By Susan Doran
The members of Keller Williams Neighbourhood Realty’s Julie Kinnear Team in Toronto are happy to sympathize with clients who describe – in great detail – their recent knee surgery or their dog’s challenges around house training. And Kinnear and her team are more than willing to be open about their own personal lives as well.
It’s the key to building trust and rapport and that’s what the team is all about, says leader Kinnear. It appears to be working. She says the team has a repeat and referral rate approaching 70 per cent.
“I’ve never been shy. Everyone knows everything about me,” she says. “Our whole business is based on client relationships and referrals….about being a trusted advisor and friend. I have a belief system that if I take care of clients, they will take care of me. Being open, honest and truthful, giving a lot of information, consistency and guidance, that’s our schtick.”
In line with this philosophy, the Julie Kinnear Team chose as their business symbol the Inukshuk – that increasingly pervasive human figure made of piled stones that is central to Inuit culture and represents communication and guidance.
“I am fascinated by it,” says Kinnear, who has a passion for personal improvement. It’s her intention that the Inukshuk symbol sends the message to clients that “we can show you the way.”
At least, that’s for clients who are looking for a kinder, gentler way. “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am is not our style,” says Kinnear.
Think of it like this – if the Julie Kinnear Team was a dating site, it would be one for people wanting a long-term, committed relationship with someone with similar values.
“I will cut clients’ grass, weed their garden, paint their houses – anything to help,” says Kinnear. “We’re looking for a high-trust relationship.”
Like the Inukshuk, real estate teams are very much on-trend these days. Kinnear has been in real estate since 1993 but did not start building a team until early in the new millennium, after becoming a cancer survivor and re-thinking her priorities. Building a team was a way for her to get the help she needed and put some balance in her life.
“Real estate can be a lonely and discouraging business. Having a team means you can have a life too,” she says.
It took a while to find the right mix of people with similar core values. Kinnear started out by hiring a strong admin, which she knew was essential.
For quite some time now (including a move from another brokerage to Keller Williams several years ago), the other team members have been sales reps Jennifer Palacios, Holly Chandler and Tyler Delaney and licensed admin/sales assistant Claire Hartviksen.
“We are a big deal, a top-producing team, a success for many years,” says Kinnear. “We can create more together than on our own. There is a real benefit from years of working together.”
Each team member has a meaningful role and the members all benefit from the sharing of their extensive experience and knowledge, she says.
Being on a team makes life easier when a team member is away, she adds, as the others can step in and take care of business.
Kinnear has had numerous relatives in the industry including her mother and grandfather, so from early on she figured she was probably destined for real estate. But along the way, after studying economics at Carleton University for a couple of years, she ran a College Pro painting franchise and later became a general manager.
It was a crash course in business for which she remains grateful, having started her work with College Pro “so young and dumb” in her recollection.
“It was fantastic business experience, a good foundation,” she says. “It taught me how to run a business and set goals.”
Keenly relationship and systems oriented, Kinnear knows how important consistency is to her clients and to keeping the team dynamic running smoothly.
“Every week we have a team meeting,” she says. “It has changed our whole business.”
It may not sound like much, but without making time each week for scheduled meetings, “things would not get done and it would all fall away,” Kinnear says.
The team also volunteers together at least four times yearly, including at food banks and Habitat for Humanity.
“It is part of having good habits,” says Kinnear. A physical fitness buff, she has participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer for almost a decade.
Another good habit is regular communication with the client base by various methods, including a long-standing bi-monthly newsletter.
“It makes clients feel more connected,” says Kinnear. “We’ll have stuff about our lives and also celebrate clients’ accomplishments, talk about their babies, their new dogs…”
There are also events for past clients, such as Blue Jays games and regular contests.
All “add value to clients’ lives” and have the benefit of making the Julie Kinnear Team “more referable,” she says.
Some other team “systems” that Kinnear deems keys to success are:
- Having a powerful social media and website presence (“We are not just nice guys – we use cutting-edge technology and present listings in the most professional light,” she says);
- Having access to an extensive “sub team” of stagers, web designers, inspectors, lawyers and other independently contracted professionals;
- Maximizing real estate education and training;
- Having a killer database with as much updated information about clients as possible; and
- Maintaining a good balance between personal life and business.
As for Kinnear’s tips for new agents and teams, she cautions against expecting instant success.
“Pick a system. Stick with it and do it consistently. And know that it will take a few years to grow and flourish.”
Also work on constantly improving yourself “through learning and practising positive talk.”
Create strong relationships and remember that the more physically fit you are, the better able you’ll be to handle stress.
“Real estate is like the wild west, full of independent spirits,” says Kinnear, laughing. “Take care of yourself.”