In his earlier life, Al Moosa developed statistical models to demonstrate the demand and capital planning for post-secondary education in Ontario on behalf of the provincial government.

Then, just as he was ready to pack it in for an early retirement, a co-worker suggested he’d be great at real estate. She hit the nail on the head.

In his second career, he has had the privilege of being named among Century 21’s Centurion Producers, but instead of focusing on awards or the number of transactions, Moosa concentrates on building lasting relationships with his clients that continue way after he helps them buy or sell their house.

“I will do anything for my clients. For me, it’s as if I’m buying the house or I’m selling my own house,” says Moosa.

“For example, I’m seeing a client tomorrow who I’ve told to trim his grass before closing, but he is an older gentlemen who is physically unable to cut his grass so I’m going over there to personally cut his grass for him. I know that the person buying that house has invested a lot of money and they have expectations and I want to make sure that everyone’s expectations are met.”

This is the kind of realtor Moosa is. For him, it’s not about the sale, it’s about the people — a point he emphasizes repeatedly below which highlights that there are many great realtors out there, despite misconceptions the public may have. Despite whatever power the Internet and its access to information provides to those who want to buy or sell their home independently, there is still room in the landscape for realtors like Moosa.

How did you first get involved in real estate?

I was an Ontario bureaucrat and worked in the Ontario government for a very long time. I was thinking about retirement at some point, mostly because I started really young. I was 20 years old. I started at the bottom and became a senior manager. A colleague of mine and I were chatting and I was just asking her, “What am I going to do? I’m still young. What am I going to do after?” and she said, ‘based on your personality (I have a financial background) and your negotiation skills, you’d be a prime candidate for being a realtor.’ I never thought of it at that point, so I looked into it and I did some online courses and got myself a license before I retired. Real estate is actually my second career.

What do you like about real estate now that you’ve been at it for a while?

It’s interaction with people and seeing them happy when the deal is done. Building lifelong relationships is what it’s all about. For me, the relationship doesn’t end once the deal is done. I don’t focus too much on the number of transactions. I’m a lifelong friend. My clients have invited me to weddings and the christening of their kids. It’s like I’m part of the family and I have a wider group of friends now. When realtors start out there are a number of pillars we focus on. I focused on one alone, which has been my referral and repeat business. Ninety-nine per cent of my clients come from referral so they already know about me and that makes my life a lot easier actually.

What kind of issues and innovations do you think will affect real estate in the future? Will it still be a referral business?

Absolutely. I think more of a referral business than ever before. If you go back through history — I’m thinking about the first two homes that I bought in my life — I remember my realtor carrying this thick binder of listings. Remember those old phone books? Those books would be issued by the Toronto Real Estate Board every week or so and they would carry this around, going through it page by page with their clients. At the time, there was very little information out there even for the realtor. They would have to market themselves using newspapers and flyers. Things have really changed now. There’s an abundance of information available on the Internet on a variety of real estate topics, not just listings. Everyone now has access to tons of information and the issue is that all this information is floating out there and can confuse the average buyer or seller. They don’t know because all these reports are so conflicting. As much as these reports say the market is going down, there are other sources that say it’s going up, so incorrect assumptions are made and people end up making wrong decisions.

So it’s your job to guide them?

Exactly. The Internet is good. You get all this information, but people forget that sometimes that information is targeted to specific audiences. You could read it as a buyer, seller or realtor and you could interpret it the wrong way.

So having said that, what do people most misunderstand about working with a realtor?

The first thing that crosses most people’s minds is this is a greedy bunch. They don’t deserve what they get paid for the work they do and that it’s an easy market. I can just put up a For Sale sign on the lawn and someone is just going to walk in and buy it. This is a misconception because not all realtors are created equal. I think there’s a misconception as to what the role of a realtor is. It’s not just putting up a For Sale sign and forgetting about it. There are many things that happen.

When I get that first call from a buyer or seller I do analysis for them, trying to dig into what it is exactly they want to know about a specific area and type of property, trying to get a feel for what the market is like in that area, all the way to negotiating the final deal and closing it. Now, everyone’s interpretation of what a realtor’s role is is very different and yours could be based on the last experience you had with a realtor. You may have had a really bad experience and that sticks with you. You may mention it to a friend and colleague and they might have the same assumptions based on what you told them about your experience. A good realtor can do a lot to help you with the selling, buying or investing process.

The way I work is you do not think of the final transaction and get out of the transactional mindset. It’s better if you sit down with a client and build a relationship with them first, educate them on the local market, educate them on the process they’re going to be going through as they start the search process and eventually how it’s all going to end and end up closing. When you’re actually doing it the right way, people understand and it becomes a fun process. I tell my clients that if they enjoy the process, it will be easier for them, but if they don’t enjoy the process, things will get progressively worse.

What is your assessment of the Toronto market?

The GTA is a very interesting market right now. The jury is still out on where things are headed. Everything is about change, nothing ever remains the same and the Toronto market is the same way. It got really hot in a really short period of time and now there are a number of factors at play that have contributed to a slowdown. The Ontario government’s involvement did a lot to cool it off a little bit and here’s my interpretation of this:

There is an incredible increase in listings right now. A lot of sellers were sitting on the sidelines and they wanted to cash in on the market. Why didn’t they do it in January and February? The market was peaking in February and March and they were getting their homes renovated for the spring market, but too many sellers listed at the same time, so the listings have tripled since February or March. It’s all a question of supply and demand right now.

There are three types of sellers: those who want to take advantage of this hot market, natural sellers who were going to sell anyway and those who bought first, but can’t sell their previous home. What we’re noticing in the market is deals are not closing. People are willing to walk away from their deposit and say, “You know what? I can’t sell my house.” There are 14,500 active listings in the GTA, 37 per cent of which have been on the market for four weeks or more. This is unheard of.

What do you do if you’re one of those people who bought first and cannot sell your home?

If you cannot carry both homes, this puts you in a bit of a dilemma. What I would do if this happened to my client is ask for an extension on the closing date. The second thing you can do is look at the home you’re selling and see if it’s priced too high for the current market because since May 1st, average home prices have gone down 12 per cent, so if you’re still priced at the February-March level you’re not going to sell your home. The other thing is if there’s anything that needs to be fixed all the home inspection conditions are back in, so you have to fix any issues. As a realtor, you try and help your clients sell their home, but first ask for an extension on the other side.

If you weren’t a real estate agent what would you be? Would you go back to your bureaucratic career?

It was good to me, but when I was a child I wanted to be a doctor, but my parents could not afford to send me to medical school. I ended up being more of a financial analyst and forecaster. My dad was an accountant and I have an affinity for numbers. This helps me in real estate as well. You have to do a lot of math in your head in this field, especially when you’re making a quick decision. Still, I’d like to be a doctor. It just falls back to what I’ve been saying, I just love dealing with people. A doctor would have been perfect.