By Susan Doran
I would be remiss as a journalist – a profession that dictates that you begin an article with a tantalizing tidbit to capture your readers – if I did not start here by telling you that Calgary mega-agent Sam Corea says he has to ask his super-wealthy clients to get rid of the naked pictures of themselves that adorn their homes “more often than you might think.”
Now, I get why potential buyers might be taken aback by such pictures. But I’m having trouble figuring out why such photos would be there in the first place. Do rich people look better naked than the rest of us? Is there an unusually high number of exhibitionists among multi-millionaires? Or is this is a phenomenon unique to Calgary?
Sadly, Corea has no answers to these questions. All he can say is that his clients are the crème de la crème, residents of Calgary’s posh west end and the inner city.
Nudie shots aside, the million-dollar-plus homes he sells generally need little in the way of staging, as his clients tend to have great taste and an eye for quality, he says. That’s not all that sets Corea and his target market – luxury homes – apart from the mainstream.
Dubbed “the million dollar man” by his colleagues at Calgary’s Re/Max House of Real Estate, Corea was Re/Max’s top-ranked agent in Western Canada last year, and has been among the top 10 Re/Max agents in Canada for the past several years. He ranks in the top 10 worldwide as well. He estimates that he spends $300,000 a year on marketing.
Corea has been involved in upwards of 1,500 transactions in the past decade and says he has about 50 listings at any given time. He works on an offer almost every day, and his client list includes singer Jann Arden (“She has a huge personality. I never appreciated her music until I met her,” he says) and various members of the Calgary Flames.
A native Calgarian, he says that he “caters to his circle of influence” – wealthy clients he’s had for years and their friends.
“I don’t do open houses (they’re not standard with top-end homes, he says) and I don’t prospect … I believe in social networking, old-school techniques, face-to-face,” he says, citing as an example his previous chairmanship of the Alberta Theatre Projects Patron Development Committee.
“Networking with high-net-worth individuals, I met lots of people who would write $1 million cheques …and it all went to a great cause, helping the theatre.”
The current market slide doesn’t scare him.
“Most agents are doing half as much business as before ….but my business has improved,” he says. “When the market is down, top agents do better. We’re getting more qualified calls. In a tough market people want someone with experience, not a friend of a friend who’s part-time.”
But he wasn’t always one of the chosen.
A builder’s son, he learned about trends and quality materials and finishes from his father, who he says “did a lot of high-end millwork and was an old world craftsman,” leading to Corea’s love of upscale homes.
Corea got into real estate at 22 after a stint in the restaurant business. He’s now 38, although “most people think I’m 50, they’ve seen me around for so many years,” he says.
He started as a licensed assistant to a top agent who specialized in luxury homes. Once he ventured out on his own he stuck to the same pricey areas, and he did just fine, by most standards. But by 2003 he felt his business had “plateaued” and he wanted to take things to the next level.
He hired a graphic designer and sunk $100,000 into advertising everywhere from billboards to “all the (business) magazines I could, branding myself as the luxury guy,” he says. “Overnight I changed the look of what I was doing, coming out with my ‘brand’ and the look for my ads that I still have today.”
Within a short time his income tripled and he went from not even being in Re/Max’s top 100 to consistently being in the top 10.
His advice to young sales reps, not surprisingly, is, “Try not to be all things to everyone … Know your market and brand yourself accordingly.”
But be careful what you wish for, he says. “You have to be well funded. Being a luxury home specialist is big win/big loss,” he says. It can cost $4,000 for a glossy full-page ad. And you can spend thousands of dollars marketing a home that winds up not selling.
Before he transformed his business, he was “working hard but not get getting the return,” he says. Now he feels he’s actually working less than before – “a real paradigm shift,” he says. “You have to put in the time in this business and once you do it will pay off.”
He’s highly scheduled – that almost goes without saying.
“Before my son was born I was probably a workaholic. But now I’m very specific about the hours I’ll work. Most deals are done in my office between 9 and 5. . . .The only evenings I work are Mondays and Tuesdays. I work a half day on Saturday and have no appointments on Sunday.”
Corea has three unlicensed assistants, a “user-friendly” website, and 2,500 square feet of private office space that he shares with his wife, who is a designer. He has plans in the works to launch his own glossy magazine with a circulation of 20,000 to showcase his listings. He’s also a wine connoisseur.
“I’m blessed,” he says. “I’ve met some great people. The secret to success is getting in front of the right people.”
Photo by Bryce Meyer