By Susan Doran
Firefighters consistently top the list of the most trusted professionals in Canada, above even doctors, teachers, police officers and judges. And way above real estate salespeople, who struggle to gain respect in a profession still often regarded with distrust.
So, it stands to reason that if you happen to be a real estate sales rep and a firefighter, you likely have a big advantage trust-wise with clients right from the get-go.
And here’s a novel concept – what if you were part of a team of real estate professionals/firefighters? Would wearing a cape and tights be taking things too far? Would the light from your halo keep you awake at night?
It’s unclear whether sales rep Craig Smith has pondered such questions. Born and raised in Newfoundland, he’s been in real estate for over a decade …and has been a professional firefighter for almost twice that long.
Based in St. John’s, he’s adamant that he can give his complete attention, full-time, to both his real estate career with Royal LePage Vision Realty and his position as a firefighter with the regional fire department, which provides services to a quarter-million people.
Smith embraces the fact that his real estate clients tend to respect him right off the bat, knowing he’s a firefighter. “The level of trust there is already created,” he says.
And yes, unique to St. John’s (and probably pretty much anywhere else as well) he is part of an unofficial but soon-to-be-formalized real estate team of licensed agents who also work as professional firefighters.
The team’s name? First Responders, of course.
“The target date for our official launch is the end of June,” Smith said at the time of this interview.
Many people feel that sales reps who have another career cannot possibly have the time to give their all to real estate. Smith appears to burn holes in that theory. He’s a full-time agent and a consistent top producer with the sales awards to prove it, he says. He has often led his office as a top agent and a few years back he was in the brokerage’s top 10 in Atlantic Canada.
He’s won firefighting honours as well, including a “firefighters of the year” team award for a rescue off the area’s sheer ocean cliffs. A member of various specialty teams, including helicopter rescue and high-angle rope rescue, he can on occasion be found rappelling Tom Cruise-style down from a chopper to pluck a stranded hiker off a ledge.
Smith recalls one cliff rescue where a young man fell an astounding 107 metres (which would be over 32 storeys) and survived with barely a scratch because of the protective effects of the alcohol in his system. (In a clear instance of the proverbial silver lining, studies show that whether due to increased relaxation or other factors, the drunker the victim, the more likely he or she is to survive a traumatic injury.)
“I’ve seen pretty much everything,” says Smith.
From all accounts, Smith is the real deal – a true professional, despite having two separate careers. As it turns out, if it’s two careers you’re after, working a firefighter’s hours can be a godsend.
“Firefighting is shift work. I’m on for 24 hours then off for 72 hours,” says Smith. “So, it’s one day on, then three days off. I’m off 75 per cent of the time. That allows me to be full-time in real estate.”
Teamwork, sharing the workload and responsibilities, is also not only important but “actually increases business,” he adds.
Being able to count on his team is particularly helpful during those weekends when he is at the fire station and unable to be at an open house.
Also key is prioritizing and time blocking, Smith says.
“At one time I struggled to find balance between parenting (he and his wife have three boys) and my two careers,” he says. “I was taking on too much and was distracted, trying to make everyone happy… Family comes first. Being there for my kids is important. Now I tell clients there are times I may not answer my phone right away as I am on a soccer field.”
Smith used to keep his real estate and firefighting careers separate, until a marketing expert told him that was the worst thing he could do. It was explained to him that he should take advantage of the respect and trust earned through his career in firefighting.
“Branding is all about being one step ahead of the next promotional system,” he says. (Thus, the fledgling team’s proposed hashtag, #HireThoseYouAlreadyTrust.)
A person “who likes to be moving and productive,” Smith found the vast stretches of downtime in firefighting a struggle, which led him into real estate.
“It seemed a natural way to go, as I have a sales and construction background and a good understanding of building safety codes from working as a fire inspector for years,” he says.
He has found many parallels in the skills needed in his two careers. Among these are “being able to resolve conflicts and to problem solve and make quick decisions.”
His empathetic nature also serves him well.
“Never make it about the commission cheque,” he says. “When I work at the fire hall I make decisions that could save someone’s life. In real estate I help guide people through the biggest purchase of their life. I’m honoured. Most of my business is based on referrals. I consider myself an advisor.”
This is another skill honed at the fire station. Smith is a peer support counselor there, selected for the position by his 200-plus peers.
“It feels good that my peers look to me for help,” he says. “It’s a tough job. If you are not a first responder, you may only be exposed to one traumatic event in your lifetime, whereas we as first responders can be exposed to a lifetime of traumatic events in one day.”
As for the market in St. John’s, certain sectors are struggling, but the good news is that prices have stabilized over the past few years, he says.
“I’ve been quite busy… People rely on me,” says Smith.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.