An entrepreneur in the restaurant business for 20 years, Joel Lazarus switched careers to pursue his hobby and love of real estate and has never looked back.
“I love it. I should have been here 25 years ago,” said Lazarus, 48, a real estate agent for 5 years now. “I enjoy the independence of this business and I enjoy the excitement. I enjoy the fact I’m never usually doing the same thing twice. There’s always something different.”
An agent with ROYAL LEPAGE Terrequity Realty in Toronto, he’s now serving up the best Toronto has to offer to buyers and sellers in his target markets of Etobicoke , Mississauga and downtown Toronto. He points out he does work the entire Greater Toronto Area for clients – from Burlingtion, to Milton, to Brampton, to Ajax – going wherever his clients take him. Approximately 75 percent of his business is residential and 25 percent commercial and industrial investment.
During the first six months of 2003 he ranked in the top five percent of agents in the GTA for buyer-controlled sales according the IMS Agent Achievement Awards. After his first years in the business he achieved the international ROYAL LEPAGE Sterling Society Award. In 2000, he was the number one Agent for Buyer Controlled Sales in his office. And for the past three years he’s received the President’s Circle Award. ROYAL LEPAGE Terrequity Realty has 180 agents based out of four Toronto locations, with the company’s head office in North York and additional offices located in downtown Toronto, Mississauga and Etobicoke.
Although Lazarus owned and operated two restaurants over a twenty-year period before becoming a real estate agent, he’s always been buying, renovating and selling properties on the side. He stumbled into this profitable and rewarding hobby when he was 22. Young, ambitious, and an entrepreneur at heart, he had grown up the child of a single parent always living in apartments. He says he always wanted to own his own home and enjoy a backyard, and a year after opening his first restaurant in Hamilton he decided a house with a second income would be his ticket into home ownership. He looked around Hamilton and found his first gem – a 120-year old run-down brick Victorian house in a depressed part of the city, complete with a grandfathered apartment.
“I found an old dump. I found 120-year old Victorian dump in the east end of the city,” said Lazarus. “It was really disgusting. But when I walked in my eyes saw a vision. I saw the place renovated. I looked past all the mess and junk and said wow, I can do something with this.”
So he bought his first home and took advantage of governments grants available at the time. He bought the house, in 1979, for $18,000 and received a $3,000 grant towards this purchase price. It cost him $12,000 to renovate, and he received a $10,000 grant towards this cost of renovations. Lazarus sold the house for $62,000 a year later.
And what began as one man’s venture into home worship became a turning point for the run-down neighbourhood and Lazarus himself. Intrigued by his undertaking and the end result – a now beautiful, renovated 120-year-old Victorian home in a still dumpy neighbourhood – a local home and garden magazine featured Lazarus and his home on the front page. He says six months after the article came out the area began to be populated by young professionals snapping up the old houses and renovating. Also, as a result of the article, Lazarus was a approached by professionals in the process of renovation the old Hamilton library who wanted assistance with space and colour coordination, something he’s always had an eye for, and he agreed to help. This was the beginning of a lot of space and colour coordination projects he got involved in with on the side as he continued to buy, renovate and sell houses.
After selling his restaurant in Hamilton he moved to Toronto and bought an established restaurant uptown, which he own and operated for 15 years. By this time in his life, a lot of his friends were agents and there was a real estate brokerage in the same plaza as his restaurant, so he became friendly with this crowd who frequented his establishment. He was still buying and selling properties in Toronto, but with the restaurant taking up the majority of his time his interest switched to flipping house that needed more cosmetic help and some renovations. He many times contemplated a real estate career but never took the plunge for various reasons, including a baby on the way and running a highly profitable business.
By 1998, the neighbourhood demographics surrounding his restaurant had completely changed and he decided that time was right to sell and pursue the real estate career he’d been contemplating for so long. He came out of the deal with his investment and enough money to get himself started in real estate. He researched different companies for a month and decided to join ROYAL LEPAGE Terrequity Realty after attending a company seminar, which, after all that research, he found in a two-line word advertisement in the Toronto Star. He chose the company because they sponsor education courses and have an extremely high level of agent training.
Lazarus received his license in December 1998. Although he was pursuing a path he wanted to take, he says switching careers at 43 years of age was no easy gamble.
“To tell you the truth, I was scared to death,” he said. For six months his daily routine consisted of attending school, studying, and eating and sleeping when he got the chance. He says the biggest challenge through the whole process was getting his mind set in a routine of going to school again and studying hard, along with learning how to use modern computers.
His entire family, including his young daughter, were highly supportive and helpful through the whole process, which he says greatly encouraged him. Now that he is excelling at his new career, he says life has never been better. “I’ve never been so happy. I’ve got no regrets. It was finally the right fit for me.”
Lazarus started his career by targeting first-time homebuyers, and already a lot of these first-time buyers are becoming second-time homebuyers. After just five years in the business he’s now enjoying a steady stream of clients and 60 percent of his clients are referral business.
“I get a lot of referrals by doing a really, really good job for my clients. I’m extremely service-oriented, being from the background I was in, in the service industry. I know how to service people and take care of their needs,” said Lazarus. “Property doesn’t matter to me. Whatever my client’s needs are, from me, they will only get the ultimate service. I do not give anything less than 150 percent.”
Another big part of his client service involves providing accurate and relevant information to clients. He says he’s found buyers and sellers like to be aware of every detail and don’t want any surprises. When he meets with a client for the first time he always gives them information they can keep. For example, he gives first-time buyers a banking package geared towards their questions and needs, and goes through the material with them. Every client receives a 12-page package with personal information on Lazarus and the services he offers for buyers and sellers, including a net sheet to detail actual sale dollar figures
Outside of his real estate career Lazarus loves spending time with his 14-year-old daughter, who he says is growing up fast. He’s still investing in real estate on the side, but for the moment has gotten away from the buy, renovate, and sell process, which became hard to do when most of his work efforts were concentrated on running a busy updown restaurant with 35 employees.
In the neat future he wants to buy a fixer-upper on good lake front property in Keswick, Ontario, north of the GTA, as an investment for his retirement. He’s planning on bringing a property “up-to-snuff” and renting it out till his daughter is grown, and then move to the area. He will either completely renovate or re-build depending on the property he finds and how much work it needs.
He’s still using his space and colour coordination talents, only now it’s part of his services when buying and selling properties for clients. “I always try to apply my experiences from the past to the future,” said Lazarus.
By: Amber Clarke
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