionado, within a couple of days. “We had CoinSquare [a Canadian cryptocurrency trading platform] facilitate the purchase for us. It ended up selling for 33 Bitcoin, which at the time was roughly $443,000,” Starke points out. “Since Bitcoin’s value can fluctuate daily, we had a lawyer implement a clause where the buyer would pay for the property for the value of Bitcoin on the closing day, which meant we were re-pricing the condo every single day.”
After CBC picked up the story, smaller outlets reached out and not long afterwards bitcoin buyers came calling. “It worked out great,” Starke reminisced. “The Toronto Real Estate Board never did take it down since we didn’t break any of their rules. We also made a lot of friends with people from different media outlets, which we used to leverage our social media, which is part of the reason we have such a large following there.”
“We have the optimism, we have the how-to and things are getting more technological,” Starke says. “One of our clients reached out to us through a direct message on Instagram and I showed her a condo via FaceTime and she purchased it based on what she saw on FaceTime while meeting me on Instagram without ever seeing the property or meeting me in person.”
That might sound risky to an older person, but younger millennials embrace the change. “They see who we hang out with, they can follow us for long periods of time and get a good sense of what we’re about by more than just checking out a website or getting a referral from somebody,” Starke explains. “We tend to push the limits a little bit when it comes to marketing,” Clemmens adds. “For example, we had a condo listed downtown and we knew that the demographic on King Street was a little more risqué. There’s a lot of clubs and nightlife here, so we wanted to create a listing video that spoke to that.”
The pair ended up filming a mock photo shoot with women in lingerie going through the unit and it got a lot of positive feedback. “We ended up getting a buyer for that unit that fit that demographic. She was a bottle service girl on King Street who saved up all her tip money and bought the condo for just under $1 million,” Clemmens recalls.
The New Trust Factor
Social media helps build trust. “You can have such a comfortable relationship with someone not by knowing who they are, but by what they’re doing,” Starke says.
“Instead of just seeing a sign on the side of the road or on a bus shelter, you get an inside glimpse into people’s lives,” says Starke. “I think this will be true not just for real estate, but for all referral-based businesses.”
In 2017, Starke and Clemmens earned $28,000 in revenue from Instagram alone. This year they forecast $40,000 in revenue from Instagram. “At least once a week, someone D.M.’s us. They say they follow us, they like our videos and they want to refer a friend to us,” Starke notes. “In most of those messages, they’re asking our permission, which is a whole different realm—like, “Can I refer you to someone?” Of course, they can!”