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What It's Really Like to Be a Toronto Real Estate Agent

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day on the job entails. This week, Toronto real estate agent Nadia Saloojee gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Toronto real estate agent Nadia Saloojee on the job

(Photo: Zuby Saloojee)

Age: 30

Education: Bachelor of arts in sociology and a bachelor of education from Queen’s University, followed by a masters of arts in early childhood studies from Ryerson University

Length of time at current gig: three-and-a-half years

Based on your education, it looks like you were on track to become a teacher. What made you change your career path?

I ended up teaching for a bit after graduating from my masters, but I felt like there was something else I wanted to do, and real estate was something I’ve always been interested in. I ended up completing my real estate courses online while I was still teaching. I started dabbling in the industry on the side and basically fell in love with it. I realized how much teaching is involved with real estate so I didn’t get fully away from one of my passions, I just ended up bridging it with something else.

When you say you “dabbled in real estate on the side,” what does that mean?

I guess it started when I was a kid. If there was an open house nearby, I would always make my parents take me to see it. I was so curious about what houses looked like on the inside, what they were listed for and what they were selling for. I followed the real estate market through high school and university, and I had a pretty strong grasp on what things were selling for in the city. When my brother started looking for a property in the city, I told him I would help him find one. I lined up a bunch of properties for us to see and we went out a couple of times and I actually found him his first property, without being a real estate agent. When I purchased my first property, I did the same thing and it made me realize that I needed to get into this full time. I really enjoy the process a lot.

So what do you have to do to become a real estate agent?

You have to complete a series of courses to start practicing as a real estate agent and then do a few more to get your full license. Every two years, you have to complete courses to stay up-to-date with everything. I was working full time, and I completed the initial requirements in about six months. 

Because you’re basically an independent sales person, so do you have an office and colleagues or are you mostly on your own?

I work under a brokerage and I can go into the office whenever I want. I have a lot of colleagues based downtown and we’ll often get together and work either at the office or a coffee shop. As a real estate agent, you’re technically self-employed. If I’m going on vacation or taking a week off, I have colleagues I can call to cover my business and vice versa. In some ways it can be an isolating industry, but there are lots of people feeling the same way and wanting to have a communal workspace.

Working in this industry, does your income ebb and flow based on sales, or have you found a way to make it steady?

That is one of the challenges of the industry. With most brokerages, you are 100-percent commission based. So yeah, I don’t have a steady salary; it comes down to how much work I put into it.

How many clients do you typically work with at one time?

I’m working with about 12 clients right now, that’s about average.

How do you find the right house for your clients?

The biggest thing is listening. I ask a lot of questions, and then I listen to what my clients are saying. If they’re purchasing a property, I’ll start with things like: what are you looking for? What area? Price range? Number of bedrooms, etc.? Then when we have that narrowed down, I pick a few properties for them to look at and when we go see the places, I’ll ask them more questions. Certain clients are very forthcoming with their opinions and others require more probing. Based on their responses, it helps me really understand what they’re looking for. I have a lot of clients at the end of the process who realize that what they were actually looking for was really different from what they initially anticipated.

In real estate, it seems like you wouldn’t really be able to work 9 to 5. What is your typical day like?

I guess you could think of the hours of a real estate agent as opposite to the average person. There really is no typical day. I start working around 9 a.m., fielding phone calls, emails, following up with clients and doing admin stuff. My afternoons are pretty flexible, I get time to work out or go for yoga and actually cook my own food to eat for lunch. My work is planned around the schedules of my clients, so if I have clients that are finished work around 4 p.m., I’ll start working with them at that point. So from around 4 to 9 p.m., I’m with clients, and then if there are offers going in on properties or if there’s offers that I need to deal with on properties that I’m selling, I’ll do that after. We can be working pretty late.

How do you balance that schedule with your social life and off-time?

In the spring, you typically have no work-life balance, you’re working 15- to 18-hour days. It’s really challenging. During the week, my friends and family know that they won’t see me, and if they do see me, I will be working usually. They have to be incredibly understanding about that, and they are. Weekends are when I actually get to spend time with people. I’ll typically work from around 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. but in the evenings, I can go for dinner and catch up with friends and family. But during the week, it’s pretty much a no go.

How important is your appearance in this job?

I think it actually is, sadly, really important. You can think of it similar to a house. If I’m selling a house, I want it to look impeccable because when people walk in, the idea is that they see themselves living there right away. The same goes with who you choose to work with. If somebody is dishevelled in terms of their appearance, most people assume that they won’t be the most organized person in terms of their work. Most real estate professionals that I encounter on a day-to-day basis are very well put together and it does, unfortunately, matter.

Do you find that being a woman in this industry comes with certain challenges?

I wouldn’t say that there are huge challenges working with industry professionals, there’s no more misogyny than any other field. The biggest concern for me is meeting new clients. I’m fairly small in stature, and I have a ton of clients that are contact me through online media. If it’s an individual who is selling their property, I have to go to their home and give them an appraisal on it. The biggest concern there is safety. I take all the necessary precautions, and for instance, if I am feeling uncomfortable, I will take a co-worker with me. If it’s a buyer client that I’m meeting, I’ll always meet them in a public place, either at my office or at a coffee shop. Safety is a concern for all female real estate agents; it’s very real.

You work in downtown Toronto primarily, which is arguably the country’s hottest housing market. What are the challenges for real estate agents in this space?

Toronto is a city where there is constant demand for properties. But there’s not a lot of inventory on the market right now, which is one of the largest concerns right now—especially, because interest rates are so low, and lots of buyers want in. The lack of available properties is probably the biggest challenge at this point.

What are some things that people don’t consider but should when looking to buy a place in Toronto?

The costs that are involved outside of just the purchase of the house. When they’re thinking about their calculations, they’re saying they have enough for a down payment, they’ve been pre-approved for a mortgage, and they’re looking for these criteria in a property, but they don’t take into consideration additional costs like land transfer tax. For most individuals purchasing a property, they have to pay land transfer tax, and in Toronto, we have to pay both municipal and provincial. So that can be a pretty significant cost.

With prices up more than 20 percent from last year, is your clientele mostly established professionals?

My clientele is actually quite mixed. I work with a lot of middle-aged individuals who are looking to downsize, and I have a number of clients looking for investment properties. And then, because I’m 30, my direct network includes people who are either selling their first condo and moving into a house or purchasing a property.

What are some hot markets that you’re seeing develop in the city, or outside of the city?

Because the core has gotten so expensive and unattainable for the average young person living in the city, clients are looking for areas that are still within close proximity to downtown and may also offer more affordable prices. For example, the Mimico pocket has blown up in the last five years. The Weston and St. Clair area is also a really hot spot—it’s so close to downtown, not far from transit, and the prices are still really affordable for a house. So, for young couples, that’s a great area to look, and I have number of clients looking there right now.

What skills does someone need to be a real estate agent in Toronto?

You definitely need to have flexibility, because your hours are all over the place. You can get a call that you need to show a house at 6 p.m. and you need to be able to make yourself available for that. Offers come in at all hours, and you need to be able to be available during that time. There’s also huge competition for real estate agents in a city like Toronto, so you have to have the drive to differentiate yourself from other people and the drive to get business.

What is the best part of your day?

Seeing my clients. There’s a lot of admin and paperwork and emails, but that face-to-face, there’s really nothing that beats that. I love the personal aspect of it, getting to know people and often getting to know their friends and families as well.

What is the worst part of your day?

I guess when the hours are really long, it can be a challenge to get everything you need done within the timeframe.

How do you unwind at the end of the day?

Right when I finish work, I love to do a yoga class or I have a hot shower and a bit of meditation and reading before bed.

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