Life Of A Real Estate Agent: Career Advice From Broker Christopher Audette

Christopher Audette was featured in Real Estate Magazine as one of the 300+ Top Newsmakers for 2022 in Canada/USA and awarded to the RE/MAX Hall of Fame in 2018. His 4X international award-winning streak in creative property marketing sets him apart in today’s competitive real estate industry. Having started his real estate career in advertising, he pivoted to real estate out of serendipity. At The Group at RE/MAX First which he founded in Calgary, he has assembled a top-notch team of agents who are making a name for themselves and the team. We recently had an opportunity to catch up with Christopher for an insightful discussion, where he shares some golden tips about marketing, its intersection with lead generation, strategies, his experience with virtual staging, and his views on work-life balance and life of a real estate agent. Here’s the summary of it.

Christopher Audette’s real estate career advice

Christopher believes in accountability as a winning skill all real estate agents must strive to possess. Here’s a gist of his top advice to help you taste success as a real estate agent.

For the people who don’t know you, who is Christopher Audette? Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into real estate.

So, I actually started a little over a decade ago in real estate lead generation. So, I was with a media and advertising company, branched off from there, started my own small marketing company, and ended up getting into the real estate industry through some work that I was doing as a home inspector. So I got some really big opportunities there and started a lead generation company. It started doing really well with SEO organically; Google liked this and sent us a whole bunch of traffic. And then about four or five years ago from now, we ended up moving to the RE/MAX brand and when we moved to ReMax first, we started a team officially. So we started doing our own thing instead of just helping others. Yeah, so that’s five years ago now that we started that, and actually should also mention, within our second year, we hit Top 10 in western Canada and top 40 in all of Canada for RE/MAX four teams. So we did some nice growth very quickly. Thanks to the agents on the team.

What drives you in this profession?

Yeah, well, quality, frankly. I hate to say this, but it’s an industry that’s really prevalent with mediocrity. We see a lot of agents being really successful, but not, in my opinion, necessarily doing a great job for their clients. The industry that I left, the media company that I spoke of earlier, was top-notch. They are among the fifty fastest-growing companies in Canada for multiple years running. You know, big clients, did a fantastic job, amazing culture there. And I have always tried to live up within our industry to what they expected from us within their industry—taking that into account to doing things like… in photo enhancements through Styldod for our photos having really, you know, upper-scale property brochures and photography, and marketing materials and in-house marketing materials, tour guide cards, all that stuff that was derived from the base of the marketing, which, you know, really happens with the photography, and then putting that into some really stellar marketing pieces. And we’ve actually won four awards – nominated for five and won four awards – just in this past year for our marketing materials, primarily property marketing materials, which really originated from just having good quality photography and enhanced photos.

So you’ve been a realtor since 2009. If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you do differently?

So 11 years ago or 12 years ago, or as it was it now 13 years ago, my God, it’s 13 years! When I started, I really had no intention of doing real estate myself. It was always along the lines of straight lead generation, but seeing what I’ve done and how we started it through the team and for so many that we did lead generation for… You know, I would say, treat it like a business. So along with that same line, let me give you a really close example. There’s a gentleman in my office who started this two or three years before I did; he and I was kind of a whole way battling each other for first, second, third place for positions on our website with the search engines. He treated it like a business, and I treated it like a really nice income and got lazy with it. He is now the number two team in the world for RE/MAX. And we were top places for western Canada and Canada. You know, I cannot complain about the business that we’ve done over the years. But if I’d treated it a little bit more like an actual business, instead of like, nice income and, getting to take time off and take vacations, and, you know, we might be comparing against him. And, you know, that’s a difference of 250 to 300 transactions a year versus 1600 to 2000 transactions year. That’s a big difference, and he legitimately has freedom now; I’m still, you know, bound to a desk that may not be the case if I’d treated it like like a business, small, big whatever, treat it like a business.

You know, it’s funny; I think most people get into this industry because they see a lot of money, and they see freedom. You know, you don’t have a boss anymore, you’re your own boss, which I think people don’t realize means more work, not less. It means more regimented, not less regimented, more structured, more protocols in order to do what’s really possible.

And strangely enough, the single agents, particularly those that we see doing a ton of business, they’re very regimented. They do treat it like a business, you know, you don’t see them off on holidays two to three times a year, and then scrambling for business right afterward because they had a couple of nice checks. They treat it like a business that you got to be in every single day, and they make it work when they go away, and they make amends for it.

What do you think are the top three skills an agent needs to have?

Accountability, accountability, and accountability! I think accountability is the root of all personal and professional development. As an example, we do lead generation, talking to several agents who said, you know, those leads suck, that’s what we hear! That is funny because somebody else is doing hundreds of thousands of dollars of business off of those same leads that suck. Those people are accountable for what works and what doesn’t work. And when something doesn’t work, it’s not about the leads; it’s about how they handled it. It’s about what they can do better, what they can do more or how they can be more structured and regimented, concentrating on what works, constantly improving it. The other ones always have somebody else to blame or something else to blame, whether it be the market, the leads, the clients, the other realtors they’re dealing with, or their boss, their brokerage, whatever it is. But when you’re accountable through it, you know, you can, you can improve and grow, and you can do a better business and be happier the whole time with it, because you’ve taken it on to yourself, not in a blame sort of way, not, you know, signing guilt to it, but just knowing that you are powerful, you are more powerful than you likely give yourself credit for. Accountability is the baseline of them.

How important is marketing in real estate? What are your go-to marketing tools?

So, you know, I think marketing, it’s ironic in this industry on the listing side, kind of geared towards that. On the listing side, we talk about marketing all the time, and we say we are marketers when really we’re salespeople. And I think, being accountable through that if you realize that, and you realize that marketing, most likely if you’re successful, is not your strong point, sales is most likely where you are successfully starting from. That’s how you got your business. That’s how you continue to get business. And that’s how you sell the business. If you understand that, then you can concentrate on the marketing and then outsource a whole bunch of it. I mean, there are very few of us who take our own photos. We have professional photographers that do it. We enhance those photos.

Like I mentioned earlier, a big part of our success is taking almost every single photo that we do and enhancing it in some way, whether it be, you know, making prettier skies or light adjustments or virtual staging has been something that we’ve kept in our pocket.

We took one today that was somewhere around 11 or 105 that we went into multiple offers for the property had been listed previously, you know, with just the furnishings and everything that they had. We edited out the furniture that was in there. Leather furniture, which is out of date, we took that out, and we put, softer new furniture in there. The photos look great. It got a ton of attention on the first weekend, we went into multiple offers and that is due to the baseline of it, which is great-looking photos. That’s the first impression and sometimes the only impression that a buyer sees getting that online, and then we enhance it with really great brochures that were inside as well. Paying more isn’t necessarily getting better products; also, going for the cheapest is not necessarily the best either. But looking at a good quality picture at a good, fair price, working from there, putting in some good marketing and then having that marketing to do your sales when you’re talking to sellers really has been key to a lot of our success. We also have some success stories behind the brochures. So having the combination of those two, I think, is quite paramount—equal parts, marketing, equal parts sales.

Your thoughts on using virtual staging, virtual tours, and other technologies used in real estate.

So we’ve done property websites in the past. We haven’t had a lot of success with them, but we didn’t really promote them properly either. And I think just having something doesn’t necessarily give success. You know, you have to have it and use it. You have to have it and promote it. And, you know, pay-per-click campaigns, that sort of stuff, really, I think, probably would have helped that a fair bit. I think they’re good. We just didn’t have a huge amount of success with It. Where we have had massive success, though, is floor plans doing the 3D immersive virtual tours. I mean, it really started as a necessity when COVID kicked in. And a lot of Agents started using it right away and then just dropped it off because they saw it as an unnecessary expense. But it’s really been key to us. I’m selling a lot of the properties that we do by allowing buyers to actually somewhat experienced it in advance. And I think a really good example of that is, here builders put up nothing because they don’t think that it’s good to have pictures out there of your property other than a rendering of the front, because then they won’t want to come in and see it.

And our experience is that the whole foundation and success of the MLS has been lots of pictures, lots of descriptions, people interact with it, and they get interested in a property, and because of that, they want to go in and view it in person. Now we can do it with the new technologies that exist, you know, being able to take a vacant property, do an immersive 3D virtual tour, whether it be Matterport or one of the others, and then incorporating the virtual staging into there.

And the tech side of it has pretty much made this stuff that you guys have at your fingertips, and for a very reasonable price it’s pretty amazing. So, if you’ve got the listing, you know, spend the extra dollars on it and do it. And if you don’t have the listing, maybe it’s because you didn’t do some of that stuff in the past to be able to brag about, to show that the sellers that you do, things more than others do.

The other big one is video. And one of the nice things about the 3D immersive tours, you know, in essence, they are interactive videos that the user controls. So we’ve kind of replaced a lot of the video stuff with that. We still use it, definitely. But our staple and standby is great photography. They are combined with those 3D immersive tours.

How do you stay top of mind with your existing and former client bace? Can you share with us your engagement tactics?

We rely heavily on only getting new leads. And I think because we started out really strong that way, we’ve fallen into this, this false sense of security that the leads will always be there. So we don’t have to stay in contact with past clients. And frankly, that’s really been to our detriment and our downfall. We’re actually, just working right now, we’re trying to recover that, that aspect, because, you know, when you’ve got a thousand people in your database of old clients, that should be generating 300 clients, new clients, a year, independent of any lead gen. So right now, we’re actually looking at hiring, and we’re outsourcing this, but hiring a client services person. So, where we used to have used out and do still have inside sales agents, we’re looking at expanding their roles into more of client services so that they’re staying in touch to make up for the agents, and then hopefully use that as the conduit for them, getting back in touch with your clients. You know, things like property tax time. It’s just like, Jonny calling from the group of RE/MAX; I work with an ex-client/ ex-agent. They just asked me to give everybody a quick call and touch base because the property tax is promoted, and wondering if you wanted an evaluation on the home to see if they’re accurate. And by the way, the markets are hot right now or connecting them back with the Realtors as well. We do things like handwritten cards, Christmas cards; we’re looking at some client events right now as well, movies, and sorts of stuff. But frankly, it’s really been a weak point for us, and we probably would be a lot bigger and doing a lot more transactions if we had paid a lot more attention earlier.

Who’s your favorite kind of client? And when you meet a prospective one, do you instinctively know if this person is worth spending time on?

Yeah, the ones that don’t give themselves enough credit and are apologizing for everything right away almost always end up being the best. You know, we honestly, we have a good experience. We have good data, and we have good advice to offer. I think that the typical problem happens where we feel we have to bow down and give the client the answer that they’re looking for. Give them the information that they want to hear versus the information that they need when a client is open to hearing our information, hearing our advice, hearing our recommendations. Those are the ones that almost always end up being by far the best.

What’s the biggest challenge you faced? And how did you overcome it?

My own arrogance. My own arrogance would definitely be the biggest challenge I faced. And I have seen people come in because our web presence works fairly well, we’re known in the city and have been for quite a while. And so a lot of newer agents coming in will come and talk to us and look to us for advice. I have pretty much always been under the assumption that the way we do things is the proper way. And that just as an example, we generate a large number of property inquiry leads through our websites. So there are kind of two different levels you can go ahead. One is the registration. First registration or non-forced one. The non-forced typically allows as many visitors to come through your site as possible. They look at things freely, and when they see something that they actually want to visit in person, they fill out a contact form. Now on the typical more common side of it is the first registration to quite often be done with a pay per click campaign. People pay for every single visitor that comes in. They don’t want to waste any of that budget. And so they do, of course, registration. Or, if you want to actually look at the properties, then you have to give your first name, last name, phone number, and email. That’s pretty typical. I’ve always felt those leads were below us. And I have had a number of agents come into my office, looking for advice to grow their work. I’m thinking of, specifically, that are doing way more business than we are on the leads that I thought were beneath us. It’s been a real kick in the pants to look at other people, far surpassing our business and doing a better job, because they didn’t feel that they were above the things that we felt we were above them. So, you know, it’s been an experience to realize that nothing is beneath you. You know, you’re not above anything that was a kick in the ass that I’ve experienced pretty strongly. And what we think we are to trying to do and catch up to those people that, we thought was, had a better system than they did.

How did COVID impact real estate and the way you do your business?

So, you’re willing to strongly adapt to COVID in a positive way. We’ve been using Zoom a lot more, been trying to encourage the agents to actually use it in particular. In the beginning, as you know, the way to still have some sort of face-to-face interaction, technology can definitely be your friend, or it can be your enemy. We never grasped onto it. Frankly, strongly enough. We’ve tried to really roll with the punches and just keep on as much as possible with business as usual. Now, having said that, frankly, I don’t think any of us saw the big boom that you know, in real estate that that’s been happening, not just here, but you know, throughout the country and throughout much of the world where inventory is down, sales are up, prices are increasing. I mean, when it did start, we gave it a month or two. We’re now on month well, coming into month 10th, we’re on month 10 of it right now, and just kind of rolling with it for as long as we possibly can, and then making preparations for when it flips to the other side again, because almost every spike is followed by, an equal or greater, sometimes a little bit lesser downturn, whether it’s a quick spike up and a quick spike down, or lower spike up, and then a lower spike down. But we are definitely anticipating that that’s going to be happening along the same lines. You know, once again, not that I’m plugging Styldod or anything here. But when that does happen, our marketing becomes really important again. So getting lax right now, because you don’t need a whole bunch in order for something to sell isn’t going to pay off for you in the long run, you know. So, really kind of keeping up with that strong marketing presence is kind of key to us through this COVID and the ups and downs that it’s created.

Real estate isn’t a nine-to-five job. So, how do you balance your personal and professional life?

Yeah, it’s difficult. So I’m a team lead. I have the great benefit of not having massive amounts of evenings and weekend time that I have to spend like the agents who are boots on the ground and just slogging away every day. Even more so, you know, I think their spouses and their significant others who aren’t necessarily in the industry. Some are or aren’t, but where they aren’t in the industry that you know, it’s really tough to understand that we need to take the call, we need to take the text or the email, or not even the text or email or phone call that is business because you don’t know it is or isn’t until you pick it up. The people that I’ve seen in real estate, who have had the greatest success as personal and professional, that you know, the mixing of the two. Frankly, both have been in the industry. So they understand it. My wife’s a mortgage broker, quite a successful mortgage broker. And so she gets it. She understands that she understands the need to be doing this all the time when you’re in a dinner with your family and constantly, you know, looking down at the text messages that are being sent to you on your phone the whole time. It’s definitely a lot easier when both sides are in it. But if they’re not. I think a large part of the key to that balance is to understand that your spouse doesn’t understand, you know, and just to be easy on them when they get irritated and upset because, frankly, they’re right. You know, it’s our industries kind of broken in the way that we have to handle these things. And so you need to understand that the problem isn’t with them being short with you. The problem is with the industry dictating that you largely have to play this way in order to keep going in. On the other hand, some people have very great success in not having that. You know, they’re stronger with their clients. But, you know, I think those are the exception and not the rule. So little bit of setting those expectations off, I think, is really important to that too.

If you set up the expectation with your clients that they have to be dealing with you that way, you will never break free from them dealing with you that way. So you have to meet their expectations right off and then reset them. You don’t let them know that there is a family involved in your life. And the clients need to respect a little bit of that.

Career advice to aspiring agents

You know, I think it comes back to the, “to the treat it like a business”. And the offshoot of that is it’s funny because it might contradict a little bit of what I said earlier. Marketing is not everything. We see an absolute, huge amount of realtors, particularly fresh in the business that are at their desk every single day, creating marketing. They create marketing and branding for themselves that never get seen.

Much more important than that, particularly at the beginning, is lead generation. And the understanding that marketing is not lead generation and lead generation is not marketing. There’s a little bit of an overlap of the two, but concentrate your business on lead generating, talking to people, having the reason to act as a salesperson, and not as marketing. Marketing funnels to lead generation, but at the end of the day, it’s very unlikely that it’s going to get you the dollars without the lead generation there to complement it.

Having a beautiful billboard in a back alley that’s never seen by anybody is not good, not good for your business. You know, I’d much rather be out on a street in front of a bunch of people that are potentially interested in a show home, you know, or an open house. And I think those are two incredibly undervalued resources. You know, that could be getting your business done, right? Forget about the fancy business card or the fancy brochure off the bat, you know, work on it down the road, or better yet, outsource it. Don’t spend all your time and money on it, though; spend it on lead generation, smart lead generation.

Can you tell us how you came across Styldod? And what has your experience been?

Well, ironically, I first came across you guys because you do a lot of lead gen. You’re on marketing, and the newsletters that are put out are predominantly lead generation tools; seeing a few examples of what you guys have done, I won’t lie, but we were using another vendor prior, and your pricing was as good. In fact, it was better. And the quality of Premier is what virtual staging what got us in there. But the quality of virtual staging was slightly better. So for slightly less, we were getting slightly better. It was kind of a no-brainer to give you guys a shot. And we’ve been quite happy throughout the whole process, working with you guys, you know, and we plan on continuing that.

We could easily be paying ten times the amount for the same basic end result as we were with Styldod by keeping it local. So using you guys has been pretty instrumental in those four awards that we won, you know, taking that baseline and working off of it from there, and then using that to actually catapult some of our other stuff.

And we’re probably pronouncing that everywhere and reusing it, not about us or the awards that we’ve won. But rather, your listing deserves great marketing. Your listing deserves award-winning marketing. We happen to have award-winning marketing that we can use to showcase your beautiful property. So, you know, to have a beautiful house, something that the sellers are really proud of, and then give them mediocre or bad. So bad photography is just bad business. So we’ve, we’ve loved working with you guys so far because of that.

With his utmost dedication, hard work, and passion, Christopher has achieved success and fame in the industry he has come to love working in. We wish him all the best for his journey ahead. We hope this discussion brought you insights and knowledge that can help you outshine others in this industry. Found Christopher’s advice helpful? Here’s the link to the complete playlist of his interview with us.

Hooked to our interview features? Check out our feature on NJ realtor Drew Thompson, where he speaks about the power of real estate marketing and everything he does to make his clients happy.

Want to try out Styldod? Click here for a free trial.

Styldod is a design-tech company that aims to simplify real estate marketing and help agents present homes in their most favorable light online by reimagining and automating the listing photography process. Having begun as a virtual staging company, today, Styldod has affordable and best-in-class products and services for every facet of real estate marketing and photography. Styldod’s suite of services include virtual staging, image enhancements, floor plans, virtual renovation, 3D renders, 360 degree virtual tours, and Matterport virtual staging, to name a few. We’re trusted by over 10,000 realtors from all over the US and from companies like ReMax, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams. Know more about us at https://www.styldod.com.

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