Are you a real estate agent interested on taking full advantage of internet technologies to drive your business? Are you data-driven, and not afraid to learn complex technical skills? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ll love today’s Top Agent podcast.
Today’s Top Agent is Sterling Wong, Broker of Record at Search Realty. Sterling began his real estate career in 2005 as a real estate mortgage broker and has become a major player in the GTA’s real estate.
Search Realty was recently ranked the fastest growing real estate brokerage in Canada and was just ranked in 38th place in Maclean’s Magazine’s Growth 500 list of the fastest growing companies in the country. With nearly 200 employees, Search Realty shows no signs of slowing down.
Sterling story is a classic “picking yourself up from your boostraps” one. When he created Search Realty back in 2012, he had just recently moved to Mississauga, where he had no friends, family or capital. Any established real estate agent knows how essential it is to tap into your circle of influence to get your business started and find some quality leads.
However, Sterling had a couple of skills that made him stand out from his peers: his knowledge of internet technologies, and his willingness to out-hustle his competition. In the podcast, Sterling explains how he and associates managed to get to the top 10 spots in organic Google searches for Mississauga real estate, and how after succeeding, he and his associates took advantage of paid advertising options such as Google Adwords.
While he swears by a philosophy of hard work and “sweat equity”, he is a huge believer in working smart. Though many influential marketers put heavy emphasis on dominating organic search results in Google, Sterling admits that most of Search Realty’s current traffic is paid. Though he never claims that organic traffic isn’t important, he feels that it takes too long to build up and get the results he wants.
Though a lot of controversies have emerged from the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear TREB’s appeal regarding the release of the GTA’s home sales data, Sterling feels it was a good one. Opening up house sales data makes it possible for MLS competitors such as Zillow, and Trulia to have a greater share of listings, which were previously monopolized by MLS, and allow buyers and seller to make better decisions.
If you want to get a closer look at how Sterling managed to create one of the fastest growing companies in Canada, and how he leveraged his tech skills to do so, listen to the full interview above, or continue reading the interview below.
Subscribe to Top Agent Podcast on Apple, Google, and Stitcher or take a moment to read the transcript below.
Kosta: In this episode I’m speaking with sterling one, the broker of record and principal at Search Realty. Sterling launched search realty back in 2012 and really made his mark in the real estate game through his online focus and tech savviness. Search realty was just ranked the number one fastest growing real estate brokerage in Canada and it was just named in Maclean’s growth. Five hundred list of fastest growing companies. We chat about everything from online marketing, the recent Supreme Court ruling on tribe and much, much more. I had a really great time chatting with sterling and this is an episode you want to listen to in full.
Sterling, thank you so much for joining me today. I really do appreciate it. I was really excited for this call.
Sterling: Yeah, no problem.
Kosta: Awesome. So search realty was recently ranked number one fastest growing real estate brokerage in Canada and ranked number 38 on Macleans, 2008 growth, 500 list of fastest growing companies. Uh, first off. Huge. Congratulations on that. That’s such an amazing accomplishment. Before we do get into that, can you just tell our audience a little bit about yourself and your background?
Sterling: Sure. Yeah. I started to read my real estate mortgage career in 2005 and became a mortgage broker. Um, and then a couple of years later a couple my real estate license with Remax, um, and then like my, I’m from kitchener and Cambridge area, so when I moved to Mississauga I didn’t have their friends and family to tackle. Um, so the only way I knew how to generate business was online. So at Remax, you know, we obtained one agent, he’s still with us and um, you know, how to admin staff and kind of grew the lead gen into it a couple of years later, started search realty, uh, and then yeah, kind of just evolved it.
Kosta: Amazing. So, you know, you hit the ground running without no connections, no referrals, just strictly online focused and that’s pretty awesome.
Sterling: Yeah. And no capital either. I didn’t, I didn’t have, you know, the big wallets to uh, to push it in anything. So everything was sweat equity and bootstrapped it. And that’s kind of a, that’s kind of the philosophy that I brought on to search realty and the whole idea of having an agent succeed without having any friends, family or capital.
Kosta: Oh, there’s nothing I love more than a nice bootstraps story. Something I can definitely relate to. Our company’s fully a bootstrap as well. Still is. So Ah, yeah, it’s awesome to connect with fellow bootstrappers. So you launched a search realty in 2012, right? Correct. Brokerage is obviously very unique in that it’s very online driven, which is a huge value proposition to attract buyers and sellers, but certain type of realtors as well. Um, what, what are some of the biggest changes, and I’m sure there’s been a lot that you’ve seen in the online real estate space and the last six years since you last. She didn’t since you launched a search realty.
Sterling: Yeah. So what I learned is, you know, at the beginning with remax and the beginning stages of search realty, we generated a, all of our leads through a organically through Seo. So we had a technique kind of called it a multi organic. So, you know, the Google, the first page results is 10 results. Um, we wanted to be, you know, somebody typed in Mississauga, holy for sailor Toronto is your sale. We want to be number one, two, three, four, five and so on. Um, and we were accomplishing that and I think I still remember the date is April 26, 2012. There’s a google panda update and adjust. Matt Cutts, he, he specifically said we’re targeting the real estate industry. So we had to move the ship into an entirely different direction. Um, we, we kind of pick ourselves back up and the Seo game and um, but it wasn’t enough so we shifted towards paid advertising through Google adwords and that was a big shift and it was a positive shift because that’s what gives us the leads on demand, sort of waiting for your search engine results to show up. It takes a long time with ad words were able to get up there, you know, the next day.
Kosta: Yeah. That makes, that makes sense. So That’s interesting. So would you say most of your online traffic and leads now are paid instead of organic? Like it once was?
Sterling: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were revamping the site. So I don’t want to put too many resources into the site until it’s like we after a lot of research and analysis of what’s going on and with real estate and the search engine results, um, I do is the backbone. There’s a certain infrastructure that’s required, um, so until we’re totally working on building that infrastructure, um, and then we’ll be putting more resources in the organic way. But um, as for now, yeah, the paid ads is just exactly what a,
Kosta: what’s working for us or do you just find, do you find the organic route just, you know, not as effective anymore or just as it does it take too long or is it just more competitive? Any thoughts on that?
Sterling: Yeah, it takes too long. That’s one major factor. Like if we agree now we partnered with Regus and, and uh, you know, having been a google partner, so if he wanted to open up an office in Vancouver, we can open up an office through regus, just call my regus guy. He lives up in the office for us and then, you know, through Google me, you can generate leads the next day if I was doing this organically and I tried to be number one in Vancouver for the Vancouver homes for sale, that’s going to take a long time. And I, you know, that’s,
Kosta: that’s just taking too long. No, makes total sense. Perfect. I’m one of the big changes recently, sort of sticking to the online world. There’s this supreme court decision that order to trap to release a sold listing data. Right. There’s obviously a lot of mixed reaction around that decision, particularly with realtors. I mean, I’ve heard a lot of realtors worried about that decision. Right. What are your thoughts on that?
Sterling: I’ve been, I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. I’ve been pushing this for a while and I think most wheelchairs, they’re missing the big picture and you know, the most, most of the realtors that we have something in common and we don’t like the think the Comfrees, the FSBO’s as the commission cutters, but they’re only able to succeed because in Canada, you know, our lifeblood is mls, realtor.ca. Like, that’s, that’s all we have. Right? And, and, and that’s why these one percent guys and these commissioners, they’re able to succeed because they can just put it on mls in it and essentially it’ll sell, you know, the price is right, et Cetera, et cetera. Um, but you know, as you know in the states, a realtor.ca or realtor or mls, if you’re a realtor down there, um, and you have a house to sell, no mls is not your first option, is maybe your third option.
Sterling: You have the Zillow, Trulia, then mls. So basically there’s a lot of competition and it opened up the market and they’ve found that, you know, the way from five percent average commission to six percent because customers, they’ve seen value. Now I’m so if it, once that happens down here, it’s going to open up the competition. That’s what the goal was for the competition bureau for the zillows a to come into Canada and compete with mls because right now it is on the. So is that being said, it was commission cutters. They wouldn’t be able to afford putting it on putting their houses for sale on mls and on zillows, you know, it’s gonna eat away into the revenue. And essentially we demoed. But a lot of realtors, they don’t see that big picture. Um, and of course I see it as an opportunity. You know, those. One of the first things when I got into real estate is, is to vision to have a site that competes with mls because right now there’s nobody competing with them.
Kosta: Oh yeah, I totally agree with you there. It’s definitely a huge opportunity. I like to use a very simple analogy. It’s like baking. Even though there are a ton of step by step instructions and ingredients online about how to bake a cake, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and bake my own cake and bakeries are going to go out of business. So if a realtor knows the value they’re providing and can articulate that value properly, then you’re good. If not, you’re simply not confident in the service that you’re providing and the value that you’re giving to your clients. That’s how I see it.
Sterling: Everything’s an objection handler like, like you said, you know, I will work with the lawyer. I’m a in the GTA and they do a lot of transactions for the remax is for the, for a lot of agents, not just our brokerage and you know, asked her size that it. Just sort of curious curiosity, what, what is the average commission that you’re, that you’re seeing on the listing side? Uh, know in Toronto you see a lot of, uh, you know, one percent this and that. Um, and surprisingly enough her answer was two to two and a half. Wow. Yeah. That was, you know, kind of let, it was an interesting answer because, uh, would see those ads everywhere. But, you know, the lawyer sees there wasn’t, sees the actual commission that’s being exchanged and that’s not one percent.
Kosta: Oh, I’m surprised to hear that as well. Interesting. So shifting gears a little bit again, being so online driven and your brokerage now having over 150 agents now.
Sterling: Yeah. Yeah. We’re approaching 200.
Kosta: Okay, awesome. Um, what are some of the skill sets you’re looking for in agents and uh, are you kind of selective on who you bring on board to search realty?
Sterling: Yeah, we generally, uh, like, uh, aside from the, uh, you know, the risk of council have questions and we have a set of questions. So first we have to see if there’s any kind of, um, conflicting interests that they might have. So there’s a questionnaire on that. Um, and then that aside, we look into what were they doing before they got into real estate. Do they have sales experience? Um, and, and that’s, uh, it’s a, it’s a big factor in someone’s success is, um, is there a board to do this or not?
Kosta: Yeah. Do, do you look at like their tech savviness as one of the caveats?
Sterling: No, no, because, uh, we might be a lot of it. You just think we’re a tech savvy brokerage but you don’t have to be tech savvy, um, to use our system and be successful, you know, you get the leads, you call them and you know, you can just leave it at that. You don’t have to delve into the tech and tools that we offer.
Kosta: Yeah, I find that’s a huge misconception as well, just because things are online driven. I mean the tools nowadays are super easy to use. Right, alright. You don’t have to be tech savvy to use a handful of software’s nowadays, so
Sterling: yeah. And it’s very, it’s a very small percentage of guys like me and you who are into the tech. Whereas if you just focused on techie agents, it’s, you’re not going to get that many agents.
Kosta: Yeah, absolutely. The first shots for sure. So dealing with hundreds if not thousands of agents over the last several years, what are some of the biggest challenges that you see agents face nowadays?
Sterling: Personal development is a, is by far the number one. Um, you know, when we were small, only a few agents working the leads. It’s always the same agents. And before it was, oh, this, oh, he’s getting, he’s only taken the good leads. That’s why he’s converting now that we’re larger more agents now they can’t see that because it’s always the consistent agents who are closing. Um, but uh, yeah, sorry, I forgot. So it’d be a challenge because agents, so you mentioned personal development, right? Yes, yes. Yeah. So then we got a lot of agents who are very gung Ho, excited to hop on, and then when we distribute the leads to them, the, they don’t get called, they’re not, they’re not calling it and said, you know, me and the manager, um, we’re just really. Sometimes we did a, you know, just, I don’t know what the word is, just like stunned and just not sure of what of human behavior because you have a no pile of leads here but you’re not calling so that it becomes a personal issue.
Sterling: And then we, we don’t like, there are key metrics that we look into, you know, the call to appointment ratio, lead to close ratio, all these stats that we, that we monitor each agent’s progression so we can identify where they’re dropping the ball. So if they’re, you know, they’re calling the call to a pirate ratio is really low. It’s easy to identify that it’s a script or something along those lines. But this is, they’re not even calling. So what we notice that we work, uh, you, this is a little off off the traditional form of trading. But uh, we work with a hypnotist, uh, so one of our agents was just afraid to make calls to go see Irene are hypnotists. I’m just three and a half hour session and now he’s one of our top agents and he’s loving being on the phones, you know, so like you can do years of psychology to find out why is this guy afraid of being on the phones or you know, you can go through the back door, go through the hypnotists few hours later and now he’s loving being on the phones, you know, that’s crazy.
Kosta: That’s amazing. I’ve never heard that before. It was at. So he totally changed from being scared to pick up the phone to being a top salesman. Was that only one session or was it.
Sterling: Yeah, she will record the session so you can listen to it later, like before you go to sleep or whatever. But yeah, there was only one, I think he did two sessions and that was it. That’s really interesting. Yeah, it takes, you have to be open minded about this. So we can’t just offer to everybody because not everybody’s open binding to that kind of stuff. Right. But, uh, the ages that there’s another agent, similar situation, and she was in the top three, she wasn’t before the evidence, but then she, after she became one of the top three agents here, so you know, whether you could contribute to that or not, you know, but it’s got a good track record.
Kosta: Yeah, you’re right. I mean, a lot of the times, uh, you know, with real estate, you know, just peeling back all the, all the stuff that’s in your way at the end of the day, it’s still a sales job and he still have to have those basic sales traits and those people skills. And you touched on human behavior and you know, one thing that’s probably most under looked at his work rate and just someone with, with the right work ethic to, to make those calls and make mistakes. Pick yourself up and learn and regroup from, from, from, uh, you know, the failures that you make. So it’s very interesting.
Sterling: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Like if you can’t train an agent to be, to say like, if you ca, you can tell somebody you’re going to call them at eight tonight, you’d have to call them at eight if you know, if they don’t call them. Like that’s how do you train someone on that? You know what I mean? Totally agree. I totally agree.
Kosta: Um, I actually had a conversation and other podcasts about skill versus work ethic and for me personally, I would take a work ethic and work rate overscale any day because that’s something you can’t train for. Like you said, the, the skill set you can always tweak and learn and educate someone on. But the work right rate, I find that so nearly impossible to, to train someone on.
Sterling: Yeah, 100 percent. That’s why every time I think this is one of your feature questions. Um, and that’s why every time when an agent comes up to us with this kind of issue, um, my answer is get in debt, rack up, a lot of credit, rack up a credit card. Um, when your back’s against the wall, we’ll leave that. That’s when you know you’re forced to perform.
Kosta: I like that. Awesome. I’m, I’m, I’m still shocked at the number of agents who still don’t believe in having an online presence and who think referrals are the way to go. Like, what would you say to those agents?
Sterling: Uh, this is, uh, our visit is a personal question, but I don’t feel comfortable asking my friends and family for business. You know, they go, you’re at a family function and they’re saying, oh no, he’s going to come ask us for business. Again, I don’t want to be that guy. You know what I mean? Uh, I want to go consumer direct. That’s, you know, that’s, that’s my philosophy in a lot of people. There’s, there’s a whole stigma. There’s, as you know, there’s a big stigma with Internet leads. Are they good? Are they bad? Um, uh, but, uh, there’s somebody that top reserve put this comment in my head in it and uh, find it’s true and consistent with a top top producers is that, um, it doesn’t matter where you’re finding the lead, whether it’s at starbucks, at an open house or online, um, it’s your foot in the door. You still have to establish that relationship.
Kosta: Yeah, I totally agree. Absolutely. Switching gears a little bit, so back to the search realty. So again, you were just announced number one fastest growing brokerage in Canada. Uh, what have you done in the last, in the past 12 months to get yourself on that list? I mean, can you speak on some of the girls strategies or sales strategies that you’ve executed?
Sterling: Yeah, and we didn’t start Hadley or, or, you know, pushing resources into recruiting until uh, we had, uh, a crm that was able to distribute leads, uh, at a high level. Uh, so we built our custom crm and um, it, it, it had some holes in it and um, when we did find acquire that perfect storm that was able to distribute these because, you know, we had a few agents for a couple of years, so for the first couple of years of search realty it was just a few agents and I’m adding the lead. We had a full time admin staff adding the leads into the crm, emailing the lead. I’m intro emailing the agent, Hey, here’s your lead. And it was just, that was just one admin for three agents. So then we had to make it automated through software. So once we had that in line, then we went and we were basically tackled the same way we generate buyer, seller leads.
Sterling: I’m online just, uh, you know, pushing the message heavily online. Um, and just kind of, you don’t need leads to be successful. Let’s, I, I called agents that join us awoke agents because they’ve, you know, they’ve there, we’ll get there. They know, hey, if you’re out of big brand, what is that brand doing for you? How’s that generating business for you? If you had 100 percent commission brokerage, what is 100 percent of nothing? How are they going to help you increase your bottom line? And so a lot of pages that are realizing, Hey, I need leads and I think that was a message that we had to deliver.
Kosta: Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s so true. I think so often it’s just tweaks and figuring out your internal processes and systems just to make your business more efficient, um, that you said to save you time. Just speed things up and just set yourself up in a way that that’s just planting seeds and it’s just a matter of watering them and you know, things will spray them. Yup. Yeah. I’m curious because I’m a numbers guy and then I always ask every guest, but how many transactions a has your brokerage closing the last year? I don’t know if you can or want to get into those numbers if you can provide a range.
Sterling: Yeah, yeah, sure. It was just actually looking at that day. We are between excluding leases. Um, do you guys do your regular guests include leases? We don’t include leases in our numbers.
Kosta: Yeah, most, most do. Actually just a normal.
Sterling: Okay. So we’re 3:50 to 400 excluding leases with leases. It’s, it’s, it’s double September.
Kosta: Okay. Awesome. Perfect. Um, obviously a lot of realtors, you know, listen to this podcast and you’re looking for tips and marketing strategies and I can’t think of a better person to provide some of those tips. So what are some of your favorite marketing strategies that have given you the best return that you can share? I know you touched upon, you know, paid ads, but, uh, if you can maybe dive into that a little bit or provide any other tips, that’d be great.
Sterling: Yeah, I’m late to kind of type. I, I liked the remarketing, um, that, uh, you know, when agents, they get leads, um, when they purchase a remarketing ads through us, that really warms up the, uh, the call for the agent, you know, the, the deleted is thinking, Hey, I see this guy on facebook, I seen them. Maybe I’ll answer the phone call this time as A.
Kosta: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite forms of advertising as well. The remarketing, uh, it, it, it gets, it’s so psychological, orange builds that brand awareness. I mean, it’s a, when I explained it to someone, it’s like giving the simple analogy. It’s the same reason why coca cola will spend millions of dollars to have a coke bottle in a movie and you know, it works with that. Just implicit memory in people’s minds. So I think it’s super effective online for sure.
Sterling: Yeah, I tell them is it’s like a billboard ad or ads or bench ads of today, but at a fraction of the cost is secondary marketing. It’s just way more cost effective than any bench ad that you’ll ever encounter.
Kosta: Yeah, exactly. I totally agree. Love remarketing. I love asking this question to agents who are more tech savvy and online focused, what advice would you give to someone entering the real estate business or even someone that’s looking to take their business to the next level?
Sterling: I would say make sure that you have enough, um, income or money in the bank to last you six months, um, and uh, do this full time. Um, and really give it your all to. Don’t do it, you know, they like the agents that do, that are new in the business that are doing well. Uh, with us, they’re, they’re fully immersed in real estate. They’re listening to podcasts in the car, they’re reading the books, they’re really into it. So, uh, I guess it boils down to how bad do you want it. You have my shift. That’s really nice.
Kosta: You know what, that’s very sound and practical advice. Absolutely. Think so. Externally, I do want to be mindful of your time. Uh, I do end off each chat with what I call the top three. So number one, your top real estate or a business book,
Sterling: it wouldn’t be, um, other than the windows. Look, I’m the swamp. The swamp and all. Never heard of that one. Sorry. Swan pole s w a n e p o e l. okay. I’m going to look that one up. Real estate focused are all real estate. It’s, it’s top level stuff that you and I, you’re a numbers guy, you’re gonna love this book. It’s true. It’s all about trends and where the real estate trends are going, like, uh, the next issue they’re talking about the red fin business model and um, you know, the other new business models that are emerging in the states. Uh, but yeah, that’s a
Kosta: awesome. We’ll be checking out for sure. I’m definitely number two. Your top vacation spot.
Sterling: I would say Mexico. I love the food.
Kosta: Nice. Yeah, I love the flavor and the spices. And uh, number three. Uh, how old are you? Sterling?
Sterling: Born in 1981. So I guess that would make me, I lost track after the thirties, but I think that’s 36 years.
Kosta: So if you can go back 17 years, uh, what do you wish your 20 year old self knew?
Sterling: I don’t think I have any regrets in general. Um, but uh, you know, starting up the brokerage, I didn’t know how intense it was going to be, but it may be, you know, having known that information, maybe I wouldn’t have started it.
Kosta: Hmm. Interesting. So would you just say, you know, just go all in and just do it or
Sterling: Go all in and don’t quit. You can’t quit.
Kosta: Perfect. And I totally agree. And uh, if, if people wanted to reach out or get a hold of you, where’s the best place they can find you?
Sterling: Yeah. [email protected], or a cell phone is four. One six four, five, nine seven, six, five, three. Sold Classic, uh,
Kosta: And the brokerage website. Searchrealty.ca, right?
Sterling: Yeah. And then for a careers, it’s searchrealtycareers.com
Kosta: Amazing. Perfect. Sterling, this was a really fun chat. I’m glad we hopped on the call and I hope we can do it again sometime. Thank you so much for listening to the top agent podcast. Over and out, peace.
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