She has risen to the top 0.5 per cent of realtors in Toronto — and the top four per cent nationwide for sales.

So Heather Holmes has a lot to celebrate, including her upcoming 14-year anniversary as a licensed real estate agent. Much of her success has been driven by how she takes care of her clients, throughout the entire home-buying experience. But the care doesn’t end there. It continues well into their lives post-sale too.

To mark her career milestone, Holmes discusses the changes she has observed over the years, in the Toronto market and real estate industry. She also reveals why she won't expand her business by starting a team or partnering with another agent — despite numerous offers. 

What initially got you started in real estate?

Ever since high school, I've been in sales. Back then, I worked in a camping supply store and then I got into restaurants and hotels. I really liked interacting with people and service, but working in restaurants wasn't a long-term career goal for me. I wondered what could I do to help people and still be in sales. I always loved interior design and architecture, so I thought, I think I can sell real estate.

While I was still working at my restaurant job, I worked part-time for Brad J. Lamb Realty Inc. as a receptionist. I needed some part-time work to earn money to get my licence and support myself. So, I thought, if I could do something real estate-based, I would be absorbing stuff even before my feet would be on the ground. I was able to learn quite a bit just hearing agents talk and typing up their offers. And Brad hired me when I became licensed.

What do you continue to appreciate most about the business?

For me, it's assisting and guiding my clients to get them where they want to be. It's very important to take the time to explain the process to them because when you find a home or condo you want to buy, things happen super fast. You might have to make a decision on the spot and write your offer straight away.

What I like is having my clients feel like they're prepared and have the knowledge, so when they come across their dream home they feel empowered to make great decisions for their situation. I really like sincerely, genuinely helping people and the service aspect of it.

Plus, I stay in touch with my clients years after the sale. I love it. For example, when they have their first baby in the home they just bought. My end game in this is to help as many people as I can — and their friends and family. I'm not a one-and-done agent.

What has set you apart from other agents that has sustained your longevity in the business for 14 years?

I think it’s my commitment to my clients. The client has to come first, always. It's not my agenda or my timeline, it's there's. I think just respecting that is super key to building trust and clientele that continue to work with me over and over again.

Candy Factory Lofts

One of Holmes' listings that sold last fall. It's in The Candy Factory Lofts, her favourite hard loft building in the city.

How have things changed over your 14-year career and how have you adapted?

Technology is huge, obviously. Social media is another one. For better or worse, things that have made my job easier are the electronic signing software we use now.

One thing I reflected on recently, after I looked back at a listing from my first year, I was looking at the pictures and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this listing is so embarrassing.” I mean, the photos were terrible. They weren't properly lit, I hadn't colour-corrected them, there was no virtual tour and there was no extra video component.

Now on my listings I have professional photography, professional staging, a virtual tour and I add on video that I promote through social media. I think the amount of marketing options that we have has grown so much, which is fabulous and makes it easier for people to access listings quickly. It's all very well suited for the Amazon-age we now live in. I make sure my listings are complete, which separates me from other agents out there.

How has the Toronto market changed over your 14 years in real estate?

Certainly there's quite a bit more density in terms of condos, to the point where you could give me any address downtown and I used to know the building. But now I sometimes have to think, “Gosh, what building is that? Have I been there?”

There really have been so many new additions to the market.

That being said, I remember when people used to say, “The condo market is so over saturated. It's going to crash.” And now the condo market is nothing but booming. If anyone still thinks condos are a bad investment, they're living under a rock. Because, especially over the last year, it has been proven that condominiums are the new starter home. That's based on affordability, but it's also a lifestyle choice as well.

Now that your first 14 years have been pretty successful, what are your goals for the next 14?

I've had people approach me to start my own real estate team. I've thought about it, but I like to conduct my interaction with my clients in a way that I know everything that's going on at all times. And my clients always get me to talk to. They’re not passed off to an associate. This is really important to me and my clients.

Am I looking to grow my business on purpose? No. I'm not. I'm comfortable saying that and it's not because I have a lack of ambition. It's simply that I've been given options to do that and I know what works best for me and that's working on my own.

I believe that if I have the drive and the commitment, I can service my clients just as well as a team. But I may not be doing 150 deals a year.

When you're not hustling in the real estate business, what are you doing for fun?

I like to travel. I'm actually going to Costa Rica with my best friend in March and it's my first time there. I'm super excited. The other thing I love to do is cook. I don't get to do that often enough, but when I do I love planning out a menu, shopping for ingredients at local markets and cooking for other people and having people over. I also walk my long-haired Chihuahua.