By Sohini Bhattacharya

“One day I wasn’t doing very well. I was feeling down. Then my mom said to me, ‘you know Richard, you have a choice, you can be happy or unhappy. You’ve just got to grab the brass ring.’”

Richard Wallace never forgot the advice his mother, Iris Wallace, gave him when he was still a budding Realtor in his 20s back in the 1970s and he swears by it even today. Now the retired patriarch of Richard Wallace Real Estate in Port Carling, Ont., he built a company “selling sunsets” and million-dollar cottages along the Muskoka shoreline. In a career spanning 45 years, he sold cottages on more than 40 miles of shoreline along Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph – many of them several times over. At $10,000 a foot in the prevailing market, the mind boggles to imagine the entire value of real estate he has sold.

Founded by Iris Wallace, the firm is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year under the current co-ownership of Richard’s brother-in-law, Douglas Pain, and his 36-year-old son, Adam Wallace.

The Wallace name is not only synonymous to Muskoka’s real estate heritage, it’s one of the bricks that built Muskoka, and traces its oak-like roots back to the late 1800s.

Richard’s great-grandfather and grandfather came to Muskoka on land grants and settled in Port Carling and Minett in the 1890s. At the time they intended to cultivate farming lands, but after reaching Muskoka and realising that most of their land was on water, they decided to make their living off the pristine lakes that dot Muskoka. “There wasn’t any dirt, so they logged and did whatever it took to exist. They also built a Catholic church in Bracebridge,” says Richard.

The Wallace men (Richard’s grandfather, his father and his brother) built Viola M – a 36-foot cruise boat – in the early 1900s, which the family used to give tours to guests of resorts and hotels in the area. One of those resorts belonged to Douglas Pain’s father. They worked 14- to16-hour days, seven days a week, making much of their income from cottagers and hoteliers, says Richard.

Iris became a Toronto real estate professional in the 1960s. Richard, 11, ventured into sales, selling bait, gas and maple syrup from their gas station. In 1972, he earned his real estate license and in short order his mother launched their company in 1978, adding cottages to the family’s business inventory. “When we had the gas station back then it was great, because someone would come in for a gallon of gas and then we’d sell them a piece of real estate, which we did many times,” says Richard.

He credits his mother for being the driving force of their real estate firm and imparting valuable ancestral knowledge of the land and its people. Based on his inherited knowledge of Muskoka, he (and his family) continue to build a “history of experience” and trust that their clients rely upon. “People come to us, because they know that we know what we’re doing. We know Muskoka. Same as Doug, we (Richard and Adam) inherited the knowledge and that’s easy to impart to our clients,” he says.

Pain’s forefathers arrived in Muskoka a year after Richard’s. Like Richard, Pain worked alongside his and Richard’s father, inheriting local knowledge that one can only gather by working close to the Muskoka land and its marina.

Over the years, Richard has seen the real estate industry in Muskoka evolve in leaps and bounds. From competing with a dozen local salespeople in their area to more than 100 on their street, from selling homey cottages at $50,000 in the 1970s to selling luxurious cottages worth millions to celebrities today, he and his team have done it all. The threads that tie their myriad experiences together is that of honesty toward their clientele and an intrinsic understanding of people and relationships – skills that aren’t taught in real estate school. Coupled with their multi-generational know-how of Muskoka, the brokerage has withstood the challenges of selling in cottage country.

“Every property out here is different. The land’s different. In the city, the house or the building may be different, but the land’s exactly the same,” says Pain. “Selling cottages in Muskoka is weather-determined, and very different from selling property in the city,” adds Adam Wallace.

Despite having combined selling experience of over 40 years, Pain and Adam turn to Richard for advice on patience and people skills – critical real estate tools. “Richard is very patient and great with people. He’s very likeable,” says Pain.

“Some years can be tough. You’re not selling chocolate bars,” says Richard. He remembers a year when he sold two properties to two clients, both of whom he’d nurtured for eight years. “It’s not just about the money. You have to be patient. We’re selling a Muskoka lifestyle. If you want to come here, you must want the lifestyle and have the affordability for it,” he says.

Indeed, those who cottage in Muskoka can afford to cottage anywhere else in the world, says Adam, and yet they chose Muskoka and defer to Richard Wallace Real Estates’ established expertise in the matter. “When you’re dealing with such influential people, you have to be real. You can’t fake it because these people will pick up on that falsehood,” says Richard.

Even after retirement as the broker of record, Richard still comes into his corner office at 111-1 Medora St. in downtown Port Carling and works as a broker, seven days a week. He believes that Pain and Adam’s leadership represents old-fashioned values that are bolstered with new-age tools – a rare character that’s preparing the firm its fourth generation, in an increasingly competitive cottage market.

“The key to success is survival. You have to grab the brass rings,” says Richard.


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