Since Ray Belluz started selling real estate in 1972, “Belluz” has been synonymous with real estate in Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario.
“Everybody in Thunder Bay knew Belluz Realty, but we realized a lot of people relocating to town would call the top brand instead of an independent,” says Tony Belluz, Ray’s son, who joined his father’s brokerage as a full-time sales representative in 1988 and became its broker of record in 2007. Tony’s wife Allison and their daughter Kelsey are brokers and daughter Breanne also works at the brokerage.
The firm, which employs 22 people, maintains smaller offices in the communities of Terrace Bay and Marathon and has agents covering Nipigon, Schrieber, Terrace Bay and Geraldton, almost 300 km away.
In April the family purchased a Re/Max franchise, renaming the company Re/Max Generations. People like brands, whether it’s Starbucks coffee or Re/Max, Tony says.
“We’ve been a local name for so long, so it’s an adjustment for us, but it seems to be going very well,” he says. For the past 25 years A.R. Belluz Realty has been winning MLS Top Team sales volume awards from the Thunder Bay Real Estate Board. “Now we have the old clients from Belluz Realty and new clients from Re/Max. It’s already increasing our business,” Tony says.
Everyone was involved in making the decision to switch, “not just my father,” says Kelsey. “And knowing Re/Max Integra Ontario-Atlantic is generations of family members, a close-knit group of people to guide you and talk to you just a phone call away, sealed the deal for us.”
The family is impressed by the support the main office gives their franchisees. “They’re a bunch of knowledgeable people that really care about helping you grow your business – (providing) meetings, teleconferencing, helping with recruiting and establishing a better bottom line that you wouldn’t get as an independent,” says Ray. And “we can easily design ads ourselves and do endless things” with Re/Max’s highly developed social media tools, he says. “We recognize that it’s something that will make us successful and we intend to use every bit of it.”
Allison and Kelsey are more comfortable using the new software programs and social media tools than Tony or Ray, but mother and daughter share an office “connected to my dad’s and across from my grandfather’s,” says Kelsey, “so we’re just a quick yell away whenever they need anything.”
Kelsey was 14 when she started working in her family’s realty office after school and still in high school when she began qualifying for her real estate license. “People always had this perception of it being easy for me because of my last name,” she says. “I was basically like anybody else starting out, trying to prove myself. It was actually harder because I didn’t have family or family friends I could sell houses to – they were already dealing with my parents!” While getting her business degree at Lakehead University she took her brokers’ course, sold real estate and bought herself a house to renovate with her father.
“I didn’t let my age be as much of a hurdle as it could have been, but it was a pretty crazy few years,” she says. Now 29 and about to be a new mom, she’s planning to work until the day her daughter is born, then “answer the phone from home and bring the baby to the office,” she says. “I’m not even going to miss a beat with my clients. I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t do what I loved every day.
“In Thunder Bay lots of people rely on Realtors for everything,” Kelsey says. As well as providing introductions to home inspectors, banks, mortgage brokers and insurance companies, “we help new home buyers pick their design features, paint colours, cabinets…and people are so appreciative of it we get friends, family or repeat clients.”
Helping supervise construction as a liaison between buyer and seller is something Ray has been doing since he first got into the business.
“We’ve got a lot of small builders here,” he says. “The biggest might build a dozen to 18 houses in a year, most build three to five. So it really pays to be part of the whole set-up. The builder can stay on the job and get it finished and at the end you have two happy clients instead of us trying to put out fires all the time.”
For at least the last 10 years, Thunder Bay’s population has remained steady at around 110,000, with good schools, a college, a university, a casino and an airport, says Tony. Ray managed to survive when the Thunder Bay market dipped almost 60 per cent by obtaining the rights to sell in some American states, and he also sold property in Florida, “putting in the hours and working my heart out,” he says.
“We have a good rhythm, all of us, and work as a team,” says Tony. He says all the family members share Ray’s philosophy of hard work.
“We spend more time in a day working with our clients and it gives us less time for ourselves, but I enjoy working with my family and coming to work every day, and after the day is done you’re pretty satisfied that you’ve really looked after your people,” Ray says. “We’ve been very successful and Thunder Bay has been very, very good to us.”
He is now 75. “I’ve got a 46-year build-up of clientele, but moving to Re/Max gave us global recognition,” he says. “And once the Belluz bunch is gone and the Belluz name fades, having a Re/Max brokerage will still be an asset.”