Claudine Montano stands in a class by herself among the top one per cent of Toronto real estate agents because of her niche as the Penthouse Queen. Sure, she represents RE/MAX Hallmark Montano Group Realty as a Broker of Record, but she also caters to the highest of high net-worth clients — the ones for which only the penthouse will do.

“I became known as the Penthouse Queen after developing an idea I was passionate about which was penthouses almost two years ago. I always had clients who only wanted penthouses. And since my husband calls me his Queen, I decided to name my brand Penthouse Queen,” she said.

With TV producers lining up for an inside look at her life as a facilitator of luxury, Montano tells Storeys what it’s like to reach great heights in her industry.

What initially attracted you to real estate?

I am a second-generation broker. Both my parents have been selling homes since 1981 and our family owned two real estate brokerages growing up. I was a secretary at one of them when I was 13 and assisted my mother with paperwork in my teens. I never wanted to be a real estate broker when I was young because I saw all the crazy hours they worked. But when my brother (the only one of five children who went into real estate) passed away, I decided it was my time to carry on the family business and clientele. My only regret — not doing it sooner.

What do clients most commonly misunderstand when working with a realtor to buy or sell their house?

Buyer clients most commonly misunderstand how fast the Toronto market moves. The market isn’t waiting for buyers, buyers are waiting for homes to come on the market. Our job is to educate, guide, negotiate and minimize the frustrations of buying in a seller’s market. It is also our job to help them through the process of the transaction for an exceptional experience and a happy place to call home.

Sellers most commonly misunderstand the value of a great broker versus a not so great broker in selling their home. Some sellers get caught up in hiring someone for next to nothing, only to leave money on the table, time wasted, and be frustrated by a failed marketing plan by the broker. As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” so when you are dealing with one of the biggest (if not the biggest) asset you own, hire the right person for the job.

What issues or innovations are you seeing that will have a profound effect on your industry in the future?

When it comes to issues, the median age of all realtors is 58 (as per The National Association of Realtors), which means we need more young brokers to get into the field on a full-time basis and learn from their elder peers who have a lot of experience to share before they retire. Their elder peers can also learn from the younger brokers as the younger ones are more savvy with technology.

Real estate brokers who do not work full time or complete a certain level of production are an issue, as these brokers are more of a hindrance to the public and their peers in general. Our industry should be more stringent with brokers, as we are handling very large legal transactions. If you were a heart patient, would you want a part-time heart surgeon operating on you? Well, it’s the same thing with part-time brokers — they don’t do justice to the clients they are representing.

On the innovations side, I feel like technology is constantly changing our business and how we communicate. I try to keep up with how technology affects real estate specifically, so I am going to the biggest technology conference for real estate brokers next week in New York City. Technology is a constant moving target for us brokers.

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

There really is no secret except hard work and just doing it: getting out there, educating yourself to be a better real estate advisor and marketer for your clients. It takes pounding the pavement to find homes and learn about real estate. This takes time, dedication and persistence.

My mother has been selling houses for 36 years and she still learns every day, as no two transactions bear the same financial, physical and emotional situation in a negotiation, so we need to be prepared for whatever may come.

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

If I wasn’t a real estate broker, I probably would be a TV Host on a show. I love interacting with people and enjoy the excitement of film. I also went to the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts to learn how to do this and really enjoyed it. I have been on a few real estate shows and am currently under consideration for a real estate show being pitched to a network.

What is Toronto's most overrated or over-priced neighbourhood?

I think you can argue both sides of the coin in both regards when it comes to overrated or overpriced neighbourhoods in the city. It’s a matter of what the particular client is rating. I have clients who rate the homes in a neighbourhood far too expensive when they consider the lower school ratings in the area, but everything else is great.

I also have clients who rate neighbourhoods not as desirable despite all the “hype” because living in a shoebox just isn’t worth it. People are going to pay for what they want and what suits their lifestyle or needs — be it schools, amenities, transit, accessibility, restaurants, parks, proximity to work, places of worship, walk scores, etc.

What do you love most about what you do?

The excitement my clients and I have after I have negotiated a deal for them, be it a buy or a sell. It’s an adrenaline rush that I love to see my clients have. From happy tears, to falling off their chairs, to giving me bear hugs, I have seen so many wonderful expressions of emotion.

What annoys you about what you do?

Dealing with brokers who do a disservice to their clients and unethical brokers. Unfortunately, these “duds” do exist and I feel bad for their clients.

What is your best advice for those buying or selling in a competitive market?

Hire the right broker! Do your research and minimize your frustration by hiring someone qualified to do the job. Get testimonials or a reference check from them. A good broker is happy and confident enough for you to check them out.

Do you believe in the idea of a real estate bubble, and how do you deal with it?

I don’t believe Toronto is in a real estate bubble. We are a young city and have had two recessions (one in the ’80s and ’90s) and a small “dip” in the market for six months in 2008 when a land transfer tax was introduced. In my opinion, three things have to happen for our market to crash:

  1. Interest rates have to shoot up: this won’t happen because they would put many highly-leveraged families on the street.
  2. Immigration has to come to a halt: this won’t happen because the average Canadian family is having 1.2 children and we need people to contribute to the social system. Our prime minister also favours immigration.
  3. Foreign Investors have to pull out of our market: this won’t happen because Canada — Toronto in particular — is still seen as fairly inexpensive real estate in comparison to other cities like New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London.

The bottom line is, there is not a lot of supply of homes, and there is a great demand — simple economics.

How do you stay successful in this business without alienating friends and family or neglecting your own needs?

Staying successful in this business is a matter of making a plan and working your plan. It helps that my husband is an agent, my partner and best friend. Balancing family and friends on weekends is sometimes tough, as we both have big families and a lot of friends, and realtors have to work weekends! But we manage and we love what we do. We make sure we book vacations because it is very easy to work for months straight without a break in a fruitful market.