What surprised Michele Cummins the most when she started her real estate career?
“In real estate they have this ‘have your cake and eat it too’ mentality,” she says. “As in, ‘We’re all Realtors here and we’re all one big happy family,’ and then the next thing you know, your Realtor “family member” is actually your most cutthroat competitor.
But looking back now, she’s not sure why she was surprised. When there are a dozen local Realtors vying for the biggest listing in town, cutthroat competition is expected. This made Cummins more resilient and less lazy, she says. In other words, she picked the hard way by presenting her genuine self to clients and Realtors.
In 2016 and 2017, she was Re/Max’s No. 1 selling agent in Fraser Valley, B.C. and one of the top one per cent agents Canada-wide. Now Cummins juggles her full-time real estate career, based at Re/Max Little Oak Realty in Mission, with co-hosting Fraser Valley’s only real estate radio show alongside radio personality Curtis Pope on Country 107.1 FM.
Cummins says the secret to her success is simple: “do what it takes. If nobody in my town knows who I am, I go knock on doors. If I’m expected to knock on doors, in the rain, on a Sunday when the game’s on, then yes, that’s what I’ll do. If my client wants to call me at 9 p.m., then I’ll do it, even if I had plans for a movie night,” she says.
Indeed, it’s a door knock that earned Cummins her first sale in the first month of her career. When she knocked on the doors of her first listing, a couple opened the door. They instantly suspected her because at 28, Cummins looked 10 years younger. “Are you new?” they asked. “Yes,” she said. “And because I’m new, I have the energy, the newest rules and laws and the most updated information at hand, because I just went through all the courses. I’m eager and hungry and I want to help you make the most money.”
“Well, come on in,” replied the couple. “We like your energy. Have a look at our place. We’re thinking about selling.”
She helped the couple sell their home and buy a new one. That was 20 years ago. They remain in touch with her to this day and exchange gifts on Christmas, every year.
Cummins didn’t intend to be in real estate. She bumped into it by happenstance.
An American transplant, Cummins has “been making her way north” since she was in her teens. When her family moved from California to Oregon, she was 13. Homeschooled by her mother, she helped her parents in their family-owned candy and gift store. At 15, she got her GED that allowed her to enter college. Cummins grew up in the country surrounded by acres of farm and horses. She developed a love for horses that quickly led to her breeding them and competing in Oregon’s horse circuit. At one point, her family owned 20 horses.
Cummins also had a love for acting. Her Hollywood dreams weren’t too far fetched. She grew up performing in community theatres and traced her ancestry back to MGM Studios, where her great-grandfather worked for 50 years, her cousins acted and her father manned the special effects for seven years. Acting was in her veins. In 1998, when her boyfriend, soon-to-be husband and Canadian musician Richard Cummins alerted her to Vancouver’s reputation of being “Hollywood of the north”, she knew what her next port of call would be.
When they moved to B.C., Richard found them a small cottage at a horse breeding farm owned by a Saudi couple who were doctors living overseas but needed a manager to look after their Swedish warmblood Olympic horses. This was a win-win deal.
While pursuing touch-and-go acting jobs, Cummins also worked at a car and truck rental. One day a Realtor with car trouble requested a rental while his car got fixed. Impressed by Cummins’s computer skills behind the counter, he quickly offered her a temporary job to help him as an office assistant. Cummins says, “It was a Tuesday. He showed me his office where he didn’t have a computer. He was old school, but his office was amazing. I met his manager, and then at the end of that one-hour walk-around, I said, well, if I do this, I would want to be a Realtor.”
Since then, Cummins hasn’t looked back.
Her training in the arts was put to good use too. In September 2018, Country 107.1 surveyed the region’s top selling agents to co-host a real estate radio show for their listeners in Langley, Surrey, Abbotsford, Mission, Maple Ridge, Richmond and North Vancouver. They called upon Cummins, and in short order, she got the job.
“Being a radio show host is definitely something that you have to grow into,” says Cummins.
With Curtis Pope, her show is like listening to two good friends having a conversation about real estate over coffee. While information-heavy, the question-answer format of their show allows them to convey boring stats engagingly.
“I add to this things like a hot topic where I will do a mini essay on a relevant and current industry issue, and because of the ever-changing market and rules, this is a good reason to tune in weekly,” she says.
The president of Canadian Home Builders’ Association, innovative builders, home inspectors, lawyers, mortgage brokers and other trusted subject matter experts are often invited as guests of the show.
Nowadays, Cummins finds herself toggling between getting straight to the point with her real estate clients off-air and elaborating the point on-air. “Every second counts in radio. On the radio, people want to hear the multiple layers to an answer, and all the factors that bring you to the eventual reasoning. The ‘why?’ factor. Elaborating is the core of good radio, and so I have to shift into that mode when I get in the studio,” she says.
Over the years, Cummins has become a keen student of the real estate market. She likens it to climbing a mountain where there are peaks and valleys. “It goes up for about two to three years and then it always corrects about 10 to 12 per cent, before stagnating for an average of seven years,” she says. She predicted the price correction after spring 2018, and since last year, transactions for most Realtors in her region have halved, she says. Realtors are having to work harder and market more creatively.
Having her radio show has certainly helped Cummins’s career from a marketing standpoint. Most valuable, however, is the respect she receives from her peers.
For Cummins, real estate is more than a nine-to-five job. “Build your reputation, document your success, be innovative with your services, and you will have plenty to bring to the table in a client interview without ever having to resort to only looking good by making others look bad,” says Cummins.