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You won’t find Vancouver realtor Mark Wiens driving around to open houses in a Ferrari, but you might just catch him at a local taxidermy shop in search for a bear rug.
It’s a prop for a reality show that launched last week, Vancouver’s Next Top Agent (VNTA), one of the creative initiatives he’s taking on to tackle the city’s cooling real estate market.
“Now more than ever we need to be doing more to make sure our clients’ properties are getting the exposure they need so that they get sold,” Wiens told BNN Bloomberg during an interview at his Vancouver office.
Vancouver realtors continue to be challenged by the city’s sluggish housing market. According to the latest data from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), home sales in the region remained below historical averages for the month of May while listings surged year-over-year.
“What people do in a cooling market is do less and cut back, but what we’ve decided to do is increase things 10-fold,” Wiens says.
Using over $100,000 of his own money to produce the show, Wiens admits it’s a risky expense to take on but one he believes is necessary. He even secured music licensing, catering for a camera crew, a helicopter, and lawyers to create non-disclosure agreements.
Wiens says while he’s being strategic at a time when sales are low, he hopes to show realtors in a humanizing light through VNTA, as reports of questionable practices like shadow flipping have casted a negative shadow on the profession in recent years.
VNTA, which will post its final episode on July 3 on Wiens’ YouTube channel, began with nine contestants competing through various challenges, one whereby they present sales pitches using random words like bubble tea, kaleidoscope, and ripe banana.
The Apprentice-like program includes all the dramatic elements of a reality series: a $3-million mansion, emotional farewells, and a hunk in a hot tub. Contestants are rewarded “sold” stickers at the end of each episode to advance to the next round based on how they fare in the challenges. The winner will earn a spot on Wiens’ sales team at Dracco Pacific Realty.
“Some people in the industry are scared of what I’m doing because they’re not willing to do it,” Wiens says. “This is a competitive business and there’s only a certain number of clients.”
Mary Saleh, an 18-year veteran realtor currently with RE/MAX also feels the pressure of growing competition.
“A lot of buyers or investors have lost faith,” she said in a phone interview. “Affordability is one thing but financing is the bigger issue.”
Saleh is referring to the B-20 guideline implemented by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) in early 2018. The rule imposed new stress tests for uninsured mortgages, where the borrower makes a down payment of at least 20 per cent on the purchase of a home.
“I don’t understand what the government is trying to gain here,” she said.
Despite her extended use of social media to build clientele, Saleh’s doing something she’s never done before – knocking on doors in her Vancouver neighborhood of Commercial Drive.
Saleh says she’s also now receiving invitations from developers with a chance to win a Louis Vuitton handbag or a Rolex watch. Wiens also said he’s experienced developers trying to woo potential buyers with fancy events and free booze.
Newbies like Brian Chung of Oakwyn Realty, who acquired his licence just a year ago, are figuring out their brand strategies to address the slowing market.
“Everybody going into this industry has to play into their own backgrounds and circumstances,” he told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.
As a chartered professional accountant with experience outside real estate, Chung has built up what realtors call “centres of influence.”
“It could be your hockey team, a volunteer group, or your church ... groups who know you that trust you,” he says. “I’ve lived, breathed and tasted both the buy and sell sides in various parts of the city, and they know I’ve bought and sold more than the average Vancouverite.”
Chung emphasizes the importance of education and training across the industry, taking into account the fiduciary duties of a realtor.
“The barriers to entry are low, yet we’re tasked with selling $3-million homes when these are people’s life savings,” he says.
As for Wiens, he is hopeful that the market will recover eventually but still plans to go above and beyond when it comes to selling homes.
“We have an opportunity to do something special here and help clients so everybody wins,” says Wiens about VNTA.