Changing with the Times

Bosley Real Estate

Into its third generation with over 220 agents, Bosley has been competently servicing the needs of both commercial and residential buyers for over 83 years. The company is now pursuing expansion into the Niagara on the Lake region. We spoke with Tom Bosley, its owner and president, about the background of this historic firm, the newest trends in the business, and strategies for success.

Mr. Bosley’s grandfather founded the firm in 1928. The younger Bosley came into the business in 1968 at which time 70 percent of the business comprised commercial dealings while the remaining 30 percent was residential. He began in the appraisal department, learning the basic fundamentals of putting a price on property, and then moved into commercial sales. Twenty-foot ceilings and ten-tonne cranes didn’t appeal to him, however, so he went into the residential side of things due to his love of architecture and design. Today the company’s focus has flipped, with about 90 percent of its business resting on residential properties while the remaining ten percent remains commercial.

Bosley Real Estate’s shift in focus has turned out to be a profitable change in course. A large commercial contract can take two to three years to put together, and the way housing values have increased over the last 30 years makes residential sales as big as some of the commercial deals used to be. It wasn’t money, however, that brought Mr. Bosley into residential sales; as he explains, “it was simply the aspect of business that I really enjoy. Today we have 220 residential agents in five offices.”

Interestingly enough, this shift represents the way much of the market has gone over the last 30 years, as the residential side has grown to be considerably stronger than the commercial sector. Big firms concentrating on the commercial market, like Le Page and Royal Trust, have also spent millions on computer systems that Bosley simply could not afford, leaving residential sales a more viable focus for this family firm.

Mr. Bosley bought the firm from his father and uncle in 1985 and has been re-tooling it ever since with a view to the future. Currently Bosley Real Estate is known as a central Toronto full service residential firm. Most family real estate firms across the country are much smaller, and none possess the over two hundred agents that Bosley can boast.

A true family company, Tom Bosley’s wife and daughter are also engaged in the business. His daughter has been focussing on condo sales and the younger generation of buyers entering the housing market for the first time, an area of the marketplace that has been in high gear over the last six years.

Adapting to Changing Markets

Ten years ago Tom Bosley had an epiphany. He recognized the need to change his business philosophy. “It used to be that the person who was buying and selling the house was our client. Suddenly with the advent of computers in real estate with all of the e-commerce sites coming online, I decided that I had to change my philosophy so that everything I do now ensures the success of our sales people. If they are not successful, then I am not successful. My managers are pushing me presently into modern technology with Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc.; they are taking it in that direction.” Currently all of the agents are conducting business with iPads.

As part of its strategy to take advantage of new technologies, the company has incorporated a YouTube channel that is proving extremely useful. Bosley is incorporating more video into its presentations, and agents are encouraged to go out into neighbourhoods to take videos, so that clients coming in from out of town can have a peek at Lawrence Park, or Davisville Village. It is a virtual tour of more than just the residences. Tom Bosley also demands that every agent has his or her own website with a blog; in this way agents are truly “plugged in.”

The buying public has changed significantly since Mr. Bosley first started out in the business. “When I bought my first house back in 1976, I put $1 000 down with a six percent mortgage. Today kids are coming out of university, working for two years and buying into the housing market with their parents assisting them with financing. That didn’t happen in my day.”

Indeed, changes in the market parallel the changing demographics of agents themselves. The average age of real estate agents is around 58, but a shift has taken place over the last ten years with young adults coming out of universities with business degrees and embracing real estate as their full-time occupations. “When I bought the company in ’85,” Mr. Bosley explains, “the average age of our agents was about 60, but technology has changed the business, so for the future I had to start re-tooling operations. Now we have many kids under the age of 35 and they do exceedingly well.”

The market has been escalating steadily. The average price per house in the GTA is $575 000 and even the condos in the city’s central core can run upwards from $350 000. Many parents are helping their children with their first down payment, which allows university grads to enter into the market as opposed to waiting five to ten years until they can afford to do so. The average age of the broker has seen a correlating drop, as firms try to attract and relate to this emerging market.

New Technologies for Success

It takes a lot more than technology, youth, and a real estate license to sell, however. Bosley Real Estate is known for being one of the best firms for training salespeople in Toronto. It has an eight-week course that comprises role-playing with the management group. It’s the theory that knowledge and practice makes perfect, and the program is based on the basics of how the system and industry work. “When you come out with your registration from Real Estate College, they don’t really teach you anything about selling or the mechanics of it. We teach them about everything that’s going to hit them on the street.”

Bosley Real Estate also holds “Mastermind” discussion sessions that last for an hour. Anyone is invited to join and speak with management about anything they like, with open discussions about real estate and what’s happening in the marketplace. The company also provides its employees with iPad training sessions and anything else that is geared to ensuring that the agents are successful. But, it all comes back to interpersonal skills. “That’s one of the things that concerns me with new technology is that this new generation do not have nearly as much face to face communications as previous generations. My grandsons are better at the computer than I am!”

The changes that technology has afforded the real estate industry have led many of the 48 real estate boards across the country to begin investing in these online platforms for buyers to explore potential properties. Eventually it became apparent that boards were spending millions of dollars duplicating each others’ systems, which led to the creation of a national centralized system, housed at Realtor.ca, where everyone can put up a property listing for public consumption.

Agents are now tasked with becoming interpreters of information as opposed to simply providers. The buying public has enthusiastically taken up its new access to information on previous sales and listings, but they are only getting partial information. Because of the Privacy Act, there are some things that are not included with the information available online, like previous sale prices, owners’ names and phone numbers. “We know that 75 percent of people that are buying houses start their search on the net,” says Mr. Bosley. “Prior to having the computer they didn’t get any information unless gathered from the realtor, so we have to interpret the information rather than provide it.” The realtor can tell the buyer about any issues related to a house or condo, such as previous damage, leaks, or zoning issues. The realtor has to be aware of all the background information on a given house and point out any defects, all information that is still typically not found on the internet.

Future Opportunities

Bosley Real Estate is now preparing for an exciting expansion into Niagara on the Lake. “I was approached by two pals that I have known in the business for a long time from Niagara and they asked me if it would be of interest to open an office down there,” Mr. Bosley says of how the company chose its new market. Currently there is more business going on between Toronto and Niagara than ever before. The region is only one and a half hours away from downtown Toronto, and people look to it as a weekend or summer destination. “It’s the same type of clientele as the central Toronto group, so I thought it made sense,” he explains.

One of the keys to the area’s appeal is that property values are quite a bit lower than those in Muskoka, the traditional cottage country for GTA-based urbanites. While the two regions are alike in their natural beauty, it takes up to four hours to make the trip to Muskoka, as opposed to Niagara on the Lake’s comparative proximity. “This could be a lucrative engagement for us down the road. I try to go where the business is, not have the business come to me,” explains Mr. Bosley.

“It is not an over saturated market, which was another factor in deciding to open an office. One of my business philosophies is to have fun and make money. I also find that people that are having fun are successful. If you are not enjoying it, you will not do well. I looked at Niagara and thought, ‘that’s going to be fun.’ I can pick up some wine every time I am there.”

It’s not difficult to understand the company’s success. It has a top-tier training program, knows the market, has masterfully adapted to changes and is now expanding in all the right places. Reflecting on what makes Bosley Real Estate such a successful firm, Tom Bosley explains, “This is very much a people business. To me the whole key to success is to have people working hard – it is not an easy business; it’s 24/7 – but if you enjoy people, and some freedom of time rather than nine-to-five, and seeing the joy on a client’s face when they find the house that they want to buy or selling their house, for those people it’s a marvellous business.”

December 17, 2017, 6:08 PM EST

Critical Thinking

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