When James Milonas became a licensed Realtor at 22, he had a lot of things working against him. “I was Caucasian in a neighbourhood that was predominantly Middle Eastern, and I was gay in a community that wasn’t accepting of it,” says Milonas. He was also one of the youngest Realtors in Richmond Hill.
Not unlike others in their first year of business, Milonas hopped on to doing open houses and got his first lead from an agent who was involved in an $8 million sell-buy transaction. “I’d dress in boxy suits and ties to appear older and changed my voice on calls to sound more masculine and established than I was,” he says.
After four months, when the agent discovered that Milonas was gay, “he told me he didn’t want to work with me. He thought, because I’m gay, I automatically had AIDS,” says Milonas. As devastating as it was to watch a career-making transaction slip through his fingers due to petty ignorance, Milonas was determined to fight against the stereotypes stacked against him. Today at 29, as part of Royal LePage’s Johnston & Daniel division, Milonas is ranked in the top five per cent of Realtors in the Toronto Real Estate Board.*
“There’s a huge camp of LGBTQ+ Realtors in the industry, but even though they’re out there, they’re not out there,” says Milonas. He says in the real estate industry, even today being gay is scoffed upon. It has also earned him several speaking gigs at conferences and TV shows where he’s been invited to share his experiences as a gay Realtor, “but I don’t want to be chosen to speak at an event because I’m gay. That’s not my legacy,” says Milonas.
Since his first year in the business, Milonas has not returned to doing open houses because “I don’t believe in them. There are just too many agents in the city,” he says. Instead, being honest about his sexuality has made Milonas a social media influencer in Toronto with 12,000 followers and counting on Instagram, which is integral to his marketing.
After serving as a member of the Young Professionals Network (YPN) committee of the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board and the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA), early in 2020, Milonas set his sights on running for the board of director elections at OREA. “I was looking at organized real estate, as a whole,” says Milonas, and it struck him that “the majority of directors that have sat on these boards for the last hundred years have all been old, white, straight men. Everyone is so narrow-minded,” he says.
Looking to shake things up, Milonas’ appointment to the board has possibly made him the first OREA director under 30. This also makes him part of a new era of diverse leadership at the organization.
As a director on the OREA board, representing Realtors in the Brampton, Durham Region, Mississauga, Oakville-Milton, Orangeville and Toronto areas, Milonas’ goals are clear – to build the YPN, foster more volunteerism among younger Realtors and push for affordable housing in the city. As a child of immigrant grandparents who came to Canada from Greece with language barriers and few resources, but built a financial legacy over years of hard work, Milonas says “a lot of other immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East come to Canada with the hope to do the same thing, and everybody should have the right to own a home, especially in a country like Canada.
“When I finish with my six-year term at OREA and move on to CREA, I want a thriving YPN to be my legacy,” he says. “I want to build professionalism because as young people, we’re not always viewed as professionals because of our age. And I think that’s bullshit.”
Milonas says that even though he’s been heading an enviable business over the last seven years, he still has to fight for his name, reputation and respect.
His business savvy lies in his unique style of social media marketing. On Instagram, “you get to be your own boss. A lot of people don’t understand how that works,” he says. Gen Z Realtors like Milonas who are bringing social media and blogging into real estate embody the true essence of a “social Realtor,” he says. The majority of salespeople, Milonas says, post on social media about their listings, the neighbourhoods, their clients and their awards. “But I don’t like to be salesy on social media. If you look at my profile, it’s the complete opposite. I never post ‘just sold’, ‘coming soon’, ‘open house’. Everything about my social media is me.”
Milonas says that posting photos of himself in a hot pink leather jacket, rather than a listed house, is what’s going to grab his customer’s attention and set him apart from thousands of competitors in the market.
Despite trying to fit in “because I’m too masculine to be feminine, but too feminine to be masculine,” Milonas says, “I’m just me. I don’t hide behind masks.”
Milonas says he wants younger Realtors to understand that “it’s ok to be who you are,” in the industry.
*The original version of this story said Milonas was ranked in the top five per cent in the luxury niche market.