Realtors go beyond a bottle of wine with personalized and elaborate closing gifts
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Realtor Sandra Pike displays gifts that she presents to clients in Halifax on Friday, April 6, 2018. Pike favours Tiffany wine glasses as a token of her appreciation after closing a deal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
TORONTO – Every time Toronto realtor Mike Donia helps a client close on a home, he drops some money of his own.
Sometimes he spends it on a trip to stateside hockey game with former NHL star Bobby Hull and others to be chauffeured around Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighbourhood in a Ferrari.
His other splurges include massive home murals, bringing in ponies for a birthday party on a three-acre property, 1,000 bouquets of fresh flowers and $3,000 of Godiva chocolate flown in from Europe.
But these aren’t self-congratulatory treats for Donia. They’re gifts he’s given clients to thank them for entrusting him with one of the biggest purchases they’ll make in their lifetime.
They’re also a sign of how some realtors’ closing gifts have stretched beyond the standard houseplant or bottle of wine to become more thoughtful, personalized and sometimes, extravagant in an increasingly competitive race for clients amid a Canadian housing boom.
“They are getting more generous,” Donia said in a call from Bangkok. He works from Asia for one-third of the year.
“Real estate has become cutthroat. A lot of people are even cutting their commission…My feeling is if I take you and your son down to a (Toronto Maple) Leafs game and walk you into the dressing room, it’s like Mastercard. It’s priceless.”
Donia said he goes to such lengths because “I grew up poor and I thought: what could someone do for me as a kid to make my place brighter?”
His efforts reflect his client base, which includes international buyers and some notable names, but those whose customers aren’t as deep-pocketed or star-studded still said they’re seeing realtors get creative with their thank-you trinkets.
They’ve noticed appliances, signed sports memorabilia, subscriptions to wine-of-the-month clubs or bi-weekly treat boxes, water colour or oil paintings of the property being bought and spa days are all becoming common.
Amanda Miller, a realtor at Slavens and Associates in Toronto, said she often makes donations to children’s charities or non-profits and causes that are dear to her client’s heart.
She also pays special attention when clients mention future renovations they have planned for their new home, their hobbies or what their kids enjoy because they could lend themselves to gift card ideas.
“I really, really make an effort to get to know the clients extremely well,” she said. “You don’t want to give Client A a huge gift and Client B something else. I think that’s why real estate agents are trying to keep it personal. If you personalize something you can’t put a price tag on it to compare it.”
Sometimes Miller’s gift isn’t something her clients can unwrap, but still manages to pack a lot of value. For example, she once worked with a client whose condo she thought needed to be staged, but it wasn’t in the woman’s budget. Miller forked over the cash for staging as a gift to the client and said it paid off when the woman got the maximum selling price for the community of buildings she was living in.
Most real estate associations across the country said they aren’t aware of any regulations keeping homeowners from accepting a realtor’s gift, but a few cautioned that it should be made clear that the gift is not a referral fee, which could contravene legislation or professional standards in some provinces.
Real estate agents say they consider gifts an extension of the relationship they build with a client, which often lasts years after they get a paycheque.
Halifax-based realtor Sandra Pike’s go-to closing present used to be a gift card, but in recent years, she decided to “step up my game” and start giving Tiffany and Co. wine glasses with a bottle of bubbly.
“We don’t have Tiffany here, so it is a big thing,” she said. “Not only do they see a sold sign on the lawn, but they are coming into their kitchen and seeing the gift on the counter and it’s quite something.”
She’s heard of others hosting and paying for housewarming parties for clients or treating them to an afternoon cruising along the Atlantic coast, but also some who skip closing gifts. Those who don’t indulge are missing the big picture, she said.
“We work with these people and develop relationships,” she said, noting that real estate is an industry where a single transaction will net thousands in commission for the agent and potentially more clients later.
Vancouver-based realtor Jerome Deis said that appreciation is especially important in the competitive real estate environment, in which clients have a lot of choice.
He said he’s heard of realtors nixing closing gifts and instead visiting clients multiple times throughout the year with smaller gifts, like a grill set or sauces around summer in order to stay top-of-mind for clients.
Others drop the gift and lower their compensation on the sale in hopes that it will have a lasting impact because they recognize the importance of their client’s loyalty.
“If you maintain a relationship with them you will get business from them and any referrals,” Deis said.
“If you have a client, you want to hold onto them and hopefully for life.”
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