Canada's Real Estate Outlook 2019

Review of Zolo’s last year going into 2019

Despite a troubling year for Canadian real estate markets, Zolo had a lot to celebrate at year end. From continued growth to better consumer education and even a Paralympian winner, it was a year to remember
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In the last days of 2018, it seems many of us hit the pause button for a moment to review the year that was. From high points to low moments, goals reached and breakthroughs and even through significant news events, it’s safe to say our year was jam-packed and rarely boring.

The past 12 months were especially interesting for the team here at Zolo and more generally, for the Canadian housing market from coast to coast. Housing market shifts, of course, impact us greatly since we are, after all, a major real estate company. On the technical side of things, we seemed to knock it out of the park and, despite hurdles experienced throughout 2018, both our team and business grew. Significantly, one major piece of real estate news in our country affected us in a positive way and we even had one of our realtors represent the country in the Winter Olympics!

To get the story behind the brand, we chatted with some key members at Zolo to see what they had to reveal.

Zolo’s online presence was on point this year

If you found yourself regularly checking our listings and reading all about the market and home ownership on our news blog, you’re part of a large network. Every single Zolo team member is quick to point out how the website now gets five million views per month and 300 million property views per year. Those numbers reflect great success in this industry and help solidify Zolo — a relatively new upstart to the Canadian real estate marketplace — as a major player in Canada.

As founding partner Jon Cartwright explains “these numbers place us as one of the most trafficked sites in Canada.” That’s a big deal in a competitive space.

But number of visits and sheer quantity of properties viewed aren’t the only big wins for Zolo in 2018. Right now, Zolo.ca is also one of the fastest real estate portals in Canada — a point which co-founder Jason Billingsley is rightfully proud to point out.

The online world is about speed and convenience and this year Zolo came out on top. “Replacing our MLS data pipeline allowed us to double down on our ability to get listings live before any other website,” says Billingsley. That’s a really big win — both for Zolo and for those shopping for the latest housing news and listings.

But the benefits of faster speed and more users also has a measurable impact on better brand awareness. As a company that spent the first five years doing very little marketing, it’s refreshing to see how many more buyers, sellers and agents are now aware of the brand.

In 2018, better brand awareness is kind of a big deal, says Jezebel Pimentel, Head of Talent Management at Zolo. Pimental spends much of her time recruiting top talent. In the past 12 months more clients, agents and brokers were far more aware of Zolo, the brand. “It makes my job much easier and makes me proud of how much we’ve grown in the last year,” says Pimentel.

TREB information becomes more accessible

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Company growth is always something to be proud of but a company, like Zolo, doesn’t exist in a a vacuum. Growth, and hinderance to growth, occurs from a variety of places within the marketplace. It’s why the “TREB-ruling” was such a big event for both the industry and real estate tech-disrupters, like Zolo.

After a seven-year battle the Competition Bureau was awarded the right to force the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) to an end their monopoly on information like home sale prices and other important data that, prior to the ruling, buyers or owners could only access through an agent.

“This was huge for us,” says Pimental. “Zolo’s goal is to be transparent with our clients. By sharing information and providing knowledge we help educate clients on what’s happening within the Canadian real estate market and that helps them to make better-informed decisions,” says Pimentel.

“I was excited to see that consumers now have more access to data which will help them in the home buying and selling process,” says Mustafa Abbasi, President and Chief Revenue Officer for Zolo.

Now the hope is that the TREB ruling will nudge other real estate boards across Canada to follow suit and open up access to additional real estate data.

Zolo saw some major growth in 2018

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Of course, industry news is one thing but a company has a fiduciary responsibility to its employees and investors to keep growing. And Zolo did just that and to best illustrate the company’s growth, Abbasi, breaks down the numbers:

  • Zolo now operates and does business in over 30 cities and towns across the nation, making it the largest independent national brokerage in Canada
  • The company now has more than 600 agents
  • In 2018 specifically, the team of agents in B.C. almost doubled
  • Launched a commercial division in Toronto and in Vancouver with 15 dedicated agents to this sector of the business
  • Launch of Zolo Mortgages

“We joined numerous boards and brought on partners in areas where we can now support clients and have representation where we didn’t have representation before,” says Pimentel.

Cartwright’s adds that because of growth, Zolo added five new growth managers. Unlike other brokerage houses, Zolo offers one-on-one, ongoing support to all agents through a growth manager. The growth manager is responsible for making sure that all agents are able to grow and improve their overall customer service, which is key particularly in a changing market.

Part of ongoing change to markets across Canada was the rise of mortgage rates throughout 2018.

“Interest rates continued to rise and this had an impact on consumers and real estate agents,” says Abbasi. “Streamlining mortgages with the launch of Zolo Mortgages has really helped.”

Overall, the real estate industry in Canada definitely experienced a contraction in 2018.  “Yet, we were able to continue our growth despite overall market volumes receding significantly,” Billingsley points out.

In a period of big changes, Zolo adjusted quite well

Home For Sale with a Price Reduced Sign

There were a lot of significant changes in the real estate markets in Canada this year. There was a slowdown in B.C., decreasing foreign investment, a rise in leases (and a slowdown of buyers) and a switch from a seller’s to a buyer’s market… just to name a few of the big ones.

“Probably the biggest change this year is the fact that our agents had to adjust, sometimes dramatically, to the changes in market conditions,” says Ron Roy, Managing Broker of B.C. and Alberta. “For newer or less experienced agents it is a difficult transition from a very active market into something slower paced with more choice for the buyers.”

Consumer education remained a top priority

What Can You Afford - 10% down payment - Zolo copy
Jenn Gerlach / Source: CMHC, Zolo
Notes: Maximum house price includes the total mortgage plus the 10% down payment, minus the CMHC mortgage default fees.

With the real estate market continuing to change, providing consumers with top-level education and resources was of the utmost importance for the team at Zolo.

The markets in both the GTA and the GVA shifted from a seller’s market to a buyer’s. “This sometimes creates panic amongst consumers and agents,” Abbasi says. “To help, we provide real-time data and analytics to our consumers and we help educate our clients and agents on how to interpret the data — because context, not numbers, means everything in a changing market.”

Roy echoes this statement “We adjusted our training to ensure agents can properly represent their clients in light of the changing markets,” he says.   

Plus, Zolo real estate agent, Michelle Salt, competed in the Paralympic Games!

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Calgary Herald

Perhaps one of the best stories to come out of Zolo this year was that one of the company’s agents competed in the Winter Paralympics in 2018. “One of our agents, Michelle Salt, competed in the Paralympic snowboarding event,” says Roy. He notes that her dedication and training for the 2018 games were an illustration of the type of work ethic she brings to all aspects of her life, including her career as a Realtor. Salt, who is a Realtor in Calgary, finished with a fourth and fifth place in her snowboarding events in PyeongChang. To her Zolo family, though, she was No. 1.

Sinead Mulhern
Sinead Mulhern