Many of us, whether we admit it or not, have probably been where Elli Davis was in the mid-1970s: Stuck in a career we were unhappy with, but reluctant to make a change.

Davis was a primary public school teacher who knew her real potential lay in something different.

“I wanted to explore other options and I used to go to open houses on weekends and read real estate ads knowing that somewhere inside me there was this desire to be part of that life,” she says.

It took another person to see what she couldn’t and point her in the right direction.

“Someone said, ‘You should take the real estate course.’ I went to Ryerson (University) for five weeks and then I went to A. E. LePage, as it was called at the time. The manager there interviewed me and hired me. He said, “Here’s your desk, here’s your phone.” That was June of 1983.

Davis worked feverishly in those first few weeks, including on evenings and weekends, until she sold her first property three weeks in.

“The first sale gave me the confidence to stay with it. I decided that I did not want to go back to teaching. I really wanted to succeed in real estate and I think that’s what motivated me the most, not having to go back to my old career," she recalls.

That was 34 years ago and she hasn’t looked back since. She rose to become a top producer at Royal LePage, ranking in the top 1 per cent, making her a local legend within the organization. She was the No. 1 Royal LePage agent in Canada for 12 consecutive years (1987-1998) and the No. 1 Royal LePage agent in Toronto for 24 years (1987-2008).

Although the industry has changed, Davis still remains in the upper echelon of producers for the company and she does it in the highly competitive region of Central Toronto, where she has lived and worked for her entire career.

Davis sat down with Toronto Storeys to share what it took for her to rise to the top and stay there so consistently.

What initially attracted you to real estate?

I was attracted because I didn’t like my former career and there was a sense that I did like real estate that I did not really know was there.

What are some of the common misconceptions clients have about real estate when they buy or sell their house?

They believe it’s an easy process, some of them believe they can do it themselves and that (real estate agents) don’t do very much, but there’s a lot of education, talent, skill and experience that comes with hiring an agent. There are many legal issues involved when buying and selling and realtors are well prepared to address them.

What issues or innovations are you seeing right now that have the potential to have a profound impact on the real estate industry going forward?

Technology has changed our whole lives so much. When I started I had a dial phone with a hold button. I didn’t have a pager, I didn’t have a computer, I didn’t have anything. I had a cardboard box and I used to file my listings in it.

Today, we have the ability to obtain digital signatures and show properties using FaceTime.

How has that adjustment been for you over the years?

It’s been wonderful because it’s very efficient. I’m all about time, and doing a good job.  Everyone is busy in this world, so if I can make it easier for people, I do.

What does it take to be a top producer in your industry?

It’s like when someone says to me, “How many hours a day do you work?” My answer is always, “Until I’m finished.” You have to be totally committed to doing what you’re doing and when you have free time, do your personal errands and your personal life comes in. Now, there are certain personal things that are non-negotiable and you have to block those things in your appointment book as an appointment. If you don’t have some personal time, then that’s not good either because you’ll get burnt out. You have to be very committed, service-oriented and take it seriously as a business.

If you weren’t a real estate agent, what would you be?

When I’m done with real estate, I’d want to be a yoga teacher, but that may not be until my 90s.

What are your impressions of the Toronto market? Where can buyers get the most value?

I think the city is just expanding every day and people are having to go further and further out from the centre core. Since I am a central agent, it’s a difficult question because I live and work in the most expensive area of Toronto. It’s just by chance that’s where I live. If I lived in Winnipeg, I wouldn’t be selling in one of the most expensive cities in the country. The schools are really the draw for a lot of people here. I was in East York where there are many smaller bungalows and that still seems reasonably affordable.

Plus, Toronto has its housing supply issues right now.

Yes, but that will change, everything levels off eventually. I’ve been in hot markets before, I’ve been in slow markets, I have had 80 listings and I’ve had three listings. I don’t think this is going to last forever, every day is a new day.

What do you love most about what you do?

Every day is different, that’s what I love.

What annoys you most about what you do?

I don’t like the games people play sometimes and the dishonesty of some people.

What is your greatest contribution to your community as a realtor?

I make people happy. I also consistently make donations to Royal LePage’s Shelter Foundation, The Starlight Foundation, which helps terminally ill children, The Crohns and Colitis Foundation, Sick Kids Hospital and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. I’m on everyone’s list.

What’s your best advice for people looking to buy in Toronto’s competitive market?

Work with a very experienced and knowledgeable person and they will give you the best advice. Be prepared for disappointment, but stick with it and eventually you will be successful. It’s just a little bit of a tough time right now. I always think in the summer when everyone thinks everyone is gone, they really are not. A very good time to buy is in the summer.

What do you think about the idea of a real estate bubble? Is Toronto in one?

No one really knows. I think that the market is going to level off. I don’t think it’s a bubble because as the inventory increases it will calm down a bit and level. I don’t think it’s going to drop tremendously.

How do you plan to work towards your next goal?

I read motivational books and educational books. Someone just gave me the book Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. I also look at what other agents do in other places and am always looking for new ideas. I’m going to be doing a new website soon, which should be much more informational and help me get more leads. I’m always upgrading my knowledge.

How do you achieve balance in your life and stay successful without neglecting your friends or family, along with your health?

You just have to, as I said, really schedule the important things in your personal life. Schedule some vacations … because if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. I always say, “If it’s not in my book I won’t do it.” If you book a plane ticket, what happens? You’re there. If you don’t book any plane tickets, you’re never going to go anywhere and you’re never going to do anything, so what’s life all about? I do sometimes neglect my own needs, but eventually I catch up.