The niche architect: Alex Wilson’s systematic rise in real estate

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Dive into the remarkable journey of Alex Wilson, the visionary architect behind a niche-focused real estate team. This article unfolds the strategic blueprint that propelled Wilson from a serendipitous elevator conversation to dominating pre-construction investment properties. 

 

As part of our ongoing Backstage Pass features into the people who run some of the top real estate businesses in Canada, we’re turning to Alex Wilson of Re/Max Wealth Builders.

Alex Wilson’s path during his career in real estate unfolds like a masterclass in adapting and innovation. Starting his career amid the 2008 financial crisis, Wilson’s foray into real estate was less about chasing a passion and more about seizing an unexpected opportunity. He was planning to take a corporate job after moving back to Toronto from Vancouver. Real estate wasn’t a passion. 

 

Skepticism turned to appreciation and slow progress

 

His initial skepticism about a career in real estate sales gradually transformed into a profound appreciation for the value and respect the profession commands. The turning point came in 2009, with his first significant breakthrough. That February he made his first deal, but in April 2009 alone he made five deals.

Wilson recalls asking himself, “Why am I wasting my time trying to get a steady paycheque when I could apply that work to running a successful business in real estate?” He wanted to invest his energy and time into making himself successful, not someone else.

By the end of his first year, he was already #4 in his brokerage for production. He credits the idea of giving up his pursuit of going for a corporate job and putting 100 per cent of his energy towards being successful as a realtor. His advice for new agents is you can’t be desperate for money in the first six months because you aren’t going to be making any — you need a stockpile until you start getting income.

In years two and three, he didn’t see a meteoric rise. He increased his overall business by about five deals a year and made approximately 30 deals in his third year.

 

The elevator moment

 

Wilson has always been a people person, talking about everyone he could. He hosts fun events for friends and maintains a large social network. He loves talking to people. Conversations create opportunities you never knew existed and he focuses on having lots of them.

In December 2012, living in his first condominium, he was in the elevator and chatted with a woman in it, too. As it turned out, she specialized in pre-construction and had units coming up in the building across the street. Wilson asked if he could be involved.

He wrote up an analysis of the project for his database after buying a unit for himself and made a business case for his clients. Over the next two weeks, he sold 12 units. That was the moment he knew where he wanted to focus his attention.

Over the years that followed, Wilson started getting a reputation with builders and their sales & marketing departments as an agent who could deliver. More and more deals started coming his way.

 

Niching down

 

Wilson says that when you’re dealing with people and the roof over their heads, it carries a lot of emotion. He would even tell his clients, “Put those emotions on me and I’ll carry them on my back.”

When it comes to investment properties, it’s purely a math-based decision. It also allows a scale you normally don’t have in resale. Most agents on their own will start to burn out doing 50 resale transactions a year without help. The time involved in showings plus the emotional fatigue can add up quickly. 

According to Wilson, you can double that by doing pre-construction deals. One of the big factors was how much time he was spending on the road in his resale business. He thought, “How can I condense my market area since I only have so much time each week to do business? If I’m on the road, how can I be focused on growing the business?”

It became clear that for Wilson to scale, pre-construction investment properties were his future. The decision to niche down paid off: in 2022 Wilson and his team did 650 transactions. Even in 2023 when the market was slow, especially in pre-construction, his team still did over 350 transactions.

The other big benefit Wilson has found in pre-construction that most see as a downside is you usually don’t get fully paid until a building is completed. Typically, you’ll get some commission within 6-12 months of the transaction and then another when it closes. That means for Wilson, he already knows his baseline revenue for the next 4-5 years. He recounts talking to realtors who say “It’s January 1, we’re back to 0, let’s hit the grind again.”  Wilson never feels he’s back to 0 anymore. 

 

The approach

 

Wilson has a very simple model with his database. Once he finds a project he likes, he buys at least one unit himself. He does the due diligence, invests and then reaches out to his database with the simple premise of “follow my money.” 

In doing so, he educates them on the entire process. He doesn’t want anyone buying a property without knowing all the implications. Especially in a down market, people seek out experts’ advice. They are scared to make the wrong move. With a focus on being an expert, even in a down market, you can attract clients. For Wilson, it’s his recession-proof business plan.

You have to be knowledgeable, not just about your niche, but about world events. When you’re with clients only about 5 per cent of the time, you’re generally talking about real estate. But, you want to be able to hold an interesting conversation the other 95 per cent of the time, and staying up to date on world events is part of the business. Try to be as well-rounded a person as possible, Wilson says. 

The educational approach regularly brings him clients. For example, in early COVID when the Ontario government made it impossible to evict tenants, he launched a webinar for landlords on what their options were. He brought on a paralegal for it and years later, that webinar replay still brings him leads. He’s also brought in an accountant to talk about how to build a tax-efficient portfolio. 

When you educate people, you increase their certainty in their decision-making and reduce their anxiety. This makes those who are transaction-ready reach out to him. Wilson lets people come to him.

 

The big pivot

 

Wilson says he doesn’t sell anything he doesn’t believe in. That’s why he buys and does due diligence for himself first before bringing anything to clients. And that’s what caused the next big pivot in his business.

Running the numbers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with 20 per cent down you can’t have a cash flow-positive property anymore. Wilson doesn’t believe that you should put yourself in a situation where you can lose money, and you only lose money when you sell. So, he says, don’t put yourself in situations where you have to sell. He believes that appreciation shouldn’t be the only way to make money on an investment property — that’s a recipe for losing hundreds of thousands. 

Wilson’s personal philosophy was that he didn’t want active investments — the more passive the better. Rehabilitating old properties, the “BRRRR (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat) method” many advocate for, was too active. This is why he likes pre-construction. Newer buildings require less involvement from owners and maintenance is covered by the condominium or strata corporation. 

Wilson had to look outside of Ontario to find investments that fit his philosophy, and his due diligence brought him to Calgary. So, he did what he did in Toronto and started buying units for himself. Then, he went back to his database with his “follow my money” messaging.

In 2019, Wilson and his team started focusing a lot of their attention on the Calgary market. It was a market they believed had great fundamentals with cash flow-positive units when you put 20 per cent down: appreciation upside, better tax situation for investors and landlord-friendly regulations that don’t exist in Ontario.

He launched webinars for his database on “Why Buy Calgary” where he would open by showing his own portfolio, and walk through market fundamentals from his due diligence. Wilson would bring up factors like the population being set to grow by 48 per cent over 20 years (double the rate in Ontario), the fast-growing economy and the city having the second-most corporate head offices in Canada. 

His clients followed him. From December 2019 to the end of 2023, Wilson and his team sold over 1,000 units in Calgary to investors.

 

Building a replicable foundation

 

Wilson spent 2023 building systems and processes for his team — he wasn’t as focused on growing their sales the same way he had in the past. As a father of three young children, he wanted to build systems that allowed him to spend time with his family, his most important piece, while still consistently growing the business.

Wilson built a replicable system for his team members, helping a couple of them reach over a million in GCI on their own. A lot of his focus is on how to simplify that process as much as possible. 

He has his team members follow the same approach that built his business. They invest in a unit on a particular project, invite their database to a webinar on why they did so and then call each attendee after the webinar. The rest of their time is about adding people to the database so the next webinar is bigger. Online leads are a large part of this. If his team members do that and consistently make 30 touchpoints a day, Wilson sees averages of 5-10 sales per month per team member.

He found this easiest to do initially with new agents that didn’t already have businesses. It was more difficult to make that jump for people who didn’t specialize in investments and still focused a lot of time on their “legacy business”, as Wilson puts it.

 

The next big leap

 

With that foundation built, Wilson is turning his eyes to another period of growth in 2024. He believes the next big leap is solving the challenge for those with a legacy business.

Instead of moving their license to his team or even to their brokerage, he has partnered with them. They collaborate and do the deals as referral fees. This is basically the same process he has for his team members, who buy a unit and promote a webinar to their database about why they bought it. From there, Alex and his team get on follow-up calls with the agent and the people who attended the webinar. This way, the agent can still focus on their database, the resale business and the commitment that this requires.

 

When you listen to Alex Wilson talk about business and his approach, he’s never deterred about a new initiative not working. He also doesn’t write something off that didn’t work the first time. Rather, he looks for why it didn’t work and what adjustments would solve that, and then tries again.

The little details, being improved consistently, have led Alex Wilson to be one of Canada’s top teams. 

 

Want to go deeper into the nitty-gritty details of how Alex Wilson operates? Backstage Pass members get a deep dive followed by a live Q&A with Alex to answer any follow-up questions.

The live Q&A is set for February 22 at 1:00 pm EST. 

Get your Backstage Pass here to learn more about Alex Wilson’s business and more.

 

Photo source: ReMaxWealth.com

 

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