Knowledge and Learning

I was recently asked to attend a Career Day at Jean Vanier Catholic School, to talk about real estate as a career with more than 450 Grade 11 students.  Just in case I couldn’t speak to them for a very long time, I wrote a few pages to hand out.  It was such a fun topic that I thought I would share it here.

Who are we?

My name is Chuck Charlton, and my wife and I moved to Milton in 2005 to start our real estate business without knowing a single person, with virtually no money.  Seems a little silly looking back on it, but we did it anyway.  We went nearly $40,000 in debt to start our business, worked our tails off, and paid it all back by the end of our first year.

That still remains one of the proudest moments of our career.

I’ve been a licensed and practicing full-time real estate agent since 2003.  Our team in 2019 has grown to two full-time admin staff, a contract-based interior designer, four other real estate agents, and my wife and I as co-leaders of the team.  For the last eight years, we’ve been ranked in the Top 100 real estate agents in Canada – our best year we were #52.  There’s a running joke in our industry that every agent finds a way to say that they’re #1.  One of our proudest achievements is the 170+ five-star reviews online.  We believe in delivering a world-class experience for our clients.

Our team office is at the Greenlife Business Centre at 450 Bronte Street South right here in Milton.  Stop in for a visit anytime!  Our website has more than 15 years of blog posts, videos and hundreds of pages of content.  While you’re there, subscribe to our Milton Daily Homes updates, which are delivered to about 3,600 people, and our SoldWatch market updates, with a distribution of about 1,700 people.  Find us on Facebook and Instagram, and see more of how we promote our properties and our business.

How do real estate agents help?

BUYERS:  When we help a buyer, it begins with educating them about the process.  What steps are involved when they buy a home?  What are the hidden fees they should know about?  We make sure they receive the best and most current information about properties, we accompany them on viewings and advise them about the pros and cons of each home and neighbourhood, based on our experience.  When they make an offer, we give them factual data about sales, and we make sure what’s written in their offer protects their interests.  We guide them to other service providers like lawyers, home inspectors, contractors that we believe will take good care of them, and make sure there are no issues with their home when they get the keys.

SELLERS:  The four elements of a successful home sale are (1) price, (2) appearance, (3) marketing and (4) timing.  We provide information and guidance about these four elements.  Staging services are offered (we have six storage units full of purchased furniture and decor), marketing options are explored, and we come up with a rock-solid plan to get their home sold.

INVESTORS:  Different investors have different goals, and it’s our job to sort out their options.  Do they want a very profitable rooming house with lots of headaches (high risk, high reward), or do they want a stable, low-maintenance investment like a doctor’s office.  We help sort through the language of investing – cap rates, cash flow, internal rate of return – and guide each investor towards the right property.

TENANTS & LANDLORDS:  We help Landlords and Tenants screen potential options, assist with paperwork, and make sure a long-lasting win-win relationship can begin on the right foot.

Along the way, we have the same challenges as any other business.  Our time is spent looking for new clients, and adding value to existing and past clients with mail outs, calls and personal touches like client events.  Like any good business, a large part of our success comes from repeat and referred clients (about 70%).

We network with other business owners and other agents, we maintain social media, we make sure our budgets and bookkeeping are in order, we improve our systems and service delivery process, and we deal with human resources like recruiting, hiring, firing and training.

For many clients, we become lifelong consultants and friends.  If they have a question about anything to do with real estate, or if they need a plumber, we’re usually one of the first people they call.

We get invited to weddings and funerals, and we’re usually one of the first people they ask about sponsoring sports teams and supporting charities.  Great real estate agents are some of the most generous, thoughtful and community-focused people you will ever meet.

Why choose real estate as a career?

Usually when someone needs real estate help, it comes at a time when there’s a significant change in their life.  They may be getting married, having kids, getting divorced, changing jobs, or losing their spouse.  The house may be too big or too small, or there may be a change in the family’s financial situation (good or bad).  The clients are looking for leadership and help.  You come face-to-face with immense joy and terrible sadness.  You witness the best and worst humanity has to offer.  And no two days are ever the same.

You wake up every day unemployed (in a sense).  Your job is to find new customers every single day.  My parents always wanted me to find a stable job, with benefits.  But my vision was to put everything into my career and own my business.  Maybe even sell it, or pass it along to my kids one day.  In a way, if you can get past the difficult & lean years of growing, you end up with a career that’s much more stable than working for someone else.

You really learn a lot about yourself in real estate – there’s no hiding like you could in a corporate job.  If you get lazy, you don’t eat.  If you don’t provide enough value, you won’t get hired.  You will lay in bed some days without sleep because your clients’ home isn’t selling.  You’ll be so excited by helping them buy the right home that you’ll feel like you’re walking in the clouds.  You grow up with your clients, and you experience all of their major life moments.

It’s more than a job.  You don’t punch a time card.  You may go to a movie and spend the entire time outside the theatre working on a time-sensitive deal.  But you do it because you care.

There is time freedom and the ability to work a flexible schedule.  You will be spending some evenings and weekends working, because that’s when clients are typically available.  Eventually as your organization grows, you can ease off on the heavy working hours.  I’ve worked on offers on Christmas Eve, New Years Day and Thanksgiving.

A big benefit of opening a real estate practice is the low overhead.  You can start your business with a computer, a cell phone, and a car.  Maybe not even a car.  I know a disabled agent in Halifax that takes the bus or an Uber to all of his meetings, and he does VERY well.  Another agent in Toronto rides his bike everywhere, even in winter.

Real estate agents are paid by commission, and we receive a percentage of the purchase price (typically 1-3% of the value of the transaction).  From this amount, you pay your income tax, your business expenses, your rent, your marketing, your car and fuel, your brokerage dues and licensing, and all of your personal expenses.  Occasionally, clients will think you “make too much”, even though your overhead and costs of running a business can be higher than they would ever expect.  The opportunity for a six-figure net income is there, but only about 5-10% of our industry achieves that level on a consistent basis.

What does the future hold for real estate?

There’s a lot of talk in our industry about technology and how it will disrupt our practice.  From transactions using “blockchain” to being able to sell your home with a few mouse clicks (the iBuyer model), we’re seeing many different business models and billions of dollars invested in new, alternative & potentially disruptive options for buyers and sellers to choose from.

There are many parts of our business that will be automated in the future.  In the past, agents had exclusive access to property databases, but that’s no longer true.  The public has full access to factual information like available inventory and sale prices… but what they need is someone to help put it together.  That’s why I believe that real estate will continue to be a career path for many years to come.

Think of a travel agent.  If I want to do something simple like book a flight or reserve a room at a hotel, I don’t really need one.  But I use my travel agent all the time to ask questions like, “I’m looking for a kid-friendly resort with an ocean view, that has great food and a relaxing vibe.”  Many of those criteria are not easily searchable.  I can’t punch in that search on Expedia.  I need her advice.  I want her to find me the best deal, and I’m not opposed to her getting paid a portion of what I spend.

I don’t expect her role to ever change for me.  Are there people that will use technology to research and book the trip all on their own?  Of course.  But I prefer a human experience, and I value her first-hand knowledge, because she has often visited these resorts on her own (and not just read a book about them).

In a real estate deal, you have a buyer and a seller who have completely opposite interests, and their choices are often not grounded in logic.  Usually it’s emotion.  Skilled negotiation, specific market knowledge and people skills are often the gel that brings the parties together (always with a “win-win” goal in mind) and it will be very difficult to replace these “people-centric” tools with hardware and software.

How do you become a licensed real estate agent?

When I was licensed 16 years ago, the requirements were three courses, followed by a two-year “articling” phase where you had to complete two more courses while actively in the field.  The total cost was approximately $2,500 for all courses, and another $2,000 for membership dues to the federal, provincial and local real estate boards, plus insurance.

Currently, there are five courses to take before becoming licensed, and in 2019 becoming a licensed Realtor will be a college-level multi-year course through Humber College.  For more information, visit  Right now, there are approximately 50,000+ licensed real estate agents in the Greater Toronto Area.  Competition is high, so you always need to be thinking about your unique offering to the market, and how your business is different.

Do you have more questions?

When we started our business, we were always so amazed that successful people would take time to help us.  It felt very one-sided.  They were giving much more than they were receiving.  Years later, we figured out why.

Here it is:  Everybody starts somewhere.  Those successful people we learned from?  They learned from their own mentors back when they started.  You pay it forward, and pass along your time for the next generation.  That’s why I’m here at this career day, and it’s why I would be delighted to speak to you about ANYTHING to do with either become a real estate agent, or opening your own business.