When Richard Silver walks into the boardroom at Sotheby’s International Realty Canada’s Toronto office, the veteran Realtor exudes confidence, charm and class. The casually but nattily attired agent immediately puts his visitor at ease.
No one would deign to call the former model, dancer and performer a show-off. But Elton John might disagree, because Sir Elton says, “Performers are all show offs; unless you show off, you’re not going to get noticed.”
Richard Silver is getting noticed!
Three years after joining Sotheby’s Canada, with its 400 agents and offices in 30 residential and resort markets, Silver is consistently among the top one per cent of salespeople in Toronto. He was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Real Estate for 2013 by San Francisco-based Inman News.
Born in Edmonton, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Oregon by majoring in phys ed and kinesiology. A professional dancer and performer, he moved to Montreal 40 years ago before accepting a job at Toronto’s York University, teaching dance. Soon he returned to performing.
When he was interested in buying his first house he took a real estate course “to learn the process.” He was hooked. He obtained his licence in 1980 and knew he’d made the right decision to enter the business when he earned the same income in the first month as a real estate agent as he did working as a dancer the entire previous year. “I gave up performing and became a patron of the arts,” he says with a smile.
In early pre-technology days, he says everything was done by hand, phone, fax or in person. He laughs at the memory of buyers and sellers having to send him a telegram to confirm an Agreement of Purchase and Sale. Thanks to a tech-savvy pre-teen nephew, who is now in his 40s, Silver became an early adaptor of technology when his nephew wrote a rudimentary customer management system that allowed Silver to connect with clients and keep track of his business. Again, he was hooked!
Today, his enviable grasp of technology and social media has made Silver a sought-after speaker on the use of social media in real estate. “I welcome change,” he says. “In fact, the only constant in our real estate business is change.”
Before joining Sotheby’s, Silver worked with other real estate companies, including 15 years with the venerable Toronto firm, Bosley Real Estate, founded in 1928. He says he learned a lot from Tom Bosley, broker of record, and his wife Ann, but several years ago Silver felt the time had come to join an international franchise.
“At first, I didn’t think foreign markets would be of interest to me, but I began seeing more and more showings and offerings from Chinese agents,” he says. He knew there are five Chinese areas in the Greater Toronto Area (Gerrard, Spadina, Town of Markham, Scarborough and Mississauga) and took notice of a large influx of Mandarin-speaking people in the city, including Cantonese from Hong Kong. “China’s middle class has a population of 300 million and they have money to spend.”
He soon realized he needed an understanding of foreign markets, so he obtained his Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation.
Silver adheres to the axiom that happiness and success come from growth, not comfort. And since he loves nothing more than a challenge, he chose to reinvent himself and forge a new path, deliberately and with foresight. He formed a team of several specialists, including Jim Burtnick, broker and senior vice president, sales; Tracy An, who is Asian and serves as translator; and Sherille Layton, British by birth and a recent immigrant with full knowledge of the immigration process. Silver says his team concept is to “find people who are not like me but who complement me.” He adds, “Too many people look for mini-MEs.”
He concedes there is much to learn when dealing with foreign markets and he recommends a book by Terri Morrison, titled Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, which is a guide to proper international business protocol and includes 60 country profiles.
Silver agrees it can be a cultural and technological shock marketing a property within China. He speaks only rudimentary Mandarin and Cantonese, mostly in the form of greetings and very light conversation. Silver says the most important challenge in dealing with a Chinese buyer or seller is patience.
“It is important not to be shocked or insulted by an extremely low offer,” he says. “Negotiation is uppermost in their mind and if a buyer likes a property, they’ll most likely buy it. Just be patient.”
Sotheby’s is considered to be a “rarefied” brand and Silver likes to call it “a marketing company that sells real estate.” He estimates that 30 per cent of his sales are to the Chinese market. He says it is important to make at least one annual trip to China to create and maintain working relationships with people, but it’s a challenge to get through the Great Firewall of China via the Internet.
“It takes an innovative approach and commitment to attract Asian buyers because China has no Google, Facebook or Twitter.” Among his “workarounds” (and keeping in mind the 12-hour time difference), his team uses China-based real estate website Juwai, and China’s most popular instant messaging app, WeChat.
At 67, Silver has no plans to retire just yet. While he does not rule out another re-invention at some point in his real estate career, he says, “My intention is to work as long as I can because I love it.” He and his partner of 18 years like to travel the world and spend time in Puerto Vallarta “for its bright, long, sunny days, the Mexican culture and the ocean.” There is one thing he does not like and he states it unequivocally: “I don’t like Canadian winters!”