Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bert Chapman passes the torch as head of OMREB

Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008 - Business Thompson Okanagan

KELOWNA - Bert Chapman has known mostly highs in his 40 years in the real-estate career, but when he hits the lows, he sits in his car, and looks at the poppy in the visor.“I keep it there because no matter how bad things get, I look at my poppy and remember my grandfather. He sat in a muddy foxhole while they lobbed hand grenades. It brings you down to earth.”He has managed and owned offices, trained realtors, written manuals, but the advice he gives people starting out is the advice he was given as a rookie.

Al Buxton was the top salesman in the Maple Ridge Block Brothers office where Bert Chapman, at 24, started his career. One Saturday on their way back from an open house, Chapman asked Buxton his secret of success.“He told me to keep in touch with everybody I come across in this business and to make sure I regularly contacted them. I took that to heart. It’s a fabulous source of business.“This is a people business.You can get all focused on real estate, but that isn’t where it’s at. It’s why I’m still here. I enjoy the people.”Three years later, he opened his own office. Block Brothers had told him if he got a few good people, they would open an office in Mission. “I got 10 people over three months and we were ready to go, but out of the blue, they bought a company in Abbotsford and expected people to move. We had done everything and there was nothing left to do to open, so we did.

“I had to learn how to manage an office in a hurry,” says Bert Chapman, past president of the 1,200-member Okanagan Mainline Real Estate Board. “I had enough horse sense to make it through and I wasn’t above asking.“We hit Mission at the right time. It went from 8,500 people to 21,000 in 12 years and I was nicely positioned. I got good people. We did 75 per cent of the business.”He eventually sold the office, semi-retired in Palm Springs and “put my feet up by the pool, but found out I didn’t like that, so I got my real-estate licence.”

After three years, he returned to Canada, worked for a few companies and eventually Canada Trust sent him to Richmond with a near-impossible mission: by year’s end save an office that had lost $100,000 in June.“The next year, I took it to No. 2 in Canada. I rode the wave (of the Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong).”

He ran the company training centre, wrote the training program and added all those new realtors to his growing list. In 1996, he moved to Kelowna, and his first sale was to a person on his list. He worked for a few companies before he was recruited to take an office that was on the verge of closing. “I got so it was worth something and (the Seattle owners) sold it to Derek Trethewey, who owns Okanagan Land Development. He kept me on as a manager and then I bought it.”

Premier Canadian Properties, a leader in full-service luxury home sales, eventually became an affiliate of Christie’s Great Estates, which offers properties all over the world.Chapman wants to utilize that global network of 224 Christie offices. His two offices - one at Quail’s Ridge Golf Course and one on Sunset Drive downtown - have video screens and DVDs always showing some place sunny and exotic. “We’re only ones doing that and business is building. The market is 48 per cent local, 28 per cent Alberta, 20 per cent Vancouver and four per cent everyone else. We’re trying to grow that four per cent.”

Chapman is optimistic that the sizzling Okanagan real estate market, which grew by 31.73 per cent in 2007 to a record $3.88 Billion in sales, will stay hot because 1,000 people will turn 60 every day for the next 10 years and a lot of them want to retire here. Add seniors, singles, students and investors and there’s an equation for even more records.While Chapman’s hours often mirror that of his offices, which are open eight hours a day, seven days a week, he plans to slow down and spend more time with his 10-year-old grandson.

“I think the highlight of my career was getting advice from Jimmy Pattison. I was in a client’s office one day and in walked Jimmy Pattison. He spent 20 minutes just talking with me. I did a lot of listening. I learned how to listen.“He said: ‘It’s amazing what you can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit.’ I took that to heart. I believe that. I don’t have an ego. I buried it that day. I give everyone else the credit because they deserve it.”But even when he remembers Pattison, Phil Gaglardi, W.A.C. Bennett - “a dynamic individual” - and Henry Block - “a great leader” - he never forgets his grandfather and that poppy in his visor.“Every Remembrance Day, I always go and find the oldest looking vet selling poppies. I go up and shake his hand. I usually end up crying. I always put in $100 because without them, I probably wouldn’t be here selling real estate.”