“Condo” Chris Borkowski is sick and tired of it.
The real estate broker for RE/MAX Hallmark is known for his off-the-wall, tough-talking marketing campaigns like the time he put bus shelters under Brad Lamb's billboards featuring his tiger tattoo that said, “Why hire a sheep when you can have a tiger?”
Ha, ha, funny right? But you know what those 15 years of marketing effort got him? Nothing. Sure, he said he got treated like a celebrity and everyone knew his name, but that only ever translated into a few sales, and the clients he did get only cared about the bottom line. He said they didn't respect his time or his training.
So now, he's tired of it. He isn't going to fight for the bottom feeders anymore because he doesn't have to.
Now, he only works with referrals and people who have been with him for a decade. Perhaps a smart marketing move — he believes that exclusivity makes people want him even more.
Read on to find out why this former showman is now only doing private engagements, why he regrets putting himself out there so much and why he now believes that reverse-psychology is the only approach worth having when you've been in the business for 18 years, and, he says, you've literally seen or done it all.
How did you first get into real estate and what attracted you to it?
I guess like most people I really got an appreciation for it after buying my first place … around the year 2000, so I was probably 25 at the time. Actually, my family business is police work. Everyone in my family are basically cops — my sister, my father and my uncle ... everybody. At the time, my choice was to get into police work and I had a hook-up over there. I had a few friends whose dads were realtors and they were getting into real estate.
I come from a concert promotions background. I used to promote raves when I was a kid, so I partied pretty hard as a youngster. The idea of policing, even though it was the family business, didn't really appeal to me at the time. Funny story, I was driving down the street. I was trying to make a decision, I was actually thinking about, it and then I saw some cop arresting some lady and she was screaming and crying and they were throwing her against the car. It was this big commotion and I thought, Oh sh**, I don't want to do that, so I decided to get my real estate license along with a friend of mine when he got his.
Your marketing techniques are pretty wacky and off the wall, so much so that you've built quite the following and persona for yourself as “Condo” Chris. How did that persona develop and what makes your approach successful?
I come from a marketing background. I used to have a marketing company. I was actually pretty successful at it. I did a live radio show on The Edge 102.1 FM for like 13 years in my early twenties, so I was always marketing, but I never really was working during the day, so I wanted something to fill my days. I kind of put my two previous experiences together, but I also came at it during the rise of the Internet. I used to do a lot of digital video and I had some connections in the video industry and people wanting to help me with good ideas, so I was an early adopter. I was one of the first people on Facebook and early on Twitter, but not too early. Actually, I'm not even on Facebook anymore. I really despise it now.
Yeah man, Facebook is for my grandparents. Everyone is on Instagram now.
Yeah, but even Instagram for real estate. To be honest man, when you called and asked me for a photo ... I don't even think I have a headshot anymore. I can't even remember the last time I took a headshot. I used to have a photographer because everybody and their mother is on Instagram.
So how do you differentiate yourself now if everyone is doing it?
I have 20 years’ experience almost. How do I differentiate myself from a kid who is super hungry, who started last year, who has his Facebook account dialed in and a crazy website? He's putting flyers everywhere, so how do I compete against that kid anymore? Do I have to push it even further or even wackier than before or do I go more conservative? Conservative doesn't work. I've done billboards, I've done mail-outs, I've done bus shelters, I've done the Internet, I've done it all and very little of it works. I can tell you what works and doesn't work. The traditional stuff works. Putting a “For Sale” sign up in front of a house will get you way more deals than any video on the Internet. It's just the way it goes.
So you're using a “back to basics” approach?
Well, I'm going to be honest. I don't really compete for new business anymore. I'm doing the complete opposite. I'm doing the reverse-psychology thing again where I basically talk to you by referral only. I don't really want to deal with new people anymore. I'm sick and tired of dealing with new people. To be honest, if you call me and you don't have an agent I don't trust you. Why wouldn't you have an agent nowadays? If you're a buyer and you're inquiring about a listing of mine and you don't have an agent you're up to something, sneaky man. You're trying to cut somebody out of a commission. Everyone and there mother is an agent now.
I don't go by commission. If the first thing you want to talk about is commission, call somebody else. I'll cut you off. A lot of my business now is old repeat business or referrals from people I've already worked with and I'm lucky because I've gotten to that point where if I don't do anything the phone will ring. Some point this week, someone will call and want to buy, sell or rent something from me. I don't even fight it anymore man, to be honest.
So if it all doesn't matter, what does it really take to get to the point where you can sit on your couch and wait for the phone to ring?
Fifteen years ago, I was young and I was like ‘What's the difference between these top producers? Well, obviously, these top producing agents are just spending all this money on marketing.’ I knew a few top producers and I thought, ‘You know, this year I'm going to spend 100 grand. I'm going to spend $100,000 on myself and let it ride.’ So I did. I did the whole thing and I got hooked up with all the fancy marketing companies and I think I maybe got two sh**y leads out of it. What I should've done was I should've bought a new Porsche, paid cash, joined the Porsche owner's club and done a deal that way with someone who owns a Porsche over there. If I had just driven around in a Porsche and had fun. I would've done more deals than wasting my time, my effort and my $100,000 on a stupid marketing campaign.
Here's the thing, they're great. People all notice my marketing. When I was walking down Queen Street West for a while people would stop and say, “Oh my God! You're that guy!” like I was a rock star, but no one actually called me at home. Just because a lot of people know me on Twitter and the odd person calls me for a deal doesn't really make me a top producer … To be honest, I don't want to do 100 deals a year. I'd be pulling my hair out right now if that was my life.
So what's meaningful to you from a real estate perspective? It seems like you've already done it all.
My theory is time is money. You can have all the f***ing money in the world and it doesn't matter. I know a lot of real top producers and all they do is buy f***ing hobby farms or cottages. They're not jetsetting around the world and staying in fancy hotels. They're running little gardens and sh**. They're doing this really meager stuff because they're burnt out. They could've done this 20 years ago, except they were hooked on the money.
I don't want to end up like them. I just want to simplify. I work with people who value my time, not people who waste it. If you call me and you show up late, I don't want to deal with you. If you really value my service and my time, you'll know I'll work hard for you and I respect you as my client. Then, we will have a great relationship. But the problem is people who are new and have never worked with me for a decade expect too much, they don't really respect the industry or the training, it's all about the bottom line for them and I don't want to deal with that.
Now that I've been in this business almost 18 years, I've seen the full cycle of one mortgage and the results of every big decision: the people who stuck with it, the people who spent too much, the people who didn't spend enough and the people that dropped out. That's the difference between me and a guy who only has a few years’ experience, but it's hard for me to market that experience.