Engel & Völkers is on track this year to match or surpass its Canadian growth in 2017 when it opened 11 new shops and increased its sales transactions by 90 per cent, says CEO Anthony Hitt.
“We’re still very much in expansion mode,” he says.
For example, Hitt says the Hamburg, Germany-based brand is set to open a new Toronto office covering the downtown area. Engel & Völkers will also open an office in the Halifax market this year.
After only a few years in Canada, Engel & Völkers now has about 30 shops in the country and about 400 salespeople (a 22-per-cent increase in 2017 compared to a year earlier). Its sales volume increased by 79 per cent in 2017. On a percentage basis, Engel & Völkers’ Canadian growth is outpacing growth in the U.S., where the brand opened about 25 outlets last year.
Hitt says, “2017 was an incredible year for us in Canada. That trajectory is not slowing down in any way in 2018 either. For those who want a certain level of service and want to be part of a certain type of brand, we seem to be resonating with Canadians right now.”
He says Engel & Völkers’ expansion is well ahead of projections and its “phenomenal” growth proves there is a need in the market for a full service, international brokerage. “Canada is such a huge country (so) there’s a lot of opportunities,” he says. “We have this saying, ‘we are where our clients are in the best locations.’ But the reality is you follow the clients. Our brand expansion has always worked that way.”
Hitt says the offering of real estate brands in Canada “has really diminished” in recent years, except for some of the regional brokers. Engel & Völkers is attracting real estate professionals with a technology platform that connects them and buyers and sellers in Canada to the rest of the world, he says.
He says the company’s shop concept and training gives it an edge. “There’s been a void in the marketplace and high-producing agents have been very attracted to that and they seem to be doing very well when they get here.”
He says all brands say they have incredible listing and marketing tools, but “I do believe we have best in class across the board.”
For example, Hitt says the brand’s Extensive Domestic & Global Exposure (EDGE) product goes beyond traditional syndication platforms when it comes to international exposure.
As “a progressive brand,” Engel & Völkers will be on the leading edge of some of the technology platforms, he says, as long as they provide experiences and are not just gimmicks. For example, Hitt is a proponent of virtual reality or 3D tours, which give home buyers the ability to have a different perspective on properties that may interest them. While not replacing the need to do walkthroughs of properties, it may help eliminate some properties buyers don’t think they need to see, he says.
“It’s been extremely successful. I do believe we have a higher percentage of our listings now with virtual tours than virtually any other major brand.”
Technology has been one of the company’s pillars, he says, “but we know exactly who we are and who we will continue to be. And that is first and foremost a company that helps buyers and sellers buy and sell real estate… and occasionally a yacht or plane as well.
“We’re a listings-centric company, we’re an agent-centric company and because of those things the top-producing agents – the listing agents – like this brand.”
He says many real estate brands have “kind of lost sight of who they are. One thing that we are very adamant about is that we do provide a brand experience, so we’re looking for advisors who will provide that brand experience on a global scale.”
He isn’t worried that factors that could put a damper on the economy, such as the potential failure of the NAFTA agreement, will have an adverse effect on the company. In the luxury market, people who are buying and selling are usually going to be where they want to be.
“I don’t have any concerns about Canadian real estate long-term and in most cases short-term.”
He is unable to forecast how big he’d like Engel & Völkers to become in Canada. “We’re not a market share-driven brand. We’re really focused on the right people and the right places to provide the right level of service. We’re a big believer in leading with quality and following with quantity.
“We’re not going to move faster than we need to,” Hitt says, but “there’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of people who are looking for something different when it comes to their real estate professional.”