Barry Lebow is a 46-year real estate veteran. He founded Lebow, Hicks Ltd., a leading appraisal firm in Canada, and launched the Accredited Senior Agent designation program for Realtors.
How did you get involved in real estate?
I was 21. I came out of the Israeli army where I volunteered. I didn’t know what to do with my life, so [real estate] was a default. I like to say: I failed at everything else – I failed into real estate, but thankfully, I have not failed in real estate!
Where were you when you finished university? Did you think you’d be where you are now?
I didn’t. They threw me out of grade 10 – I was a difficult student. I went to university later as a mature student and at night. Real estate allowed me to go to university. I would have never been interested in university otherwise. I never would have done it if I wasn’t pushed by an old friend to take a particular designation program. I ended up going from grade 10 to lecturing for the law society.
Why did you personally choose to focus on Toronto?
It’s where I’m from. I came to Toronto at 16 and I love this city. I actually do love this city. I’ve been offered to move to Houston, I came very close to moving to Miami. To be blunt, there’s no city I’d rather live and raise my family in than Toronto. Everywhere has its own drawbacks, but the quality of life here is so great. It’s vibrant. Toronto never stops growing, the opportunities here are huge.
What makes you different?
It’s a tough question, because the simple fact is that [that question] puts me against them. The problem is that it’s not just me. There’s an elite group in real estate and it’s not based on how much we earn, but on professionalism. How many of us have taken higher education and things like that. There are too many people who come in and try to make a quick buck and get out. The elite Realtors really are there to be of service and the by-product is their commission. If you’re greedy, you’re not going to make it; it can’t be done. You service people, you get rewarded.
I think I spent too much getting the higher education – I got 14 specialized designations. I’ve travelled quite a distance sometimes to get that education – because it makes me better. I have a lot more expertise to offer to people.
What role does social media and/or your online presence play in your business?
Last year, Facebook directly yielded me six deals. That’s just last year. This year, it hasn’t been that productive, but I about 13,000 direct contacts through social media – Facebook and LinkedIn. The amount of interaction is unbelievable. I don’t know how anybody can live without it. Any realtor who isn’t embracing it is a fool.
What tips would you give to first-time home buyers?
The first tip I’d give is don’t tell a Realtor what you want, tell them what you don’t want. Real estate agents are not commodities. There are good ones and bad ones, so choose an agent wisely. Go by testimonials. The firm doesn’t sell real estate, the individual does.
What is some of the criticism you’ve received?
When I’m moving seniors, they’re mad at their kids for pushing them. It’s like being forced to give up their drivers’ license. But they just can’t handle the house any more. They don’t like the fact that I’m part of the process.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I meet phenomenally great people. I really enjoy working with certain people. I really bonded with my last client. You can really like your clients and learn from them. I have some really interesting clients. I love it, I love the people. But if I don’t like them or we don’t get along, I release them from the contract. I have actually come to a point where I fire clients. I wish I knew that when I was younger – you have to like me and respect me. I don’t have to take on a client for the sake of taking on a client.
Are you a morning person or a night person?
Both. I don’t sleep a lot. I start at 6:30 in the morning, and I rarely shut down before midnight. And I can go seven days a week – maybe that’s my [criticism]!
What is your most memorable client encounter?
I’ve been doing this for 46 years. Do you realize how hard a question that is?! [laughs] I’ve had clients go to jail for fraud. I’ve had some clients that were pretty famous, made the front page of the paper. Wow. I’ll say this: some of people have stood out just because of who they are as people. Some of them, we met because of what I do, but they’ve become part of my social sphere. That’s not uncommon. That’s actually very common among good agents, we tend to bond with our clients.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
The lack of professionalism by other agents. They don’t want to learn their business. They don’t see it as a profession, they’re just in it as a sales job. They’re just not doing it – they don’t care about learning. It’s complex – I’ve been in real estate for 46 years and I’m still taking classes. Everything is changing, the rules and regulations are moving targets. I find the ignorance factor inherent in too many in the business – that’s why they don’t make it and they leave.
Too many people think real estate is just about commission. By that thought process, then all lawyers are the same, all mechanics are the same. How can you get proper real estate services, when the realtor can’t even negotiate their own commission. How can you trust someone to negotiate for you when you’re out-negotiating them on their commission.
What are you most proud of?
That I’m well known across Canada. That I’m probably one of the better known Realtors. And that I’m the founder of the accredited senior agent professional designation program. That one I’m extremely proud of. It’s a designation program I started in 2008. Three thousand agents have taken the program across Canada. It teaches agents how to deal with senior clients – the next boom across Canada – and how to work in that market. It started with zero and I turned it over a few years ago to a new CEO who has grown it up to 3,000-plus. It’s a dynamic group. That’s my legacy in real estate. No one will remember my deals, but they’ll remember that I founded that designation. I’ve also served on a lot of boards in professional real estate associations.
What is the last book you read?
I read a lot of trash novels to clear my mind. I read three novels a week. The last book I read was by Jeffery Gitomer, called 21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling. I’m starting to re-read old books on selling, just because you forget things. It’s the basics. It reaffirms what I’m learning and what I do. I’m not the guy I was a year ago and I’m not going to be the guy I am now a year from now. I change because I learn more, I have more to say to people, I change my presentation. My real forte is family wars. Heirs who are trying to settle an estate and they don’t talk to each other. Divorces, seniors who don’t want to move. I just wrote two books; one on divorce and one on settling estates. I’m launching them on social media for free download