When realtor Audrey Azad drives her Tesla Model X SUV, she knows the kids on the street are doubled up laughing at her license plate that reads, PASTGAS.
If that isn’t enough, the car comes with a whoopie cushion app.
“You can fire it off from any speaker,” she says. “I have endless hours of enjoyment with my clients’ kids in the back seat. You can rig it up so when you use the turn signal, it farts.”
Azad likes to joke that there’s a 12-year-old boy’s heart beating in her chest.
Even though a lot more real estate business is conducted virtually these days, a comfortable sedan or a flash vehicle remains a tool of the trade for agents. There is still a lot of driving to showings and listing appointments, sometimes long distances with clients riding shotgun. An agent’s car needs to be clean and reliable. But does it need to be luxurious?
The right car projects success and is often an extension of an agent’s personal brand, according to one image consultant and some auto enthusiasts in real estate. But it’s a fine line between success and excess.
For some agents, an interesting car is also a great way to connect with potential clients in a business that is largely based on networking.
Azad, who has a busy RE/MAX practice with her husband, says she’s not so much about image. She’s comfortable with the easygoing humour the license plate projects but, more importantly to her, is the electric vehicle’s sustainability and its practicality.
The Tesla — a 2023 Model X starts at $135,999, according to the company website — is great for loading furniture and clients thanks to its gull wing doors, also known as falcon-wing doors — they are the ones that lift up over the car instead of pulling out to the side.
“It’s so clean burning, you go into your garage, and you don’t smell exhaust,” said Azad. Nevertheless, she said, it’s a rocket and “goes like stink.”
Cambridge realtor Faisal Susiwala owns several exotic cars. But he doesn’t want to show off in a newspaper report by talking about them.
Much of the time he drives an “understated” black Mercedes G-Wagon. “It’s a luxury vehicle but it’s not over the top,” he said.
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a 2023 G-Wagon starts at $174,900.
When Susiwala started in the business as a teenager 35 years ago, he had to borrow his mother’s minivan to conduct his first property showings. Success came quickly. He met a group of South African investors at a charity event who called him to show them properties. They spent about $2 million.
At 19 years old, Susiwala had already earned about $60,000 in commissions. He gave some of the money to his parents and stashed some for marketing his business. But he took $20,000 in cash and borrowed $15,000 to buy a used dark blue Mercedes 260 E. In a town where the top agent drove a Cadillac, that car, “instantly validated me as young person in the business,” he said.
“It was like wearing a brand new suit and a beautiful pair of shoes and a Rolex watch. You felt literally like a million bucks.”
The confidence and the car helped breed more success. That’s something he says still works for realtors. But it doesn’t mean they have to break the bank.
“They have to drive a nice, clean, newer car. If you show up with a vehicle that is rusty and old and it’s got different hubcaps on the rims, you’re putting out an impression of someone who is not doing very well in business. Unfortunately, it is show business and the first impressions do matter,” he said.
But that initial impression has to be borne out.
“It’s great to show up in a nice suit and a nice car. But if the words that come out of your mouth are not working, that’s not going to resonate with people,” said Susiwala.
Toronto image consultant Anne Sowden says realtors tend to spend a lot of money on branding themselves and automobiles are part of that package. But are luxurious cars necessary?
That depends. If they’re aiming for wealthy clients, a high-end car might make the agent more relatable.
“If you tie your car in to your overall brand, you’ve got to have the kind of car that suits that image,” said Sowden.
But in an age when so many buyers are struggling to afford a home, is it possible that an expensive car could be a turnoff? It’s possible, but Sowden thinks consumers can find an agent with a more compatible, perhaps humbler, brand.
Unionville Royal LePage agent Gordon Su says he’s more an automobile enthusiast than a collector but he does own three Mercedes vehicles and he dreams of more cars. For now, Su owns a “magnetic grey” G-Wagon and a modified 2008 Mercedes C-63. But his working car, the one that gets the most mileage, is a silver 2008 E-Class.
“It’s very comfortable and spacious. Sometimes I’ll be driving clients and they choose to sit in my car between multiple showings,” he said.
Su finds that his personal interest often leads to conversation about real estate with other car enthusiasts.
“I do spend a lot of time participating in local car groups, social networks, as well as volunteering my time to a local Mercedes-Benz True North chapter,” said Su, who also has wide social media connections.
They’re all ways to generate sales leads, he said.
When he was starting in real estate, Su had a side gig detailing cars, polishing them, steam cleaning the carpet and applying curated waxes all with professional tools from Italy.
“I was actually able to make a few clients because they liked my attention to detail, my trustworthiness.”
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