Christine Cowern is all about going the extra mile.
The leader and namesake of the Christine Cowern Team under the Keller Williams Referred Urban Realty, Brokerage banner prides herself on providing a real estate experience that is thorough and all-encompassing.
Cowern says she and her team do it all: everything from co-ordinating her clients’ moves to painting their walls, to finding a plumber if there's a leak in their new home. If the cleaning lady is late and the home needs to be staged, Cowern and her team are not afraid to get her hands dirty and help. They have been known to scrub the floors themselves if it means making the real estate process less stressful for their clients.
Oh and unlike other agents, the gravy train doesn't stop as soon as they do the deal or the client moves out of the house her team has sold them. She says her clients have access to the Christine Cowern Team's concierge service for the rest of their lives as long as they've worked with them at least once. This is why they're consistently reviewed near the top among agents in Toronto on sites such as Google.
Cowern stopped by Toronto Storeys to tell us why teams are the only viable way to sell real estate, why their full-scale level of customer service is so important and why they'll tell their clients they shouldn't sell their home even if it's against their own interests.
How did you get into real estate?
I was working in Vancouver many moons ago in advertising sales and although I really enjoyed sales and I was good at it, I found that selling advertising really wasn't my unique ability. I had a hard time justifying that if I sold someone an ad for $2,500 that they would get $2,500 back in business. It was a little too intangible for me.
I was back in Toronto visiting my parents because I'm originally from the city and my mother said, “Why don't you meet with our real estate agent?” — who was a friend of the family — “Because I think real estate would be a good fit for you. So I met with him and he convinced me to move back to Ontario to get my real estate license and here I am. I guess I can thank my mother for encouraging me to get my real estate license.
What keeps you in the business now?
For me, I love how dynamic real estate is. For many years prior to getting into real estate I was doing desk jobs and I was a nine-to-fiver and for some reason, over many years, it just didn't connect with me. I kept thinking, everyone seems to have no problem with these nine-to-five office jobs, why am I having such an issue with it? It was really only after I got into real estate that I realized my personality type is a perfect fit. For the hours of real estate, I'd much rather work until midnight than be sitting at a desk from nine to five and I would much rather own my own business than work for somebody else.
Your team has glowing reviews online and is among the top rated Toronto real estate agents. What do you do that would compel someone to rate you so highly?
For us, I'm aware that there's a lot of competition out there and there's a lot of agents and we don't want to be in with the rest of the pack. We want to stand out significantly, so much so that our clients and our prospects wouldn't even consider using any other agent ever. That's a pretty big goal, but we do that by offering services that no other agent provides. We also really care about our clients and treat everybody like their our father, our mother, our brother or sister.
If it means dropping everything at 11 p.m. and arranging a handyman because they've had a leak in their new home or I've been at listings and the cleaning lady is late and the photographer is coming, so I've got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the floors myself. It's that level of service that really sets us apart. We have awesome client services that we offer to everyone and they're ongoing, so if you bought or sold a house with us, our client services extend into perpetuity. You have access to them infinitely and they don't just stop when you close a deal with us. I think that's a big plus for people. They could move into a home in 2017 and need a plumber a year later and we’ll source the best plumbers in the area for them and organize quotes so that they don't have to. The service is free forever.
What kind of issues and innovations are you seeing in real estate that you think could profoundly affect the industry's future?
In order to keep your repeat and referral business as strong as it can possibly be and keep your business growing, I think individual agents will be a thing of the past. I think teams are starting to be at the forefront of the real estate industry. The right team that's the right fit with the right resources can give a much higher level of client service than an individual agent. I think moving forward the real estate industry will be much more focused on teams and the services they can offer. More buyers and sellers will lean more towards teams than individual agents. It's a time factor. There are dozens of tasks that have to be done for a real estate transaction to be completed and for a busy agent, it's hard not to drop the ball on those dozens of tasks unless you have support and help.
In the larger market, there have been many regulations that have had a dramatic effect on the market and I think that's only going to continue. It's up to us to keep our clients very, very well informed because every week is almost a different market at this point.
Given that a team is so important, were you able to build your team early or were you an individual agent who needed to catch up and build a team quickly or be left behind?
Well, I was on a team when I first started in the industry and I saw how they worked. I kind of took what they were doing right and made it even better and took what I thought could be improved and improved it. I went on my own for about a year to a year-and-a-half and then I thought, ‘You know what? In order for me to provide the best client service possible, I need help.’ I was a busy agent doing a fair number of deals and I immediately was like, ‘I need an admin.’ That admin was a game changer and I thought, what do I need next?
As the business grew and more buyers and sellers were coming in, it was absolutely impossible for me to do it all myself and maintain an incredibly high service level. The need for a team kind of evolved naturally, but because I was trained in the team concept since the beginning, it wasn't as scary for me as a prospect.
What is your advice for buyers and sellers in the competitive market in Toronto?
Right now, the condo and the housing market are very different. The condo market is still quite buoyant and fairly strong. We are seeing condo listings sell better than house listings at the moment. Home sellers need to realize buyers are in a place of uncertainty at the moment and they're not going to see their home sold in a day with 15 offers like we were seeing at the beginning of the year. They're going to have to price their homes properly. Overpriced homes are 100 per cent not going to sell.
They need to be realistic about what their property is worth and really have come to grips with the fact it's not the market it had been in the past number of years. There's a lot more caution on the buyer's side. They're shopping around, they're looking at their options, they're coming back to the properties a few times before they make an offer. In January, a house would be on the market for mere hours before it was bought and sold, but that's not the climate right now.
For buyers I would say you have more leverage now than you've ever had before, in terms of being able to do your due diligence before you purchase. There are more options available to you now and you have more time to make an educated decision, but you really need to look at all the factors. For the buyers that are sitting on the fence and hoping the market is going to crash, I think they will be surprised if they wait too long that other factors are going to come into play which may have them regret their decision to wait another six months to a year to purchase.
Mainly they're going to be paying more in interest 100 per cent and if this new stress test for uninsured mortgages comes into play and they put 20 per cent down, they will basically be qualifying for 20 per cent less house. They need to understand the full picture before they decide when is the best time to purchase for them.