Richard Silver: Bill Risser’s The Real Estate Sessions

Richard Silver: Bill Risser’s The Real Estate Sessions

Richard was featured in the 95 episode of Bill Risser’s The Real Estate Sessions podcast.

Bill: Welcome to the Real Estate Sessions, a little podcast experiment I started in August 2015, when I interviewed J. Thompson of Zillow, not even knowing if I’d have an episode 2. I love finding out where leaders in our industry come from, and that leads me up to episode 95 and I’m delighted to chat with Richard Silver, Senior Vice President-Sales at SIRC and founder and leader of the Torontoism team, in Toronto, Ontario. I had a real great time with Richard, we were able to attend Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, with you, Richard and a few other industry types a few years ago, and I’ve closely followed what you do, and what you do on your site, with video and your content and it’s just been amazing. I’m so excited to talk to you. So Richard, welcome to the podcast!

Richard: Thanks, Bill, happy Friday to you and I look forward to our chat.

Bill: Thank you. I start at the beginning with most of the guests, and I know that you’ve been in Toronto a long time, but I don’t think you were born there?

Richard: No, I was raised out in Alberta and in the interim, I went to university in the United States, Eugene, Oregon. After that I went over to Montreal, I worked there for three years. And then 40 years ago, I ended up in Toronto. I didn’t know anybody there and three years later I got into real estate.. The difficult thing at that point was that I really didn’t have the influence that a lot of agents would start off with. I didn’t know much about Toronto, I had to get out and see as much real estate as I could and I also didn’t have friends and family out here. So it was an interesting progression.

Bill: You mentioned Eugene, so you’re a Duck?

Richard: Yes, I’m a Duck. I graduated from there. They let me out.

Bill: That’s great, that’s awesome. I didn’t realize you went to school in the States, so that’s great.

Richard: Yes, they let me out of Oregon.

Bill: I’m going to guess that you’ve been in real estate close to, pushing four decades, am I right?

Richard: Yes, 37 years, it is.

Bill: I find that for most people when they’re in school, they weren’t really dreaming of becoming a realtor, they had some other passion. What was yours? Or was it real estate?

Richard: You know what, I had been sort of a song and dance person, mostly into the dance. I used to do a lot of television, variety shows and things like that. So I was used to being a bit of a performer, but I had always had a love of architecture. I think, while others were reading Playboy, I was probably reading Architecture Digest, so… I was always very, very interested in people’s homes, what they did with them, the yard, etc. So that was more my background.

Bill: When you were in Toronto, what was the trigger that got you into real estate?

Richard: I bought a house. I was working with one agent and in those days they basically, they didn’t have buyer representation, they didn’t have a lot of other things that they do now, this was in 1979. And I was working with one agent I met and he was taking me out and showing a lot of different properties, none were a fit.

And I went to a dinner party, met another person who had a very good reputation and he took us out, he showed us more properties, and one of those properties we bought that same day. I was just so impressed, He continues to be my best friend forty years later, and he also was a wonderful agent, he really had a good sense of the creative part of looking at people, talking to them and then deciding or trying to figure out what is was they would be attracted to. So he’s one of these people,  he’ll take you out, he’ll show you three or four houses and you’ll buy because he has a good sense of finding out what is it that is important to you. He has a really good sense of that, that’s the creative part of real estate, getting to know people and then trying to make a fit for them.

Bill: So you started in 1980 and technology in 1980 was, we’ll call it low-tech in the world of real estate.

Richard: Oh my god, can you imagine a realtor without a cell phone? That was me. I actually bought my first cellphone before the system was even up and running in Toronto.

Bill: You were gonna be ready.

Richard: I was gonna be ready. My friends looked at me and said ‘are you crazy, what are you going to do with that thing?’ And it was huge at the time, it was, you know you run around with a little case and everything and it was quite something.

Bill: I gathered from just when I met you in NY and followed you online, that you really embrace technology, and you just mentioned it just there – the first guy with a bag phone. So let’s fast forward into the 90s when the Internet starts to come around. I’m assuming you were really early in that game too.

Richard: You know, let’s go back even farther than that where we had Commodore 64’s if you remember those days, Commodore 64’s and the very first Apple. So I had one of those and I was very, very lucky. I had a nephew who was fascinated by it and he still continues to work in the computer industry and after a little while of being in real estate, and having a computer or just getting a computer, he turned to me and said – “you know, uncle Richard, I know you keep this little folder and it’s got all these names and numbers, addresses and why don’t I try and see if I can make a system for you?”. so he created me a very, very crude CRM and it was amazing.

And then, of course, I went on to things like Top Producer, and the other ones that are now around for connecting with clients. But this was very, very early on. And then, yes I got involved with the Internet, I just thought that’s funny I’ve always been one of those people who, you know I like to try things so if I see a thing out there and I think it might be helpful to the business, I will give it a try. And certainly, I like anything that is going to save me time and give me more time with clients, family – those I think are the benefits of the Internet and a lot of technology that’s out there.

Bill: You embrace learning. Talk about the importance of it for you, of keeping current the way you do. You’ve been in the business for forty years, there are people you’re age who are just getting started..

Richard: I just think you have to be engaged. The people who are not engaged in real estate, no matter what at what age, if you’re not engaged through the technology in a business that’s so based on technology, I just think you’re not going to progress. I’ve always been one of those people looking for the next new toy. I’m a typical guy, I want a bigger television and I want a bigger computer, and in an essence, that’s strange, because everything is getting smaller and smaller.

But I’ve just always been one of those people who like to look at new things and I’ve just been very, very, very lucky. I was into the Internet early and had one of the first websites in the city, and my business and real estate and then I got into social media early on, you know as you did. And we just, I think we had a lot of fun. It’s funny how now people will come and try and sell us things that we were doing ten years ago.

Bill: That’s true. It’s fun to watch the stuff you do. Hopefully, you don’t get upset with me, but I show your stuff to a lot of people down here. I tell them: ”This is the guy to mimic because this is working.”

Richard: Especially for an old guy. I’m 68 years old right now, I’ll be open and tell everybody that’s the age. But you know, I just don’t feel like it. I keep myself engaged, I keep myself busy, I’m always out on appointments with clients and I like the technology, and if there is something that I want to develop more, I will go out and I’ll push myself to go to an event, to go to a course, join a group. I’ve been to India twice in the past six months because I know that there is a market there for people who want to buy in a gateway city like Toronto. So I’ve been to India, I’ve been to China. Hopefully, the airplanes will be taking my walker as I go and progress, I’ll just keep going at it.

Bill: That’s great. You mentioned just a second ago about being engaged. When it comes to volunteerism, you are right up there with some of the people I see that are very involved, local level, I guess in Canada there’d be a provincial level. What compelled you to do that, and why is it so important?

Richard: I think I got to the point where I never thought I would be a realtor, never thought I would be successful as a realtor and have the kind of life that that’s given me and so I thought that more and more it was time for me to give back. So I got involved in the local board, I was on the committee and eventually, I became a president of that board and I went on to the National board and I’ve also done some work with NAR in the States, and it’s just a matter of I think getting out and back.

I did get to the point, about a year and a half ago, when I said “you know one of these days I’m gonna have to retire and I better get out of this, I better focus on my business a 100 per cent rather than 75 per cent,” so what I did is I after 15 years in organized real estate, I said “ok, it’s time, just focus on your team and get that up and running and going well.”

Bill: I first met you through the world of Inman Connect, and I had a lot of guests on the podcast, so many people we’ve connected with. So you’ve attended, and presented at events all over Canada, the US, let’s call it the world. I assume these are a part of that ongoing engagement and education you talk about.

Richard: I’m one of these people that get up in the morning and I’m great, I’m good to go. I’m not so good at night, but in the morning I want to go, I want to get out and I want to meet people and do things. So I’ve been told, that I would go to the opening of an envelope and that’s pretty much true.

I will go to lots of events, I like connecting with people, I like learning and I guess I’m a lobbyist in many ways. I find that a lot of these events, yes you learn a lot, there is a lot of education, and hearing how people do things… But you also learn a lot from your time with people, getting caught up and talking to them in the lobbies of these events. I mean, how many great conversations have you and I had, waiting to go in to hear a speaker or sit next to each other, during the break. And that’s where you really pick up a lot of information and learn new things. And I’m always happy to learn.

Bill: You’re in the phase of your career, where you’re thinking about retiring and so, it makes perfect sense that Torontoism came about, the team and so. talk about your process with the team, and how it was formed because want to hear these stories.

Richard: I guess I noticed at least 10-15 years ago, that the team thing might be the way to go, and I had a partner at one point, I had a partner and an assistant at one point, but there’s a lot of reasons for me to have created Torontoism. My friend in Miami, Inez, she had a group called Miamism, so she did Miamism and I asked her if she would mind if I borrowed Torontoism and now we have a friend in Oregon, and I don’t know what his going to call his… That’s a little -ism humour 😀

But about Torontoism… Here’s some of my thoughts on teams. I heard some people who are team leaders talk about what they want in their team…I decided that there were things that I could do well and things that I didn’t do well, that I didn’t really want to do or I didn’t have that urge to do them, so I thought the best team for me would be a team of people who are not mini-me’s, a team of people who had absolutely different goals or aspirations. We wanted to have the same moral code, that was very very important, but if they were better in condominiums than they were in freehold, or if they were better with sellers than they were with buyers, those are the people I wanted, I didn’t want people who were generalists, I wanted them to be a little bit more specific.

And also, because we have such a high diversity in the Toronto area, we have so many different nationalities, so many different cultures, so many different languages, I also wanted to make sure that we were represented, so we have people who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, English, French, Portuguese, so we try and keep the variety there, so we can answer people’s requests in different languages and offer information in different languages.

Bill: How do you add someone to the team today? If someone wanted to join Torontoism, how would it work?

Richard: Sure, right now, here’s the buildup of our team right now. We’re 5 realtors, including me, and I have no intention of having a huge team, but what I wanted is to find another administration person. Because I think and I heard this from other people who are team people, for every three realtors you need one person in the background doing all the technology and all the CMA’s and the things for adding to the database etc, because we have a huge database that we keep running.

So we have that one person, she’s overworked and we’re all working as hard as we can to help her fill in. So right now, what I’m looking for is a bit of a team management, someone who can basically take over more of the day-to-day and a little bit of the technology. And luckily if they had a license, that would be absolutely a blessing, because in Ontario there’s a lot of things that you can do if you’re not licensed, but there’s also a lot of things that you cannot do – any discussions with clients, any presentation at all with clients, you have to be licensed.

And then if I was looking for somebody it would probably be somebody who spoke Persian, you know an Arabic language. I have been looking at somebody now, who speaks Arabic and she’s Egyptian and is licensed, so she would be able to fill both of those roles, little bit of organizing us more and the second part would be if we had to translate anything. Right now we can translate into Chinese, to Mandarin, and into Hindi and Punjabi, etc.

Bill: Your website,, is just spectacular. The local content in there, I show this to people all the time, I go right to the Cabbagetown community page and the images, the photos are spectacular, and the video is just crazy good, that’s you talking about where you live because you live in that community.

Richard: That’s really important, a lot of the realtors they see these videos and they’re talking about themselves and there’s always this story to tell and I love hearing the stories, but I think there’s also, you know what is it that you like about the area that you’re working in, what is it that drives you to that area, I think those videos are really important.

So basically, each of our team members has only a personality video, we also have a video about the area that they like to work in and what kind of clients they like to work with and they also have that on their signature in their emails, so that anytime anyone connects with them, the reply email they get back has these videos to look at, and I think that’s really good. And I think the community ones and community events are, they say a lot about you. I do kid and say I’d go to the opening of an envelope, but anything to do with the community, I’m there, I’m there trying to help, I’m there as a volunteer or I’m just there kissing hands and shaking babies 😀

Bill: The buzzword came out a while ago, being hyper-local in your niche, but you’ve been living that for a long time.

Richard: You have to. People want to know this stuff, they want you to be educated in terms of real estate, but they also want to know where the best place to eat is, what are the best schools. Especially with a lot of foreign buyers, they want the schools. It’s all about raising their children, getting their children’s education to a high degree. So you have to know a lot about the schools a lot about the universities, about certain places where you can get foods that might be pertinent to a community, whether it’s a Chinese community or an Indian community, so where all those services are. It’s also quite fun, it’s also good business for you… One of the things I like to do is I’d go out and I’d visit a store and I’d do a story about it and then I would tell the person who owns the store that I had done the story about them and then they tell their friends, and it just went back and back and back and it was amazing..

Bill: Let’s talk about what you do with video. You have nearly a hundred videos on Torontoism Youtube channel. It’s obvious, you were way early on the video game, as a medium to reach out to customers. Talk about the kind of success you had with that.

Richard: It has been wonderful, we get a lot of leads from it. I think a lot of realtors have to understand what their brand is. And then really be true to their brands. If you’re going to do a video, make sure it’s high definition, don’t make it ‘here’s me and my cell phone,’ get a professional out there to do it. I know that it’s costly and luckily I work in a high-end marketplace, where the commissions are substantial and I can go ahead and pay for a video for each property or a drone. Certainly, with a country property or any property even in the city, the whole drone thing is absolutely wonderful and I’ve been a very early adopter of that. A very early adopter of the Matterport.

People are very visual these days, I think people want to see inside the property and have a look around and sometimes it’s not physically possible. Sometimes they’re in a different country or the husband’s at the other side of the country and the wife is there looking at the property and we just facilitate the great photos, great video, and it’s a part of the brand that we provide with Torontoism. Even with a house that would need renovations we’ll go in and we’ll do the video, we’ll go in and take the photos. It could be an absolute mess, but I think people need to know what it is they’re getting into. Some people would find the fact that it is a mess very attractive. I think video is the way to go and I’m looking to the next shiny object as well.

Bill: It’s been the year of video in real estate last six years.

Richard: It has been. It’s been at least that since we’ve been doing videos, at least 6 or 7 years and started the community videos, long time ago. And they’ve paid off.

Bill: I want to talk about those community videos for a second. They’re exquisitely shot. I’m not going to ask for you to tell me how much you pay, but those are not cheap.

Richard: I’ll tell you. I work with a guy, he’s absolutely great, love him to death, hard to sometimes pin him down. He charges about 1500 for each of those videos. I can tell you that they have been excellent for my business.

Bill: Anyone listening, it’s . Go to those community pages and check them out, they’re spectacular, they’re kind of like the Gold Standard if that’s what you’re trying to achieve.

Richard: You need to answer the questions that buyers certainly would have – the great restaurants, is there a place where I could take my dog for a walk and not have to worry about having him on a leash. What are the streets, the shops like.. And I think just, what we always have to do is, oftentimes we have to take ourselves back to what it was like before we knew the city or before we knew the real estate business and we have to look at the terminology we use, we have to look at the things, we have to approach it as if we were the shoppers.

It’s very very important that we allow people to experience the city, the country, the housing market as if they had no knowledge of real estate, they had no knowledge of the city and we’re the tour leaders. Don’t make the assumptions that they know exactly what’s going on, what the area is like.. Approach it as they would, or pretend you are the person coming to the town for the first time, and you want to know everything there is to know about a certain area, about the restaurants and shopping, all of that..

And the same thing, when we go to present the agreement of purchase and sale, I think it’s very important for us to not assume that the person has been buying and selling houses the way we have for a number of years. They may have a complete other terminology, they don’t understand what it is we’re talking about, we assume that they do.

Bill: Focus on the customer, not how great of a realtor you are.

Richard: And don’t talk about yourself, talk about the area. And you know what, strangely a lot of people say to me, I’m not very good on camera and I go, yeah, but you will be if you’re talking about the area not about yourself. Because it’s just one of those things that we do every day, we meet people, we tell them about the area, what we like about the area, or even what we don’t like about the area. But that sort of honesty is something that all you’re doing, you’re now doing it in the video, in the writing, that’s the way to go with it. It’s very important.

Bill: I’ve had you here for a half an hour and I’ll wrap up with the same question I ask every guest. If you can give one piece of advice to an agent just getting started, what would it be?

Richard: My advice would be and has always been – Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing, put your head down, work really hard, learn as much as you can, experience as much as you can, do what you do well and what you don’t do well, see if you can outsource it. And that would be my thing. I think a lot of agents start in the business and they’re very focused on the other people who are the newbies. And my first couple of years, I was always watching did somebody else get a listing, did somebody else sell, don’t worry about it, just keep your head down and work hard, and you will do very, very well. Learn as much as you can and again if you find your niche, just keep building on it, because that niche will be your business.

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