An agent's secrets

Rosemary Porter is one of the busiest and most successful realtors in Halifax. This is how she does it.

On Tuesday mornings the real estate agents of Royal LePage Atlantic gather at 9:15 in the open-concept basement floor of their Bayers Road office to have a sales meeting. Usually it’s a presentation and a talk about the hot properties, hip neighbourhoods, units sold compared to the year before. Then there’s a caravan of sorts, as agents head out to see a few new spots.

On this Tuesday, Rosemary Porter couldn’t join them. She was just too busy---even on a Tuesday in February, never the most demanding time in the housing market.

Porter has been a leading Halifax realtor for years. She’s always busy. The framed industry awards covering one of her office walls going back to 2003 are a testament to that. She’s won every Best Realtor award in The Coast’s Best of Halifax readers’ poll since 2003. Her Rosie the Realtor branding, borrowed from the iconic WWII posters featuring Rosie the Riveter, has really connected with her clients, evident in the Rosie-related gifts and gewgaws she’s been given, collected about her office space.

“It has really worked,” she says. “It certainly for me it illustrates the importance of branding. I consider myself a good agent and I do a good job for my clients and all of that, but I have no doubt it’s a huge part of my success.”

Porter closes on typically 70 homes a year, so a little more than one a week. She represents both buyers and sellers. “Generally in real estate you start working predominantly with buyers, because it’s easier to attract buyers. But now it’s about 50-50.”

A lot of her business comes from referrals---clients, friends and business associates. In order to keep that flow up, she works hard to keep in touch with clients, planning social and charitable events. “As most people will tell you, it’s much better to have a warm referral,” she says. “It’s important to do a good job and follow up, because that’s where your next job is coming from. I really try to do it, but I’m social anyway.” When things do go slack, Porter is often writing thank-you notes or attending meetings (she’s on the board at Live Art Productions). “There’s always something to do.”

Porter lives in Dartmouth. “That may be a big secret from some people,” she says with a throaty chuckle. She and her partner bought a place on Hawthorne in 2001, and have moved since, but within the same neighbourhood.

“It’s interesting as it’s kind of the place people go when they’re priced off the peninsula, old Dartmouth,” she says. She likes where she lives and knows it well, but because she grew up in Halifax she’s familiar with the market on the other side of the harbour too, so splits her business area between the downtown areas of the cities. It was in 2001 that she decided to move from a film career into real estate, having enjoyed the process of buying her first home. She got her realtor’s licence in the spring of 2002.

Porter has been with Royal LePage since she started. She speaks admiringly of the wealth of knowledge in her office, and that she’s always hit her sales targets (last year she was third of approximately 100 Royal LePage agents in the region), so her bosses are happy. Though there are many different pay plans, generally speaking real estate agencies earn five percent off the purchasing price of the property, usually split between the buying and selling agencies.

“We’re not allowed to talk about commissions as if they’re standard because it’s against the Competition Act,” she says. “But what I can say is I charge five percent. That’s certainly what the brokerage would recommend. Well, they’re recommend six,” she says, laughing. “In terms of what I would expect on my end, I also represent buyers who might be buying privately. When I do I would negotiate a fee agreement with the seller, and in that case my fee would be two-and-a-half percent.”

Though it is a legally allowed, she chose a few years back to not represent both sides in the same deal. “I think it represents the client better.”

On the Tuesday, Porter is showing a condo in a building on Lower Water Street, a 550-square-foot space that is going for $239,900. It’s renovated and new, with stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, one bedroom, living and dining areas. It’s in a good building, nicely located, with a sauna, pool and workout room downstairs. Condo fees are $250 a month, and parking is $100. The client, a 20-something professional woman considering a move to Halifax, likes the condo but feels the price is a bit high.

Porter is calm, deferential to her client’s comments and voices both the positives and potential negatives of the space. She knew going in that it was probably too expensive.

“It seems to be a bit high in price compared to what other one-bedrooms are selling for,” she says on the drive down to the building, and remarks as much to her client.

The effort to maintain appearances in condo buildings is something else that is immediately noticeable. Four “lock-boxes” to condos for sale in the building are attached to a chain link fence across Lower Water Street, since they’re too “unsightly” to be attached to the building itself.

Now Porter is off to read a contract, chase down a financing letter and drop off some keys. She’s constantly receiving and sending texts. it’s not just other agents---even some clients text her with concerns and questions. She spends between 1,800 and 2,400 minutes---that’s up to 40 hours---a month on her phone. Her assistant sees her fleetingly.

“Real estate is one of those jobs where it’s bizarre because if your manager doesn’t see you for long time he’ll say, ‘Oh, you must be busy.’ I have an office mainly because I have an assistant, and she’s here full-time. She does paperwork and stuff like that. But a lot of people just come into the office to hand in stuff and then they’re gone.”

On a wet Friday morning, Porter is driving to Bedford for a meeting at a suburban three-bedroom perched on a hill. The property is being seen by a woman and her mother. The woman has two children herself and likes the area’s schools. She’s reasonably impressed with the house, though retches at the discovery of a basement room devoted to three bags’ full of hockey equipment and is outraged at the blue carpet in the staircase and hallways on the second floor. In the end she doesn’t love it, but is considering it since it’s a reasonable price: $219,900.

“People come to me much more educated,” says Porter. “It’s a discussion you could spend your entire day on.” Porter sees herself as a kind of general contractor, who connects more than just a buyer and a seller, but the ancillary contractors, too. “I love it,” she adds. “I work with a lot of first-time home buyers. I prefer that. The thing about first-time home buyers is it’s much more energizing for the soul. I don’t work in a high end market. It’s pretty rare for me to sell a property over $400,000. I work with people who don’t have a lot of experience who need my help more, so it’s very fulfilling.

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