An Interview With Sandra Rinomato | Real Estate Broker | Star of HGTV's Property Virgins & Buy Herself | Founder of Terrequity Rinomato
Hi Sandra! Tell us your story! What made you want to get into the real estate industry? Where did it all start for you?
I was always a bit of an entrepreneur, and I wanted to start up a little coffee and crêpes place, a neighbourhood joint where people could hang out, have coffee, nibble on something and feel connected to the community. I called my friend who was a commercial realtor and asked him to find me a location. He said he would, but he asked, “why do you want to work so hard?” and I replied that my favourite expression was “work smart not hard” and he told me to become a realtor. I had never thought of it before that moment, but off I went, and never looked back. Of course, I worked hard, very hard and learned everything I could about the business so I could work smart. As it turned out, through real estate I was getting what I had wanted from the coffee place, which was meaningful interaction with people. How cool is that?
You are the Broker & Founder of Terrequity Rinomato. Can you tell us what inspired the idea to build your brokerage and what your philosophy is all about?
When I was on Property Virgins people were calling in or writing in wanting me to help them with their real estate goals. I had built a little team to help with new business while I was filming, and people were confused. They were calling me, but they were getting a national brand brokerage and some other person was talking to them. They weren’t able to understand the team concept within a brokerage. They called me but they’d get some random, and wondered, so who’s this guy?
Once I made the decision to leave the show, I decided to open the brokerage so people could find me more easily. At that point, people called in asking to work with my “team” and already understood they might not work with me. That was an unexpected result, but it worked well for us. So while the clients didn’t expect to work with me directly, it was always a blast when I would meet them and could actually work with them.
I started my real estate career in a boutique environment and I made great friendships there, it was a fun environment. Then I moved to a bigger company, big office and I didn’t like the vibe at all. There was no connection, nobody cared about anyone else and you had to hide your appointment book so another agent would scoop your listing before you signed the paperwork. When I opened my own brokerage it was always with the intention of having a place where agents were connected to each other, having a brokerage with heart and soul. I’m protective about who I invite in. They’d have to be aligned with what our beliefs are. Some agents talk the talk but can’t walk the talk so eventually they move on or are never invited in to begin with.
The agents in the office are also protective of our culture which helps us maintain an environment of collaboration. Our agents are all willing to help each other, they truly care about the success of their clients and their best interests, and they won’t run you over to get a deal. I like that. I can’t work any other way and I feel like this is my living room so to speak, so the atmosphere has to be comfortable and a place where you can be yourself. We also love to grow and learn so we can be top notch for the client. We take our jobs seriously and we focus on the client. That’s our philosophy, we practise real estate that is focused on you whether you are our client or our realtor.
Who has been your greatest role model or the greatest influence on you within the Real Estate Industry?
This may sound odd because he is not affiliated with real estate but I learned quite a bit about being an entrepreneur, marketing and excellence from T.Harv Eker. His message, his courses, books and weekend intensive made me see another side of business and life. It helped me understand people and myself in a way that wasn’t being offered elsewhere.
What has been the biggest challenge for you within your career and how have you overcome it?
I had spent years in retail dealing with customers and I considered myself a people person. But wow, when you up the ticket price of what people are buying or selling, and you add in all those emotions, it’s a whole other level. Then you deal with their prejudices about you, the art of negotiation and uncovering true objections, relationship dynamics, and the well-intentioned but totally ignorant support groups, plus the ill-intentioned influencers, belief systems and cultural norms. It has been a life lesson that many people don’t get the benefit of learning and I think it has made me a better person.
To overcome it, I let them talk so I can try to understand what their real dream is, what may be standing in their way of getting it, and how they can get it done. Understanding that what they say and what they need may be two different things. I have to find a way to give them what they want first, and then I can get them what they need. I learned to relinquish my attachment to the sale and focused on finding out the hidden problem these people were facing and then solving it-- with or without their knowledge.
Do you believe there are any advantages to being a woman in the real estate industry?
Historically, women have done better in residential real estate than men. I’m not sure why. Is it something we are doing, or is it due to the decision-making process a family goes through that we are in tune with? I believe that we must keep the divine feminine active and fully present in us, not only in business but in life as well. Each of us, whatever gender, are masculine and feminine energy combined and when we supress one of those energies we suffer, and those around us suffer.
When you think of it, having a career in residential resale involves both male and female energies. Successful female realtors are a good combination of masculine and feminine, however you may want to interpret those energies.
Some men are still resisting and won’t allow the feminine to shine through. Of course, there are women who feel they have to supress the feminine energy in order to succeed or be taken seriously in their careers, and I doubt those women would do as well in residential resale.
Because many women have adapted to shifts in our culture and embrace both the masculine and the feminine we have the advantage. You can’t be all or nothing, it has to be a combination. It’s the combination of the two energies that gives us the advantage.
How do you keep emotions in check and overcome the highs and lows that are inevitable within this business?
Every business can be tough and a sales position is not an easy one as it is wrought with highs and lows. Working with people can be beautiful and very fulfilling but it can also be a soul crushing beast. Beauty and the beast. You have to be grounded so the roller coaster ride doesn’t go off the rails. Appreciation works wonders to help you stay grounded. If you can live in the attitude of appreciation more often, you will be able to deal with disappointments. You can’t control external circumstances, all you can control is yourself, your own state. When you realize that, when you work on that, you’ll see that the lows are not that debilitating.
One of the best things I’ve learned in working with people, either clients or as a coach and mentor is that I have to detach from the outcome because it’s their journey, not mine. You can’t control anyone. All you can do is lead the horse to water, but you need to accept that you cannot make them drink. It’s a tough lesson if you are the kind of person who really wants to see them succeed and achieve their dreams. You know that if they would just do X they’d sail through with ease but everyone has their own beliefs, they create their own obstacles, and they will grasp opportunities on their own timeline…not yours. Once you recognize that, you still give it your all and you tend to begin attracting the right people. Or perhaps, you are able to recognize the people who are ready to hear your message and accept your guidance so you choose to work with them.
Things happen and suddenly you are disappointed. Ok, it happened, but don’t linger on it. Be sure to take the time to understand what happened and why. Write things down in a journal. I ask my agents to have a Book of YOU. Every day you can journal about what went well, what didn’t go as planned, then you can observe a pattern. When you journal like this, you start to become honest with yourself and you have all this data about yourself which allows you to see things objectively. Then you can learn from it and find a different way to deal with it. When you read through the pages you always find things to appreciate and quite often, it’s an appreciation of who you are. You think, look how much I’ve learned since then, or what a selfless thing I did, and you appreciate yourself. What a gift!
The most important thing is, is to be respectful and to be treated with respect. You may feel frustrated because you know that you are offering excellence and your honest intentions are not being trusted. Your frustration comes from the fact that you have been misunderstood or mishandled. It’s them, not you. Learn what you can from the experience and move forward.
I am much more calm and things don’t bother me as much. I slip up every day though, but I catch myself earlier so I don’t suffer as long. That’s the key, don’t suffer the situation.
How I learned this was through many years of listening to the thought leaders out there, but mostly from parenting a teenager. That’s when you learn you cannot control anyone! You can try to manoeuvre them but you have to surrender all attachment to the outcome. Talk about ups and downs! Trying not to suffer through that situation takes heroic effort.
You were the star and host of HGTV’s Property Virgins - did you feel that your experience on the show helped or hindered your career in any way? What was your experience on the show?
Being on the show helped me grow as a realtor because I was able to learn more about their experience when they were interviewed by the director after each house tour. There were tears, and all kinds of emotions and dynamics between partners that they normally wouldn’t reveal to a realtor! I was shocked! I learned so much and it helped me tune in to certain nuances that would have previously gone undetected. I could see a hidden motivation or objection, I could predict a couple break-up. It was a wonderful learning experience.
As for my real estate career, the show took me away from it for several years. I was exhausted by the TV work and flying around here and there, being away from the people I loved. It was such a whirl wind, the show was successful right out of the gate, so I didn’t know what hit me! During that time, I didn’t have the infrastructure to keep the business going and dealing with the explosive growth so I made mistakes, I lost databases, lost touch with my past clients, had the wrong people working in my business. I often say that I made every mistake possible.
My clientele had changed from move-ups to first-timers, which had its pros and cons. The pro was that it injected youth into our database with an opportunity to be their realtor for life, and the con was that my average sale price dropped drastically to the first-time buyer price point. We had to sell more to make the same money.
I was one of the first realtors on TV so when I asked for help various professionals for help they couldn’t wrap their heads around the two careers, TV and real estate, and advise me. TV people told me to quit real estate. Heck no! I had worked long and hard to develop a mature business and I wasn’t going to throw it away. I couldn’t find the support I needed. I’m not blaming them, I was lost, it was all above my head and I just didn’t have the time or energy or discipline to “stop drop and roll”. I needed to get grounded and figure out what I wanted. Eventually I left the show because I wasn’t enjoying it. It is kind of crazy really, the show was #1 on the network, and showing around the world –no sane person would leave at that time! However crazy I may have been I was sane enough to know that if you aren’t enjoying your life, you must change something. I’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years: if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.
That made me appreciate my real estate career as well. I thrive on the connection with people who want my help. It feeds my energy. I can be dead tired, get a call from someone who wants help and suddenly I will be energized and passionate. That’s when you know you love your work.
I love TV too and I would be open to doing another show that is fun and soulful. Now that the kids are grown and our business can run without us for a while, I would be able to travel more easily and Gary would come with me. What I loved most about the show was learning that people around the world were getting inspired by it! What a blessing that was for me. I mean, it really justified my existence, you know? I was in some way helping people I would never meet, in places I will never visit. How extraordinary for a little ol’ realtor like me. That is what I love to do, inspire people to grow, but TV made it possible on a grander scale.
You’ve literally done it all! How do you find such a great balance between work-life and personal-life?
Oh wow, is there such a thing, balance? Where can I get it? Just kidding. Honestly, I can juggle a few things at once but then it can be overwhelming for me. Let’s face it, what you focus on grows, and what you ignore shrivels up and dies off. And most things we are juggling we cannot afford to let them die. Everyone has to find their own sweet spot and honour it.
Relationships can suffer when you take on too much, and I have a habit of taking on too much. Luckily, my husband is a realtor too so he gets it, when I have to deal with something he doesn’t complain. I couldn’t imagine doing this with a partner who wasn’t supportive. That would be crushing.
We found it difficult when I was travelling for the show. I was back and forth from the US to home, and I’d be gone for a total of five months each year, two weeks at a time. Then we’d have a busy shooting schedule in Toronto so it wasn’t like I was on hiatus. That was hard, there was no balance and eventually that became one of the reasons why I gave up the show. I admit that I am no expert on balance!
When our son was young, and we had to do this or that, we made sure he knew we would rather be spending time with him than working. He was secure in knowing we loved him and loved being with him. We’d always make sure that we spent quality time with him. Dragging your kid to an open house is not quality time. Buying them expensive stuff is not what they need. You have to be present for the kids, and be in the moment when you are with them. They sense it and it shapes them, one way or the other.
The question is how do you accomplish this? It’s tough for people in real estate, because the hours conflict with our family time and with friends, and sometimes those people don’t understand. I’ve learned now that it means jealously guarding your time with them, putting all distractions aside, devices, other people and your thoughts. Just give them your full attention. It’s not the amount of time you spend with them, it’s the quality. My friends and I can go for long periods without talking but pick up where we left off. We respect and love each other, so there is no insecurity there. They’re busy too, so they get it. Nobody feels threatened or obsolete.
Sometimes people will feel like they are not important and you don’t want anyone you care about to feel that way. You have to find a way to do both, work and play, and do both well, plus take care of your own needs too. You have to be selfish about this last part. Burning out shouldn’t be an option. Sometimes you have to take the time to explain why it’s important that you work on that specific occasion and cannot be there. If they love you and you are true to your word that you will make time for them very soon then it should be cool. But, if you don’t follow through, you just might be a workaholic.
Once my son grew up and wasn’t living with us, the real estate market was insanely busy. I was a workaholic and it wasn’t good. It affected my health and relationships. When I had free time I’d wonder what I wanted to do, fail to come up with something, so I’d work because I loved working. I had forgotten how to live. It was terrible.
My acupuncturist gave me an ultimatum. She said I could keep working like that OR I could live a long healthy life. That was eye opening but try as I might I just couldn’t flip the switch. When I was younger I had taught myself that I had to take care of myself, I had to earn, I had to plan, I had to gain security. Even when I became married I believed I had to depend on myself and nobody else. That’s not true! The switch was flipped on and I just kept grinding away. It was brutal, it was an automatic reaction and I couldn’t shake it.
Two years after my acupuncturist had said that, after many heart palpitations, sore neck and shoulders and a not so happy existence I went to a meditation weekend called Inner Engineering. It was with Sadhguru and he initiated 3,000 people that weekend into his meditation called Shambhavi. My transformation was instantaneous. I didn’t want to go to work the next day, or the day after that, or for a week or so. I don’t know where that other person went, she had left my body. I had become more conscious now, I didn’t need to work like a robot. I was so different and it took me a while to comprehend that the switch had been finally flipped! What a relief. From that day forward I learned to do more of what I wanted to do and less of what I didn’t want to do. The more time passed the more this new way of being grew. Now I feel like I am living. I enjoy relationships, experiences and playing. That’s not selfish, that’s living.
I’m not doing nearly as much work (things I don’t like to do) as what I used to and I’m glad about it. I delegate more, I’ve relinquished this need to control everything. I’m much more at peace, I have a life of ease and I love what I am doing. These days, if I’m doing it at all, I’m doing it for fun.
Do you have a particular real estate story that will always stand out for you?
I was showing a client, her mother and her sister houses one afternoon during the weekend. We had viewed all of the resale houses we had scheduled and the client wanted to show me the model home in a new development to get my opinion. The builder had built the model home on a corner lot to use as the sales office for the new home development. They had paved the driveway at the front and a large area at the side of the house to create a parking lot to accommodate the potential new home buyers who would come to the sales office. There were flags and billboards advertising the new homes all along the street.
We found a parking spot in the parking lot beside the other cars and went in to the house using the side entrance which was closest to the parking lot. The house was busy, there were a lot of people talking, it was rather noisy in there. I wasn’t surprised that the sales staff hadn’t approached us yet, they would let us walk around before talking to us, especially in such a busy sales office.
My client loved the house, had seen it many times and was excitedly showing me features of the home. She hadn’t bought the house because it was above her budget and I think she hoped her mom would love it so much she’d pitch in some extra money to help her buy it. Her mother was checking it out very seriously. Mom wanted to make sure she didn’t miss anything, because she could see how excited her daughter was and she didn’t want to let her make a mistake on her watch.
As we made our way around the main floor of the house we came to the lovely laundry room. This was the model home so it was done up with every luxurious option you could think of. The laundry room was beautiful and had plenty of cabinets, coffered ceiling, stone counter top with undermount sink, beautiful lighting fixtures, high end appliances, gorgeous window treatments and a walk out to the yard. Her mother opened up the washer, as some people will (it’s kind of like kicking the tires at a dealership) and said, “there are clothes in here”. I thought they might be hand towels that the sales office staff were washing, intending to put them back in the bathroom. She shook her head, so we took a look inside the machine and sure enough there were kid’s clothes in there! I recoiled as I gasped in shock, and looked up just in time to see a woman walk past the kitchen door down the hall holding a birthday cake with lit candles as people sang Happy Birthday.
Clearly, it was no longer the sales office and had become someone’s home. We all looked at each other in shock and scrambled to get out of there like George Costanza escaping the kid’s birthday party fire.
How imperative do you believe mentorship is within the real estate industry?
Mentoring is imperative and should be required. Full stop. You don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know is the majority of the pie. You are dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars and people’s lives. The learning curve in this industry is steep. You don’t learn much about the actual business of trading real estate in real estate school. The mistake people make is they think they know it all. The reality is, you learn for life in this business. There are so many variables out there that you can’t really say you are fully trained until you are ready to retire after decades of being in the industry. And even then, something would be changing and you’d have to learn how to adapt.
The point is, you don’t have to do it alone. Why even try to do it that way? You and your clients would pay the price. There are so many great teachers out there who have wonderful and valuable advice. When you first start off, you need the person who will say, “do it this way” and provide practical instruction. For example, how to type an offer on the system or search properties. Later on you need the coach who will delve deeper and help you grow into the best realtor you can be. Ultimately, a great coach also helps you grow into the best version of yourself.
Or, you can try to figure it out on your own and feel like you are constantly chewing on broken glass. Don’t torture yourself! Get a great mentor.
We see many agents in other brokerages who need help but are either too afraid to ask for help from their managers or don’t know they need it. Having a mentor would reduce the chances of that happening.
What would you say is your #1 tip for others to start thriving in their careers?
When you start your new career know that you have to put the work in. You have to take the work seriously. You are an entrepreneur which means you don’t have a job with a clearly written job description and a schedule someone gave you, with a boss who will hold you accountable. You manage yourself, and that means you can make or break yourself. That fact is something that people often don’t recognize and it’s the most important factor of your success.
Treat this as seriously as if it were a brick and mortar business that you paid millions of dollars to start. You do all the jobs involved whether it’s scrubbing the toilet or accepting the awards. Know what you want, be very clear about it and get it. Once you truly commit to your goal you’ll see that there’s a way around every obstacle and you’ll train yourself to find solutions.
Always strive to be the best that you can be. Don’t settle for mediocrity. I’m not referring to your income here, I’m talking about doing an outstanding job for people. Recognize just how great it makes you feel when you’ve done an excellent job. Find your passion in solving their real estate problems and be the best you can at it.
What has contributed to your success in this business so far?
At first it was fear that was a constant fire in my belly. I was really afraid of failing and it drove me to bust through walls or find a way around them. Once I had experienced a bit of financial success I became bored. My goal back then had been a dollar amount, and once I had surpassed it the fear was gone and I hadn’t set a new inspirational goal.
I was talking to my friend and she asked me what else I would like to do. I wasn’t sure but I knew I had a deep desire to help people. She exclaimed that I was helping people every day. I didn’t think I was doing much more than negotiating contracts and providing info, and I wanted something deeper. She said, “you are missing the point my friend. You are helping people get to the next step in their lives and they need your help in this step so they can move forward. Some dream of starting a family and need a home, others want to sell their place so they can use the money to start their dream business, others want to end a relationship and find happiness. You are helping them achieve their dreams and move forward with their lives and they can’t do it without you.” Very soon after that conversation I was showing a house to a couple and when I turned around I saw my client crying and jumping up and down. She exclaimed, “we found our house! Now we can start our family, we can have a baby!”. It was pretty surreal as my friend’s words echoed in my ears, and I immediately connected to my truth in that moment.
That’s when I found joy in the work and my entire perception changed at that point. It wasn’t a job any longer, it was something I was driven or guided to do. My unique talents came into play and I grew, my clients benefitted, and I benefitted. I find it so satisfying. I think there is an element of instant gratification from watching your client achieve their goal. You can see the fruits of your labour and there’s a deep sense of satisfaction in it. You don’t even need validation from them, you know you did a great job and helped them avoid some dangers, ultimately succeeding in achieving their goal. You can look in the mirror and be proud of who you see.
What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself on day one as a licensed Realtor?
Yeah, you’re doing this, you’re crushing this, you are going to surpass your expectations of yourself. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. Aim even higher and keep working on yourself. Soon you’ll understand what your talents are, and that real estate is your vehicle to share them with the world. There’s so much growth ahead of you and great things are going to happen to you so just stay true to yourself and be the best you can be. Everything else will fall into place. And buy more properties ;-)
You have become such an influential woman in the real estate industry! What advice would you give to empower other women within their real estate careers?
Understand, believe, KNOW there is no limit to what you can achieve and who you can become, so be open to the opportunities out there. Whatever you want to do, always strive to be the best. Keep learning, keep growing, find a way to stay grounded by being in nature or in a state of appreciation. Three words to always ask when you doubt yourself: Why not YOU?
The secret to success is...
To find the JOY in your work and develop the habit of excellence.
Wonderful advice! What an incredible journey! Thank you so much for sharing your story and wisdom with us Sandra!