By Susan Doran
Arty Basinski dubs himself “the real estate agent for people who don’t want a real estate agent.”
A Toronto-based sales rep who “tries to be as real as possible,” Basinski has what he refers to as “a side gig” as a circus drummer. He’s been at both vocations for about eight years, and says that regarding the latter, he’s been booked to perform at everything from festivals and parades to weddings and concerts.
“I’m an artist who happens to be a real estate agent,” says Basinski, who’s with cloud-based eXp Realty.
Searching Basinski’s name fetches items containing intriguing phrases like “circus debauchery.” Further investigation reveals that his particular brand of big-top fast living doesn’t involve eloping with a contortionist or two, but rather juggling, fire spinning, stilts and drumming, often simultaneously.
Let’s face it, the real estate biz is not short on the hum drum, the conventional, the vanilla. Here we have a guy who along with marching to a different drummer, is a different drummer.
There’s more. Via his personal brand, Real Estate By Bike, Basinski sets himself apart from other agents through his emphasis on “cycling culture,” biking to appointments rather than using his car. (“Sometimes I cheat if it’s out of town,” he admits.)
“I was already biking around anyway and I wanted to stand out,” he says. “There’s a billion agents in Toronto, but if you’re on a bike it’s something different.”
There’s a promotional sign on his bike, so he’s hard to miss.
He’s found that biking can give him an edge on the competition, as his knowledge of the city is more thorough than that of agents who drive everywhere. “I get to see the city in between the roads – the little parks, the alleys, the back streets.”
His goal has never been to win production awards. “I like to take my time with clients. For me it’s quality over quantity,” he says. “I do good. I own a cool place. I don’t need a Lexus with heated seats.”
Despite not playing a numbers game, several years back he was voted Best Real Estate Agent in Toronto in the reader’s choice edition of NOW, a free, local, alternative weekly newspaper seen both in print and online.
He’s given some thought as to how this came about. “It’s a popularity contest. I think people who read NOW are a younger demographic, in touch. NOW is pretty left, and I am the most left agent there is. And NOW promotes cycle culture, art and music. So I am most relatable to readers in that aspect.”
He neglects to mention that it seems he has some wicked alternative marketing skills.
Last year he added rapper to his resume, in a way that combines his artistic side with his real estate career. You may have seen his work, notably his comical musical/marketing performance in Lil Yellow House, which went viral, now having almost 65,000 views, he says. Although he has a solid social media presence (asked who he targets, he responds, “whoever!”), he says that most of his business comes from friends and word of mouth. The listing for the small, semi-detached bungalow that spawned the rap video is no exception.
The house was priced around $500,000, making it the most affordable listing of its type in Toronto at the time. But it was in rough shape and Basinski figured it couldn’t hurt to give it an extra push with some outside-the-box marketing.
“My friends (the clients) were quirky. I hung out the idea of doing something different.”
They were game.
The result was the Lil Yellow House video, a rap parody which Basinski produced and wrote himself, taking viewers on a tour of the house and neighbourhood.
Here’s a sample:
“Little yellow house is nice and cosy. Come on in if you’re feeling a bit nosy.
Design your very own dream creation, with a full renovation. And rent it out
for $2Gs, collect all the monies. Fact that’s affirmative, a condo alternative.”
Basinski and the listing got loads of media coverage and interest. The house sold for close to asking. In a television interview, host Ben Mulroney pointed out that thanks to the video, Basinski had managed to “cut through the noise” as a Realtor.
“I knew the video would get some traction,” says Basinski. “I didn’t know it would be that much.”
He plans to continue to use music as a marketing tool where appropriate.
Born in Poland, Basinski and his family came to Canada when he was a child to escape communism. He didn’t like being “the new kid.” In high school his passion for music found expression and as a result he began playing in various bands.
As time went along music wasn’t paying the bills, so he also worked in construction. His mother, a Realtor, suggested he try real estate. He liked the look of her lifestyle, which he perceived as “going out to brunches” and making money hand over fist.
So he took the plunge, although he wasn’t sure it was a career choice that suited him. “I never wanted it to be my thing,” he says. “That was not my intent.”
The brunches and easy money weren’t happening either. “At first I really struggled. It was frustrating.”
As he gained experience, he came into his own. Increasingly his business practices reflected his personality. Take for instance one of his standard house-warming gifts to clients – individualized waving “lucky cats,” those Asian figurines which are believed to bring luck. “I buy them in Chinatown, paint them and add personal touches and trinkets to personalize them,” Basinski says.
In future he may have some extra help; he’s thinking of starting a team and/or coaching other sales reps on marketing.
All things considered, his main tip for other agents comes as no surprise.
“Don’t take it so seriously,” he says. “Try to have fun with it.”