By Susan Doran
Tracy Niu immigrated to Vancouver from China 18 years ago with “no idea what to expect.”
Upon arrival in Canada, Niu got a job as a travel agent and tour guide. She had done that back in her home city of Qingdao (base of the well-known Tsingtao beer brewery), but now wanted to try something different. Having earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in China, she soon wound up becoming a financial advisor in Vancouver with the Royal Bank.
“I met a lot of Chinese clients who recommended I get my real estate license,” she says. “They kept telling me we need Chinese Realtors who speak the language.” (Niu speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and English.)
“They pestered me,” she says, laughing.
Niu increasingly grew to like to the idea of a career in real estate. With both a father and a brother who worked as architects, she had always been interested in building and design. And it didn’t hurt that the Vancouver real estate market was smoking hot at the time.
Niu figured she might as well go for it. And go for it she did, with a vengeance.
Real estate turned out to be a great fit. She got her license seven years ago and since then has become a force to be reckoned with in Metro Vancouver’s residential real estate market. She’s a consistent top producer and the leader of the 20-member Tracy Niu Real Estate Group team, which sold more than 250 properties in 2017 (not including presales) and is ranked among the top in the city.
Niu says that the team’s target market is largely Asian buyers and sellers, and that most of its clients are repeat referrals.
Recently she and the team joined Royal Pacific Realty Group’s Kingsway office in East Vancouver. Niu says she struggled with the decision to leave her previous brokerage, New Coast Realty.
“They’re still a good company. They helped me a lot,” she says. “But there was a lot of negative news about New Coast. Many clients said I should leave because reputation is important.”
While at New Coast, Niu found herself the target of allegations by a competing agent of not representing a client’s best interests. The allegations appeared in a Globe and Mail article about New Coast and some allegedly questionable practices. Both Niu and New Coast denied the allegations in a written response to the Globe article and said the listing and sales contracts and history support their version of events.
Other agents at the brokerage have recently been reprimanded and fined by the Real Estate Council of B.C.
The controversy surrounding New Coast may have been at least partially responsible for the push for higher standards and tougher penalties in British Columbia that resulted in the recent overhaul of industry rules and practices and the package of new consumer protections that came into effect in June. They include the prohibition of dual agency (double ending) except in limited circumstances, as well as increased transparency around commissions and who a real estate professional is representing in a transaction.
Niu is in favour of the changes.
“It’s difficult for one Realtor to protect both sides,” she says. “I am happy to see our government taking steps forward to build a healthier industry. The unethical behaviour of a few individuals can have a drastic impact on the overall image of Realtors.”
Vancouver’s real estate industry has long been under intense scrutiny due to tensions stemming from issues such as out-of-control prices, blatantly unethical practises and flipping by speculators.
The widely held belief that foreign buyers are driving up prices has created resentment in some circles. Asked if she ever encounters racism in her business dealings, Niu and her business partner, Allen Wang, say that thankfully they have not.
“We believe that professionalism and diligence will overcome biases,” Wang says. “There is a significant difference between ‘foreign buyers’ and Canadian residents/citizens with different ethnicity. The majority of real estate transactions in Vancouver are done by Canadian residents/citizens. In my opinion and Tracy’s, the reason why prices have been going up is not one dimensional – there are many factors. I believe the cause is fundamental – too much demand (not just from foreign buyers) and not enough supply.”
With her team, Niu hosts as many as 20 open houses each week and often has more than 70 listings at any given time, with a record 78 listings at once.
“Because I have so many listings, sometimes potential clients and other Realtors see all my signs in a neighbourhood and phone and ask if I’m a real person or a robot!” says Niu. “I’m a very hard worker. I thrive on challenge and I have a lot of perseverance.”
She notes that those are key attributes for agents in Vancouver’s complex market.
Being willing to leave your comfort zone is also important, she adds.
“Believe in yourself and have courage. I was willing to take a risk and step into the unknown when I left a career in banking.”
Although there is “still a lot of demand,” the Vancouver market is currently in a slowdown, she says. She attributes this to the impact of tougher mortgage qualifications and various government regulations and taxes, including “the foreign entity tax and the new property transfer tax calculation.”
She advises new agents to “care less about the immediate results – work hard, be disciplined and be patient.
“You’re going to have deals go sideways. You’re going to have difficult clients. It’s a learning experience. Thrive on it.”