John Benjamins hails from Kitchener, Ontario. For the past 3 and a half years, he’s been a sales representative and Director of Marketing at a small boutique real estate brokerage, Benjamins Realty.
How did you get your start in real estate?
“Our name is in the name of the business – Benjamins Realty. My father, he actually has been selling real estate for over 35 years now. Real Estate is something that I grew up with a very early age. I can remember accompanying him to drop off keys… and even as early as sixteen, I was working as his assistant – delivering paper, documents around the city, and that was before we were really using emails.”
While living in BC with his wife Sarah and running a contracting business, John was aware of the climbing house prices in Vancouver and didn’t see himself being able to afford a single family home. John decided to get out of construction and saw an opportunity to join his father and brother in the family business. To sweeten the deal, the real estate prices in Ontario at the time were reasonable.
Disrupting the Real Estate Business With Sales Culture
“Potential clients see real estate agents plastering their face on the sides of buses and park benches, dropping constant flyers in people’s mailboxes, making outrageous sort of claims. Every real estate agent seems to be number one in the business,” John says. “I don’t know how that works out. We noticed that the main problem with this type of approach is agents seem to have created this culture where it’s all about themselves and what gets lost in that… is what your client needs.”
What are your Four Real Estate Culture Disruptors?
- We list our cell phones publicly and we really strive to be accessible to our clients.
- We only take on as much business as we can handle and we really work to provide a service to our clients, first and foremost. For some agents, it’s too to think about a commission cheque rather than placing the client’s needs first.
- We openly advertise our commission rates, everybody gets the same deal. We try to price our commission structure at a rate which is pretty much to be standard across our board.
- Place the focus back on service: Do your research on the market trends, provide your clients the tools to make informed decisions.
John says that online Do it Yourself (DIY) services are not a threat to his business. He explains how they don’t even work that well for home buyers.
Comfree, Property Guys, they are going to work well for a very specific type of consumer. With the internet sales companies, they’re going to be able to give you the basic nuts and bolts to put together a deal and they’ll provide you the paperwork and a little bit of counselling.
But what we found, is that the sales process quickly gets more convoluted than that, and so it’s still up to the owner to arrange their showings, to market the property, and they may still end up having to deal with a real estate agent who represents the buyers anyway, so they may still end up paying out commissions and a lot of people don’t have the time or the energy to deal with that. The other thing with these DIY companies, you pay upfront and there’s no guarantee you sell your house. We’ll only get paid when the house is sold.
John weighs in on the problem of internet realtors that use a call centre information service.
“Values on homes are changing month to month and so you really need to be directly involved in the market to get a sense of what properties are worth. If you’re not directly engaged in real estate research, like receiving info through a call centre, you’re not really going to be able to provide a whole picture for your client.”
John joined real estate through the family business and sometimes certain business cultures are already set in stone. He talks about how he added a different twist to marketing Benjamins Realty.
“The difference is when I joined the team, I gave a name to the business and started branding that. And whereas before, my father, his focus has always been traditional networking, connecting with people on individual basis, which is highly effective in the real estate industry as well. What I’ve done is taken that concept and now I’m bringing in digital marketing and lead generation through online initiatives. People respond to that.
“It’s fairly easy to distinguish ourselves from a company like RE/MAX, all you have to do is call their office and try to get a hold of somebody. You’re going to be put on hold very quickly. The agent may get back to you that day or not. When our clients test what we’re saying, they realize very quickly, “I had sent Benjamins Realty an email, they responded 30 minutes later, wow. I didn’t expect that.” At that point, they’re already on board.
Benjamins Realty also disrupted sales culture by establishing the concept of the set commission rate. He feels setting a flat rate for commission rates to pay for personalized service instead of getting a 1-800 number for a buyer to use.
“I believe that our model of a service-oriented approach is going to become more important especially as internet-based real estate companies try to hone in on the business. It’s not that people need more information, they need help interpreting the information and that’s where the service comes in.”
“I always say it’s similar to buying an expensive diamond. I can walk into a shop and tell you, this diamond is bigger than this other one, therefore it’s worth more money. But you need somebody who has thousands of iterations looking at the same product to get down to the real value and say this one has a slight flaw here compared to this one, and that comes through repetition and expertise. I don’t think anybody is going to be able to take that away from real estate. So I see that the service model based on expertise continuing to exist for a long time.”
Currently, John is focusing on ramping up their digital marketing presence. He remarked on the success his company has had with providing market reports on their local market in terms of neighbourhoods. He recommends using a newsletter to keep potential buyers interested in certain boroughs and help them target properties with ease.
“We want to focus on getting people tools. They create a sense of trust in what you’re doing and it’s that much easier to work with clients towards a transaction.”
John wonders why someone would want to start their career with a big box chain like RE/MAX or Century 21.
Franchises don’t actually do very much for a new agent. Often times within like a RE/MAX franchise, there’ll be multiple teams at work.
A team is based off one very successful agent who would be generating more business than they can actually handle. They’d start hiring other agents to work underneath that agent for a split, a commission split, and in return, they’ll give them clients and leads to work with. So that’s a way to sort of connect into pre-existing expertise.
Now, you can find a really rock solid team to work on in both a boutique brokerage or a franchise. The difference actually is in a boutique brokerage the overhead is often smaller, so the percentage of commission that the brokerage itself takes tends to be smaller as well. This means there is a little more of the pie available in a split that an agent joining a team will have. It’s an advantage to be on a successful team within a boutique brokerage.
John gives his advice to real estate agents just starting out in the business. He knows most agents and brokers drop out after two years because commission cheques don’t come in until months after a property closes. He shares career starting advice for new agents & brokers:
John Benjamin’s Four Tips to Start a Career in Real Estate
- Don’t be afraid to work with real estate.
- Nobody is there clocking you in and out and so you’re going to be as busy as you want to be. Make sure you’re putting in your 45-50 hours a week, getting out there, whether you’re contacting people in your network or creating a marketing platform.
- Put in the time and then, of course, make sure that you’re providing a service that people will want to gladly refer to their friends and family. That’s the real foundation in the real estate business if you’re around for 20, 30, 40 years like we’ve been.
- Learn how to fund yourself. You have to, it’s helpful to have some money set up in advance because when you first start you can’t expect to get paid for 2-3 months until after the first closing comes in.