BBH:How did you get your start in the business?
I graduated in ’91, at the height of the recession: I sent 60 applications out and got 60 rejections.
My brother was in real estate and my father had been in commercial development, so I got my real estate license. I have a Bachelors of Science degree in Theoretical Mathematics and Statistics so my start in the business was literally due to a lack of other opportunities. And I knew if I got my real estate license, I’d have a job the next day!
Throughout your 20 years in the industry, what’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed?
By far, the size of suites.
When I first got in the business, if you told anyone that a two-bedroom was less than 1200 sq. ft, you were crazy, and now we’re selling 600 sq. ft two bedrooms.
One bedrooms were over 700-750 sq. ft. What I’ve seen is a complete change in the way in which people live and the amount of clutter they keep has decreased. People have switched to living more minimalist, in smaller spaces.
You’ve represented all types of clients from big developers to small operators, economically affordable homes to multi-million dollar properties, end users and investors. Do you adopt the same approach across the board or do you have to treat each one individually?
It goes far beyond the “across the board” treatment; you have to look at the individual projects, the clients that are going to purchase that project, and tailor your sales and marketing approach to that buyer.
Not only do I treat each project differently, I analyze, along with the builder and the marketing firm, how to market to that builder. Even if the same builder has two similar style projects, we will have a different way to approach them.
So not only is there no generality across the board, there’s no generality within the same builder. And that involves the type of finishes and the type of product, size, everything that that place is. And, to a large extent, the type of broker that I then approach.
You sometimes work hand-in-hand with your competitors on deals – how do you handle this? How do you make sure everyone is happy?!
Most people that know me in the industry know that I am completely ethical in the way I do my business.
If one of my competitors brings me in to work alongside them, he knows that I won’t turn around and try to steal that client. Working hand in hand with competitors has taught me a couple of things: who in this industry is thinking more about the big picture, and who just wants to make the sale rather than share the wealth.
The people who are with me have truly shown that the good of their clients far exceeds anything else. How many industries are like that? Coke would never ask Pepsi for help!
You are sometimes asked by developers to work with architects on tweaking floor-plans to make units more attractive. What in your opinion makes an attractive layout?
One of the most important and attractive things is flow.
Some architect’s designs suck. Some architects design floor plans with wasted space. And I find that working with architects as well as interior designers, to tweak the floor-plans, to make the space more live-able, in turn, makes it more sell-able.
The buyers are intelligent and informed; they look at the floor plans and can see wasted hallways and awkward rooms that can’t fit furniture.
We often tweak the floor plans and make minor modifications, because 90% of the time, the architect is spot-on perfect, but the other 10% of the time, the designs are awkward and we need to fix them up a bit.
What’s the best part of your job?
Seeing the words “sold out” . I love seeing the words sold out and knowing that the buyers are happy. Builders are happy because it’s sold out and buyers are happy because they got what they wanted.
How much snow are we going to get this winter?
As little as possible, hopefully! I am neither a skier nor a skater! I love the end of Winter!
Your work takes you all over the GTA. Where’s the next big location?
East. Downtown East around the George and Shuter area. That area is very important because it’s the middle ground between the downtown core and what’s going to become the West Don Lands area. To me that’s an important area to look at. It’s also undervalued right now.
That’s the first time anyone has given that area as an answer!
Well, we’re all looking East, and we’re all looking to the Pan-Am Games and the West Don Lands.
I’m saying look half-way, between the two, and that’s a great middle ground, because people living there are only minutes to the downtown core, but still only minutes to the beaches. That’s the area I’m looking at.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
When I was 16 years old, I worked at a sausage casing factory. My job was to open the barrels of sheep guts that came in from New Zealand, and shake the salt off them. I shook guts. And when you opened the 800 lb barrel, it smelled like dead bodies . . . I was there for two months.
I will never forget that smell. For two weeks I only ate green apples because I couldn’t bring my hands to my nose ‘cos it was embedded into my skin. I would wash my hands with vanilla extract just to get the smell off!
And do you eat sausages now?
Oh yeah, love ’em!
You used to contribute to several of Toronto’s newspapers – is writing something you’d like to do again?
I love writing. Right now, I’m writing a chapter in a book on real estate. It’s funny, I have a degree in mathematics but my absolute passion is writing, especially writing about real estate, for newspapers and magazines.
What are the hottest projects at the moment?
What does the future hold for TFN Realty?
I started this company off six years ago, and I reached my five year goal after my second year. So to me, the future of TFN Realty is the slow, steady growth of the company, provided that that growth does not mean any of my clients feel that I’ve left them in any way.
My company is based strictly on the premise of “hands-on”. I will never take on a contract if I can’t personally assist in the project.
In the short term, I know that TFN Realty will be doing some work in Oakville and some projects in the downtown core in 2011.
I’m also a finalist for the Ontario Home Builders Association Service Professionals of the Year Award, and will find out about that in early December.
I don’t need to be the biggest, I just want to be one of the best. And I want people to know TFN Realty the same way people know the word Royal LePage, Baker Real Estate or In2ition.
Well thanks for chattin‘ Mr. Flomen, and good luck in the OHBA finals!
Tune in to Buzz Talk next week for more interviews with the hottest who’s who in Ontario land development.