An in-depth interview that may help you decide whether you'd like to become a real estate agent.
Twelve years ago, Dale McGauran left her comfortable job in television and moved across Canada to start over. When she arrived in Vancouver, BC, she was 57 years old, knew exactly three people in the city, and had never sold property in her life. But by the end of her first year in real estate, she’d sold 27 homes—a record for a first time realtor. She quickly established herself within her community as an industry leader, a trustworthy mentor, and, to many of her clients and coworkers, a caring friend.
Today, at age 70, Dale still wakes up for work every morning with a smile. She loves what she does and sees no end in sight. “The plan sort of changes all the time,” she tells me when I ask her about the future, “and I just go with it.... I have no intention of leaving right now.”
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you end up in real estate?
I moved to Vancouver 12 years ago. At the time, I was living in Toronto and I was a television producer. My son was in West Palm Beach, Florida, my daughter was in Vancouver, and I wasn’t in a relationship, so I thought, “I don’t want to deal with this terrible snow anymore.” I quit my job, packed up my household, and moved to Vancouver thinking I would get a job in television.
That didn’t happen. I was 57 years old and no one wanted to hire a 57 year old anymore. That was a rude awakening for me. So I registered for UBC’s Sauder School of Business Real Estate Licensing Program, got my license in three months, and joined RE/MAX. I thought that would be a good place to start; you could get good open houses working for other realtors in West Vancouver. My goal was to pick up one buyer from every single open house that did not have a realtor. And that’s exactly what I did—I built my business one open house at a time. I only knew three people in Vancouver when I arrived, but I sold 27 houses my first year. That was a record for RE/MAX, and they used my story in all of their recruiting seminars: “Here’s how you do it when you don’t know anyone.”
I was 57 years old and no one wanted to hire a 57 year old anymore. That was a rude awakening for me.
Was it difficult to break into the business?
When you’re a young person and you’ve got a mortgage, it’s difficult because you don’t know from month to month whether or not you’re going to be able to pay that mortgage. If you’re not used to it—if you’re used to having a steady income—then it is a difficult business to start into. And you’ve got to have money behind you. I spent $30,000 in my first year on branding and expenses for real estate. It’s an expensive profession.
But I was okay; I was a little bit older, I was financially secure, and I’ve always worked on a freelance basis, so it wasn’t an issue for me.
So what happened next?
I started doing some coaching with a real estate coach, trying to figure out what my next step would be. (You sort of have to think about an exit strategy in this business.) I was working alone and was just too busy as one person. My coach told me to find a younger business partner with the idea that we could work together for a few years and then eventually I would leave my business to him. So I found a partner, Dan. He was with another brokerage. I recruited him over to RE/MAX and we rebranded. We still work together now, even though I left RE/MAX last October. He’s still at RE/MAX, I’m still at Rennie & Associates, but we still do a lot of things together.
Why did you leave RE/MAX? What are you doing now?
I left to join Rennie & Associates to market a new development, the Seymour Village townhouses. It is in the complex of RavenWoods where I live, work and play. So I thought what a great opportunity for me and it certainly has turned out to be very successful. We just finished selling the second phase. We sold 50 townhomes in less than a week. So now we’re taking a little bit of a break, though I still run my regular business on the side.
Are you planning to leave the business soon?
Well, that was the plan—to have an exit strategy. Poor Dan; he thought I was going to retire! But I don’t think I can quit. I love my job. So I don’t know what my plan is now. We’ve got seven phases of townhouses and we just finished selling two, so...we’ll see! The plan sort of changes all the time. It changes, and I just go with it. I’m 70 years old and I still have lots of energy. I have no intention of leaving right now.
I don’t think I can quit. I love my job... I have no intention of leaving right now.
Is your story typical?
I would say it’s pretty unusual, especially at the age of 57. Not a lot of people are going to pick up and do that.
But do a lot of people enter real estate after leaving a different career?
I’d say older people do. Some people have retired and decide to do real estate thinking it’s going to be part time. But that’s not going to happen.
That’s one of the downsides, actually; it’s 24/7 and you’re always on call. I’ve tried and tried to say, “Okay, on Fridays I’m not going to take calls. I’m going to pass them onto my partner, and I’m going to try to take a day off.” That is very, very difficult to do. I’m a hands on person and I like to be involved with everything, so that’s hard for me.
What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s considering entering the industry?
It’s important to choose the right brokerage—a brokerage that’s going to be there for you and support you in terms of training. That’s what RE/MAX did for me.
New realtors also need to know that you cannot do it part time; you have to put your whole self into it from the beginning. And you have to have some money behind you, as I mentioned before, because there are huge expenses and you’re not going to make a lot of money at the beginning. So it’s best sometimes to start with a team, and have the team offer you referrals. Or go work as a buyer’s agent for a while to get used to the whole buying and selling scene in your city.
You cannot do it part time; you have to put your whole self into it from the beginning.
What sort of training is required to become a realtor?
You have to fulfill comprehensive education and experience requirements. To become licensed, you must successfully complete the Real Estate Council’s education requirements. The appropriate licensing course must be taken through the UBC Real Estate Division. To obtain a real estate license in BC, you must be licensed by the Real Estate Council of BC and be engaged by a real estate brokerage. There is a lot to consider when interviewing with brokerages and a lot of questions to ask. What sort of training is that brokerage going to provide? What kind of program do they have to help brand new realtors? What are the fees? Every single brokerage is totally different, so you have to decide what’s going to work for you. There is also a post-licensing course requirement.
On an ongoing basis, you are required to complete applicable continuing education courses every licensing cycle.
And what’s the best part about your job?
For me, it’s working with clients every day and helping them sell or buy a home. Buying a home is the most exciting part of a person’s life. I love going out with people to see different homes; when you finally find the right one and you see that look on their face when they walk through the door—that’s very exciting. I love it.
I love going out with people to see different homes; when you finally find the right one and you see that look on their face when they walk through the door—that’s very exciting.
I love the multitasking, I love the one on ones at open houses, and I love meeting people. I can connect with them very easily, form relationships. For me, that’s the key: building relationships beyond the sale. I don’t just do the sale and then walk away. Many of my clients are now good friends. Some clients, I’ve done three, four, five transactions with now. I recently had a birthday party and most of them were there. I think that’s why I can’t leave real estate! I want to be there with them.
How do you find work as a realtor? Where do you find your clients?
Through referrals and past clients. That’s one of the most important things, staying in touch with your database. I call them, I send newsletters, I pick up the phone and go have coffee with them to just see how their doing. Or I have a client appreciation party. So there are many, many ways and you have to find what works best for you – it could be door-knocking or cold-calling! But it’s very important to have a good client management system that you can rely on. Otherwise it’s just helter skelter, here and there, deal by deal—you won’t be successful.
So to succeed, you have to be organized and good at connecting to people?
Yes. And you must have a system. That’s one of the things I learned in coaching, right at the beginning—there are systems for real estate. To this day, I follow the systems, and that’s why I’ve been successful, I think. That’s why I say it’s 24/7; it may be 10 o’clock at night, but you have to be updating your database or doing the newsletter or whatever it is.
Would you describe it as a social career?
It’s a very social career.
Tell me a little about your professional relationships. What’s the social culture like in the industry?
I have a great relationship with other realtors, especially the ones who work in my area. In the neighbourhood where I work, I’ve actually become a go to person for leasehold property. I get along with just about everybody. A lot of us realtors do things together. We travel together, and there are a lot of conferences where we all see each other. Whether it’s going for a walk or a hike or a cup of coffee, realtors stick together.
We travel together, and there are a lot of conferences where we all see each other. Whether it’s going for a walk or a hike or a cup of coffee, realtors stick together.
And where do you usually work? What’s your work environment like?
My office is everywhere. I don’t sit in a cubicle, and I don’t typically work out of the office—although I do have a home office, which I love. Of course, when I’m working at Seymour Village Presentation Centre, I’m working there five hours during the day. But I don’t have per se an office that I work at.
What’s the job market like right now? Is it difficult to break into the business?
It’s not difficult to become a realtor right now. I think it should be more difficult, because there are a lot of people coming into the business who think they’re going to make a lot of money... but making a commitment to a career in real estate also includes a number of financial considerations which they might not have considered, as well as a lot of very hard work, education, a strong work ethic, and the ability to communicate. I wish there were more guidelines in order to get your license. I don’t think that there are enough measures in place but that certainly is about to change. There’ve been some realtors in the media recently who have not been acting in their clients best interests regarding contract assignments.
How does the real estate industry regulate to prevent that kind of activity?
The BC government took action to regulate contract assignments in March 2016. There is also currently a proposal to restructure the BCREA and its 11 affiliate boards into a provincial association.
Could you walk me through a typical day?
When I’m working at the Presentation Centre at Seymour Village, a typical day starts at noon and ends at 5 o’clock. (That’s when the centre’s open.) We’re marketing townhouses, and there are typically four of us there at a time. We’ll be there, each of us answering questions for buyers who come in and help them with the different floor plans, show them the finishes for the townhouses, write offers and generally educate them on the presale process. So that’s one type of day.
But if I’m doing my own business, my regular business, a typical day will start out at 7 am with exercise. You’ve got to stay fit. After that I’ll probably spend a couple of hours doing emails and phone calls and updating my admin (paperwork). Then from 10am – 12pm on Tuesday through Thursday we have agent open houses where we can preview the new listings for our buyers and also become knowledgeable about the product on the market. And then, typically, I might have lunch with a client. I might meet with a seller in the afternoon to look at a suite and see what he needs to do before we list that property. I’ll go through it and say, “We need to paint,” or, “We need to put some new lights in here,” and I’ll tell him what I’m going to do to stage that property. Then, that evening, I will probably do a market analysis. I’ll look at all the other suites that are similar in that building and determine what will be the best list price for that property. The market analysis is very time consuming; it’s quite a few hours of work. When it’s ready I’d send it to the client and then, after he’s done all the work on the suite to prepare it, we’ll sit down together and talk about the marketing strategy. So that’s a typical day. I go home, maybe have a glass of wine and unwind, and by that time, it’s one o’clock in the morning!
What does it mean to “stage” a property?
Staging is like setting a stage for photographs to list your property. I now have three storage lockers full of what I call “fluff” for staging—flowers and vases and every colour of cushion you could imagine.
I’m adamant about staging; I will not take a listing unless I can stage it. I think that’s something from my television background. If a place isn’t staged, it’s just not going to sell properly. And it is the very first thing that buyers see on the internet when they are searching for property. You must make a good impression right out the gate!
What makes you good at what you do?
I love what I do and I’m able to connect with people. If you love what you’re doing every single day, you’re going to be a success.
Also, you know, I don’t have a partner. I don’t have anyone at home saying, “Do you want to go out for dinner?” I’d hate to be going out for dinner with somebody, because my phone would be ringing off the hook! So I like that I don’t have anybody telling me what to do, because I can work my own schedule, do whatever I want to do. If I want to take time off to go see my grandchildren, that’s exactly what I do. The best part of my entire life are my four grandchildren; they’re what keeps me going and that is where I get my balance in my life.
I like that I don’t have anybody telling me what to do, because I can work my own schedule, do whatever I want to do. If I want to take time off to go see my grandchildren, that’s exactly what I do.
With first time buyers, or clients who are feeling very nervous, what do you do to get them to feel comfortable with you?
You make a first time buyer feel comfortable with knowledge. I have a buyer’s guide like no other buyer’s guide, and I sit down and I work through it with them. I explain the whole entire process first—the whole process of looking for properties, of multiple offers, of what happens after you buy your property. Sometimes we’ll take three hours before we even start looking at properties. Because you’ve got to hold their hand from day one, you’ve got to develop that relationship.
You’ve got to hold their hand from day one, you’ve got to develop that relationship.
What kind of person would you recommend this career to?
You have to be outgoing, you have to be able to relate to people and be able to talk to them. And you have to be able to work hard. I’ve seen lots of different people try to enter the business, and I can spot instantly the ones who are going to be successful and the ones who aren't. I’ve seen it time and time again: people don’t last very long in the business if the work ethic isn’t there.
What’s the biggest misconception about your career?
That you can jump in and make all this money. But it’s not like that. You have to work very, very hard, and, you know, we don’t get paid by anybody except when we sell or buy a listing. And your expenses to become a successful realtor are really high. You’ve got to think about your marketing and your branding and your admin and everything else that goes along with being a realtor. So the biggest misconception is the money.
What kind of career trajectory can you expect as a realtor? Do people tend to move around a lot within the industry?
I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t last very long. But, traditionally, people do move from brokerage to brokerage, depending on their circumstances. I’ve noticed a lot of people in my age range who are thinking about retiring, thinking about an exit strategy, and don’t want to be paying the high fees anymore. So they’ll move to another brokerage where they pay much less and they can work their own hours.
Are there any opportunities for promotion within real estate?
It’s your choice; if you want to become a Managing Broker or an Associate Broker, you can do that. You really are your own boss when you’re a realtor; you choose what direction you want to go.
You really are your own boss when you’re a realtor; you choose what direction you want to go.
What kind of professional development is required to stay in the industry?
We have requirements with BCREA (British Columbia Real Estate Association) and the REBGV (Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver) that you have to complete continuing education courses every licensing cycle. An example of one of the courses is “ Legal Update” which provides valuable and timely updates of legal and regulatory compliance, as well as key reminders of best practices for licensees in the province. There’s a lot of education provided and you must continually stay abreast of everything that is happening in your market.
I know you had to do a lot of self promotion at the beginning of your career. Is that something you have to maintain once you’re more established?
It’s constantly changing. Your branding is very important at the beginning. It sets you up and it’s who you are. To me, it was very important to have that right out the gate.
I’ve also changed my branding three or four times over twelve years. It’s not inexpensive to do branding, but to me it’s very important. You have to keep your website updated, because that is how the public recognizes you. And social media—I am not good at social media. That’s why I partnered with a young realtor, Dan. He is right into that. I help him with the staging and he helps me with the social media and all the techy stuff, as I like to call it. Marketing is a very important aspect of real estate and is on-going as long as you have your license.
What do you wish you’d known before going into the industry?
I wish that I knew about the work life balance—although I’m sure I still would have done it, and I’m not sure how I would have done it differently. I think it’s important to get that in check at the beginning.
I am making a little more time for myself now; I’m going away on vacation for a month, and I make lots of time to see my grandchildren. And when you’ve got a business partner that you work with, it does help you a lot. But I still am a workaholic. [She says with a giant smile on her face].